May 1, 2005
When I wrote a few weeks ago, I said I would set aside time to really reflect on where my life is and has been, and I have to admit I’m a little surprised at myself that I’m going through with it. I’ve been sitting at my desk for a long time, staring at today’s date since I wrote it down. I started journalling just before my bar mitzvah.. just before my bar mitzvah and now I am fifty years old. In a few months, Alma will turn 25 and she will be half my age. Mama said this journal would be the most important gift I received for my bar mitzvah, and I finally believe her. Neither of us knew what was coming, then, that “preserving my memory” would turn out to be a crucial task with everything that’s happened.
It’s interesting how we try not to follow exactly in our parents footsteps, to be our own people, yet their lives and decisions still follow us. I’ve been living in the U.S. for almost 15 years now, and the entire time Rosa, Alma, and I were packing up to leave Argentina I couldn’t get the image out of my head of my own parents leaving Poland. I know that we weren’t escaping persecution in the same way my parents were, but I think we were still escaping something. Argentina just felt.. broken.. I think because we were all broken in different ways. The trauma of the past seeped into everything, yet we wouldn’t speak about it. I looked back yesterday at my last journal entry in Argentina, when Menem pardoned all those members of the junta. When they entered back into society it felt more and more like the past was inescapable.
I didn’t believe him at the time, but I think maybe Tata really did correctly recognize the voice of the doctor who oversaw his torture sessions when he went in to have a bad cold looked at. With all of the stories that have come out in the past few years.. well it seems like stranger things have happened. I miss both of my parents more than I can express. Alma has Mama’s curly hair, and I’m so grateful for that. My daughter was born in the United States and has spent more of her life here than in Argentina. I think in that way she will always be a little bit of a stranger to me.
I will always wonder how things would have turned out if I had spent those three years with Rosa in New York before the dictatorship ended. If I had been there to see my daughter’s birth, her first steps, to support Rosa through grad school, maybe even to finish school myself. I think about that path often, because I can’t shake the feeling that if I had taken that path then Rosa and I would still be in love. We are partners, and I’m glad we’ve stayed together in that sense. But the love we had.. something changed over those three years that we would never get back, and that our love for Alma couldn’t replace.
I know with complete certainty that it was the right decision to stay with my parents in Argentina, and that the best thing for Alma was for Rosa to be out of the country when she gave birth. I wrestle every day with the fact that both of those things were necessary, and have to laugh when I hear the casual way people here use the word “dilemma.”
It’s been so strange to hear about the news in Argentina from abroad these past 15 years. I wonder if I’ll ever feel comfortable going back, if it will ever feel like home again. I try to stay as up to date as possible without becoming completely absorbed in it, because I think it’s dangerous not to be able to let go. Tata tried to let go of what happened to him and in the end he couldn’t.
Alma is at graduate school for psychology now. At first it was hard to process that the danger for my father doesn’t exist for her, that this was simply something she could study. I hope that her studies can help us understand the trauma we’ve all been through. It’s so hard to make sense of it all. Looking back, I realize there are memories I can’t access, or pieces of things my mind has decided to focus on. Anytime I see someone’s hands shake I am transported back to when Tata described his torture to us. I feel so much guilt that I can remember his shaking hands but not every detail of what he said, that my brain blocked things out because they were too painful to hear or remember, but my father had to actually experience these things.
I hope that soon, I will be able to remember the past without reliving it, to understand my life without all of the guilt I feel. No matter what I wish had happened, this is what my life has been. I know that I’m genuinely lucky to be alive, that I’m lucky to have Rosa in my life still even if things will never be the same. Moving forward, I’m going to focus on being grateful.