Chapter Three

Out of all my brothers and sisters my older sister Belinda has been always the closest to me. She is only three years ahead of me in this life, and we have always got along very well. The thing I remember the most about her concerning God, was the time when she was about fifteen years old, and she started to wonder about what religion she should join in. She wanted to be closer to God, and God has been always something very important in her life. She wanted to be part of a religion, but not any religion, she wanted to be part of a true religion. She felt deep in her heart that if she was in a true religion somehow she was going to know it, because her heart will let her know. Finding a true religion for her was a true spiritual calling.
She visited and investigated many religions, but in her heart she couldn't find what she was looking for. Years passed by and she was still looking for a true religion, until one day when she was about eighteen years old, while talking with my dad Luis about this same subject at dinner time, she mention to my dad Luis that she was curious about a church that looked really nice, but she had no idea what that religion was all about. My dad asked her if she remembered the name of that church, and she said, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Then my dad started talking about a coworker that was a very good guy, and he was an active member of the Mormon Church. At the end of that conversation he told her that he was going to ask that coworker for some more information about that church, and a few days after that conversation, my dad Luis gave her the address where she should go if she wanted to attend one of the Sunday services of that religion. She went to that church and she like it. There it was something special about this church. From the moment she enter the building she felt something special, and the thing she liked the most was not to see any statues outside or inside, in the whole building there was no Christ in a cross, and she really liked that.
When she got home after her first visit to the Mormon Church she was excited, she couldn't stop talking about it. After that first visit, just a couple of days after the missionaries where knocking on our door, and to make the story short, my sister ended up join in the Mormon Church, and like you may know-sarcastically speaking-they are not pushy, right? A couple months after that first visit the three of us: Belinda, my Mom Mercedes and I, ended up getting baptized.
The missionaries who baptized us were two young men: One was an American named Brent Tremble, and the other was Elder Cornejo-a nice guy from the southern part of Chile. Since then my sister Belinda became a very good Mormon, and I was a good Mormon too, but just for a little while. For about a year, I did pretty well, but I couldn't quit smoking and drinking tea. That was not the deal breaker though; the thing that really pushed me away from the Mormon Church was what I heard on Sundays' sermons. What the people was saying in the name of God every Sunday, that was what really pushed me away from this religion. At the beginning I tried to believed and understand everything what they were talking about, and I really paid attention to what they were saying. I started reading and studying the Book of Mormon because I wanted to know where they were coming from. I must say that I didn't read the whole book-because I fell asleep every time I started reading it-but at least I tried. After about a year of trying my best to be the best Mormon I could be, in one of those Sunday mornings listening to the bishop's sermon, I just couldn't believe how much rubbish was coming out of his mouth. Something clicked in my mind and from that moment on, I stopped trying to be a Mormon. In my opinion the bishop was saying exactly the opposite of what the Bible says. Let's say "I couldn't relate, or I just couldn't feel it." I realized that just like in the Catholic Church their focus was not about God, there main focus was money, what you drink, what to wear, and how to make the church bigger. All of these things are for sure not spiritual things, and I got fed up listening to them. Many Sundays I wondered, "When we get to the part where we talk about God? The living God, the one I am interested on, the one I'm looking for, because when two or more speak about God, God comes and listens, and you can tell when God is listening. You know it! Is just like being in love, for some reason you just know it.
Back then I didn't know much about God and still, but I knew at least that when you talk about God, you talk mainly about spiritual things and not just about material things.
At that time in my life I felt like I was one of those souls walking away from God, just because I was not a religious person. I felt so lost sometimes that I really didn't know what to do, and the only thing that helped me to deal with those feelings and that way of reasoning was practicing sports. Exercise was the way for me to deal with my uncertainties at that age. When I started thinking about religion, love, life or the future-that for certain didn't look too bright at the time-, and I got frustrated and lost, I did exercise. I used to play soccer with my friends often or whatever was fun at the moment, but my thing was swimming. Around that time I was going to the city Olympic swimming pool, and I was part of the water-polo city team. Like always I was not part of the elite players, but I was in the team, and I was training along with them, at least I tried to keep up with them.
At that time I was already going to high school, and like always, since I moved to this new town, my grades were not all that good. I have never been a bad kid or an angel either, but I never expected that because of not having excellent grades in my first year of I was going to be expelled of that High school. In my first year of High School, right before the year was over they told me that I could not come back the next year. That was a bummer for me, because I really liked my first High School. Like it or not I was forced to move to another high school. On my second year of high school I barely made it, and because of that, I was band from that high school too. After all those changes I really had it with school. They said that they were doing that keeping in mind what was best for me, but in all reality I saw people looking for excuses to get rid of me, and I couldn't understand why. In my third year of high school I didn't even get the minimum grades to pass to the senior year, and again I was banned from that high school too. I guess at that time in my life, I had serious troubles fitting in. I was not a bad kid, but it was hard for the teachers to deal with a kid that didn't have not even one note book, and didn't write or take notes during class. They used to say that I was a bad example for the rest of the good kids. Even if I didn't take notes in class, most of the times I was able to pass the tests at least with the minimum required. That really threw the teachers off big time and many because of that, they didn't like me at all.
Since I got to Arica city I had serious problems adapting and fitting in, and where that fact was most palpable, was in school. Maybe it was the fact that I would've preferred to stay in my home town La Serena or the fact that I found school a thing so primitive. I always thought that being seated while somebody tried to teach you something by talking and showing you pictures, was not the best way to teach a human being something new. For me every lesson should've been a game that you play at school, that way you could've be learning not even knowing that you were being taught. So I thought, and being so active for me was pure torture having to be seated for hours at a time in a hard chair.
