2002-12-23 : 8:01 p.m.
Thirteen

Listening to: U2 (Best of: Cd 1)

“I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away
How long…
How long must we sing this song?
How long? How long…
’cause tonight… we can be as one
Tonight…”—U2

It was December, 1989.

My father had barely begun his job working with Eastern airlines. And for the first time, through connections and rebates… at least one of my parents, would have the opportunity to return to their native soil…

And it would be my mother’s turn…after a decade of exile… and she would decide to take me and my little brother as well…

But the strange feel of what was to come for me… the experience that would define my shape and view of politics and it’s relevance to my existence…began to creep in the most subtle of ways…
before the trip even began…

The phone conversations, the comments, between them… or anyone needing to comment or share…

“Are you sure it’s safe?”

“Will Andres be okay with an American passport?”

“Is it to soon?”

I was only twelve… and didn’t know what to make of all this… all these secrets…

I had been kept in the dark about, for so long…

(and it continues to this day).

Where are the answers to such key questions:

“Why don’t I know my cousins? My uncles? My aunts?”
“how did we end up in this country?”
“Why is it so hard for anyone to visit us?”
“Why are we the only ones here from Chile?”
“Why are we alone?”

I never knew.

I don’t know.

The detailed truth.

All I knew, was that I would be spending my 13th birthday… and the turn of the decade there… And I also knew,
that Daddy would not go…

And although they used money as an excuse… I knew from the tones of their voices they were lying…

And it really wasn’t that Daddy did not have enough money to go… (the tickets were much too cheap under the circumstances…)
and when I contested that answer… my father replied with: “no time.”

But I knew, that too was a lie. And for some reason, a fearful reason… he could not go.

********

The flight was direct. Eight hours.

We arrived in the early Chilean hours… about 5:30 a.m. We flew into Santiago… where the only grandfather I had met up to that point would be waiting for us. A tall blue eyed… stunning older man…
with the only voice I would ever recognize as family on the phone…
strong…loud…dominant…

Seeing my mother, fall into tears as she hugged her father… was odd… and distressing in a way- I cannot put into words…

Because, I too, do not know entirely- the pit from which they climb out from.

I remember the stillness… the cold air… the heavy dew…

The airport, was unlike any airport I had ever seen… huge and beautiful… but empty and isolated…

A doorway to the rest of the world… but with an undisclosed key…

It was eerie… and it made me uncomfortable…

We packed up the car… and went on our way… into a foggy highway… trickled with the occasional and random automobile…

As I sat in the back… the tone in their voices… in my mother’s quiver… made me turn the volume down entirely, on my headset… as I tried to listen intently on their conversation…

I was able to grab tid bits of it…

“Papi…” my mother would go on… “Until what time is the curfew in effect?”

“They’ve recently lifted it…” he would answer.

I was a bit confused at that age… a curfew? In a city? For what? (How little did I know.)

And the strange tension, just made me feel uncomfortable and scared… but I didn’t know why… or even where it was coming from…

In no time… as we drove on the highway…
we drove through fields and fields of these strange tree like vines… propped every which way, like canopies of green lushed bundles… of endless green leaves.

I then noticed my grandfather, noticing me looking out- by way of his rear view mirror…

“These fields produce some of the greatest and finest red wines in the world…” And with that one line, he went on to give me my first education on fine wines… that would last for a solid 15 minutes… “You should know these things…” he’d add. “…because it doesn’t matter where you live or that you were technically born elsewhere… You… are a Chilena… esta en tu sangre…(It's in your blood.)”

Hearing those words, evoked the strangest feeling…

I had never until that day, been given a clear designation of what “I was”… and the responsibility it implied.

It was shortly after that point that my grandfather would take the turn that would lead off the highway… and onto the emptiest of streets…
streets that couldn’t possibly belong to a “city”… a thriving “city…

We arrived at a red light…

There was silence in the car… in the air… and even from the few two or three cars that waited with us…

and then…

In an instant, as the light turned green… and we began moving…
horns began screaming… people were running onto the streets… out of the streets…
with us…
against us…

We were driving into something… or something was driving into us…(?)

My heart was racing… my brother began yelling “mammy”…

Then I just stared at the faces running… screaming… yelling… passed every wich way...

“Viva Chile! Viva Chile!”

"They" were happy?

The flags were huge… cloaked on people… bicycles… huge masts… being run by two to three boys…
Men…
elderly men…
women…
children…
running… chanting… screaming…

“Alwin!” “Alwin!”

My mother asks in a yell… “what is going on?”

My grandfather’s response… with a chuckle… “Oh yes… it happened over night, while you were on the flight… Alwin won the elections…”

“Alwin?” I asked.

“Yes…” my grandfather answered. “YOUR new president. Your new ‘Elected’ president.”

I went on to learn…
about Pinochet…
the dictator set to save a country… only to fall victim to his own greed…
I learned so much… so much in pieces… that was offered as My information… “What you need to know…”
And in time, I will give you more details dear diary…

But the history lesson came and comes in pieces… and this moment and what more I would come to witness… was more than a lesson on politics…

It was a lesson on how: intertwined politics and existence are…
and how emotions… and the drives and identity they create cannot be separated from it’s origin… A politic, in and of itself.

