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Juan´s book

A true story

 

“The effort you make in life to get knowledge is going to determine your choices, and the people you choose to go with you in your way are also going to determine your life as a struggle to reach nowhere, or as a successful and peaceful path, and, although you can always change and try a new way, accompanied by  new people, the wounds of a bad election will affect you your entire life”. This appears to be the conclusion of most psychologists and writers along History and this appears to be my own conclusion.

  

“Nobody is good or bad, of course, only convenient or inconvenient to reach your authentic goals”. In the middle of the mist or bright light there is always someone who loves or hates you enough so as to influence your life.

 I was sixty and tired of my constant struggle against those who want to destroy beauty and joy and positive efforts, thinking in giving up, in retiring and abandoning my profession and my dreams when, suddenly, I saw Juan’s book on a shelf in my bookshelf. I took it and it appeared to talk to me and said, -“Never, ever give up your English, go on with it”-.

 

There is no doubt, I certainly know that the book cannot talk to me or attract my attention with bright colours or lights; there is not any ghost in it. I have it clear that this is a trick of my subconscious area, but until that moment I had not realized the amount of times I had received this message from the book since the moment it came to my hands long time before.

 

Those memories made me smile, brought me back to my 13s when I was a very insecure and romantic teenager full of spots in search for my love with the “Only you” of the Platters in my mind and dancing Rock and Roll with Elvis Presley and the Beatles…

 

                              No Image

 

                                 Although it was summer, it was a little chilly.

 The sirens of the fire engine cried

                                        While the red lights announced that

   The fire brigade had to attend to an urgent call...

     ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I had gone out to meet some friends at the cinema.

                  My heart was shrinking as I was reaching the corner of the street.

  

I saw a woman crying, embracing some people, giving thanks to their presence and I did not know why, I felt weird.

  

Suddenly, she noticed my presence, crossed the street towards me

“You are Amalia, aren’t you? she asked me and added,

“He liked you so much!, He used to say Mum I would very much like to meet this girl,

I used to joke as you were so young”. She added,

“And now, he is not… he has gone forever, she said sobbing,

My Lord Why?” she cried while she embraced me diving into desperate tears.

  

I did not understand this gesture of friendship, confidence and desperation coming from my neighbour. Then she looked at me with her eyes full of sadness and said: Juan my Juan has gone forever at his 19s.

He and his colleague were following the fire engine, riding the motorbike, as they had done so often. Juan was not driving this time because he left home half dressed, and he had to put on his jacket and the helmet in their way to the fire;  despite the fire engine raced pasts the crossing with its siren wailing, at the corner a lorry crossed the street as they were crossing. The motorbike crushed into the track and Juan was launched in the air againt and the pavement where he left his life go. “I am thirsty he said. He got a sip of water and abandoned his perfect fireman uniformed body on the pavement", Oh God! Why? continue complaining her mother.

 

My blood stopped circulating, everything was cold, a vision came to my mind: a white smile, loving black eyes and a great voice in a handsome young man with dark skin. I remembered his kindness and his sense of humour - Juan was that young man who always went out to greet me and chat when I walked past his house towards the corner of the street- and, although I liked his smile and joy I had never imagined he could have been interested in a thirteen year-old teenager full of spots. I felt my cheeks wet and found myself crying desperately though I did not know exactly what made me feel so unhappy.   

  

 But the worst was to come. Even not knowing her name, she was Juan’s mother the young volunteer fire man, my neighbour, she introduced me to everybody as his son’s dream and after seeing him in his coffin, suffering a terrible impact and hearing the same once and again for an hour, I became to feel the “almost” Juan’s girlfriend. 

 

Two hours later I came back home and told my parents while sobbing, the sad story I was living. My father was furious because he could not understand my suffering. My mother commented. “My poor girl, who knows the suffering she has to endure during her all life long being the way she is” My sister and my brother looked at me with indifference and went on playing. I was crying in more and more despair. I wanted to come back to the funeral, my father did not understand it, but, finally, respecting my tears and my absurd grief, he let me go.

  

I was there, by the coffin, the whole night, accompanying his mother until friends and relatives took his dead body to the cemetery, escorted by a perfect formation of the volunteers of the fire brigade in the neighbourhood and with all the honours to the hero that gave his life for the protection of the community, without receiving any compensation for it. There was a crowd of people and I felt so puzzled and sad that my life seemed to have stopped to me. His mother did not go to bury his son, and I did not either. 

