Forbidden Love in Argentina: My Story By Eugenia Maria Renskoff I was living in San Francisco when the phone call from Western Union changed my life. Your Uncle Juan has died, the voice said. Uncle Juan in Argentina? But he was always so full of life, so dynamic, a man always ready to help his neighbors, help anybody who needed it. Ihard to believe he was gone. I called my aunt and after talking with her for a few minutes, I decided I had to drop everything and go down there. My life was in need of a change and I was eager to help my favorite (and only) aunt.When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I knew I was right to have made the trip. My aunt had changed from a robust, happy-looking woman into someone who was haggard and very thin. Padre Luis had been a good friend to my uncle before and especially, during his illness. My aunt said she wanted me to meet him, so she took me to the local church where he was the parish priest. He was around 27, only two years older than me, with dark brown eyes, fair skin and and an outgoing personality. For me, it was love at first sight. When I saw him, I felt something that I had never felt in my life. I seemed to recognize him from another life, I had net him before, long ago. Taking care of my aunt kept me busy for a few days at the same time that it gave me time to start denying that I felt what I knew I was feeling. But it was no use. Try as I might I always ended up thinking about Padre Luis. One day I went to the church and signed up to be a volunteer for Caritas (Catholic Charities). I thought that if I saw him often, my feelings would go away. I would get rid of them once and for all.Padre Luis was loved by everyone. They called him Luis or Luisin.I couldn’t. I started to hate the word Padre, but I used it as often as I could, for the most part to keep him and my own feelings, at a distance. Once he asked me why I didn’t dispense with formalities, but I just played dumb and said that in the United States people never called their parish priests by their first names. Give me time, I asked him, lying. He tried to engage me in conversation several times, asking me questions about my life in California, what I had studied in college, but my answers were brief and to the point. When he spoke to me, I never dared look him in the eye. Whatever I was afraid of; it was something that I didn’t want to deal with Being near Luis was very enjoyable, like going to a great big party, were we were the most important guests. I looked forward to my Caritas duties more and more. My aunt even joked about the possibility of my becoming a nun, and I laughed with her. Except for my father, our entire family was Catholic, but we hardly ever went to church. Now helping people (even if there wasn’t much I could actually do) became really important to me. I was happy and I never wanted that happiness to end. I didn’t care if we were almost never alone, or if his small office was so crowded that it reminded me of a busy train station, like Grand Central in New York. Time went by and my aunt’s landlady asked her to move out. The news came as a shock because my aunt and uncle had lived there for over 16 years and had never missed a payment. We felt comfortable in the house and in the neighborhood, but there was nothing we could do except look for another place. My aunt began to suspect the truth about my feelings and suggested I go back to the United States. I refused. There was no way I could leave her. Her situation was a hard one and my uncle’s family could not be counted on to do anything for her. I could not leave him, either, even if he wasn’t actually mine. One time, just before Christmas, my aunt and I were invited to a gathering. The small parish house where Luis and the other priest lived was packed. My aunt was talking with a neighbor when Luis walked by me. I blushed and looked the other way. He was holding his young niece by the hand. Why priests can’t be married, I thought. Why not give them the chance to be husbands and parents, just like rabbis or Protestant ministers? What great big harm would that do the Church? It was a Saturday afternoon. My mother was saying that my father was very ill. It had happened with no warning. He was very weak, not himself anymore. I had to go back to California to see him, probably for the last time.Before taking the plane back, I went to see Padre Luis. I felt that if I did not say I loved him I would explode. My secret could no longer be just mine alone. Besides, he had a right to know. I didn’t expect him to tell me he loved me, too, but I was young and in love. I couldn’t help it. I wished for that to actually happen. Maybe I also wished that he would go to the United States with me. It was Sunday after the 12 noon Mass. I was very scared when I opened the door of his office. Now or never—it had to be done before I lost my nerve. Every one had already left. I swallowed hard, and looking him in the eye, I told him about my feelings. When I got back to San Francisco, I discovered that my father had terminal cancer. I spent as much time as I could with him. I felt guilty about having been away all those months in Argentina. A few times I wanted to tell him about Luis, but I didn’t dare. Not that my father would have been shocked, or have said something like How dare you! But I just didn’t want to tell him anything as serious as that in his condition.A month or two later, I wrote a letter to Luis. When I told him I loved him, he hadn’t said anything and that had made me feel confused and angry, like he didn’t care, like he heard declarations of love every day of his life. Even if he didn’t love me back, why not say something? Anything would have been better than silence. Silence was cold and gray. I needed him to speak to me, to tell me thanks, but no thanks, if that was what he had to do.My father died. About a week after the burial, I called my aunt. She still knew nothing about my father’s death. I could not tell her over the phone. The awful moment she and I had dreaded had finally come: Her landlady was suing her for eviction. I had to return to Argentina and see if there was anything I could do to help her. The thought of seeing Luis again did not seem to worry me. My mind tried very hard not to think about it. I hoped to feel nothing when, and if, we ran into each other again. I would probably not see him anyway. He had not even bothered to answer my letter.My aunt asked me to go with her to see Luis. There was a lawyer he knew who could help at the trial. She was