April, 2007

My Dear Simone –

You would have been three today. You would be doing all those things you never did: walking, running, talking, singing. Would you be ready for Montessori school? Would you have been a Montessori child, quintessentially so, like Sophia is? I don’t know, sometimes I doubt it. I often think of you and Sophia as opposites: her fair and you dark, her abstracted and intellectual while you embodied the present moment and the physical being, her alive and you dead.

Happy birthday, dear child. It is a beautiful day, with sunshine and breeze and birds singing. If you were here, we would have had cake. I don’t think we’ll be eating any cake without you. Not today. It is a hard day, and a long one, and there are no shortcuts through the minutes of it. And in ten weeks comes that other day, the one in which I usually write to you. Though perhaps I shall not have to this year.

We miss you still.

I haven’t yet moved on the tree I want to plant for you. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. I’ve realized something about myself, which is that I’m slow, slow, slow to absorb things and to do things. I have glimmers before I have ideas and I hold ideas for a long time before they become plans and I work plans through and through before I act on them or let them go. All gestations span extensive durations with me.

We had expected you on the journey with us for the foreseeable future, and the suddenness of your departure wouldn’t fit into my mind. I couldn’t explain it, and I still can’t. It is a mystery. However, it does clarify the futility of plans, doesn’t it? No future is foreseeable. And yet, planning is part of who I am. I think about almost everything I do before I do it. Visualization. Focus. These are held to be good things. I’m not so sure that they are, but I’m sure these qualities- whether they be helpful or sabotaging- are a part of my self.

Do you know that at one point in the hospital, before they told us you were dead, they told us you were moving to a pediatric intensive care unit? I wonder about that moment, about how you would have been if you had survived then. You probably would have been brain damaged in some way. Could I have handled that? It’s a place where my life (and yours) might have forked. Is it selfish that I sometimes prefer that potential to this reality? Do you mind that I wish for you at any cost, even the cost of your ability to think and live like the rest of us?

It is probably good that we are not given these choices.

Here is the choice that I am given: I can try, if I like, to have another child. Not for much longer is that choice available to me, but for the time being, it is. I’m afraid of that choice, Simone. I cannot replace you. I do not want to replace you. You and your space within our family are sacred and immutable. What I want, and I’m not sure I can even describe it in a way that will make sense to anyone not me, what I want is a chance to overlay the failure of having you die with the success of having a live baby. I am at war with my body. It was the last safe place for you, and somehow it was not enough. I know it is not my fault that you died. These things happen. But blame or blamelessness do not affect the aspect of failure. I failed to raise you. My body failed to nourish you. I don’t want that failure to be the last word on my physical self.

And I can think of no worse reason to have a baby. Because I was unsuccessful last time around? Because in order to fix my own self-image I need to mother again? WTF?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m too scared to have another kid. I am really scared; I won’t lie. The idea of it gives me headaches and stomachaches. What’s more, proving to myself that I can do this even if I’m scared seems like playing a game with stakes that are too high.

I have wanted all the kids I had. I planned for them. I expected them. I focused, I visualized, I foresaw. I failed, half of those times. Can I get up and try again? Should I get up and try again? I have never been more ambivalent about anything in my life.

And if I procrastinate long enough, the question will make itself moot. It will be out of my hands, and I won’t have to think about it. This too, seems like cowardice. In fact, it all seems like cowardice: having a baby to prove I can, not having one out of fear, taking precautions and leaving the whole thing aside until biology takes over.

There’s one more thing, Simone (two more, actually, but one is your father and he is responsible for his own decisions in this regard). I never wanted your sister to be an only child. I want her to have siblings, and I feel like she’s incomplete without them. But that’s what I want. I look at her and I think she needs siblings. But maybe she doesn’t. Maybe that’s just what I think she needs, and maybe I’m wrong. How am I to know, Simone, what’s the right thing to do for her, for me, for my husband, for you? How am I to know?

I carry all this love for you. Mostly, I carry it hidden. Once a year I bring it out, survey it, cry over it, then tuck it away again. But I can never put it down in this life, Simone. It’s meant for you, and since you are not here, I have to bear it still.

Happy birthday, dead daughter,

Your mother

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is more heroes.

And if there’s anyone who thinks surviving the Holocaust isn’t in itself heroic, how about throwing yourself in front of a gunman to save your students?

I am awed and humbled by this example of human courage. Thank you, Liviu Librescu, for your example.

Link located at and echoed from Transylvanian Dutch’s blog. It merits, in my opinion, the widest possible dissemination.

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16 Apr 2007, by

First Thought

My first thought on waking this morning was : I don’t have to comb my daughter’s hair. I’ve already done that.

My second was : It’s a new day. I may have to comb it again.

And I did.

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Feel free to skip this if you already know or don’t care about the place I referenced in my last post, known as “El Olimpo”. In essence, skip ahead if you’re not Elaine, who asked for more information. Possibly an email would better serve to clarify, but ehh, might be another one of you out there who cares to know, plus what would I post here otherwise?

Sign Marking Former CCD El Olimpo

So, some background. “El Olimpo” functioned as a “CCD” (Centro Clandestino de Detencion) for about half a year (August 1978 to January 1979). This was during the military dictatorship (la dictadura), at the height of the dirty war (guerra sucia). It is not the most infamous, nor the most long-running, nor the most deadly of the CCDs (and there were more than six hundred of these, though many were temporary in nature, without the specific building renovations that were undertaken at “El Olimpo” to more efficiently torture its occupants), but it happened to be two blocks from where I lived during those years. During its tenure of operation it held approximately 700 people, of which maybe 50 survived their detention. If you’ve heard the term “the disappeared” (los desaparecidos) this is one of the places they were disappeared to. Usually they were tortured for information using School of the Americas techniques for a period of days, weeks, or months, then killed.