 

I was exhausted but remained there, at his home, with his mother, until dark this day, as a fiancée, wandering in desperation. Before my going back home Juan’s mother came with a book in her hands and told me, “I know Juan had liked you to have something from him”, and she put a small book in my hands. The book I had in my hands was entitled “ First steps in literature” for the 6th and last year of secondary school English classes. The pictures in the book were painted with moustaches, and   wigs for the bold heads, underlined here and there, as well as, with some quotations in the margins.

  

I was totally surprised and puzzled yet English was not precisely one of my dearest subjects since my teacher of English when I was twelve told me I had nothing to do with it, adding that I would never, ever learn it, telling that in the case I got the possibility to talk a little I would do it as a Spanish cow, to what I answered that I did not know that Spanish cows were able to speak. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I realize that my worst nightmare at school was a present from beyond the grave.

  

I got the book and put it close to my heart, I even kissed it and thanks Juan for the present although it was a complete apparent nonsense I always have had it close to me, always with my dear belongings despite considering it as a joke from the tomb. Sense of humour helps me a lot and as far as I remembered in the few occasions Juan and I had chatted, he had always shown a good dose of it.

  

Some months later my family and I moved far from that neighbourhood and I never saw Juan’s mother again.

 

I was 17 when I graduated in 1965, when I finish my secondary school. The book was on a shelf in my house. My marks in English were improving little by little thanks to a wonderful private teacher. My test for the University was successful but in French, my English was still painfully poor.

  

A year after Juan’s death I had finished my model course what made me get a job as a “Continuity TV Presenter for a TV channel where I was working from 14 to 18 when I had to decide more ambitious ways for my career. English was very important to succeed.

  

The episode of my dear neighbour had disappear from my mind but English started to be present in my thoughts so after my test at the University I went to the British Council to have some classes to improve it, with very good results.

  

As I was engaged I decided to stop for a while. My education push me to marry as my first and most important commitment, so I married a man of my social condition with families with similar experiences and despite the fact that we had very little in common, as I love studying and researching the human character and he hated books or knowledge.  The only thing we were able to share was sex but he always had better lovers than me so the marriage was a terrible mistake that dragged me to the deepest desperation and illness for more than 12 years. Nobody was guilty, just ignorance and the sentence “until death do us part” were responsible of that disgrace.

  

Well, in the meantime, I had two children, was operated twice, and was on the verge of death, sharing a really painful life, in all the imaginable aspects.

  

When I got over I was ready to retake my TV activities so I went to talk with my Union representatives and started conversations with the Director of The National Channel to present a programme for children when, again, my life had another surprise to me: I had to accompany my husband to Spain where he had to work for the Chilean Airline.

  

We arrived in Spain in August I was 25 years old on 17th that month. Juan’s book was one of the few belongings that I was able to carry with me. I left all my pieces of furniture, collections of books, and a large amount of objects, valuable things, presents from my wedding. Life was not easy in my country.  I felt as an immigrant and the adaptation with two little children was really hard though the company of my sister and later my brother help me a lot.

  

Fortunately I could get in contact with my profession, which made my life easier. English was always present in my job and, from time to time, I received compliments for my accent. However, the Nun’s words insisting in my impossibility to learn English were still firm in my mind so I did not feel totally confident with it.

 

The moment we had to decide to stay in Spain instead of going back to Chile, where the perspectives were not good for us, was terribly hard. We had to live with salaries that were the 30% of the one my husband had perceived until that moment. Anyway we decided to stay. I felt Spain my place and I had a good opportunity to work in “Radio Nacional”, so I thought it was a good decision.

 

Time past very slowly and our situation was more and more difficult. The presence of my mother in law living with us made it more and more complicated. Finally urged by my husband I left my job as a freelance interviewer for Radio Nacional de España and in a matter of months, due to my husband’s work we went to live to a small village, Torrejón de Ardoz, located in the East part of Madrid, with no option to work for Radio Nacional which was in the North-West part of the city, 50 km. far from the village I came to live in, three hours distance by buses and trains with an impossible time table and the fierce opposition of my husband and mother in love. They were apparently right if I considered my two little children needed their mother.

  

At the beginning it represented a great suffering for me but after some months I decided to take advantage of my situation and help a neighbour to start a Nursery School where Juan´ s book was present again. Three years before, in Chile when I got pregnant of my first child I realized that being a mother required certain knowledge and that I had no idea how to manage the situation so I searched for courses and I found a professional one to be a governess. Thinking that was ideal to me as the governess takes care of the baby helping him or her to have a good development from the first day of his or her life and then teaches the creature until he or she can go to the secondary school. I decided to get the course. I only did the first year of a course of two, that is to say I learnt how to manage from nursery school babies to seven years old children. I enjoyed my studies very much so when I had my son I felt more relaxed and capable to manage the situation. That is why I felt able to organise a modern and first quality nursery school similar to the one I had done my practise classes in the “Escuela Internacional de Educación” at its Governess School.

