Of middle height, she walked with an amazingly long stride. She spoke with her hands; those were perpetually whirling in mid-air. Yet, for all her ebullience, her voice was soft and soothing. Yes, that voice is my strongest recollection of her. That and her occasional whimsical, staccato messages from all corners of the globe.
An enterprising journalist, she had reported extensively from Mexico, and later from Honduras and Costa Rica. Lately she had been on the trail of drug routes and had filed disturbing reports that had drawn interest and admiration. She wanted to follow up and found a way to be assigned to Colombia. After the first few weeks in and around Bogotá, she ended up, like others before her, in Medellin. She used her excellent Castilian to gain
the credence of villagers in the countryside and the residents of the poorest barrios.
Then she disappeared.
When I returned to the US six months later, I had an acute sense of unfinished business. I knew her parents were divorced, but I hoped one of them might have some information. I made a special trip to New York to see her father, who worked in the school system as a bus driver. I met him on a Saturday morning, reeking of beer, and he kept asking why I was so interested in his daughter’s fate. The explanation that I was a friend seemed insufficient to him. I had to leave after an hour without gathering much. Her mother lived in a Maryland suburb and it was a long but easy drive to her place. Though a Canadian citizen, her Latvian accent shone through, and she appreciated my admiration for her only child. She said that the local consulate, at her urging, had pressed the government for a thorough inquiry, but it hadn’t yielded more than some peripheral information. A few local miscreants had been rounded up and interrogated, but none had been indicted. The inquiry had simply stalled.
When I returned to Washington, I checked with friends and erstwhile colleagues, but soon realized that I was walking up a blind alley. Her life had ended, brutally and tragically, and nothing more was to be expected on the how or why of that end. One could only speculate that she had, perhaps boldly and rashly, as was her wont, entered on a search that some unknown others thought perilous. They had then decided that the search should end.
I came back home, disappointed, with a sense of defeat.
The following weekend I was looking through her messages and letters, when I suddenly remembered a small package she had sent me when she first arrived in Bogotá. She knew of my interest in Chilean poetry. The package contained a well-known book of poems. Leisurely I turned the pages. Maybe I hoped, desperately, that I would find a little note inside that I had overlooked. No, there was no note.
But, as I was about to close the book, I suddenly noticed, practically at the end, a few lines she had underlined that I hadn’t noticed earlier (I am using Donald Walsh’s translation):
All that we were bringing like dead medals
We threw to the bottom of the sea
All that we learned was of no use to us
We begin again, we end again
Death and life.
Neruda had two lines she hadn’t underlined that came as an uncanny message of solace:
We have met
We have lost nothing.