Raúl and I were thirteen in 1958, the first time we could watch Argentina play the World Cup on television. We crowded around his parents’ twelve-inch screen along with his parents’ friends, who were drunk and bumbling from the excitement of television and fútbol and national pride. Argentina came in thirteenth that year, but we did not care – we were boys and we were Argentine and we were best friends, and we paraded around his parents’ living room in blue and white and snuck beers into the bathroom – we were buzzed and bubbling and happy. Since then, we watched every Argentine match of every World Cup together – once, I visited him at University in Buenos Aires, and twice he visited me in Corrientes. At some point it stopped having anything to do with national pride or even fútbol and became entirely a matter of our friendship. If we could commit to spending every World Cup together, every four years, no matter how far we had to travel, we would never fall apart.
But Raúl has been missing since March 23rd, 1976 – the day before the coup. The last person who remembers seeing him was another professor in the History department at the University, who ran into him at el mercado, where he was buying groceries for his bed-ridden neighbor. But he never made it to the neighbor’s apartment – somewhere between el mercado and his building, he disappeared. Just like that, he joined the ranks of los desaparecidos.
Argentina hosted and won this year’s World Cup. I turned on the television briefly during yesterday’s championship match, but I could not bear to watch. Videla sat in his box in his neat gray suit looking out at the crowd with a look of total calm on his face – and his hunger for power was obvious to me. He had the look of a puppet master gazing out at his thousands upon thousands of puppets. I could not help but imagine Raúl in a torture cell, withering under this same sort of gaze from a man in a suit holding an electric rod. The stories I’ve heard are horrific.
I closed La Paloma last summer. We lost a lot of business after the coup – some of our regulars stopped coming in for unknown reasons – I have never wanted to find out – and I think all of Argentina became more cautious about leaving home. Is it really worth it to walk to the corner and buy a bag of panecillos when you might never return with them? Bread and pastries became irrelevant. I worked at Elena’s previously successful restaurant until this past April, when they, too, went under. I live with Mamá and Elena now. Quarters are tight but we get by – Elena managed to find another waitressing job and Mamá still takes in laundry. I am looking for work everywhere I can. Mamá’s health is beginning to deteriorate, but she refuses to stop drinking. She has stopped going to church, but she will never stop drinking.
I’ve started going to church with Elena on Sundays, and every Sunday I pray for Raúl. Prayer has never felt useful to me – I have never turned to God for solutions and I am not sure I even want to believe in a God that allows for torture cells and electric rods – but I have lost track of where I can turn and what I believe. In this country where people can disappear between the grocery store and their homes – where thousands only half-exist, as ghosts, or memories, hidden in torture cells or graves or stadiums somewhere – who am I anymore?
Videla celebrating the World Cup victory