young, but very good with tough cases.When he attempted to shake hands with me, I almost hid mine behind my back. But my aunt was there watching me closely, so I pretended that it didn’t bother me at all. I managed to give him the tips of my fingers—the best I could do. Touching him even slightly made my body tremble all over. It was like an electric current going through me. I hid my feelings by looking at the floor while he and my aunt talked. When I was able to, I asked him about the letter. Why hadn’t he answered it? It wasn’t a long letter. I hadn’t written and sent it just because I had nothing better to do with my time. My aunt started to say that that was no way to talk to a priest, but Luis interrupted her and told me he had received the letter and would answer it in person.After my aunt lost the lawsuit, our search for another house became more desperate. We only had three more months in the house, and then what? Where would we go? Where would she go? A nursing home was out of the question. To take a break from our problems, my aunt suggested that I go visit one of our old neighbors. She would be fine, she assured me smiling, and all she needed was a little rest. I came back to the house. I called to her, but she didn’t answer. She was dead in the bedroom. Later the doctor said she had simply fallen sleep. My world was over, my friend was gone. My Aunt had been more than a relative, more than my mother’s only sister. She and her neighborhood had become a very special place to me, and now I had lost them both. A neighbor invited me to go stay with her and her family and I accepted. I needed time to think, to see what I would do with myself from now on. I had to know where I belonged and why. The only place that offered me any real comfort was the parish church. The Virgen Maria had been my Special Friend. I had gotten used to talking to Her as if to a woman my own age. The church was empty. I was sitting on a pew one afternoon when Luis came up to me. I did not want to speak with him, but he insisted I go with him to his office. He seemed nervous and a little shy, quite unlike himself. Now I can answer your letter, he told me. At first I didn´t want to read it, but I got curious. Temptation got the better of me, he added laughing.I told him I was glad I’d sent it. I had no regrets, none at all. I would do it again, if I had to do it over again.He told me he loved me. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t dare believe him—it was like a dream come true and so far, in my life, none of my dreams ever had come true. Luis looked at me, took off his priestly collar and kissed me not gently and not hard. That white collar had been the second thing I had grown to hate because it separated him from me. It had been a barrier, a stain that could not be washed off, not even with the best laundry detergent.What if he went back to the Church after a while? What if he regretted not being a priest anymore? His favorite uncle had been a priest, and one day, without any warning, he had left everything to get married. There had been a scandal and that had shaken Luis badly. His uncle had been a man that he had looked up to, someone he had respected. These thoughts ran through my mind and Luis, watching me closely, seemed to guess every single one of them. He was reading me like a book. No, that wouldn’t happen, he told me, because he was sure of his feelings. He would miss being a priest at first, but he loved me.But I was afraid. What of, I wasn’t sure—maybe afraid of all I had just thought, afraid of loving him too much. Suddenly I started to cry. I shook my head violently. Luis started to come near me, but I pushed him away with my hands. No, it wouldn’t work out. I looked at him one last time and said goodbye. Without bothering to close the office door behind me, I ran all the way to my neighbor´s. I did not want to tell her what had happened, so when she asked me what was wrong, I simply said I had decided to go back to California. I knew that if I told her she wouldn’t have been surprised or said anything to make me feel guilty for loving a priest, but it was best not to confide in her. I told her that my aunt’s death had made up my mind for me: nothing in Argentina would ever be the same for me without her. I would be leaving for California as soon as I sold her belongings. Two weeks later I packed my bags and went to the airport. I never saw him again. I loved this man more than I have ever loved anyone. Through him I learned what love, passion and emotional involvement with another human being meant. I discovered that I was a sensual, caring and vibrant woman. I grew up as a person because I loved him. If I have one regret its having sacrificed myself and my love for something I didn’t really believe in. I was baptized in the Catholic faith, but I had stopped going to Mass after my arrival in the United States at the age of 10. Now, looking back, I think that rejecting Luis was a silly, immature thing to do. Even if it had only lasted one or two years, it would have been worth it. Real love doesn’t happen very often and this was as real as it gets.There were other men after Luis, men I could have married, but he left a mark on my life that no one else did. I did not fall in love again after him. I wanted to because I would have wanted a husband and children, but if I had married any of my suitors, it would have been a marriage of convenience on my part. I wrote a novel called Different Flags based on my love and am currently finishing a screenplay version of the book in both English and Spanish. To me, loving Luis was worth it. I had nights when I couldn’t sleep, nights and days of great guilt, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and pacing the living room of my aunt’s house. When I went back to bed, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat and I lost weight.I would try to stay away, not go to church for days at a time, but I always came back. Luis was like a magnet. I felt like a fool, not because I had fallen in love with a priest, but because I couldn’t tell anybody. I pretended I had a boyfriend back in California and that I missed him. The feeling of secrecy, of wondering what would happen if his parishioners found out, was very hard to deal with. But it—my love—was stronger. I had never expected to fall in love with anybody during my trip to Argentina. Denying it took a lot of energy, energy that maybe I could have put to use elsewhere. Self denial, however, was worse. It complicated things even more.