There were many blows, so much love destroyed and blasted into the open by the violence of the raids. There were so many times that they asked us about them, over and over again, as if they were returning the question, giving it back to us, pretending they were innocent, as if they were joking, as if they didn’t already know the exact place where they had made them disappear, where they swore on the dirty honour of the fatherland that they’d never reveal the secret. They would never reveal in which part of the pampa, in which fold in the mountain range, in which green and wavy section of the sea they had lost their bleached bones.
That’s why, in the long run, after so much running around and rattling our sorrows through military tribunals, ministries of justice, offices and courtroom-windows, they would say: it’s those old hags again with their stories of the disappeared, where they would make us wait for hours while they would process the some old response: lady, forget it, lady, bore yourself, lady, there’s no news. They must have left the country; they must have run away with the terrorists. Ask in the investigations department, in the consulates, in the embassies, because it is pointless to ask here.
Next person, come through.
That’s why, in order to avoid that muddy wave of depression that would tempt us into desertion, we had to learn how to survive by carrying our Juanes, Marías, Anselmos and Carmens, Luchos and Rosas by the hand. We had to take our disappeared ones by the hand and become responsible for their fragile load, walking through the present with the heavy load of that search. We couldn’t leave them barefoot, unprotected against the cold, in the open, trembling. We couldn’t abandon them, dead in that no man’s land, in that barren land, fragmented beneath the earth of some non-place. We couldn’t leave them there, detained, tied-up, under a steel sheet, beneath a metallic sky, in that silence, at that time, in that infinite minute of burning bullets, with their beautiful mouths open as if they were uttering a deaf question, a question aimed at the executioner who was aiming back at them. We couldn’t leave those beloved eyes all alone, like orphans. Perhaps they were terrified in the darkness of their blindfolds. Perhaps they were trembling, like excited children entering a cinema for the first time, stumbling in the dark and after a minute finding a hand in the dark to guide them. We couldn’t leave them there, so dead, so erased, burnt like a photo that evaporates in the sun. Like a portrait that becomes eternal, bathed in the rain of its final goodbye.
We had to reassemble their countenance every night, every night their jokes, gestures, tics, loathings and laughter. We forced ourselves to dream them, to remember time and time again their way of walking, their special way of knocking at the door or of sitting down after coming home from the street, work, the university or high school. We forced ourselves to dream them, as if we were drawing the faces of our lovers against an invisible backdrop. As if we were returning to our childhood and putting together an endless puzzle of a face destroyed, at the very moment of placing the last piece, by the force of a gun-shot.
Even so, despite the cold that enters uninvited through the cracks of the doorway, we like to sleep in the velvet warmth of their memory. We like to know that every night we will exhume them from that aimless swamp, without address, without number, without direction, nor name. It couldn’t be any other way. We couldn’t live without touching, in each and every dream, the frosty silk of their brows. If we let the perfume of their breath evaporate, then we couldn’t stand straight.
That’s why we learnt to survive by dancing Chile’s sad cueca1 with our dead ones. We take them everywhere like the warm sun of the shadows in our hearts. They live with us, silver-plating our rebellious grey-hairs. They are the guests of honour at our table and laugh with us and dance with us and sing and dance and watch TV. They also point at the guilty when they appear on the screen, talking about amnesty and reconciliation.
Each and every day our dead are more alive, younger, fresher, as if they were rejuvenated forever in a subterranean echo that sings them, in a love song that rebirths them, in the tremors of an embrace and in the sweat of one’s hands where the stubborn humidity of their memory never dries.
- The Chilean national dance ↩