This character profile was written by Sólo con tu pareja screenwriter Carlos Cuarón, in 1990, as a way to help actor Astrid Hadad get to know her character. It was translated for this release by Mariana Carreño King.
“PLEASE, DEAR GOD, MAKE HER LOOK LIKE ROSITA QUINTANA,” begged Mrs. Fortuna Fortúñez de Teresa on her way to the hospital to give birth to Teresa, her only child. Mr. Terso de Teresa, nicknamed by his friends “the Murnau Creature,” agreed with his wife and held her hand: “Don’t worry, Fortu. You’ll have the most shining baby.” And he wasn’t wrong. Teresa was certainly born as most babies are: looking like a prune. But even the nurses from the maternity ward noticed a light very few infants who enter this world carry. The child was born with her eyes wide open, and she seemed to be aware of everything around her, admiring right from the start all life had to offer. She possessed such a particular vitality that when a nurse looked into her eyes, she asked her colleague, “Would you carry her now, please, Beti? I think she’s hypnotizing me.” And when Beti held her in her arms, she was startled: “This is odd. She weighs the same as the other babies but she feels lighter.”
Mrs. Fortuna, who once won the Miss Woot-Woo Beauty Pageant, was so happy to see the baby that she ruined with tears the Pampers she had packed for her. “I’m sorry, Terso, but it’s been so hard for us,” she said to her husband, crying, boogers running from her nose. Touched, he replied, “Don’t worry, love of my life. If you want, I’ll bring the disposable ones that I left in the car.” Teresa’s grandfather, a professional joker who specialized in dark humor, couldn’t utter a word when he saw Teresita’s eyes. When he recovered his speech, he stuttered, “That girl has the sun and the moon in her eyes.”
When Teresa was two days old, the gynecologist, Virgilio Voyage, got the courage to visit the de Teresas to tell them about what had happened during her birth. “Well . . . you’re not going to believe this, but, uh . . . It’s difficult to explain, and I don’t know where to begin . . . Do you know what a quasar is? Okay, okay . . . Have you seen the sun’s crown during a total eclipse? That’s great, great . . . Have you ever observed Mars’s intense albedo in October? Perfect, perfect . . . Well, you see, before receiving your daughter, a bright light passed through us all and then escaped through the window. We think it was a UFO.” Teresa’s parents were aghast and waited until the doctor left the room scratching his head to discuss the possibility of suing him for negligence for operating under the influence of some hallucinogenic. They finally decided that the unexpected always happens, and they took the anecdote as the mystic effervescence of a doctor influenced by best sellers.
As hard as they tried, Teresa’s parents failed to conceive another child, so the tiny comrade from a close encounter of the third kind grew up under her progenitors’ meticulous care. However, early in life, Teresa learned how to take care of herself when, during a night of intermittent blackouts, she put her little finger in a candle’s flame and discovered that energy is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. The flame’s heat was transformed into an instant wail, and Teresita understood the meaning of the lesson that would influence her entire life: Think before doing.
“I very much agree with Emerson’s theories in Self-Reliance and Thoreau’s in Civil Disobedience, but I was surprised when Teresa chose those essays to play make-believe and to use as coasters for her bottle,” Terso told the pediatrician. Fortuna seized the moment to complain, “It’s impossible, doctor. She doesn’t let us change her diapers. She insists on changing them herself.” Teresa’s confidence increased as she grew older. It was reinforced for life during a vacation at a beach in the Pacific, when a scorpion got dangerously close to the girl’s foot and she simply squashed it with her little sandal. Without any regrets, she told the poisonous, sticky mass: “I didn’t want it to come to this, my scorpion friend, but if you had come any closer, your little tail could have stung me, and I wouldn’t have liked that. And do you know what? I don’t feel bad.”
