The scars you have. The wounds you inflict. The knots wrapped up in your perceptions and the memories that cross generations….
We are using Skype to call a landline in San Salvador. That side — a father and a grandmother — doesn’t understand how it works, doesn’t realize that this side – a son, a daughter, an ex-wife – is gathered around the computer, all listening.
One-third of this side, the daughter, has dissolved into a heap of tears. Hyperventilating, choking sobs. The fact that we left 12 years ago for the US has punched her in the gut, and she’s destroyed upon hearing the deep, gravelly voice of her abuelita, who cared for her unconditionally when she was small.
Typical Skype, the connection is not good.
Alo? Alo? No se oye bien. Aqui no se oye. Alo?
She had buried it. Every mention of facing it or trying to resolve it met with tears. With fear and resistance. With avoidance.
Her recent post-Thanksgiving twitter feed confesses: I’m late but thankful for my dad’s selfless decision to not ask for joint custody (c)
…And to let my mom bring us to the US. If I were there I wouldn’t have any of what I have now.
He comes on the line, and his voice, his loss, his sacrifice become tangible. She sobs. He tries to reach out.
Why doesn’t she wanna talk? Ahhh, it’s ok. I know how it is…. She can hear me? Then both you kids know I am proud of you. I love you…. She still crying? Bueno, it’s ok. She gets that from me. I am a cry baby too. A cry-man.
The magnitude of his sacrifice hits her. She imagines what it felt like for a father to lose a wife, a son, and a small daughter to the United States. She wonders how he could handle it. Meanwhile she is living her life carefree, like nothing. She knows it’s not her fault, but the guilt is still there. Somehow until now she has not understood or appreciated it.
Maybe causing hurt can feel worse than being hurt. But even that is preposterous and selfish. The fact is that only some people have the privilege of being able to leave, to come and go as they please, to move on freely to better opportunities.
We hang up and have dinner and try to talk about it. We change the subject. We watch a movie about the time El Salvador’s national team made it to the World Cup. It was 1982 and the country was deep in civil war. The team had no funding and arrived through pure grist, themselves wondering what they had done to achieve such greatness. The players talk about how they were bathed in their reputation upon arrival to la Copa Mundial: A country at war. A country of assassins. A country full of poor people and violence.
On the field, the team won the record for having the most goals scored against them: 10 goles metidos. They returned home ashamed. But the players understand the context that led to their failure, and they also talk about el orgullo del pobre – their pride in themselves, their people and their country.
It strikes me that ‘la gente humilde,‘ (humble people) is the polite term sometimes used to describe ‘the poor’ in El Salvador. I keep thinking about what that means.