Chapter Thirteen

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Jan. 9, 1957

Dear Mother and Daddy,

Another quarter - seven down and five to go. Norma’s all moved in to her new apartment now; I went over there Monday night and we prepared a Mexican dinner together. She’s done wonders with the place over Christmas vacation, painting thrift shop furniture (gilt paint - looks better than it sounds), upholstering, and sewing (pink curtains with gold tassels - ditto remark as above), to achieve a sort of Renaissance look.
This Saturday she’s having a house warming. The professor I had last quarter for Spanish 304 offered to give me a ride to the party. I think I’ve mentioned him before - his name is Corrado Maldonado - he’s about 30, at least six feet tall (almost as tall as Dr. Rosenau), with ramrod-straight posture like a flamenco dancer’s. Maldonado speaks Castilian Spanish (as opposed to the Latin American variety), and even his English has a slight lisping quality to it. I’m not quite sure if he meant that I was to go as his date, or what, but I already had transportation, so I thanked him and said no...

David drove me to the residence hall and I checked in for winter quarter. The housemother allowed men in the rooms during check-in – and only during check-in - since she took it for granted we girls needed fathers and brothers to help with the luggage. David carried my suitcase upstairs.
“So this is where you live, “he remarked, sitting down in my armchair; “What a lot of books. You never told me you have an El Greco on the wall.”
The thunderclouds hanging over the city in El Greco’s View of Toledo mirrored my mood. Without a word, I sat in David’s lap and drew my feet under me. “Poor baby,” he said, patting me consolingly, “it’s been quite a weekend for you, hasn’t it?” I fell asleep in his arms and the sun was nearly down when he awakened me. “Kate,” he said gently, “it’s after five. I have to be going.”
“Did you ever read Mary Poppins when you were a boy?”
“When I was a boy, dear, Mary Poppins hadn’t been written.”
“There’s one chapter I remember particularly. It’s about the time she takes Barbara and Michael to visit a friend of hers on his birthday. They start laughing so much they fill up with laughing gas and go bobbing up to the ceiling. Her friend tells them they’ll stay up there forever until one of them has a sad thought, but they’re all laughing so hard that everything they think of is hilarious. Finally, Mary Poppins says ‘it’s time to go home’ and they all float down to the floor. That’s how I feel whenever we say goodbye, sad and deflated. I know we can see each other tomorrow, or go sailing on Saturday, and it's not like I’m afraid you’re going to die or anything morbid’s going to happen. I can’t explain it; I’m just terribly depressed, as though my life is ending and won’t resume until I see you again. That’s neurotic, isn’t it? Maybe the term being 'crazy' about someone has a scientific basis.”
We sat together in the twilight. “While you were sleeping I was watching the sunlight fade on your picture. It’s strange how certain buildings stand out to the end, just as they do in real life. Have you seen the original?”
“When I went to Spain I looked for the painting in the Prado, but it’s in the Metropolitan, in New York.”
He sighed. “Perhaps some day we can visit those museums together. Well, it’s time you were getting off my lap, young lady. I think my legs have atrophied for lack of circulation.”
I smiled at his pleasantry. I wasn’t going to let me see me break down, regardless of how depressed I felt.
“May I leave my cans of paint, fenders, etcetera here until Saturday?”
I nodded and slipped my hand into his. We embraced and my resolve disappeared in a torrent of tears. “Please, David, stay a little longer.”
“I can’t.” He held me away from him with his hands on my arms. “I hate to leave you like this, crying, but if I postpone going for another half hour it won’t be any easier then. I know you've had an emotional 24 hours, really I do understand, but I must go.” He kissed me on the forehead and left.

