11 de Mayo, 1974
My father would have been 63 by now. He didn’t make it; slipping away from us last year. In his honor, I had hung one of his self-portraits above my bed. I see it every night when I turn in, and each morning when I arise. It’s startling how much I look like him, now nineteen and ‘all grown up’ as mama says. She was almost inconsolable when the news broke, a year ago today. “The nurse on the phone was weeping too,” she later told me.
I couldn’t bring myself to cry, no matter how hard I tried. Maybe that’s just how I handle these things—his absence wasn’t sudden, or unexpected. It was inevitable, I guess. That’s why I’ve stayed silent. I love him, and I miss him, but I won’t shed any tears. Not here, not now. Not at school. The sisters wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t have time, either, with how crazy it’s been. For the two years I’ve been here, it seems like the whole school has been tense; terrified that we’d be nationalized. The rector had given impassioned speeches, urging students to defend the faith against the godless leftists. Sometimes the nuns and the most devout students would protest, holding signs, banging pots and pans, and berating the UP. My friends and I had laughed it off. Then the coup happened, which in a sense, we all knew was coming. But never ever in a million years, could we have predicted what would follow. Everything just shut down. Except for El Mercurio, which read:
I had been writing for a column in the campus newspaper called ‘Justicia del Norte’ in which I had an ongoing segment about the massacre at Santa María de Iquique, some 65 years ago. We chronicled our community’s efforts to remember the atrocity and commemorate those thousands of miners who lost their lives, including my great-grandfather, whose widow had to raise her babies alone. A bunch of my friends also worked for the paper, but we all had to tone things down once the junta took over. The military men who now frequented campus were on the lookout for subversive publications, and nabbed a fellow journalist whom I knew, in early October of last year, on the grounds that he’d been producing and distributing a socialist manifesto to the locals. These were the sorts of trumped up charges which they would label ‘treason’ or ‘espionage’. It was crazy. As far as we knew, he’d only written a piece for a liberal magazine. We wrote him many letters while he awaited sentencing, but soon the postal service started returning them, saying he was no longer in local custody, that his whereabouts had not been disclosed. His parents pressed the authorities for information, but so far, they have been met with the same intransigence and discourtesy which this new bastard government has all but perfected.
That same October, another strange thing happened. The General who had assumed control of Antofagasta, Joaquin Lagos, announced that he would no longer be acting as governor. It must have been the 19th or 20th. It didn’t seem to any of us like he was forced out; he just gave up command. This was big news for ‘Papi’ Jorge, mama had said. “He’ll be given a raise, maybe appointed to mayor!” She had written in her letter. Somehow, I still couldn’t find it in me to congratulate him. After all, the man hadn’t done anything to merit a promotion. No one in the army had, if you ask me. They were following insane orders, committing acts of violence, acting like wild dogs.
For once, papi agreed with me. He too, thought things were getting out of hand; in his battalion, the city, the region, and the whole damn country. I asked him about the disappearances of my friends, the rumors circulating about others; about mass graves and twisted bodies. He said his office knew as little as we did. I’m not sure if I believe him. But no one is talking, or at least, not about these things. The carabineros keep saying that they’ll release more information as it becomes available. The police—or is it now just the DINA?—say they’re sifting through intelligence, and only after more raids on the insurgents will they be able to publish reports. The news doesn’t say anything. It’s as if there’s an enormous mutilated elephant corpse in the room, and no one seems to even notice the smell.
I must finish my studies, and leave this godforsaken place.
Adiós por ahora,