I have been always very active, but I have never been very strong, physically strong that is. I remember at the time rugby was the sport that everybody was talking about, and at the time I found nothing better than trying for the team. I tried for the rugby team and I made it. That was the time in my life when I realized that there are people capable of hate for no reason at all. That was the time of a true and tough awakening for me. That was the time when I had a big epiphany just like the time when one day I was going to play with my toys, and I realized that they were not fun anymore even if I tried.
Joining this rugby team was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. My dad Luis told me not to play rugby, but I didn't listen and I played anyways behind his back. He opposed because as he said I could get a broken bone very easy playing that sport, and he said that I was not strong enough to play that kind of game. He told me "Once you break a bone on your body you'll never be the same ever again. You are not the strongest, your brother Fernando he is really strong, but he is not a fool to put at risk the well being of the rest of his life just to play a game. I don't think your brother Fernando would be that stupid to play that kind of game. Can you compete whit him? Do you think you are that strong?" "I am telling you this for your own good" he said, and do you think I listened?
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon right behind the city soccer stadium, in one of the practice soccer fields, the final match for the rugby championship title was about to begin and I was there. I was not one of the main guys in the team; I was just a reserve, but I was in the team. The final match was between these two high schools teams that had a rivalry for years, and after the usual protocol the game started. There was a big crowd and everybody was shearing for their team. I was looking at the game feeling proud to be part of the team, and I couldn't wait for the chance to play in a real game. I remember dreaming while seated in the bench, about having the chance to tackle somebody in a real game and be the hero of the game. That is what I had in my mind, but what really happened to me was the complete opposite. Not even fifteen minutes into the game a guy got hit hard, and he started complaining about pain in his knee. The coach didn't know what to do, he was upset, he kept looking at us but he didn't know whom to pick to replace the guy. The truth was, on the bench we were all rookies, and none of us had experience playing in a real game of rugby. Among all of us I was the only one that at least had some experience playing soccer, so he looked at me and said, "Okay it's your turn." I just couldn't believe it, was like a dream come true, and right in the final match, my opportunity, my chance to take Glory home. I was so excited. I took my position in the field, and the game started. The opposite team after the initial crumble got the ball, and they gave it to his biggest guy. I was not a friend of him but I knew him, his nickname was Bam-Bam. He grabbed the ball and started running. As I used to play soccer I knew that at the distance that he was from me, I could catch him easy. I started running towards him with all I got, as I was running full speed getting ready to tackle him, I saw in the corner of my eyes one of my teammates-Eliseo Salazar-coming my way. I thought, "Great! We got this guy." He was running towards me, and I thought he was coming to help me, but right before I had the chance to tackle Bam-Bam I looked again and I saw my teammate Eliseo coming at me full speed bracing for impact. He was coming at me fast and head forward. Nothing I could do to avoid that collision, too late, I was not expecting that. The only thing I could do was try to shield my face with my shoulder and my arm, and he got me right on my jaw. With the very front of his forehead he hit me like a torpedo and lights off for me, blurry vision, and deemed voices getting louder little by little saying, "Get up man, get up." "Wait, wait" I said, "Don't move me, don't move me." and I kind of raise my left arm a bit trying to signal to them please do not move me, and as I was doing that Bam-Bam grabbed my left arm and pulled it hard making my collarbone snap in two. I knew right there, in the middle of that pain that I had never felt before, that he just broke something on me, and I said to him, "you mess me up mofo." After the typical guy's discussion, "Man don't you know not to move someone when they are unconscious. Who said that?" They took me out of the field, and sent me to the hospital in a public bus. They had no money to pay for a taxi, so I had to walk from the field to the bus stop, then from the bus stop to the emergency room. I never realized before how hard the suspension of an old bus was. They took x-rays, and then the doctor said to me, "Your collarbone has been fractured right in the middle, and by the way your bones are aligned right now, they are okay. Overall is not too bad. You might have one side of your back a bit shorter than the other, because your broken collarbone is overlapping about half an inch. To correct that you will need surgery, but like your school insurance doesn't cover that, I guess you should consider yourself lucky." So they put a cast all over my chest including my left arm, and sent me home with no painkillers, not even Tylenols for the pain. On top of all that when I got home, my dad called me to the side, and slapped me across the face saying, "I told you. You idiot!"
After that with plenty of time to think about it, in my mind I was looking for a reason, a reason why a team-mate will do that to me, or to anybody else for that matter. I thought and I thought about it, until I found one instance where I could've done something to Eliseo that he didn't liked. It was one night in the parking lot in front of the beach, that same beach right in front of my house. I was walking towards the parking lot, and I saw a car with the windows fogged a bit, and just out of curiosity I did walk by, and that was his car. I didn't know at the time, and he was right in the middle of something with a girl. I just walked away, but I still remember the look in his face. That must have been what triggered so much hate towards me. Anyways that was not a reason to try to kill someone, like they say "Just like comedians find a reason to laugh out of everything good or bad, haters find reasons to hate out of nothing at all."
Going back to school was hard. Everybody was asking me what happened at the game, and I was so embarrassed. Hard to believe but I was about to learn another lesson in that high school. A classmate that didn't like me very much, found nothing better to do than start picking on me. He started being rude with me to the point. In my eyes I just saw another coward taking advantage that I was in a cast, and he thought that because I was in a cast, I was going to chicken out, but I didn't. Even if I knew that I had not even a chance to beat him up, I didn't back down, not even a bit. He beat me up badly, but I didn't cry, and I didn't shut my mouth either. At the end everybody was telling him how wrong he was, and all the girls were around me trying to comfort me. It was a long recovery to get better from that broken bone, and out of that experience I learned to lay low, and even if all logic would point at the conclusion that the right answer was to hate back, I didn't. I refused to fill my heart with hate, and let my soul walk into darkness. In my mind I didn't gave in because God say so "If you're not with me, you're against me." Instead of hate them I pray to God to forgive them, because that is what I should do if I wanted God to forgive me, "With the same stick that you measure, you will be measured." Pathetic you might think, but that is what I did.