Tuesday afternoon I was walking out of Dr. Garcia’s Latin American poetry class in Denny Hall when I saw Mr. Maldonado standing outside the door, holding a brown paper bag in his hand. He didn’t notice me immediately and I thought briefly of pretending I hadn’t seen him; I was in a hurry to attend an anthropology seminar on the top floor of Thomson Hall and had less than ten minutes to get there.
My conscience got the better of me. “Buenas tardes, Señor Maldonado.”
“Catarina. I … I was hoping to find you here. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
I thought of the Scarlet Letter and regretted speaking to him. “I have a class at three, but …yes.” Standing next to Mr. Maldonado I saw that behind the thick glasses his right eye was slightly misaligned; despite this defect, he was a good looking man.
“I wanted to thank you for helping me clean up after the Christmas party. You left so quickly I didn’t have a chance.”
“You’re very welcome … it was nice of you … I enjoyed the music so much; in fact I tried to buy the album in Ogden over Christmas vacation, but the record store didn’t carry it.”
“Yes, I noticed you jotted down the name. I’m glad you couldn’t find it, though, because I’d like to give you this.”
He handed me the package and I opened it. Inside was Villancicos Españoles – Christmas Songs of Spain, a Folkways recording. I didn’t know what to say. “But this is yours ...”
“I can always get another copy here in Seattle; please take the record. It will make me happy to think you’ll play the music and remember … Spanish 304.”
I thanked him and started edging in the direction of the exit, feeling panicky he was going to say something about David or the postcards.
Mr. Maldonado took a few steps toward me. “Norma told me she invited you to her housewarming on Saturday.”
“Yes … I think the party starts at eight.”
“It’s a long walk up her hill …. may I give you a ride?”
I was speechless. What was I going to say to this kind, earnest man – "thank you, but I already have a date with the married professor you saw me having breakfast with on Sunday"? I realized how awkward it would be if David and I attended the party together and made an immediate decision to decline Norma’s invitation. I knew she would understand when I explained about the postcards.
“I really appreciate your offer, but something’s come up and I can’t go after all.”
Mr. Maldonado looked crestfallen. I thanked him again for the record and sprinted from the building, arriving at Thomson with two minutes to spare. When I returned to my room later that afternoon, I took the record out of the bag; with a black marking pen, Mr. Maldonado had written on the cover “to Catarina from Corrado – a belated Merry Christmas, January 1957.”

Around ten o’clock in the morning, three days after my encounter with Mr. Maldonado, I was in my room typing David’s work when the phone rang. It was raining, as it always seemed to be in Seattle when bad things happened, and I remember looking out the window just before picking up the receiver and seeing raindrops running down the pane, like tears down a cheek. I recognized Norma’s voice, but she was sobbing so convulsively that I couldn’t understand what she was saying.
Finally, I made out a few words: “Corrado … found him last night … hanged himself …”
“Oh, my God, Norma …”
“I’m in my office. Can you come over?”
I threw on a raincoat and ran to Denny Annex, where the Romance language teaching assistants had their offices. The place was in an uproar; everyone was stunned by the violent death of a man they’d all talked to only days before. Several of Maldonado’s students were in the corridor trying to find out what had happened and many others were crying.
Gradually, as Norma calmed down, she told me the story. Wednesday morning Mr. Maldonado missed his Spanish 102 class and hadn’t called the department office to give an explanation. When he failed to attend a meeting in the afternoon, the chairman of the department, Dr. Nelson, phoned Maldonado’s apartment and no one answered. Thursday morning he was absent again, and by then the staff was getting worried. Later the same day Maldonado’s landlady let the police into his apartment and they found him; Maldonado had thrown a rope over a beam in the ceiling of his living room, stood on a chair, kicked it away, and hanged himself. He left a note concerning funeral arrangements, but nothing else.
I was numb, speechless. “But why?”
Norma shook her head. “Everyone has a different theory; you wouldn’t believe the rumors I’ve heard. I'm quite sure I know the reason, but I'll never be certain.”
“If David’s free can I ask him to join us? This may not be related to Maldonado’s death, but there’s something we need to tell you.”
Norma agreed and I phoned David. He must have guessed why I was calling from the tone of my voice because he said immediately, “I know. I saw the story in the paper this morning.”
Fifteen minutes later David arrived; he hugged Norma and he hugged me.
“Why don’t we go to Commons and talk,” he suggested; “it’s too noisy here and too depressing.”
David held his umbrella over our heads and we crossed Denny Yard to Commons, a cafeteria in Raitt Hall. David brought three cups of coffee to the table; we told Norma about the postcards and I recounted my meeting with Maldonado three days previously.
I dried my eyes and wiped my nose. “I can’t help holding myself responsible for his death in some way. What if he hadn’t noticed me and David at Mannings or I hadn’t given him the grade card, or he hadn’t seen us together at the HUB? What if I’d agreed to go to your party with him? What if being disappointed with me tipped him over the edge? Regardless of whether he had any romantic notions about me, I feel like I let him down.”
“Everyone’s saying the same thing. We all feel guilty. Just before you arrived, I was talking to one of his students, a Spanish major. She said they’d had a discussion – more like an argument – in class a few days ago. They were talking about a novel – right now I’m so distraught I can’t even remember its name – but the point is Nélida told him there was no reason to get emotional about the characters' motivations because it was fiction, and Corrado got upset because to him fiction was every bit as important as reality. He certainly didn’t commit suicide because a student disagreed with him about literature, but this is one example of what I’ve been hearing all morning”.
“What else are they saying?”
“That he was homosexual and his lover broke up with him.”
“Do you think that’s true?”
“Honestly, I don't have any idea. I didn’t think he was … but you never know. The rate of homosexuality in any Romance language department is certainly high, but Corrado… how can you reconcile his being homosexual with your conversation on Tuesday and everything else that happened before? Did he offer you a ride because he thought of it as a sort of date – or was it only a ride? In a way, his remark about hoping you’d play the record and think of Spanish 304 – by which he certainly meant himself – seems like a foreshadowing of his death."
David had been largely silent until then. “Norma, you said you have an idea why he killed himself. What is it?”
“I haven’t mentioned this to anyone else because it seems disrespectful to his memory but … I had a long talk with Corrado Monday afternoon. He’d just come from a meeting with Dr. Nelson and Nelson told him he was out after this quarter. He was totally devastated.”
“Out! You mean fired?” I exclaimed, “But why?”
“Corrado came here in 1953. The department hired him at the rank of Instructor with the understanding he'd be promoted to Assistant Professor once he completed his dissertation and got his Ph.D; that was four years ago. You can’t take four years to write your dissertation. I’m amazed he lasted as long as he did. From what he told me, I gathered he wasn’t making any progress, either. You mentioned feeling guilty – well, I feel guilty myself. It’s not that I wasn’t sympathetic, but maybe there’s something more I could have said or done. It never crossed my mind he was considering suicide.”

