Looking Back, Looking Forward

Mamá and I visited Papá’s grave today. She brought flowers; we laid them at his feet and sang his favorite songs. Her walk is much slower than mine these days, but her mind is as sharp as ever. I swear sometimes she can read mine.

“He was so proud of you you know,” she said after we had been there in silence for a while. “Even if it wasn’t what he would have chosen for you. Whenever we went to dinner parties, he would tell our friends about his daughter the lawyer.”

“Did he tell them what kind of law?” I couldn’t help but ask.

She laughed. “Sometimes he said you did taxes.”

I laughed too. He wasn’t the most flexible man, but I can look back on him now with less frustration. Fear doesn’t make everyone a hero, and his fear came from love of us. I can love him back, and still recognize that Mamá and I have more freedom to speak our minds now.

Sometimes, Mamá speaks her mind a little too much. Once we left the cementario, she started asking again.

“So are you going to find another husband?”

“I’m too busy for a husband. That’s why Raúl and I got our marriage annulled.” It’s mostly true – he would certainly see it that way. We could have gotten a divorce, they’re legal now, but this was easier and less expensive. It helped that he had a girlfriend by that point, although it didn’t help that everyone knew it.

“Pah. That mujeriego had his own problems.”

“No estoy amarga, Mamá.”

“So I get to be bitter for you,” she said. Then she started in on the same thread: “Are you sure it’s not that neighborhood? I don’t know, I hear things…”

“Bellavista is a lovely place to live. I’m really very happy, you need to stop worrying.”

“All right, all right. You worry enough for the both of us anyway.”

Sometimes she’s right about that. It can be a very disjointing thing, spending so much time in the past. But that’s the price this country has paid for being so slow to confront its history. I can understand it – I was a part of it for quite some time. Now, though, I can’t stop looking at that history. Pinochet is dead, and Contreras, gracias a Dios, will be in prison for the rest of his life, but there are still so many people with blood on their hands walking the streets. My heart breaks for the survivors who don’t know if they’ll see their torturers on the bus, at the cine, in line for groceries. I’ve heard so many stories at this point that it’s hard not to feel heavy, but in a way I’m grateful. If nothing else, these stories live because of me. If I can pass them on, I can push this country out of the past.

I was flipping through the earlier pages of this notebook today. It felt like a journey in a lot of ways. From a little girl full of questions, to a young woman who felt like her only choice was to stay frozen, to an adult who is finally living on her own terms, and trying to help her country do the same. I spend so much time thinking about Chile’s past that it’s easy to forget my own, or to not see the two as connected. But this history belongs to everyone, even to those who were not as hurt by it, although obviously there are voices that deserve more priority than others. There are so many who want this country to forget, who see that as the best way to heal. Even Ana, sometimes, when it’s late and I can’t go to bed, tries to tell me that I have to let go of some of the stories I’ve heard. She’s right – I can’t let them dominate every moment of every day – but this emphasis on forgetting is dangerous. I’m frightened sometimes by how little our young people know about what happened, how unwilling our generation is to share what we remember.

I’ve been thinking lately about doing something about that; namely, about becoming a law professor. Mamá likes to joke that I took long enough following in her footsteps. I sent my resumé to the Universidad de Chile last week; we’ll see what they say. I didn’t mention wanting to educate people about the regime. At this point, my reputation speaks for itself! Sometimes, it makes people see me as a troublemaker, but it’s worth it when I see what it does for the families of those affected to have someone willing to fight for their stories. I may not have any children, but I want to help raise the next generation to do the same anyways.

There are so many poems in this notebook! I haven’t written one in years, but I remember how it used to feel: like it was the only thing that let me be myself. I pour a lot of that energy into my work now, into spending time with Mamá and Ana, but as I was listening to what my younger self had to say I felt the urge to write again. Maybe in this new chapter in my life there will be a place for poetry again.

Oración por Chile

Que tengas el valor
de mirar al pasado
con los ojos abiertos
con un pulso firme.
Que preguntes, siempre
a pesar de las dificultades
de las cobardes, de las
que aman a ti como
niños sin la capacidad
de mirar tus defectos.
Patria mia, te amo
como el agua, lo que
me da la vida, lo que
puede reflejar verdades.
Seres amados, tenemos
que vivir como el agua:
moviendo siempre, fluido
llevando las verdades
del pasado adelante
en nuestras preguntas
y nuestras manos
y nuestras corazones.



1 thought on “Looking Back, Looking Forward

  1. ssvolk says:

    Gracias, Clara, for having shared your life’s journey with me, if only through the pages of your journal. All I can say is that “la U” would be crazy not to snap you up and your students will be the luckiest ones in the world. Buena suerta en todo lo que haces.

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