After my third year in high school, and after four high schools, because I did repeat the third year, I turned eighteen sooner than I ever thought possible, and in my country when you turn eighteen you must enlist in the Army, like it or not. Unless you are already married or you are the only financial support of your family or you had a serious illness or physical limitation that prevents you from serving in the Armed Forces, you have to go and serve for two years period.
I was drafted to serve in an Army base located up in the mountains over 14,000 feet above the sea level. A military base located a few minutes away from the Chungara Lake, one of the highest lakes in the world. Is a beautiful place to visit, but when you are up there, you are in the middle of nowhere, you are in Llama Land. Up there you can find wild Llamas, Vicuñas, mountain lions, and if you are really lucky, you might see the majesty of a Condor flying free patrolling his territory from up above.
The wingspan of a Condor is about 10 ½ feet, and they have a white-collar around their neck. To see a Condor in their natural environment is for many a spiritual experience.
The year was 1985 and our country was still under the dictatorship of Augusto Pint-of-shit-that's how I call him, and if you want to open a can of worms, ask me why. My country at that time was still suffering from oppression, and no freedom of the speech. Still people who didn't agreed with the regime was disappearing, not as bad as in 1973, but the people was still afraid of this regime, and for good reasons I must add. Many young people was still dying in strange situations while serving in the Army, just like many people today in the US is dying in strange situations by Police. You hear many stories that you don't know what to really believe anymore.
In school they teach you how great the Army is and has been; the many battles they have won, and you hear that the Army is an institution led by high moral values and honor. For me was hard to believe that the same institution that was trusted by our nation to defend us from harm, was the same institution that committed genocide in one of the bloodiest episodes of my country's history-September 11th of 1973. I didn't know what to believe really, but soon I was about to find out personally what the Army really was all about.
After the regular exams and prescreening they didn't find anything wrong with me, so they told me to wait for a letter in the mail that will tell me where I have to be, to start serving my two years in the military. For a little while seemed like they forgot about me, and I thought somehow I was going to get away with serving in the military but "Just!" Just like my dad Luis used to say every time something good was about to happen, but at the end it didn't. When a situation like that happened he would say "Just!" Just like Homer Simpson says, "don't!" my dad used to say "Justo!" and just when I thought I was going to get away from serving in the Military, I received the letter in the mail and I was called to serve, "Just!"
I said goodbye to everyone, grabbed my backpack, and on I went to the military base. When I got there I got greeted by the guards, they said welcome to me but not really, the look in their eyes was the same look that you get in Disneyland when you enter The House Horror. As I enter the restricted area, and got inside the base, I felt chills on my back. This base had a kind of scary looking, just like the look of an old junk yard, there was something creepy about it. The whole floor of the base was nothing hard compacted dirt, and on one side of the base there was a couple of barracks made out of corrugated metal, that kind of barracks that you don't know if the roof is on the walls or the walls are an extension of the roof. I didn't like the look of the base at all, but in the other hand it supposed to be just like going camping, right? I got there early in the afternoon right after lunch, and the only thing we did all day was to hang out in the old metal barracks and kicked the dirt. Little by little the place started getting packed and it was hard to believe how many of us were called to serve at that same place. It was nice to see how many eighteen-year old were in your exact same situation as you were, in a way was just like another day in high school, almost.
Soon though, we all realized that No! This was not like high school at all. After the sun was gone and the shadows had faded away, we all had to go to an old shed and picked up a foam mattress to put over the metal bunk beds to spend our first night at the base. They called it a mattress, but it was nothing but a three inches thick piece of foam. After we grabbed the "Mattress" the Sergeant in charged ordered us to pick a bed, and he told us that next morning we were all going to travel up to the mountains to the real base. Shortly after he ordered us to go to sleep, and turned the lights off. That was right after 10 pm, and I was used to go to bed after one or two in the morning every night, just like everybody else on that town. I couldn't go to sleep and I was turning from one side to the next when I heard a big loud fart. It was so loud and so long that every buddy who heard it started laughing out of control. Honestly it was hilarious. The sergeant in charge said "Silence Maggots! If I hear any other noise again, you all are going to regret it!" Not even a minute after we all got quiet, but somebody let another one loose, one even bigger and louder than the first one. Must've been a record for sure, and everybody cracked up again. The sergeant in charge turned on the lights, and made us regret to have broken the silence. He punished us all by making us crawl all over the dirt patio for almost half an hour. He made the responsible guys do some extra push-ups, and hard to believe it, but those guys were still farting. The sergeant was cursing us all along until he had enough.
The thing that still baffles me even to this day, is why the sergeant had to make us get naked before he punished us, why naked? Funny thing was that after the lights went out again, it happened again. This time nobody laughed though, well almost, there still was some giggles here and there.
At that time as far as we knew, due to new laws, they were not supposed to hit us because that was now against the law. Soon being in there we learned that so what? Nobody was there to implement the law. We learned very quickly that we were on our own; we were at the mercy and criteria of who ever happened to be in charge of us at the time.
That was my first night in the military. Even to this day I still wonder what we were supposed to do in the military; what was expected from you; what was the objective of this two years enterprise; what was the purpose of these massive tax payers dollars expense, because nobody ever told us, and even to this day I still don't know what is expected from you in the military.