In kindergarten Teresa’s confidence and independence made her an isolated child, prone to spending most of her time by herself in the sandbox, modeling clay or building high-rises, monuments, and aqueducts with wooden blocks, while the rest of the girls spent their time trying on play makeup or masochistically chasing boys to get their butts kicked. Teresa learned to read and write and to understand the logic behind arithmetic equations before first grade, when her parents enrolled her in a school run by nuns from the Discalced Carmelite Order and she lost contact with the opposite sex for some years.
In elementary school, Teresa won the admiration of nuns and teachers, her only true friends during that time. It wasn’t easy for her to relate to people her age. During recess she would go to the candy store and buy a bag of munchies. She then would walk in broad circles around the schoolyard, eating her snacks and observing her classmates at play. After religiously finishing her lunch, she played with her jacks and Chinese rope. “Since I played by myself, I mastered up to three hammer turns, the cave, and no bouncing with the jacks. For the Chinese rope, I would wrap the elastic around two chairs, and I jumped—turning, straight, doing the heron and the lost thread. Sometimes a lost classmate would come and play with me. It was fun, but after a while, sometimes, I felt invaded,” she confided to La Burbus, her college friend, while La Burbus read her the tarot.
One day Teresa decided to try to play dolls with her classmates, and so she took hers to school. When the girls laughed at Teresa’s gigantic traditional doll from Chiapas and showed off their shiny plastic counterparts, Teresa declared, before turning her back: “Mine is made out of love, not chemicals. Mine is alive, and if she gets burned, she doesn’t melt.” Years later she would describe them as “poor idiots” when she related the anecdote to Mateo, her husband. Solitude was not a cause for suffering to Teresa during her first school years, because, in addition to resolving the game in her favor, she was an avid and precocious bookworm.
During sixth grade, shortly after receiving a deformed sexual education from the nuns, Teresa suffered the first blow to her intact confidence. Leaving school one day, she bumped into Silvestre Soñais, a student from the Jesuit school across the street, who was risking his life and his Johnny Unitas card in a trading duel with a classmate. Teresa was frozen, observing everything in slow motion, listening inside her little head to the ending of Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Passion According to Saint John, witnessing Silvestre lose his precious card. After he lost, the boy pulled his hair, turned to her, and, with the dryness that comes from losing, said, “What? You got Gale Sawyers? Bart Star? Joe Namath?” Teresa’s jaw dropped and she ran away blushing.
After that first encounter with Silvestre, Teresa changed radically. She couldn’t concentrate anymore—she stopped reading, playing by herself, talking to her teachers. Consequently, the morning the Mother Superior found her alone talking to a garbage can, she summoned her parents. The de Teresas went to the school, worried about the changes they themselves had perceived in their daughter. Teresa spent her evenings writing love poems for Silvestre. With one exception, her verses never reached him. The one that did reach him was signed “an admirer,” and it was misunderstood by the future Jesuit, who ran to meet Hetérea Hiato, with whom he had an ephemeral romance.
Leaving the principal’s office, Mr. and Mrs. de Teresa planned a different vacation to help their daughter return to normal. They sent her away the entire summer to the house of Liboria Limones, her nanny. Teresa refused to go to the little town, just as she had refused doing anything else, but given her parents’ insistence, and even Liboria’s, she had no choice. She lived fifty days in Tepelmeme, in the state of Oaxaca, where she had her first encounter with the love, humility, and wisdom of her autochthonous roots. “It was noon. I was walking on the town’s main street. It was dusty, because it wasn’t paved. A skinny boy with a swollen belly would be pulling his mother’s sleeve, his mother manning the mortar and pestle. The boy would tell her, ‘I’m dying of hunger,’ to which the mother answered, ‘So let the hunger die.’ Another day, under a cloud-free sky, old man Jeremías, the town’s wise man, looked up and full of hope said, ‘To great draughts, great showers.’ I think that’s when I became interested in popular adages and sayings,” Teresa told a reporter the day she published The Metaphysics of the Adage and the Euphony of the Mexican Saying.