Maldonado’s father arrived from the Midwest and took his son’s body home for burial. A couple of junior faculty members volunteered to clean out Maldonado’s apartment, and when the landlady admitted them, they discovered he'd made a list bequeathing many of his possessions to his friends. To Norma he left a beautiful Florentine box with leaves embedded in the cover and to me another record, Germaine Montero singing Folk Songs of Spain.
Maldonado must have expected his funeral would be held in Seattle, for he requested they play one of the songs on the record at the church. By the time his gifts were discovered however, Maldonado’s remains had already been taken home, so his friends decided to play the song at his memorial service, held a week later at a nearby Methodist chapel.
I went with Norma and David. Friends and colleagues spoke about his scholarship, his sense of humor, his kindness. Dr. Nelson said how much he would miss an inspired teacher. Norma had been asked to say a few words, but she declined, knowing she couldn’t talk about Maldonado without breaking down. Mr. Mazzello, from the Italian department, mentioned Maldonado had requested a certain Spanish folk song at his funeral, and he put on the record – my record now – of Montero singing the haunting Ya se van los pastores.

Ya se van los pastores a la Extremadura,
ya se van los pastores a la Extremadura,
ya se queda la sierra triste y oscura
ya se queda la sierra triste y oscura.

Ya se van los pastores ya se van marchando
ya se van los pastores ya se van marchando
más de cuatro zagalas quedan llorando
más de cuatro zagalas quedan llorando.

Ya se van los pastores hacia la majada
ya se van los pastores hacia la majada
ya se queda la sierra triste y callada
ya se queda la sierra triste y callada.

(The shepherds are going away to Extremadura, leaving the mountains sad and dark. The shepherds are going away, they’re going away, leaving more than four shepherd girls crying. The shepherds are going away to the flocks, leaving the mountains sad and silent).

Norma and I burst into tears.

Go to Chapter Fourteen


Anonymous said...

In 1957 the word used was 'Homosexual'. Only with each other would they have used the word "Gay." It was not until the 1980's that the world came into common use.

Rebecca Heath said...

I looked up the history of "gay" on the internet, and while it was used to mean "homosexual" before this story takes place, I agree that it probably wasn't used commonly at this time by young women like Kate and Norma. Fortunately, posting the book on the internet gives me the opportunity to correct this anachronism. Thank you for taking the time to point out the error.