Next day the trucks arrived first thing in the morning, and up the mountains we went. Four hours in the back of an off road military truck is not an easy ride but we made it. When we got there, they warn us, "Get off the trucks slowly or you will faint. The air over here is very thin so take it easy. You have half an hour to get to your barracks." The barracks were only two blocks away. They told us "Do not jump off the trucks either." It was hard to believe that we had half an hour to walk only two blocks, but as they told us, "Do not underestimate the altitude, here we are over 14,000 feet above sea level, so watch it!" I did take it seriously as the majority of us did, but like always some just jumped out of the trucks, and started walking normally. Those who did after a few steps they fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes. The medics rushed to them with bottles of oxygen to revive them, and after a few episodes like that, everybody knew that they were not kidding with us.
Later on that day they did take us to a depot, where they give us our utensils and blankets for our bets. On that depot I met for the first time Sgt. LaBarca. He was the one in charge of the depot, and the first time he saw me, he told me right in my face "I do not like you, maggot" I could not understand why he said that to me, but for some reason brought me back to the time when I was in eighth grade in my home town La Serena. In one split second a memory of my childhood crossed my mind. That moment when I was going back home all by myself, like always just inside my world walking and thinking-my favorite thing to do-when a group of about six kids of my class surround me, and they tried to beat me up for no reason at all. I said tried because I defend myself with my backpack and my legs, and I fought until they gave up. I still don't know why they did that and Sgt. LaBarca for some reason reminded me of that moment. Why somebody that doesn't even know you would say something like that to you, it really baffled me. Sgt. Labarca was the one in charge of giving us our first uniform, that one uniform that will take us all through the basic training. After I got out of that depot I knew he meant what he said, because when I got out of that depot, I was wearing the oldest and holiest uniform of all. Up in the mountains it's very cold especially in the morning. It's so cold that you need winter boots, a full face hat, and for the blizzards you better have good winter gear. Sgt. LaBarca gave me the worse stuff he could find, and he was not shy to let me know what he was doing. At the same time everybody got a pair of winter boots except for me. Sgt. Labarca looked at me and asked, "What size of shoes are you?" I said "Ten and a half." He looked at me and said "I don't have that size. Next!" He didn't even look or nothing, he just told me straight out to get lost, and because of that I had no other option but to use my tennis shoes. My sneakers were the only thing I had, and like I was poor, they were not in a very good shape either; they were in the last stage of use; they were barely hanging in there.
Every morning before breakfast we had to do a headcount outside the barracks out in the cold, and that wasn't so bad or hard on my feet, but every Monday morning the Colonel Commander addressed the whole base, in a ceremony paying respects to the flag, and that was hard. That ceremony lasted usually about an hour or so, and that was tuff on my feet. The freezing temperatures little by little started biting my feet to the point where I couldn't feel my toes anymore. I was just wearing my old tennis shoes, and after a few weeks of basic training, they were holy as holy they could be. At that point standing motionless for an hour out in the cold, first thing in the morning, was pure torture for me. I had my winter jacket and a good hat, and even if the clothes I had were old and holy, they still did the job, but the pain in my feet it was excruciating. A few times I had to be carried away leaning on the shoulders of two of my comrades next to me, because I couldn't walk. Basic training they call it, I call it inhumanity unleashed. They call it being tuff, I call it being an idiot. It was such a frustrating situation. I don't know how I didn't get sick; I should've, but good thing I didn't.
We had a few people in charge of us and they rotated to take care of us. I didn't have any problems with any of the privates in charge of us, but two to three days a week Sgt. LaBarca was the one in charge. He really didn't like me at all. Almost every time he saw me, he called me up and asked me to bring him a broom. After I did he asked me to bend over and he broke a broomstick on my ass, just for no reason, well his reason was, "Haven't I told you that I don't like you, maggot" and things like that. These kinds of situations were hard for me to understand, I usually expected a reason behind an action, but here in the army seems like reason was a disease that nobody wanted to get. Sometimes a young Lieut. showed up in the middle of the night asking for cigarettes, most of the time he was drunk, and if nobody had a cigarette for him, he got so mad that besides of throwing a fit, he liked to play horse racing with us. The racing arena was the space under the beds and the hallway; the horses were all of us, and the last one got an extra beating for being slow. I remember the young Lieutenant holding himself on the upper side of the bunk-beds so he could step on us a little bit faster. I guess doing that made him feel better. For me was really hard to understand that kind of behavior; for me what he was doing was straight out criminal. Every time I saw that kind of behavior my mind sent me back to that moment where I got to meet them for the first time, back in 1973 when I was just a child, and that young Lieutenant full of himself put a gun over my brothers head. I tried to understand what gives the right to another human to act in such way. Those were things for me really hard to understand. I tried to find a reason why they were doing that, but like always trying to understand that kind of behavior is nothing but a waste of time.
Many times I was stopped for no reason other than walking to or from my barrack to the bathrooms, and I did get punished for no reason at all. They liked to practice on us-the ones on basic training-their new punishments. They wasted their time thinking about new ways of punishment. I remember two of their favorite punishments, one of them was the Boiled-egg, and the other was the tripod. On the tripod you have to put your hands behind your back and spread your legs, then you have to lean forward and form a tripod using your forehead as the third leg. On that part of the country the dirt is mixed with tiny little rocks, and they are very sharp little pebbles, so when you apply pressure on the floor with your forehead, many of those little rocks get stuck on your skin and it is very painful. The boiled egg is not that bad, but still a very cruel punishment. They make you touch the tip of your fingers, all of them at the same time, just like you were holding a boiled egg upwards on your hand, and then they hit the top of your finger tips really fast with a whipping motion using their big combat knife. Especially in cold weather the tip of your fingers become very sensitive, so you can imagine how painful it was. That's how many of them used to amuse themselves with us. However you look at these kinds of practices they make no sense, and they should not exist anymore. Those moments of humiliation were very hard for me to deal with. Sometimes I wonder how a human being can be such a jackass.
