In this excerpt from her sensational new autobiography Mrs Escobar: My Life with Pablo, Victoria Eugenia Henoa writes about the last time she met her husband, the notorious Colombian drug lord and narcoterrorist Pablo Escobar:
Pablo looked like he was running out of patience. He was pale, and it worried me to see that he was restless and having trouble breathing, puffing as he exhaled.
‘You have to, sweetheart. Whether you want to or not, you have to go. It would be totally irresponsible to let all of you stay here with me. When they find us here, they’ll kill us all – don’t you get that?’
‘It doesn’t matter if they kill us all. That’s the best possible outcome – they kill us, and all of this will finally be over. Plus, your enemies are going to come after us with a vengeance, Pablo; I don’t even want to think about the violence we’ll face. They’re going to kill us once you’re dead,’ I said again, but I could no longer keep from crying.
‘That’s completely irresponsible. We have two children and Juancho’s girlfriend in our care. We have to make sure their lives are protected,’ he replied, but this time there was deep sadness on his face.
I cried and cried. I’d got married at fifteen in the Catholic Church, thinking it was for life. I was deeply in love with Pablo. I knew that his egregious behaviour over the past few years had unleashed this unfathomable madness, but I was still enormously pained that I had to leave my children’s father in order to save them. I understood there was no other option. It was here: the moment of separation, the moment of our final goodbye.
Pablo’s next comment sounded like he was wrapping things up: ‘Tata, they’re going to find a country for you, so don’t worry. Like I said, if you can get married somewhere, do it so you can get citizenship. But I swear, when I get out of this, I’ll get a boat and cross whatever seas are in my way until I find you, my love.’
For a few seconds, Pablo and I sat in a strange silence that seemed to go on forever. In those moments, I had no idea how I was going to live without him. Where was I going to find the strength to keep going and protect my children? Abruptly, Pablo got right to the point: ‘It’s time, Tata. Let’s not keep debating the subject. Please start packing and go with the kids to Altos, where you’ll be safe.’
Before we left the bedroom, we agreed that we’d tell Manuela we were going to take a trip to a really nice place, but that her daddy wasn’t coming. Juan Pablo wouldn’t be a problem – he understood how complicated things were.
We had to wait a few hours so we could travel at night. As the day wore on, the blue house seemed to become an even sadder place because we knew that fate was pushing us irremediably apart. With the sun setting on the horizon, I felt as if my heart might burst. I couldn’t imagine life without Pablo – who would tell Manuela bedtime stories and sing her La donna è mobile, Giuseppe Verdi’s classic aria?
The nearly twenty years I’d spent by Pablo’s side passed swiftly before my eyes as if they were a movie. All my life by his side had been a wild gallop. Things had happened so fast that I’d never had time to think about how to stop this madness. I enjoyed so few years of calm. And so many years fleeing or in hiding. This was the most difficult thing I’d ever had to do, leaving the love of my life right when the world was coming down on him. What a horrible situation.
What an impossible choice. Yet I had to summon the strength not to look back and instead look ahead so I could save our children. Still, desperate to prevent our separation, I made a last-ditch effort to bring a halt to our tragedy. I spoke with him again.
‘I don’t want to leave you all on your own, darling. I’d rather be killed,’ I insisted. ‘I’d truly rather all of us die together, at the same time,’ I told him, with tears welling up in my eyes and my voice breaking. He looked at me sadly, and his eyes grew damp. As I saw it, given our situation, we ran just as great a risk of being killed if we turned ourselves in.
‘We had two children together, but one of us has to take charge of them now – educate them, find a place where one day their lives can make sense again,’ he responded.
My tears weren’t enough. Pablo hugged me hard, but he didn’t say another word. We had to split up. Finally, at eleven at night, it was time for us to leave. While Angelito and El Gordo settled the few belongings we could carry with us in the car boot, we said goodbye.
We stood beside the car in a sort of line: Pablo gave me a huge hug, long, warm, affectionate. Then he stroked my cheek and hair, like he’d always done, looked at me tenderly, and said in a choked-up voice, ‘I love you very much, Tata. Thank you for taking care of our children. Luck will be on your side; things are going to go well for you.’
He fell silent, and then I was the one who hugged him for a long time. The last hug of our lives. Then he bid farewell to Juan Pablo with a heartfelt handshake and a kiss on the cheek. When he reached Manuela, he started crying.
We’d never seen him weep before, and that made our goodbye even more heart-wrenching. Then he looked at Andrea, but he was unable to say anything because he was so worked up. Three days later, he sent her an apologetic letter at the Altos building: ‘Warm greetings to you, kid. I want to tell you how grateful I am for everything. I didn’t have the strength to say it when you left. I appreciate you so much. You can always count on me.’
On our way to the garage, Pablo gave one last instruction: ‘The people from the CTI [Technical Investigation Corps] are going to meet you at Altos. Give them these addresses for Los Pepes. They say they haven’t raided Los Pepes because they don’t have any good intel on them. Now they will.’
We got into the Chevrolet Sprint with Juan Pablo at the wheel, and left. Pablo and Angelito followed behind us in another car until we reached the steep street that leads to the Altos building. Before we split off from each other, he honked a couple of times and then disappeared into the shadows of the night. That was the last time I saw him.
He had seventy-five days left to live.
Excerpted with permission from Ebury Press / Penguin Random House. First published in eShe’s October 2019 issue