Near the end of the summer of 2007, after a 6-year bout with undergraduate studies, I began preparing myself for graduate school. One of my first friends in my new department was a native Iowan whose husband, it was mentioned, was a native Sevillan and, happily, a Sevillista. She and I went through first-year orientation together, and as classes began the following week, we found our equal n00b-status to be unifying.
Antonio Puerta died that week on August 27th, and I remember the cold blast of reality rushing through my still underdeveloped appreciation for the club. How could this happen? Have I ever heard of this happening in any other sport? Is this simply the single worst thing that could ever happen to an athlete? To all of a sudden collapse dead in the middle of play? I immediately reached out to her husband, Joaquín. I wanted to gauge my dismay and sadness against someone’s that would likely be greater or somehow more appropriate given the situation.
His reaction, in my mind, would show me how a person who really cared should react. I saw Joaquín in the office that week. We had never met before that day, but his wife had told him of an inquiring american Sevillista in the department. She said: “Joaquín. This is Aaron.” Before I could respond his arms were already wrapped around me. I forced out a “Nice to meet you,” and in that odd moment of our meeting I realized what was happening. “You are my family,” his hug seemed to say. He slumped back down in his chair, his face more distressed than I ever saw it even during the thesis-finishing semester in which he also took comprehensive exams.
I like to think that his face in that moment, which barely clung to his skull at all, illustrated a different Sevillismo for me that I never quite felt during our UEFA cup winning season that coincided with my study abroad there. I had seen the joy, the faceless hugs and anonymous back pats that accompanied the club’s greatest victories in decades. I had read the headlines that wept victory. And then, some 2000 miles away from that place, I saw, as if through a prism, the colors of Sevillismo spread out for me in the face of this lone Sevillista, whose estranged heart had been suffering alone.
Here at Monchi’s Men, we have celebrated much victory as we have also mourned much defeat. Today, our Sevilla plays Granada in what can only be assumed will be a friendly-like atmosphere. So today is both a celebration and a lamentation.
RIP Antonio Puerta – siempre entre nosotros