I was having that kind of fun when one of those days, in the middle of breakfast, a high rank officer announced that, they were looking for people that knew how to swim. He needed to put together a swimming team for a competition among the six division of the Army.
The commander as soon as he said, "Who knows how to swim?" I raised my hand quicker than lightning, and a guy seated next to me tried to hold my hand down saying, "Don't do that! If you leave our group they are going to think that you're trying to skip basic training, and they are going to retaliate against you." I thought about what they guy said for split second, but I as soon as I thought about Sgt. Labarca I knew right there that was impossible for my situation to get any worse than that. Anyhow before I could have the chance to put my hand down, the officer called me and asked me what kind of swimming experience I had. I told him that I've been swimming since I was thirteen years old, and that I used to play water polo as part of the city team. I was not one of the main players on the team, but I was part of the team. He asked me to swim right there in the floor. He wanted to see how well I could swing. I did get in the floor and I started pretending that I was swimming-I could never understand their sense of humor. That day I got selected with a few other soldiers to represent our Army Base in the competition, and after a couple of days, they send us back down to the city to start our training.
I've been up in that base for a little bit over a month and it might sound hard to believe, but when we got down to the city, seemed to me like I've been gone for years. It was like I've never seen the city before. Everything looked as if I was looking at for the first time ever. I remember seeing girls everywhere, and all of them looking so fine.
Once down in the city army-base we started training every day, and for my surprise the lieutenant in charge of the team, didn't have a clue about rules or how to train a swimming team for a competition. He started asking me questions about what to do, and I shared with him what I knew at the time, I gave him my best advice. We started training hard and with a little of my advice and hard work soon all my team mates knew what to do, especially at the starting point. How you get in the water is very important. There is a technique to break the water, and if you do it right, you can keep the momentum going and get and advantage right from the start. I taught them how to that, and with Just with a few pointers I gave them, the overall times improved a lot. They were happy with the results, and as a bonus, I got to go home for the weekend. Even though you're not supposed to go home before your basic training is over, they let me go and visit my family for the weekend. That was nice. Oh man! I've never been so happy to go home.
My mom Mercedes was not expecting me at all. When I got home she was surprised and happy to see me. The first thing she asked me was what I wanted to eat for dinner that night. She said, "Name anything and I'll cook it for you. What do you want for dinner?" honestly I would've loved to say steak and fries, but I knew that the budget for food was always a heavy burden on my Mom's shoulders, so I said, "Lentils Mom!" She looked back at me surprised and asked me, "Is not lentils what you have in the army for lunch pretty much every other day?" I said "I know mom, but you know how much I like lentils, and the way they cook it up there is terrible. You even find pieces of burlap bags in the lentils, is disgusting! I'm missing to eat lentils the way you cook them Mom" Anyways I didn't care about what I was going to eat. That night I was happy to be home again.
After the initial thrill of seeing my family again was gone, I never thought possible that I was going to feel like a stranger on my own place. That is how I felt the first few hours after I got home. I felt like a complete estranger, and I almost asked my mom for permission to go to the restroom. I guess if a place does not have your own bed, you can't call it home or something like that. It was weird but for sure after we set up my bed, and I spent a little bit of time talking to them, I started to feel home again. One of the things that really helped me to feel home again, was to see again my cat Monochito. He was not there when I got home, but after a little while he showed up. My beloved pet finally showed up, and who could've known then, that I was spending my last little bit of time with it. My cat was so happy to see me. He came over and got over my lap like always, but this time he put his paws around my neck like giving me a hug, and he kind of gave me a kiss touching my nose with his nose. Then he grabbed my head with his paws firmly, and he started licking my hair with his spiky tong as if I was another cat. He was really something else. He loved to take a nap over my lap, and just like the first time when I took him in my hands, he looked at me, rolled around, and went right back to sleep. I wish I knew at that moment that I was holding him in my arms for the last time.
At dinner time was nice to feel completely back at home again, and we had a great time. They all asked me how things were going up there, and I told them that it was hard to get used to at the beginning, but things were going well, so far so good. My mom told me to be careful, and how much she worried about me. She said to me that now every time she saw an army vehicle, she looked at thinking that I might be in it, and that she never saw so many army vehicles before. After dinner was over me and my older brother Luis started talking, and he asked me a bit more in details, how things were going up there. He asked me why I had cracked skin in my ears buds, and in the knuckles of my hands, and I told him, "Up there is so cold especially in the morning, that your skin over dries, and if you don't have a good lotion to put on, your skin dries and crack. He asked me if I've gotten in trouble up there and I said, "Not really but there is this Sergeant in my squadron that really hates me", and I started talking about that with my brother for a little while. After I was done talking about Sgt. Labarca he said to me seated right by my side, "You be careful with these "mofos" they are crazy! You know what they did to my best friend Carol in 1973? They took him out of his house in the middle of the night and took him prisoner, they tortured him, and after a few days, they put him on the back of a military truck, and in the middle of an empty street after curfew, they told him to run. After my friend Carol started running they gun him down like a rat on the street. That is how they used to assassinate people at the time. Saying that they violated the curfew, and they didn't stop. Then you found in the local newspapers nothing but a lie about their deaths."
More than twelve years has passed since Sept. 11th of 1973, and I could tell that my brother Luis still had no closure when it came to the death of his dear friend Carol.
