By Shepherd Bliss with Assumpta Ortiz
A “Second Chance,” after 25 years of absence and silence, was recently offered Shepherd by Assumpta. Her email arrived from Europe to his farm. We met in Barcelona in l988 and have had no contact during the last quarter of a century. I answered her email within 15 minutes of its sending, without thinking, but with a deep feeling of connection.
“Where are you staying?” this cinnamon-shaded woman inquired in Spanish, after I presented at an international conference. I used to speak Spanish well, but not for about 15 years, because of war trauma in Chile during the early l970s. “You could stay at my home,” she invited. I appreciated her Catalan hospitality, but declined, not wanting to be unprofessional. “How about dinner, then?” she continued, which I did accept.
I eventually extended my stay and moved in with Assumpta for a few days. My lost Spanish, the language of my deepest love feelings, began returning. Love can stimulate recovery. Assumpta later visited me in the Boston area. She then moved to Montreal for graduate studies, where I visited her in 1989.
I wrote about those first connections in an essay entitled “Making Love in Spanish Differs,” which was published in two books. She remembers our beginning as “an irrational, intuitive, impulsive, deep experience.” She felt “an immediate affection when I saw your eyes locked on mine. I was a free woman. I felt loved and understood in my whole person. I felt alive and energetic.” Our early encounters were primal and embodied.
We discussed sharing a life together. She wanted a child, but I did not. Many things that differ can be both/and. Having a child is either/or. I was afraid. Given all my military genes–including the fort named after our Southern fighting family, Ft. Bliss, Texas–I was unwilling to take the risk. Having served in the Army during the Vietnam Era, I did not want to sire yet another Bliss boy who might go to war and kill or be killed.
Assumpta eventually had a son, though her relationship with his father dissolved. I have been careful and never gotten a woman pregnant. I am now childless in my 60’s and without a life partner.
This year Assumpta again took the initiative to connect. Then she invited me to Barcelona; I plan to go in July and she plans to come to California in January. This re-connection, which she calls a “golden opportunity,” has ignited me with energy. We email every day, usually many times. She asked me to install skype, so we speak and see each other. We exchange photos. We discuss our long-long-distant relationship with friends. Across the miles, she feels “accompanied by you,” as I feel by her.
As Assumpta, a former nurse, says. “Such dreams stimulate endorphins that positively influence the nervous system. In the midst of economic crises, senseless wars, earthquakes, and climate changes that accelerate destruction of nature, it is possible to love deeply. Love calls for reconstruction.”
We’ve already had our first conflict. She said something that bothered me. I responded promptly and took the risk of telling her that I felt hurt. It was quickly resolved and drew us closer. I want to open the door widely to Assumpta. I seem to have more boundaries than she.
I began writing this in an all-day circle among military veterans and our allies in our Veterans Writing Group, who have gathered regularly to write for over two decades. “There’s nothing new about late-life romance,” our over-80 World War II Navy vet Bill Boykin said, as he tenderly touched his long-time, beautiful wife Marg Starbuck.
A year before Assumpta’s return, I came to love another creature, who opened my heart. A 12-week-old puppy came toward me at the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market. I reached down and she jumped into my arms. I noted a litter of half a dozen dogs. “May I walk her around?” I asked. “Sure,” they responded enthusiastically. I came back later to return her. “She’s adopted you,” they said. “Oh, no, I am not looking for a dog,” I replied. “You should take her home,” they responded. So I did.
Winnie has been the love of my life for slightly over a year. Last semester one of my college students noted, “Now that Shepherd has a dog, he is a better teacher, and even a better person.” Winnie was the midwife to my relationship with Assumpta. This four-footed, to which I am a two-footed companion, helps heal me. Both Assumpta and Winnie are spontaneous and act with flair; they help connect me to the primitive.
On our one-month anniversary of re-connection, Assumpta sent me the gift of her “Love History.” It began with her mother and father; he spent time in a concentration camp, which he never talked about. My father fought during World War II and became a career military officer. He also did not talk about his war experiences. Both of our fathers were somewhat absent, though Assumpta eventually got closer to her father than I did. Fortunately, I felt very close to my mother.
Assumpta and I have some important differences in our cultures and languages. A salient similarity is that we have both been touched directly by fascism—she by the Spanish Civil War, which was before her birth, and myself by “the other 9/11,” when the military toppled the democratic government of Chilean President Salvador Allende. He initiated a reign of terror throughout Latin America’s Southern Cone, which took the lives of thousands, including my friends.
We both carry what Assumpta describes as “the suffering and cruelty of war.” We have the “genetic information of torture and isolation. I do not think that it is possible to reach the depth of feelings without the extreme experiences. The same capacity that makes us sensitive to pain can make us sensitive to love. Some dream of a deep love but live on the surface.”
Assumpta writes about the indispensable elements of love being “empathy, solidarity, communication, friendship, altruism, intimacy, respect, and reciprocity.” I have been reading the excellent book “Undefended Love,” by Jett Psari and Marlena Lyons, and sending her quotes from it. I have been pretty defended in my own giving and receiving. I now seek to be less defended.
This second time around, we are experiencing what Assumpta describes as “a direct, spontaneous, and irrational experience unhindered by the repressive mind.” She also voices her “doubts and fears” and writes that “we need to harmonize. We express our feelings continuously. We are compatible in mental, spiritual, and emotional levels. But we are on earth in a physical plane and yet have no physical contact yet.” We need to “avoid idealization,” she adds, and I agree. She writes about what she describes as “mature love,” which is what it feels that we are attempting.
Fortunately, our goals are now compatible, which they were not in l980’s. We each want what she describes as a “life partner” with whom we can “become who we are” and “express the self.” Assumpta wants a man “to support my head resting on his shoulder.” She “wants to feel a man’s hand wrapped around my hand. I want to feel the gaze of a man penetrating my eyes. I yearn for sensual dancing.” That is also what I want from this woman in our “Second Chance.” We cry the tears of joy often.
My response to Assumpta’s anniversary statement of love included the following: “Yes, love ‘requires time and availability.’ I am available to you and have time for our relationship. We communicate each day with each other. You are very present in my life; I think and feel often about you. My life also feels incomplete without a woman to love and be loved by. I want us to be that person for each other. Yes, it is a risk for us to go toward each other and be together. Though many miles, different cultures, languages, and histories separate us, we are deeply connected in other ways.”
I hope that my friends and community might welcome Assumpta with open hearts when she comes to visit here. Having a village can help keep couples and families together.