  

My neighbour and I organized the nursery school and received children from months to 6 for the upper classes. The smallest were in the babies’ area until they were 2 years old and at that age they went down to a different area to do exercises, work with plaster, sing and in general do all the disciplines that develop children skills and turn them into abilities. At the very beginning I was in charged of the smallest babies and used to sing English songs for them.  Although everybody thought it was useless, I knew that I was preparing them for the future.

  

In a year the school gained reputation and grew a lot. Therefore, I got the 2 to 4 year- old children course in addition. English was present every day in their classes, more and more important and after a year I was teaching English for the 100 children at school.

  

I had to leave the school because of my health but this little success made me help a teenager with her school English subject and, as the result was good, the following year I had 4 new students to help. Without being too aware of it I started to train myself to be an “English Teacher as a Foreign Language” I entered to work for Iberia thanks to English Language, I finally got the qualifications required to teach English to children passing the Official School of Languages exams in Spain and thanks to a colleague in Iberia, Jose Manuel, I discovered Phonetics, which permitted me to improve my English without going abroad, what was impossible for me at that moment.

  

Despite my efforts, my marriage got to an end. I decided that my health and the future of my children were more important than the oath I made unilaterally twelve years before, 12 years of common useless suffering.

  

Another operation, and enormous difficulties with my health, straggling to survive in the middle of a bunch of diseases and accidents that covered my and my family lives, in an effort to jump over everything I planned to start my own school of languages, taking advantage of my experience and with the participation and encouragement of my dearest students and the baking up of a bank Director.

  

The school was successful from the very beginning. It was different from the ones in the town but this success attracted the greediest people around us, who I permitted to push me out of my project, giving me no more options than going away.

  

My life was really tough. In 1993, after having to leave my school of English in my partner hands because it was impossible to go on with the permanent interference of her husband and the pressure of his powerful family and having left my job in Iberia for my health problems and the total pressure and indifference of the doctors and social workers, not only in Iberia but mainly in the Social Care System ones, I started moving towards a really uncertain future and although I tried to abandon my teaching English career and wait for my final days in Ibiza nobody seconded my plans so I came back to  Torrejón again.

  

In those terrible moments I felt lost and tried to find different jobs but Juan’s book appeared in front of my eyes once again to tell me that English was my best and only option.

  

With the help of my son and my dearest students I went on with my English classes taking some English Seminars in The British Council to update my knowledge and starting again. Years later, when 4 of my students, after several years studying with me got The Proficiency exam of Cambridge University and another bunch of 15 had already got their First Certificate at the same University I accepted and thanked having chosen English.

  

I found Juan’s book in a box after moving to a new house. I took it and the one of Alejo Roa my mentor, Spanish language and Literature teacher, which appeared to reinforce Juan’s message. I looked at them with love and took both to a Printer’s shop for them to be bound again, this time, with a leather cover and golden letters.

  

Now, every time I feel tired or disappointed, or even a little depressed, Juan’s book appears to call me from the shelf and makes me listen the deepest unconscious part of my brain and seems to push me to go on with my English classes even though English has never being too kind to me.

  

When I think in this mysterious book and what it has represented to my improvement I love thinking that Juan’s love for me has accompanied my way since I was 13 years old and he has been so deep inside me that he has protected my whole life because his feelings have prevailed through the time beyond our minds can understand. Sometimes I think why he had to die being so young, why he loved me and why her mother gave me the book.

  

The only thing I feel respect to this event is gratitude, his memories have save my life once and again telling me when I had no energy to go on: “Heaven can wait, and do not forget to improve your English, as a joke, adding his amusing smile carved in my mind for ever”

  

Thanks to Juan and his mother that introduced this lucky charm in my mind as my salvation, now, I feel happy to have a beautiful profession and a beautiful life even if people cannot see it at a first sight, even if some look at me as a failure as I felt forced to abandon the Radio rejecting a promising future for me and my children. Despite the scorn and ignorance of some people I consider my life beautiful and rich.

 

Teaching and being a Speaker for a TV Channel are really similar professions and after living popularity during my youth now I feel proud of pushing my students to succeed in their professions and personal lives, as a coach, passionate with their aims, as a great number of my teachers did with me in Chile.

 

Whatever happens in the future I know that this treasure book and I will be always together in my humble little space far from the spots and applauses, or, who knows, in the middle of a greater popularity.

 

Aliama Narval (Julio 2008)

 

 

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