Sometimes, when I awake in the middle of night and can’t go back to sleep, memories often rise to the surface, that I usually don’t revert to in my normal waking life. I guess when just awakening, and lying there doing nothing, allows thoughts from the unconscious to present themselves to my waking mind, and perhaps are asking to be dealt with, or to just simply be remembered. They are often very powerful, surprisingly so, since like I said I do not often revert to them.

I started to think about a friendship I developed when I was 16 with two young adults, who were I guess about 25 at the time. The young man’s name was Carlos, and the young lady’s Elena, whom I first met on my delivery route in Gulick Heights, which was part of an army base in Panama, Canal Zone. The year was either late 64 or early 65. They were staying in the apartment of a Mr. Olson, who was an electrician working for the army. He lived in one of the apartment buildings that were set aside for unmarried personnel. The building had 4 units, each with one bedroom.

I remember the first day I met them. Of course to me they were adults, and ten years difference is a big gap for someone who is just 16, but I always like hanging with adults. They were so much more interesting at times, at least they were when listening to what some of them had to say. For some reason Carlos and Elena took to me, and made it clear that I was welcome anytime to come and visit, and just talk. Elena was very beautiful. She was short with jet black hair, almond skin, and the most beautiful eyes, they were almost black, that you could get lost in. Carlos was a lot like her, just not as pretty. Funny, I never felt the need to ask what their relationship with Mr. Olson entailed, it just never came up. I just felt so comfortable with them, that just being with them, and enjoying their company was more than enough. They were both from the interior of Panama, so I thought they may have been his children from a past relationship, in any case they seemed to be very close to Mr. Olson, so that was enough for me.

I guess you can say I loved both of them. People can be loved in so many ways, but the best kind is that which has no urgent longings behind it, it is just there, a part of life, and it deepens the experience of the other, heightening the beauty of the ones loved. They were so kind to me, and listened to what I talked about, and I listened to them in return. We laughed a lot, played cards, and I drank a little with them, wine mostly. One day when I came by for a visit, they were making a fruit punch with some of the local fruits; mangos, pineapple and I think papaya. I remember thinking that it looked like blood in the bottles it was so red. Then we went into the jungle behind the house, found a nice cool spot, and buried the two bottles, marked the spot and left. They told me that in a couple of months they would dig it up, and that I would like it; which in fact turned out to be true; it produced a very sweet wine, and strong. After one glass I was a little woozy, which was a source of great entertainment for both of them, if not for me. Both Elena and Carlos laughed a lot, loved music, and sometimes we would dance to Panamanian melodies, which I liked, thought I did not listen to that kind of music often.

Sometimes we would talk about life in general, and they seemed interested in what I had to say on certain topics. We talked about religion, philosophy, though at that time I did not know too much on the subject, and once we talked about Dante’s poem “The divine Comedy” that I was reading. Another thing I liked about them, they did not box me in, but simply let me be. One of the things I hated about being in High School is all the categories, or slots, that we put each other in. Since they were older they did not feel the need to do that with me, so there was a certain freedom present that I did not feel with others my own age. I could breathe with them, just be myself.

Then one day while delivering papers, I came by the apartment. I suppose it was about 4 PM. The door to the apartment was ajar, and the interior dark. The silence coming from inside was deafening, it almost screamed out to me in its nothingness, its essential emptiness. I called out Elena’s name, but received no answer. Usually, I would just go inside to see if either she, or Carlos, were home. However, that day I felt a chill go through me, it was like something was in there, but like I said it was a ‘lacking’, like the feeling you get when looking down a very deep, dark, pitch black well. I stood frozen before the door, not sure what to do, so I just left, not understanding what I was feeling.

The next day when I came by the house I learned that Elena was dead. The word suicide was thrown around, but I am not sure actually how she died, or perhaps I don’t know how she killed herself. From the time frame I received, she was dead in the apartment when I knocked on the door, and perhaps on some basic instinctive level I knew already that she was gone, and spared myself the horror of finding her body. I never saw Carlos again, and was sorry that I could not have seen him at least one more time before he left.

