Visiting his old blog was a late-night, instinctual sort of stumbling. A way to reconnect with someone I had imperceptibly missed lately. That someone lived in Porto Alegre, on the southern tip of Brazil, and we had formed a connection through text and video conversations over Whatsapp, a messaging app. [Link to Part 1]
The connection with Felipe fell in that zone between friend and romance which I took fairly unseriously and met hopefulness on his part with a joke or a laugh. Mostly, though, our interaction felt lighthearted and natural - well, as natural as contact over nearly 7,000 miles could be - and refreshing. It wasn’t just his foreignness, handsomeness, or his easy manners. Felipe was an idealist, and that cheesiness was endearing to me.
At some point it became difficult to talk: missed calls, unanswered texts, and happenstance interrupting scheduled catch up. I wasn’t in the habit of checking his blog, but had read it when I first got to know him, and, as a last resort, figured an answer might lie there.
His blog was in Portuguese, but luckily, Google Translate had given me an understandable, if rougher version of his past essays and diaries. Mostly the entries were expositions on the history and sociology of education and academic analyses of philosophical works, but occasionally he revealed his own internal perspectives through oblique references to past happenings or “lessons learned.”
There hadn’t been a new entry since I had known Felipe, but that night, there was: a post called “Peace of Mind,” approximately two weeks old. The blog post began,
After more than a year without writing here, I finally find some courage to publish this one which, perhaps, is the most necessary post of all. For those who have never heard of me again, he will explain in general terms the causes of disappearance.
That the message was necessary, took such effort to publish - and that it referenced what I had not yet named, his disappearance - grabbed my attention. Yet the inconsistency of the tenses and the grammatical vagueness made it difficult to understand, ominous. The post continued:
What I most expect of 2017 is peace. Yes, a deep peace of mind.
In 2016, I suffered on the skin all the pain and suffering that depression and anxiety together can lead a person to experience. At many moments I thought I could not bear all the anguish and agony that my mind was capable of producing. I thought I could not be alive this holiday season.
The reference to suicide was serious. Felipe had undergone difficult struggles during the past year, which his post did not hesitate to list. The persistence of suicide in the gay community continues to be a largely invisible (and tragic) phenomenon.
But as I read about his losses, his shame and uncertainty, his utter hopelessness, most of which I knew well over the course of our phone conversations, they were like the madeleine in Proust, the gateway to memory. The first thing I remembered was a fragment from this song, where a woman sings:
Que você pense muito bem . . .
Se você acha que devemos prosseguir, ou desistir, do amor?
If you think it’s a good [idea]
If you think we should keep going, or [if we should] give up on love?
I had first heard the song as part of a mixtape, and to this day I don’t know the song title or the artist. I was drawn by the fragment I heard and felt a strong pull to discover this Brazilian “disco diva.” Yet when I asked Felipe, he had never heard of her, nor could he locate any info on the song.
On long bus rides from Sacramento to the Bay Area, days in which neither of us felt much hope for our words, Felipe would be talking about the slow collapse of the ruling Brazilian government or how funding for his studies was likely to be slashed, and I would suddenly interrupt him with “Diga!” And before he could respond, I would blurt out the one or two lines I knew and we would laugh. And then we would continue our conversation anew.
They were lyrical days in which conversations would begin with hopelessness, shift to work, then to reminisces of past loves or sheer dips into memory, and in the midst of explaining Brazilian historical movements, I’d have to interject a quick Gotta Go! Talk Soon! as I disembarked into the soft glow of a San Francisco sunset.
At other times, though, I felt like a lifeguard dragging a barely-conscious beachgoer to shore. I constantly reminded him that things would get better, even as his world felt like it was dissolving. There was always a possibility, a chance . . . and even when there wasn’t, there was still a thread of hope which was optimism itself. Couldn’t he see how lucky I was to be there for him? I put on an industrious cheer otherwise foreign to me, a willingness to hear all manner of troubles and respond with a springy solution, a joke, or just a small word of comfort.
Although Felipe’s post did not name me, it seemed to acknowledge these times, as he explained that, through his depression,
. . . one or two faithful friends remained; Those who, fortunately, knew how to recognize the suffering behind my eyes and offered me help. Who did not doubt my ability, and who, in the most difficult days, made me look at my problems in a more thoughtful and serene way.
Unfortunately, sometimes depression and anxiety leave you even unable to ask for help, and for those who still wonder about the reasons for my disappearance, this text may perhaps clarify some of the central points.
My awareness spread to my shallow breath, my hunched-up posture, my eyes scanning the harsh blue screen in the dark room. This was my world. I sighed and adjusted my twisted neck, and continued to read:
Fortunately, in the midst of so much darkness, in the midst of an almost unbearable sum of errors, the world is still able to reward you with moments of intense beauty, love and hope.
Here it was, coming imminent! And then the news arrived:
Anyway, I want to thank my boyfriend. Yes, I'm dating! I think this was the most beautiful event of my year. In the midst of so many problems, of so many doubts and uncertainties, a handsome young man I've talked to only a few times, creates the courage to find me on facebook and send a message that would completely change my life.
My first thought was one of unrestrained, exquisite jealousy. As I read about his “new understanding” that “happiness was a yes in the small things of the day to day,” I seethed. His cushion, his solace – hadn’t that been me this whole time?
As my wounded ego ebbed, I started to notice that almost all the sentences describing this relationship were in past tense. Was that just the translation, or had another period of time ended? One in which another person like me had fallen for his charm? His utter cheesiness? Helped him swim against waves of depression? The events, at least the way they were written, seemed improbable, constructed.
And yet the last sentences swayed like a talisman before my eyes:
That in 2017, very good things can happen in the lives of all of us. That the negative prognoses turn out to be wrong.
For me, more than anything else, I want to rediscover my full peace of mind. I want to completely overcome anxiety and depression and live freely beautiful chapters of my life, alongside my family, my boyfriend and my friends. So be it!
That Felipe had decided to embrace happiness, not only in his new relationship, but also among family and friends was out of character, and so declarative, that it brought an effervescent joy for me, too: I was happy for him. On second thought, maybe it wasn’t out of character, but just his idealism now marching for his own happiness.
Reading was again a twisting thing: I had his words, but no proof stood behind them. Had he really become happy, and would such a happiness last? My mind shaped the air of finality about the post into two alternative forms: in one, a wayward message was the tipping point over depression, and in the other, happiness was a brief glimmer darkened by the events which were not - or could not - be written?
I could only imagine the answer to my questions, because Felipe’s happiness, however it had come, for however long, was tied in some way to erasing me from his life. All of my messages went unanswered, my calls ignored. Though my diga! would never make him laugh again, I knew what he had answered.
Asaf Kletter is a bibliophile, wanderer, and lifelong student. He recently moved to Los Angeles, CA.