10 December 2006

Dear Papa,

I walked through my front door this afternoon to find Clara sitting at the kitchen table staring through the window that looks out onto the street, with tears silently streaking down her cheeks. She didn’t even hear me open the door at first. I felt like I was intruding on such an intensely private moment, I stood frozen for an entire minute before I softly shut the door behind me and stepped lightly inside. It wasn’t until I clasped my hands tenderly upon her shoulders that she shook from this trance like state and looked up into my eyes. There were so many emotions swimming in the nebulous pools of her irises— sadness and hurt, joy and grief, anger and frustration. My eyes asked her what was wrong and she whispered,

Pinochet died.

I was hit by a wave of emotion that, like Clara, moved me to sit at the kitchen table and stare at the water slowly dripping from the kitchen sink. We sat there for an hour I think, neither of us moving, our individual thoughts and emotions dancing around the room, often meeting and intertwining and then parting again, off to find another corner of the kitchen to dwell in. Never in a moment have I felt so close to Clara, father. Without speaking, we shared some of our innermost apprehensions and fears. When Sofia came bursting through the door shouting, “He’s dead!” we both were awakened from our pensive state and I think we both knew all the communication that was needed, at least for the coming days, had transpired. There was an understanding as our eyes locked that we needed to deal with these emotions internally before talking through them aloud, together.

Alameda Avenue was ablaze all afternoon with firey words, photos on sticks of the disappeared, and celebratory hugs and kisses. Sofia asked why I didn’t go. Then she asked why we wouldn’t go as a family. I told her that I would not celebrate his death— I did not wish to recognize him when he was living and I would give no grievances or celebrations when he was dead. She yelled something about how I wasn’t acknowledging reality, turned around, and left. She went to Alameda Avenue with her friends I presume. She hasn’t come home yet and I’m a little worried. She’s a strong girl though and she has good friends, so I am sure she is safe.

What I can’t help but notice and dwell on was her reaction. My Sofia knows everything about Pinochet from me, Clara, her friends, her teachers, and the community members from the organizational meetings. I would say she is very well informed in a historical sense. She fails to realize, though, that living and learning about those years are two diametrically opposing things. What her mother and I have experienced is beyond what she can comprehend. This barrier is difficult for her to understand and, I believe, that is why she got so angry today. I suppose we must accept that we deal with these histories and memories in particularly disparate ways. The youthful generation must deal with the repercussions of these 17 years of dictatorship without the memories. A profoundly challenging task for which there is no single way answer or means of approaching.

For me, I am mostly saddened by the fact that Pinochet was able to die a free man. Whether or not he spent the last years of his life knowing he was under fire from the Chilean government is one thing, but to actually be convicted of something on his list of terrible, horrible deeds, maybe then we would have found a bit of justice. While, as I have said, I do not believe he was an evil man at heart, I do believe he should have felt remorse for his actions or at least have realized that the way he went about trying to make Chile a better place were inhumane and wrong. I wanted him to understand why killing my best friend didn’t forward Chile in any sense. Why disappearing Clara’s sister did not create a more unified country with one less “guerilla extremist.” I wanted him to understand how he, as one man, could hurt and fragment the minds of so many people. I just wanted him to understand.

He can’t now, though. He won’t. And maybe, he never would have. Maybe imprisonment wouldn’t have changed anything other than allowing me to feel as if justice had been served. And would that have been enough?

I truly don’t know.

Much love, your son,

Joaquin Olivera Vidal

1 thought on “10 December 2006

  1. ssvolk says:

    I was also out on the Alameda, Joaquín, but there were so many people that I didn’t see Sofia. But I’m sure she kept clear of the tear gas when it came flying. For most of us, and maybe appropriately, the tears in our eyes were of joy, anger, celebration, frustration…and tear gas. How fitting. I understand why you didn’t want to go, but I felt it was a time to be with mi gente, to again fill esas grandes alamedas.

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