Later on seated on the couch watching TV he asked me, "Why are you wearing those holy sneakers?" I said "These are the only shoes I have." He said "Don't they supposed to give you boots?" I said, "I should be wearing winter military boots, but my dear friend Sgt. LaBarca-sarcastically speaking-he said that they don't have my number. BS my brother said, and I responded, "That is what I wanted to say as well, but like you know, I better keep my mouth shut. I guess I must be one of those in their blacklist. We all must be one of those communists that got away." We laugh and changed the subject to something happier and more trivial. It was a nice time, and it was nice to be home again.
Soon enough was Sunday night, and it was time to go back to slave training camp. That is how I used to call it. One way or another, at the end, better be clear to you what is your position in this world or else. "By reason or by force" Like the Chilean coat of arms says.
Back in the city army-base training continued, and soon enough competition time was upon us. In a sunny Sunday morning at the City's Olympic pool, all the different military bases that made the six division of the Chilean Army, gathered to celebrate this event. There were lots of officials from all the different bases, and a whole bunch of civilians that were mainly family and friends of the soldiers competing that day. My whole family went to see the competition, and I could see them in the bleachers rooting for me. The competition was divided into two parts, the first one was the qualifiers, and the second one the finals. That time was the first time my family saw me in a swimming competition, and they were being loud. Even while I was in the water I could still hear their voices rooting for me. I have never seen them so excited.
I wanted to participate in freestyle, but I wasn't the best time in my team, and at the same time nobody knew very well how to swim backstroke style, so I have to compete on the 100 meters backstroke style. When it was my turn I gave everything I've got, and I took first place on the qualifiers. That was really nice, and our team over all had a very good performance too, so everybody was looking forward to the next step of the competition. There was only one little problem, one member of our team got injured, lucky me as always. Right after the qualifiers I felt a muscle ripped on my back, and it was a lumbar muscle. At first when I felt the pain I thought it was going to go away, but instead the pain started getting worse and worse. They took me to the doctor and the doctor said that I had a muscle ripped in my back, and I needed at least two weeks to recover. You might recover faster because you are so young and you are in good shape, but whatever it could be you better get some rest. Stay out of your feet and lay on your back, move as little as possible that was what the Dr. ordered for me. The lieutenant in charge of the team when we got to the base advice everybody to leave me alone and not to bother me until the competition was over. He said to me, "I want you to rest. Don't do anything. I want you to swim in the finals okay? Rest now and it is an order maggot!" The pain by then was unbearable, good thing they give me some pain killers, but don't think they were like the pain killers of today. They gave me something like 500mg Tylenol three times a day and that was it. I remember at the time real pain killers were rare, and the Tylenols they gave me made it better, but not really. I couldn't sleep that night, and with every beat of my heart the pain stroke me like knives on my back. Next morning I was feeling a bit better. Rest was good for my pain. I was glad the pain was not that bad "cuz" I had to go to the restroom badly. As soon as I tried to move though, the pain came back, and it was even worse, but I had to go, so little by little, step after step, slowly but surely I went to the latrines. The latrines were like half of a block away, so it took me awhile to get there.
I was about to go back to the barracks when I hear somebody calling for a head count, and I thought, "Good thing I don't have to run for a formation cuz the Dr excused me, ha hah." Right after they formed and counted how many soldiers were at the base, the private asked "Are these all of you?" they said, "No there is one more, but he is in the bathroom, he is hurt, the Dr. told him to rest." The private saw me coming out of the latrines, and he walked towards me fast, and looking really upset. He got close and yelled out loud to my face, "When I call for a headcount formation every buddy runs to the line f@# maggot. Do you think you're special?" I tried to explained to him what was going on, but while I was holding my back, and barely walking, I wasn't even finished talking, and before I knew it, he swept me off my feet with a kick to my uncles, threw me on the ground, and started kicking me with all his strength. I blocked his deadly blows as best I could, and he kept kicking me until I got to the line. At that moment he was still yelling at me, but I couldn't hear a word of what he was saying. I never felt so helpless and insignificant in my whole life. After the formation my friends were asking me, how I was doing? But for some reason their voices sound distant. In my heart I felt only emptiness and frustration of seeing a coward and an ignorant acting with complete disregard towards another human being. This was another time when I got bitten while I was badly hurt, and I wish I could defend myself. I call him a coward cuz they know that you can't fight back, and if you do, you will be charged with insubordination. We all knew that if you get charged with insubordination, you will have to stay in the military until your case is over, and most of the time because of bureaucratic practices, it takes about four to six years for an incident like that to get resolved. I remember walking to the barracks after that incident, and all the way to the barracks I could barely hear anything. My vision was blurry, and everything was red. I lay down over my bed with a sharp ring bouncing off my ears, and while lying on my bed, I started thinking about what my dad once told me about what he saw when he got arrested in 1973. After they released him and he went back to work. He was at work and he saw a train with railcars after railcars full of corpses. He saw with his own eyes mutilated and bloody corpses being dumped over a cliff by the ocean. He was never a liar, but when he told me about that, I didn't really believe him. Now lying in that bed, with just a little bit of over a month of direct contact with this kind of people, I finally realized that what he told me was the truth. As I was laying there I did remember the last poem of Victor Jara, and how he died.
What kind of heart fascism creates?
They carry out their plans with knife like precision under the cover of night.
For them blood equals medals.
How hard is to sing when what I have to sing is the horror of my people.
How hard is to sing a song where the screams of horror followed by silence,
is the end of my song.