For the next two years, whenever I passed by that house I would feel a chill come out of the lower apartment, and never went near it again. I remember one night waking home by myself from the movies, and as I walked by the apartment, I stopped, and just stared at the cold dark interior shown me through the windows. I felt rage, sorrow, loss, and mostly just confusion, over what had happened. I was sorry that I did not pick up on Elena’s pain, though I doubted there would have been anything I could have done to help her. The inner world of a 16 year old, is not yet expansive enough to pick up on that kind of thing, at least it was that way for me. I did not feel guilt about her death, but the hole now present, in the fabric of my life, which was once filled with her presence, was real, even if it was not a major tear.

Elena was loved by me, but it was not the kind of love that ripped my life apart when she died. It did cause pain, but it was a pain that I could keep to myself, and no one was burdened by it. I never talked about it with my parents, friends, or with my brother’s and sister’s, simply never thought of it. Also with Carlos, no goodbyes, he was just gone, so in a way he died also, two young adults who befriended me were simply gone without a trace. I could not go to Elena’s funeral, since even Mr. Olsen did not really know about our friendship.

It is hard to have closure for losses that are important but not major, say like the death of a parent, or a brother or sister, spouse etc. From my own experience, these lesser losses just linger, perhaps become old friends, who sit quietly, causing no fuss, but waiting for the chance to simply come to the surface and be remembered. So yes I still mourn Elena, and Carlos, in bits and pieces, because the relationship ended without closure of any sort. I can’t wail, or scream, or carry on in ways that would be understandable, since their leaving me was not that deep, or extreme. It is like I am in an in-between place, and perhaps it is in the in-between that we get lost. There are no markers along the way, no rituals that really deal with this. Or perhaps life just gets too busy, and they can’t be dealt with; no time.

When I remember them, which is not really that often. I sometimes go, when I pray, to the time of Elena’s death, and asked that the Lord be with her as she leaves this life, and even try to be present in spirit to be of help to her; for I did love her in my own way. I hope she is at peace. One of the great things about being catholic is that we do pray for the dead, that God’s grace continues to heal after we pass over, and that they being part of the body of Christ, and since there is only one body, our prayers can help them.

Bitter sweet is what comes to mind. I suppose that everyone has memories like the one I just shared, or perhaps many of them. Like joy, these events, that become our memories, are important. Perhaps they make us more compassionate towards others, deepen our empathy for the sufferings of those we come in contact with. Even if they seem from the outside, not to be that serious, or deep, we learn to look deeper. Small wounds, large ones, it does not matter, they are all wounds. Some heal faster than others; some don’t heal at all since closure is not possible. One day I hope to be able to embrace Elena, and tell her that I did love her and Carlos as well. I am not afraid of this kind of pain, it makes me human, and perhaps more alive and vibrant in my everyday life. To simply love another is a precious gift, and those loved should be treasured, since we do live in a world of beginnings, and endings.

I would do it all over again if the choice was given to me. My live was enriched by two adults who accepted me, and allowed me to be a part of their lives, no matter how small. Bittersweet…. you can’t have one without the other.

So yes I travel to Elena’s side, and pray for her, in her death. Perhaps that is what Christians are called to. Perhaps each of us, as we pray, bring mankind with us before the Father, united to the Son, and filled with the light of the Holy Spirit. All not some, I don’t think any should be outside the scope of our prayers or love.

Prayer for the dying:

Lord of life beyond space and time, Be with those who are dying in your eternal moment, Let all be embraced by your infinite love, All wounds healed, Sins forgiven, Lifted up into the light of your majesty, For we are one in your eyes, One body united in your Son, Who carried the wounds of mankind on his body. For each is of eternal worth, Loved from eternity, Called into existence because of love, to the eternal relationship of oneness without end, Amen.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.

  1. How often do you remember Elena and Carlos? Also being a devout catholic, were you hesitant in joining the navy? The thought of taking a life (if necessary) is still not a clear concept to me. Lastly, it was a pleasure reading your experience, and little saddened that you did not achieve a closure.

  2. Mark Dohle

    Quite often actually, I am still haunted by it… someone I love gone so suddenly. Also the fact that I did not go into the house, as if warned, does help. Perhaps it would have been worse for me to have seen her at so young an age.

    I was in the Navy, in personnel, so I did not have to worry about fighing or killing anyone. I wanted to join the Navy, it was a way to see the larger world and grow up.

    Thanks for you kind comment.


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