In middle school, Teresa found a friend and a new occupation: research. She read critically and guided her ideas purposefully toward a conclusion. She deduced premises as precisely as the embroidery on a huipil [a traditional embroidered shawl]. Her observations became increasingly incisive and meticulous. With such a rich inner life, she couldn’t see herself from the outside and recognize the introverted loner she was. She talked to the nuns more about literature than religion, since she was never completely convinced of their interpretation of the Bible. “By then I had read the Bible a number of times, and I found that, as with any other book, it has an infinite number of interpretations, and the sisters insisted over and over on only one vision. I think people only see what they are prepared to see,” she told her husband during their neighbor Tomás Tomás’s wedding.
During her high school years, Teresa developed an uncanny ability to quickly and concisely discern the personality and true MO of people around her, a talent that distanced her from her classmates and teachers. She told Roberta Récord, “Your A–’s are not a competition with yourself but a competition against the world. Watch out, because those who win compete with themselves before taking it outside.” To Gracia Glamur, she said, “You have a fake smile and you pull your skirt to show the Jesuits across the street that you have a big head but a tiny mind.” She sentenced Ignacia Infante, “You carry that stuffed toy as a childhood fetish you won’t surrender. You’re eighteen already, girl. Come back to earth.” The first and only time she was expelled was over a paper she wrote on the veracity of the Gnostic Gospels. “Look, Mother, the Gospels according to James, Thomas, and the secret John are not apocryphal. They were forbidden by the church because they had to establish themselves. You know that. Don’t look at me like that. To me the Pope just doesn’t have the sex appeal that you see in him.” After this exchange, she was suspended for a “heretical moment,” as the Mother Superior put it.
When she finished high school, Teresa went to the state of Michoacán with the school’s sisters as part of a literacy program. It was a happy reencounter with the dispossessed and their ancestral wisdom. Teresa began to fret over the meaning of each word of adages and the music that emanates from sayings. The passion she devoted to teaching reading and writing suffered a blow when she realized that the sisters weren’t there out of sheer love and selflessness. One day she couldn’t stand it anymore and told them, “You don’t teach these people for the sake of helping, of teaching. You do it just to say that you did it.” The nuns sent Teresa back on the 17:30 bus.
Not knowing what to do with their daughter, the de Teresas sent her to Europe with friends. Teresa loved the idea of traveling and the frivolity that comes with it, and left imagining the blue sea along the warm Mediterranean coasts, a romantic walk down the Champs-Elysées, a tight embrace in front of the Tower of Pisa. Unfortunately, it was the coldest year in European history, and she made only one friend, the Swedish Vibeke Vidersen, who enjoyed life passing from one man’s arms to another. One day, in Lisbon, Teresa bumped into Billy Brindis, a North American looking for Vibeke, who, failing to find her, stayed with Teresa to take away the last vestiges of her religious and practical virginity. Billy was not a great lover, so after him Teresa decided that sex was interesting but museums offered more.
Back in Mexico City, her horizons wider and with somewhat less introspection, Teresa enrolled to study philosophy. In addition to the core courses, she chose a number of elective classes, such as anthropology, sociology, and a couple of extra literature courses, which gave her an odd combination of abstract theory and concrete facts. Teachers respected and motivated her, with the exception of Belisario Bluff, who, in his Philosophy of Love class, said, “It’s like the Don Juan–ism of Kierkegaard in Diary of a Seducer.” Teresa thought the statement of the doctorate honoris causa was not accurate and corrected him: “Even if Johannes has elements of Don Juan, he is not one. Remember that he only pursues Cordelia, and to visit her he needs only an aunt and the afternoon, not a night. He uses the cape not to hide but as fashion. And he doesn’t have a servant to keep him company like Leporello. Johannes is a seducer, not a Don Juan. He’s interested in possessing the soul of one woman, not the body of thousands. Don’t mistake Mauricio Garcés with Arturo de Córdova.” Teresa passed that class with another professor after three failed exams.