View of bricked up windows at El Olimpo

I was a kid, then, but the building has always been etched in my memory, because I was always sure that there was something absolutely wrong about it. I was closer to truth than I would have understood. I regularly passed by it, buying many of my school supplies in a libreria across the street and once a week eating pastries from the bakery that stood (and still stands) catty corner from it. It is huge in the landscape of my childhood, though I never once heard a scream, never once saw a body, never saw the hooded prisoners coming or going. How can one feel except sick when one thinks that they walked the sidewalk next to a building inside which people were at that moment being beaten, raped and tortured? The walls are thick, the windows mortared over, but the geographic distance could have been no more than a few hundred meters.

Military man threatens Argentine civilian

It was never explained to me properly what was going on at the time. Would I have understood, anyway? I wasn’t much older than the girl I wrote about in my last entry. Most adults didn’t truly know what was going on themselves. Censorship was omnipresent. It was known that people disappeared. It was known that the police and the military were applying pressure on students, activists and intellectuals. It was known that many fled the country. It was known that any time you saw a soldier with his submachine gun he might shoot you. What did it all mean? How to piece it together? I don’t know. I’m still working on that one.

Useful references, all in Spanish, I’m afraid:

Once again, I apologize for my lack of proper accent marks. My blog software auto translates them into HTML encoded entities, which makes my RSS feed barf like a cat with a vicious hairball. Trust me, their absence bugs me more than it bugs you. I’m determined to fix this at some point, if I have to hack the blog software myself, but I’ve not the leisure to do that right this second. Anyway, if you know a quick an easy fix for me, I’m all ears.

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I’m back from my travels. It’s good to be home, though it was a little hard to leave. It always is. There is some part of me that always wants to move back to Buenos Aires. I usually quiet that part by promising it “someday”. I couldn’t say whether I am lying.

My trip was wonderful. This is the perfect time of year to go, too, even though you get a lot of rain.

I ate way too much. Man, Argentine ice cream is just better than American ice cream. Hands down. No contest. Don’t know if they’re shameless with the cream or what. That can’t be the whole answer, though, because the water flavors are better too (what do you call water flavors in English? Sorbets?). Also, the cheese is better. I mean the lowest grade mozzarella cheese you get on the cheapest pizza you can lay your hands on is better than nine out of ten American mozzarellas. What is up with that? My British friend theorizes that we’re out of control with pasteurization in this country, and that takes all the taste out. I’m pretty sure Argentine cheeses are pasteurized, too. Food is, as ever, plentiful and cheap and the anchor of most social interactions.

I’d kind of forgotten how dramatic Argentines are (insofar as cultural stereotypes serve, you know). They lay on the superlatives pretty thick. Sophia was the most beautiful child they had ever seen and the bus driver not stopping at the proper stop was the most heinous tragedy and I’ve been missed like an aching wound and don’t even joke with anyone whose soccer team lost this weekend because soccer is a very serious business indeed. It all seemed right, familiar, and expected, I just hadn’t ever analyzed the behavior for what it was : high drama. I’d forgotten about it completely when not immersed.

I went to my first soccer game. When I lived there, I could never go, because of being a girl and safety issues and overprotective parents. Watched plenty of soccer on tv. Played plenty of pickup soccer games. Actually going to the stadium? Never happened. Until now. We went to see my neighborhood team, All Boys. It was awesome. I got a special price break for being a chick (though actually, my brother paid for the tickets, so he got a price break for me being a chick). So yeah, if you’re jubilado or female, it costs less to attend a soccer game. Who knew?

I took a million pictures of “El Olimpo” and thought about my failed story “Olympus”. I think the main problem I need to tackle is this story cannot be linear. It’s gotta be Billy Pilgrim style, unstuck to time. I’m no Vonnegut (may he rest in peace) and I’m not sure I can pull it off, but I shall have to try. It was strange to stand there with a camera. I kept expecting someone to confront me about it and I was nervous in a way that must have been ingrained a long time ago. I have to tell you what happened while I took pictures. A woman and a girl came walking up the sidewalk. She looked no older than Sophia, five maybe six, and she had short curly brown hair. She bounced as she walked. “Este lugar fue donde los malos mataron a los buenos,” she announced to the woman walking with her, without preamble. Her mother (if that’s what she was, there was a family resemblance) made a noncommittal noise: a could have been yes, could have been no, could have been way more complicated noise. “Pero solo si salian a la calle,” the small girl elaborated. Her voice sounded loud to me, even shrill. I stifled the impulse to look around, to note whether she’d been overheard by anyone besides myself and the woman. Who had told her about this building? I don’t think it was the lady accompanying her, with the dark circles under her eyes. Did she learn about it at school? I can’t imagine a teacher explaining about lynchings or the Trail of Tears or other infamous times in our country in the first grade. I wondered what was inside her head, this child who had been born long after democratic rule was regained. Did she think the dictatorship had been a Western showdown? Good guys in white hats, bad guys in black ones? I might have said, “Donde los malos mataron a los inocentes”, though even that oversimplifies, blurs the line between those few who were actual armed guerrillas and those many who got caught in the wide cast net of suppression. And really, girl, who told you people were safe in their houses?

How am I ever going to explain how deep this goes with just words? I have no idea.

Side view of the Olimpo
Photo lifted from here (mine are not processed yet, though I may edit the entry to add mine later).

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