The night came and I've been lying in bed all day long, unable to make a word to come out of my mouth. It was like I was hiding deep inside of myself. Finally after the shadows faded away, and gray turned into dark, I decided to go to the restroom. At that moment I didn't know what I was feeling anymore, but on my way to the latrines I saw the moon, a big and beautiful full moon barely clearing up the top of the hills. That moon made me realize that there is something else besides the place that I was at. The deemed moonlight felt like life itself was touching my soul, and as I was slowly walking towards the latrines, I admired its beauty and majesty. I got to the latrines and I walked right into the showers with clothes and all, I opened the water and stay right under the cold water for I don't know how long. As the water run down cleaning my dusty clothes, I started feeling my body again. Little by little my spirit started taking possession of my body again, at least felt like it. Slowly the pain started to come back, and the mixed of pain and rage was like a cloud in my mind. Slowly the pain washed my rage away, turning my fury into frustration like I never felt before.
The days that succeeded that event, and preceded the finals were quiet days for me, nobody bothered me after that. On those days I had plenty of time to think about what happened, and I learned that our lieutenant, the one in charge of the swimming team, had a talk with the private that beat me up, and I thought, "so what?" I didn't have to be a psychic to know that at the end nothing was going to change, one tiny slap on the hand is not justice, and what a slave like me can do about it? Nothing! Nothing but cry, that is the only thing a slave can do, nothing but cry about it.
The day of the competition came and I still was not well enough, but I did participate anyways. Right before my turn they put some ice on my back, and I got first place on the hundred meters backstroke. Overall our team ended up in second place, and everybody was happy. My family up in the bleachers was cheering up, and I knew they were proud of me. That was one of the few moments that I have seen my mom Mercedes being proud of me.
The closing ceremony was short but very nice, as they were giving the results for the different categories they were giving up the medals, and as I received mine, to see the expression on my mom's face, at that moment when they put that medal over my shoulder was priceless, never seen her so proud. After the ceremony was over we got to talk to our families for a few minutes, and right after, we went straight back to our base.
Competition was over and everything went back to normal really quick. Next morning after that happy Sunday we went back to the top of the world. That is how we used to call our base. After a four hours trip, there was our base, right in the middle of nowhere, and high up in the Andes Mountains. I was back in Paradise again. After all that my moral was still high, and even if it was hard to erase that horrible moment out of my mind when I got beat up, I was okay. Here and there sometimes the memory of being kicked in the floor mercilessly did flash back in my mind, but as a teenager, for some reason there was so much life inside of me, that no matter what happened, I was able to turn the page, let go, and moved on really quick. That's all I wanted at the time, to live that bad moment behind, and just remember the good times winning a gold medal for the first time in my life.
Back in the barracks some of my comrades congratulated us, and even some of the officers came over and gave us some kudos for the good job. Everything was going just fine until Sgt. Labarca saw me. He came over and told me, "Tonight you do truck post! And you know why? Cuz I don't like you. I don't like you flip'n maggot!" As he was turning around I said very quick "Sergeant Labarca what about my boots? Is too cold up here, and I only have these holy sneakers." He said "Did I just give you permission to talk? Did you ask me for permission to speak to me maggot?" No sir, no sir, sorry sir. "Sir is the Lord up in Heavens, I am Sgt. Labarca maggot, give me 20" after that he said "Find me a broom, maggot!" so I did "Bend over… right there" he said, and broke another broom stick on my ass. Ouch! I really don't know if he was trying to break a record trying to see how many broom sticks he could break on my ass, but let me tell you, if you ever want to learn how to walk on the tip of your toes, try someone breaking a broomstick on your butt, and you'll see what I mean.
That night at midnight they woke me up to take my turn at the truck post, and that was my first night up in the mountains after the competition. For me it was more than cold, besides of being freezing cold, I was coming from a semi-tropical weather, and after a swimming competition like the one we had, you don't have many calories on your system. I grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around my body like a poncho, and on I went to my post. I was shivering from the moment I got outside the barrack, and as soon as I stepped on the cold ground with my holy sneakers, my feet got really cold right away. After the initial shock of getting outside in the cold, I looked up and I saw a beautiful sky, it was one of those nights where you can see clearly the majesty of the Milky Way. To see that many stars that night, reminded me that there was something else besides that crappy life I was living, and reminded me that there is more to life, a lot more. I thought, "One more day here, is one day less as well. One day I will leave this place, and they will have to stay." That was my only consolation at the time.
