“No sabes lo que tienes hasta que lo pierdes”.
Or, in plain English, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Most of the time we apply this proverb to things, assets, even qualities we took for granted, not realizing we’ve overplayed the cards in our hand until it’s way too late to backtrack. Extending such an expression to people, however, is a completely different story, one I never thought I’d have to tell.
I actually agonized about whether even writing these lines was a good idea. One half of me, wanting to withdraw and grieve for such a huge loss, was initially against it. The other, realizing that facing your inner sadness brings resignation and eventually a new chance at happiness, decided to go ahead and pull the bullet off my chest to stop the bleeding.
Her username was Pita28, and she was probably the cream of the crop when it came to Slowly users. Funny, articulate, empathic, always finding time to read my ramblings and not go insane. I received her first letter on November 9, 2019, when she told me me she was a newcomer to this here ecosystem. As soon as I saw she agreed with my distaste of users who send you a short letter and then vanish, I knew something special was about to begin. My first reply to her was a run-of-the-mill introduction with a Paul Watzlawick reference baked in for good measure – his first axiom: “one cannot not communicate.” We hit the ground running and started exchanging letters with astonishing consistency: an average of 13 a month through the change of decade and into February despite having to wait for over a day for our messages to reach each other (she lives in the United States while I reside in Chile).
And communicate we did, honoring Watzlawick’s premise. Our letters were initially in Spanish but we later switched to English. She was the first – and only – Slowly user to whom I revealed my real name, and she promised to keep it a secret. We shared our best photos, exchanged individual and set stamps, recipes… We found common ground as pet persons even though she loved dogs and I preferred cats. We shook our heads in utter disbelief at the lengths some people would go for a swig of booze, as well as the utter lunacy of some Coca-Cola ripoffs. We ruthlessly mocked influencers and Internet celebrities, including their cult-like fans who make Jim Jones and his acolytes look like sensible, rational people in comparison. We shared the hopes of future trips abroad, including one where we’d meet in person, one I was really looking forward to. We laughed at the mental retardation that is the so-called “cancel culture,” saving our mightiest blows for those perpetually aggrieved snowflakes who get triggered by anything and everything, so afraid of their own shadows that they refuse to face the truth of what the world really is. We appreciated being people grounded on solid principles and our willingness to defend them. We loved our families with all their quirks. We saw how the Wuhan coronavirus strain, a.k.a. Covid-19, spread all over the world, wishing the other would stay clear from infection. But the biggest surprise came when I told her about “Alguien Como Tú,” my debut novel. Not only she bought it, she read it from top to bottom and loved it! Heck, she even left me a five-star review on the retailer she acquired it from! That alone was the biggest mood boost I’ve gotten in the last two decades, and it fills me with optimism as I start laying the first seeds of my second book.
I never sent so many letters to any other penpal, for she was the cream of the crop in a crowded field of select, valuable human beings. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 52 over a four-month span or one every roughly 40 hours if my calculations are on the mark for a 93-day period. Her missives helped me build an oasis of calm and reason in a world growing more intolerant by the day, something I’ll always be thankful for. I can’t help but feel that I’m indebted to Pita, and since I’m not the kind of person who kicks debts or promises down the road, I’ll have to take the long winding path to adequately thank her for the blessing she was to my ever-tense existence.
On February 27, when Chile was observing the 10th anniversary of the devastating earthquake – 8.8 Richter, IX Mercalli – that levelled a significant part of the country, killed 525 people, and caused over USD 30 billion in damages, I opened the app and nearly lost my footing but not because of a commemorative tremor. I noticed her icon had a gray border; she had deactivated her account, meaning I could no longer send her letters. Our last contact had been 18 days ago – my reply to her last missive. My mind went into triple overdrive thinking about what could’ve driven her to take such a drastic measure… with no tangible explanation to this day. Maybe I’ll never know her reasons for leaving the Slowly world, but as my initial disbelief has subsided I know that I’ll carry the good moments we shared to my grave. One fact cannot be countered by any cards, though: her absence left a massive void in my psyche, one that will be nigh-on-impossible to fill barring a major miracle.
Wherever you might be now, dear Pita, be sure that I’ll always remember you as the best penpal of all. Safe travels, my friend, and may your life be filled with nothing but success and happiness from now on.
Tu amigo chileno,