That moment, electrified me, consumed me, frightened me…

I played my walk man the rest of the way home…

“And the battles just begun
there’s many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
Mother’s, children, brothers, sisters
Torn apart…”

**********

I would learn a lot… from my grand father… I would learn a lot from Gabriela… my cousin… (two years older)…I would learn a lot from Maggie… (five years older)…

Maggie and Gabby impressed by my emotional and intellectual maturity… kept me at their side… and taught me politics, in the way a 'rebel' would survive…
for decades on end…
as a malicious pimple on a military’s behind…

They would decide to take me to… Ponce de Leon… a plaza… where all the rockers, punks… and social outcasts would commune to smoke cigs and to discuss…

Politics…

But I was sworn to do one thing…

To NEVER say I was American (unless they themselves gave the okay… it was something taht they feared could be "over heard"), and if neccesary, they would give me a signal to play mute… (you see, my spanish accent at the time… was a bit piss poor… and they feared that the “wrong people” could discover where I was from…)

And these "wrong people" I was told about, were called the Paco. “The police”… but the police here… was in fact the military… and at this time… American’s were not liked overmuch…

(And having already spent ten years as an American… I just as well should have been born one…)

There was no difference…

And I would learn that their power… their hold, would end at the stroke of midnight… as the first official president would take over January 1st, 1990…

The first 'official' president, in almost seventeen years…

Only two days prior… I had just turned thirteen… whereby I had finally learned to smoke a cig properly…

A damn parliament no less…

And as the new adult in town… they wanted to share my voice, my ideas… my theories… my stories of America… with those they knew.

To the rest of the like punks and metal heads…

But again… and again… Maggie warned me… and reminded me of the signal and the plan to play mute…

You see… I would come to hear about countless of stories… of how the “pacos’” would conduct sweeps… and beat and arrest young men and women…

For sometimes simply walking… and being at the wrong place at, at the cliched- wrong time...

They feared and hated these Paco’s, like my American young friends… feared and hated their “suppressive” American parents…

If they only knew…

If they could only see…

We would be sitting at the plaza… talking…

As I was being introduced left and right to many different folk…
The first, was a handsome young man with long hair… jeans and a jean jacket… and a Metallica shirt underneath…
Oh, he was so beautiful… and considerably older… but I was awestruck nonetheless…

Eventually he went on and socialized with others… and we all kept talking amongst ourselves with our added friends…

When I abruptly, heard a crash…

A bottle had been broken…

I turned and the military was coming from all directions… but no one moved… Maggie just grabbed my arm and Gabby’s… But no one moved… No one said a single word...

This one Paco… began swearing at the young latino man… with the long hair…that I had just mentally professed my love to…

“Your disgusting!” the paco would yell… “Do you want me to take you in! Do you?!!”

“No sir… No… I’ll leave… I’m sorry sir…” the young man pleaded… and pleaded…

The paco kept pushing him back… and yelling and instigating… while other paco’s just watched and banged their long black nights sticks against their palms…

While others quietly marched around… and slowly began to creep in … with machine guns on hand…

The Paco… finally grabbed a bottle… and broke it against a cement bench…
And continuedn to threaten him with his newly acquired arsenal…

“You piece of shit… you're all filthy piece's of shit… disgusting!” the paco yelled and yelled at him… “I’m going to arrest you…”

And in a moment of quivered bravery… the young man stopped moving back… and said: “You can’t.”

“Oh no?” Said the Paco… He dropped the broken bottle… picked up another one… and threw some of the liquid that was inside, all over the young man… and proclaimed… “Public intoxication!! Lewdness!!”

And in that instant… another Paco… hit the young man from behind with his night stick… and as the young man buckled forward… the paco swung his arm back… in an aim, for what I knew would be his head…

And in that very same instant… before I could see the final impact... people began screaming… maggie grabbed my head… and physically forced me to look away… as her and Gabby yelled at me to "run…"

"Apura! Apura!" (Hurry! Hurry!)

And so we ran…

Until we made it home…

When Maggie would only then tell me… “and to think… you’ve only seen just a little bit…It’s actually better now…”

Better?

I will never forget him… and I always wonder what happened to my young beautiful man, in a black Metallica shirt…

********************

Some kids at the age of thirteen, get a party as a right of passage into adulthood… and proclaim them masters of their new found “adult” fate…

I instead, learned that I had a responsibility to the rest of the world…

That my only party…

Was my “luck”…
by happenstance
of being able to live in America.

Thirteen… is my “lucky” number…

My number for enlightenment. I find freedom in thriteen... and multiples of thirteen...
As I can still look back and come again... full swing... thriteen years later.

“I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away
How long…
How long must we sing this song?
How long? How long…
’cause tonight… we can be as one
Tonight…”—U2

previous : next

* - 2007-07-05
--------------------- - 2006-05-30
hello, goodbye - 2006-05-24
Pinky burglar - 2006-03-09
So let's go... - 2006-02-24