Chapter 3

The Retreat that was Not

Illustration by Paloma Agüera 

And amidst that ecosystem of harmonious perfection, he ran off to commit suicide. And not as any suicidal would do, in a premeditated and solitary act, no, he wanted to commit suicide to check if someone wanted to prevent it.

The winter sun in Madrid is very pleasant, it allows you to dress in a t-shirt, sit in the sun on a terrace, enjoy it before it falls at six o’clock. With this excuse, that day, the park El Retiro (The Retreat) was full of people; there were tourists taking pictures of what others have already seen, families opening cans to start a picnic seated on checkered tablecloths, runners walking around dressed with brightly coloured accessories, children throwing stale bread from the previous day to ducks, to carps, to pigeons, or watching attentively a puppet show sponsored by grandparents, who wanted to ensure that their grandchildren were sitting for a while and not in danger of getting lost running around the gardens or jumping into the pond. 

Within the turmoil everything seemed organized, as if we were figurants being directed and posing in the background for a romantic movie, in which a couple who have just met would stroll on one of their first dates over the leaves that have accumulated after autumn. We didn’t have a tablecloth on the floor, a couple of grandmothers were coming, so someone had gotten up early to reserve a small wooden table among the pines and prepare an aperitif, a snack. Quite a lot of family got together. I don’t remember what we were celebrating if there was anything to celebrate. Maybe it was just one of those days when adults play mom and dad, share smiles, and force themselves to look like they can stand each other between compliments: “I’ll pay for it, really, don’t worry”, “that scarf suits you so well”, “you sit down, I’m fine standing up”. Now I am one of them. I do remember that, with my cousins and my sister, in a little meadow near our picnic, we were throwing sticks at a dog that also looked like a figurant in that idyllic picture we were about to blow up. Every time he brought the stick back for us to throw it back at him again, he would give us a smile as if to say “hey, I’m also really enjoying this sunny Sunday with so many people on the boats, the hippies making music, the vendors selling crunchy snacks”. 

One time he didn’t come back with the stick, he preferred to stay barking non-stop towards the table where my family was, incredulous, trying to put an end to a quarrel that, I thought, my father had started by not talking about ordinary topics. But other adults, who were also playing the mom and dad game, seemed annoyed by that show that disrupted the ecosystem of harmonious Sunday protocol perfection and came to separate my uncle, who was trying to hold my father in his arms, I’m not sure why. Screams, punches on the table, on the floor, on the face of whoever got in the way, and suddenly, once he was free, a run that in a few seconds brought him to our side, with the children. A statement of intent, it seemed that he didn’t want to play adult games anymore. He turned around, to say goodbye, now I know, and threw his phone, a NOKIA 3310 that didn’t break. At that time, I thought that everything could be forever.

“I’m going to kill myself!” my father began to shout, “I’m going to kill myself!”

The tourists stopped taking pictures, a woman cut herself opening a can and stained the checkered tablecloth, the runners stopped and screwed up their marks, the children, who only had eyes for the puppets, or the ducks, or the carps and even the pigeons, lost their concentration and began to cry, to kick, to get lost in the gardens to their grandparents’ discontent. The staging stopped and my father started to run.

“Have you seen a tall, thin, dark, curly-haired man?” we started to ask when we lost track of him among so many people. “He is sick, he has run away, he says he wants to commit suicide”. We didn’t have many more clues or smartphones with photos. “If you see him, can you let us know?” 

The younger cousins stayed with the grandmothers at the picnic table under the pine trees, in the shade, in the cold, hidden, excluded. I wasn’t like that, I mean young, I went with the adults to look for him and we settled that, if we didn’t find him, we would meet again at the point where we would separate in an hour. I didn’t have time to cry, if that’s what I was supposed to be doing at the time. Now I guess it was. Although I still didn’t understand the word suicide, I did know that it had nothing to do with playing mom and dad, so I wasn’t worried, my father always tried to get away from those games.

On the south side, facing Menéndez Pelayo avenue, the one I was on, there were not so many people walking around and the amount of trees made it darker. I was in a t-shirt and, although I had been running for a while shouting daddy and I was a little tense because of the fear of being alone in such a big place while being so small, I was starting to feel quite cold. A couple approached me to ask if I was lost, another wanted to accompany me to the police. I explained that I was looking for my father, who wanted to commit suicide. Ten minutes to get back to the starting point if I didn’t want to be the second Aguilar to get lost, near the Puerta de Dante, a tall, thin, dark, curly-haired man was crying alone. He was sitting on a bench with his forehead resting on his hands, his elbows resting on his knees. It was my father.

“I can’t” he kept saying when he stopped crying for a few seconds.

It was just the beginning, a depression. He was still talking, still crying. How fortunate.

A Message from the Moving Forward Team:

It’s important to know who you can and should contact in case you are feeling down, sad, worried or things just seem too much for you to handle. There are many people to listen and support you.

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