In college Teresa befriended La Burbus, a modern woman, liberal and liberated. They became friends when Teresa told La Burbus, who was smoking a joint, “To you, evading reality is the best way to relate.” To which La Burbus responded, holding her breath, “Shit yeah!” One afternoon, when La Burbus had stood Teresa up in the school cafeteria, Tomás Tomás passed her with the urgency of a woman, and he ended up in a motel bed with the expert on adages. Teresa was disappointed with Tomás and his premature ejaculation. She recommended the services of Manuela Manuel, a family friend and a psychologist specializing in problems of frigidity and premature ejaculation. Teresa avoided mentioning the Tomás episode to Mateo, her husband, since they all became good friends. “I don’t feel guilty, because if there is no regret, neither is there guilt, and I have no regrets. I just don’t want to hurt Mateo,” Teresa confided to La Burbus before her wedding. That’s why when Mateo found out, Teresa had to beg him, submit to him, and even use his Latin locutions, because he was undoubtedly the love of her life.
Upon finishing college, Teresa got a job in an institute of philology, where she could conduct her research plus the research they asked her to conduct, while La Burbus fossilized further in college waiting for a husband. One night of shooting stars, La Burbus took Teresa to the Hipophysis. There they found Tomás and his friend Mateo, who was attracted instantly to Teresa. Inspired by the encounter with a woman whom he could see in nongynecological terms, Mateos couldn’t control himself and declared in a honeyed tone, “Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus.” To which Teresa responded without thinking, “Catullus, Carmina, fifth verse.” Mateo was impressed and sunk like a fork in the mango of love. Teresa fell in love after seven days of courting and a Saturday boat ride on Lake Chapultepec, when the boat began to capsize and Mateo said from deep in his heart, “No matter how old the ship is, it crosses the puddle at least once.”
Teresa and Mateo’s courtship lasted six months of visits to their respective families, for which Teresa re-read the Bible’s index so that she might remember the names of her boyfriend’s eleven siblings. They went frequently to the theater, especially to see the Latin versions of the Roman classics, and to the movies, to the Eastern film festivals. Their favorite movie from that time was Throne of Blood. Mateo was never the deep blue of the Mediterranean or the romantic walk down the Champs-Elysées for Teresa. But he did become a tight embrace, a dream walk around Reforma Avenue, and a museum full of incredible pieces. They were happily married in a wedding notable for the reading of The Song of Songs and because Tomás Tomás was the best man.
Teresa found in matrimony love, a twin soul, and an expansion of her cultural interests to the classics, in addition to someone who shared her affinity to offer disinterested help to anyone. When Mateo’s nurse left, Teresa filled the vacancy efficiently, but also thanked God when Mateo finally hired Silvia Silva. Work in a doctor’s office, so full of clinical smells, wasn’t for her. And her patience decreased dangerously with pregnant women. Furthermore, she preferred to continue her research, surrounded by the smell of dusty papers and old books. Teresa and Silvia became good friends and frequently advised each other on how to treat men and what to wear.
Teresa and Mateo went out often with Tomás, their neighbor and friend. The couple liked it that way, because if Tomás saw them individually, they lost their strength. Together they could control him. During a period when Tomás lost his creativity and the energy required to work, and was devoting himself to procrastinating with computer games and the promiscuous life, Teresa, in addition to giving him advice, explained to him tricks to beat the computer in Snakes & Ladders. One sorrowful afternoon when Teresa was reading him the tarot, a card came up as a harbinger of doom, and she warned him, “I suggest you stop being a dandy, or something unexpected is going to happen. If you grab onto something concrete now, you may arrive at a good port. Stop jumping from one to another.” Tomás pretended not to listen. Teresa felt the need to remind him of words she once heard from Don Jeremías, the wise man of Tepelmeme: “Yes, of course. I’ve never done it, and I will never do it again, right?”