September 16th, 2010

Today is my birthday – 70! I can hardly believe it, to be honest. Elena and Rocío organized a bit of a party for me with some of our close friends. Today, sitting around the table, I could not help but look around and think, “But where is Hector? Where would he be?” It has been 27 years since he disappeared at the age of 25. He would have been 62 last May. Would he have had children? How many? Would he have had a grandchild? Rocío and her spouse have announced that Elena and I soon will!
My mother and father I never expected to be alive by the time I was 70. Father had been in poor health, and neither was mother, though how much of that can be attributed to Hector’s disappearance is difficult to say.
But, growing up, I did expect for Hector to be here. To grow old with him. As different as we were, with me as a miner and Hector as a student dedicated to politics and literature, he was my brother and was probably the person most like me in the world. Eight years seemed to make almost no difference when we were in one of our playful moods together.
And so today, on my special day (as Rocío took care to remind me), I have spent it missing my brother more than I have in years. Perhaps it is because we, as a family, recently traveled to Santiago to visit the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. The visit felt strange. It was as if I was looking at photos of events that happened in another life, another world, to another set of people. My memories and the pain that they have caused me seemed in some ways to conjoin with and in some ways to diverge from the memories presented there. Seeing the photographs of the violence of the coup, I could almost hear and smell where I was when I first learned of it. I could almost see my own face as I realized the next day that Hector had been disappeared. And as we moved through the building, I could not shake the feelings of immense despair and anger when I realized that I would likely never see him again.
A part of me is proud of our country for having a memory museum, but a part of me wonders how I, how we, can remember, but not be trapped in our memories forever. In some ways I feel like I myself have come quite far. In the ’80s I helped with the opposition campaign, keeping myself busy to the point of exhaustion with work, trying to help with Rocío, everything else…But looking back on my writings here, I can see and remember how terrible the early ’90s were for me. The hope that had sustained me, small as it was, seemed to shrivel and die. I managed to get through those years with the help of my family. And now, I seem happy. I am much happier. That is true. But how happy can I be in this country? How happy can any of us be, when the horrors of the past are always in the back of our minds, try as we might to push them away and hide them within ourselves.
And so it is with conflicted feelings that I celebrate this 70th birthday. I am truly happy to be here with Elena and Rocío, but I am truly sad that 27 years after Hector’s disappearance the only thing we can guess about what happened to him is that he was treated mercilessly and brutally before dying. My only consolation is the knowledge that he would be proud of how far we have come as a country and as a movement, with the ideals of socialism still not extinguished. And I know that he would be proud of me for carrying on, doing what I could and what I thought was best, and never giving in to that hopeless part of myself.
Maybe I will still be here writing to you in 2020. Maybe by then we will know even more and have come even further. Maybe not. Either way, I am sure that Hector would not be disappointed.

One thought on “September 16th, 2010

  1. ssvolk says:

    Gracias, Cristóbal, for having shared your life with me. It has not been easy, there is much of the past which still shapes us and makes us who we are. But that’s a strength if we face it, and an obligation for us to share with our children and (congratulations!) grandchildren.

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