I had planned to witness history with my parents. Raúl and I were going to go over so we could all watch together, close around the TV in the sala. I’m sure it would have been quiet, Raúl trying and failing to make small talk, Mamá and Papá with their brows furrowed but keeping their different reasons inside. Me in the middle, always in the middle, wondering how to balance what everyone else is feeling. Sometimes speaking up, but mostly silent, never feeling quite able to proclaim my opinion as if there can be no doubt.
The phone rang this morning before the sun came up. Raúl, always a deep sleeper, didn’t even stir. I tore out of bed to get it, all the old fears racing through me in the haze of sleep. I forgot we were about to get a new President, forgot Pinochet was stepping down. Fear is always louder than logic, and I thought: Who do I cry for now? Who’s missing? We’ve always lived on the edge of acceptability – did our luck run out? My hand shook as I picked up the receiver.
“Yes? Who is it?”
“Clara, it’s me. It’s me.”
I hadn’t spoken to Ana in almost a year. After I moved in with Raúl, stopped being around so much. Mamá said she isn’t married, still spends a lot of time at the university. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking of her most days, but I felt the distance start to grow after Marcela disappeared. She said she couldn’t understand how I could be quiet when people had died, were dying. She said we had to think about the future we wanted for our country – that was the only time I interrupted. I said I couldn’t think about the future when the present was so uncertain. I think we realized we were different, then. She stopped coming over when she had nightmares, and I pretended it didn’t hurt.
“Ana, what is it?”
“Will you watch the ceremony with me?”
“What about your friends from the university?” I said, trying to decide if this meant something was wrong or not.
“They’re going to want to talk.”
“And you wanted la callada, is that it?” I said, feeling anger flicker over my concern.
“I want to see you. It’s – I’ve missed you. If you feel the same, I want to see you.”
“Are you sure? You’re not going to your parents’?”
After that, it was simple. I told Raúl I wasn’t feeling well, but no, of course he should still go, Mamá and Papá love him, they would want him there. He looked concerned, but he went. I turned the TV on and tried not to pace until I heard her knock.
She looked about the same, hair a little longer, eyes a little more tired. We settled on the sofa in silence until Pinochet started to talk. Ana’s mouth twisted like a snake and she got up to turn the volume off.
“Did you vote No?” she asked as she sat back down.
“I thought you didn’t want to talk. I thought you wanted to watch the ceremony.”
“I don’t want to hear anything he has to say. That’s what democracy means. His voice doesn’t matter more than mine.”
“He’s still going to be Commander-in-Chief…”
“Did you vote No or not?”
“Of course I voted no.” The words came out louder than I intended. “I snuck out of the house when Raúl at work and I voted No.”
“Why didn’t you tell him?”
“I didn’t want a fight.”
“There are things worth fighting for.”
“I’m not like you.” By then I was shouting. “Papá said I shouldn’t go to university, he said with everything else it was too dangerous. I listened. I helped Mamá plan her lessons sometimes, and I wrote poems when no one needed anything. When I was almost too old, I got married. They took people for not doing anything, and we’d already done enough – all I could do was not draw attention to myself.”
She slid closer to me on the couch and grabbed my hands. “Stop talking about your life in the past tense! You did what you had to do, but that was then. There’s still so much that needs to happen. I survived – it’s on me to try and change things. But you could help. You could do it with me.”
“I don’t know what you know.”
“Do you care about Chile? Do you want it to be a democracy? Do you want justice for everything that happened?”
I looked over her shoulder. Pinochet and Alwyn were shaking hands. The mood all day had been joyous, a country raising its voice for the first time since I was a child. But how could that be when our President shakes hands with a murderer? When we’re still governed by the laws he created to protect himself? Should we content ourselves with being only half-free?
“Yes,” I said, and again: “Yes.”