Walking to my post in the middle of the night, made me realize why they said that they have seen ghosts on that place. We have heard many stories about that place, stories about spirits pulling your hair or spirits grabbing your feet, but I couldn't care less, I always kept in mind what my dad Luis used to say, "The only scary thing, and the biggest evil you will ever find in this world, is another human being." Looking at the place the first thing you notice is a light post. Only one light post with a dimmed soft white-light twinkling every now and then. The light is right over of what is left of a rusty old truck, and that view combined with darkness all around it, makes the perfect scenario for creepy thoughts. While walking to my post I realized at the same time that I was not afraid of darkness anymore. The truck post was a patio on the outskirts of the base, and looked just like a junk yard, a junk yard of old military trucks kept in case they needed some parts to repair another truck. I was not supposed to get inside of those trucks, but after a half an hour I was starting to feel knives stabbing my feet, and I couldn't bare the pain so I looked around and got inside of one of those old trucks. Inside the truck at least I was shielded from the freezing breeze, but I was still super cold. I was shivering badly when I did remember that I had a lighter on my pocket, and as I grabbed the lighter out of my pants my inner MacGyver kicked in. I grabbed the lighter and I took apart the mechanism, that way I was able to adjust the flame about four inches long. I took my shoes and socks off, and applied that burning big flame to the bottom of my foot back and forth. My feet were so cold that the flame didn't burn my feet, I just felt relief from the pain. After warming up my feet for a few minutes, I wrapped them with an old newspaper and I put my socks over, that really helped a bit. I was doing that when I heard some noise, and as soon as I heard that noise I got out of the truck, I was afraid that it could be Sgt Labarca. The noise was like somebody dragging something over the floor, I got off the truck really quick and I stand steal very quiet pretending like I was just looking at the sky. I thought Sgt. Labarca came to check on me but no, after about five minutes a whole squad of maggots, led by a first class private surrounded me trying to scare me. They were practicing a field class about stealth. For me that was laughable, I heard them coming about a block away before they got to me, I did act surprised so they didn't feel bad. It remind me of another first class private trying to give us a sense of orientation throughout the position of the stars on the sky. I didn't know much about stars, but I knew what he was telling us was full of it, just like this private. I did appreciate the fact that they made my half an hour at the post go really fast though. They stopped and talked to me for a bit. After my hour was over I went back at the barrack, and I woke up the next person on the post guard list. I did that and I went right back to sleep. It felt like I just closed my eyes when we all woke up to yelling and cursing of a drunken young Lieutenant. He was yelling on top of his lungs saying, "Wake up you maggots. You better have some cigarettes and bring them to me right now or else." Nobody had any cigarettes, not even one. Up in the mountains in a remote location like that base was, sometimes cigarettes were more valuable than money. The Lieutenant got really upset, and because nobody had a cigarette, we all got another horse race on the barrack. Crawling under the beds and through the hallway as we were receiving some kicks randomly, praying that you're not one of the last ones, so you don't get some extra kicks, and that is how I had another night in Paradise.
Next day right before breakfast we had an announcement from Sgt. Labarca he said, "Today at lunch time the commander-in-chief of the base will personally conduct a general review. Everybody must look their best, and do not forget to have all your utensils with you at the time of the review." Right after his announcement we went and had breakfast as usual. We formed two lines and marched to the food court. After breakfast was over we came back to the barracks, and I went straight to my locker to save my breakfast mug, as I got closer to my locker I saw the bottom corner of my locker bent outwards. I looked around and I saw a very strange look in the eyes of those who were around. I knew right away that something was wrong. At that moment I thought of my dad Luis saying like always when something unfortunate happened right at the worse moment "Just!" just like Homer Simpson saying "Don't!" I did open the door of my locker and my lunch plate, a knife and fork were gone. Just before the general review my stuff was missing, what a coincidence. I asked a couple of times if somebody so anything, but I already knew the answer. I immediately went to talk Sgt. Labarca and this time before I said a word I asked permission to talk with him first. I told him that some of my lunch stuff has been stolen, and I said to him, "Somebody broke into my locker and steal some of my utensils." He said, "A good soldier kills, and cover his tracks with branches if necessary, but failure is not an answer. You are responsible for your stuff, and you better get to the general review with all of your stuff, maggot! I don't care how you do that, but you better, and bring me a broom."
There are some situations in life when you are confronted with your own self. There is a tipping point where you know that whatever action you take at that a specific moment might change the outcome of the rest of your life. I thought to myself what to do? Should I go and steal from somebody else? They robbed me, so why I could not go and steal from someone else, right?
I did have at that moment a little bit of money in my pocket, and I tried to buy another set, but I had no luck, nobody had an extra set of lunch utensils. Actually the only one who was able to do anything about that situation was the one in charge of the depot, and that was Sgt. Labarca. I was in a real pickle, nobody had an extra set. At that moment I had a bad feeling and the more I thought about it, the more didn't make sense. Was that my fault? I didn't know what to do. Anyways I started getting ready for the review. I started shining my belt buckle, making sure that my clothes had no stains, and while doing that I thought, "What my daddy Oscar would've done? My daddy Oscar lived in a place where somehow, someway, God knew everything we do, a place where anybody could be God, Jesus or an Angel testing our true faith." So I though "Moment of truth for me." I just needed to decide what side of the street I wanted to walk on. Right after that thought, I had a moment of clarity and I realized exactly who my true self was. At that moment I knew exactly what to do, and I knew that I was not going to kill, I was not going to lie, and regardless I was not going to steal. I did ask myself, "What side are you on? Are you with God, or you are against God?" After that thought, I knew exactly what I was going to do.
I kept getting ready and whatever was going to be I said, "So be it." I guess I just discovered by accident whom I was. In the eyes of these men in uniform I was nothing but a cow in W Bush Ranch. I was in a place where the one in charge of the ranch can say to the cows: You Rodeo, you hamburger, you milk and you cheese. Now imagine that these cows started saying things like, "We want death in a humanitarian way! We have rights! We want to use birth control! Etc. etc…" You know for certain that if those cows were ever to evolve to a basic intellectual level, for them to eventually become free, it would be almost impossible, and any cow who dares to say something about it, most likely will be shot in the spot.
It is hard to explain how it feels to know that your life hangs in the hands of an idiot, but regardless of the consequences I thought, "I believe in a living God and if I can't understand why God allows all this to happen, I choose to follow God and I will not kill, and I will not steal. I will not fill my heart with hate." That was the decision I took at that moment, and even knowing that there might be bad consequences, I felt in my heart that was the right thing to do.
While I was getting ready for the review I was having this little conversation with myself, "Do I believe in God?" I answered myself, "Yes I do." I even played the devil's advocate with myself, and I asked myself, "Have you ever seen God, have you? No I have not! But I do have faith that God exist, and the Bible says that faith is the way. Faith is the path that leads to God. Be a humble soul and let faith lead you forward and never give up. Do you have faith? Yes I do have faith. It might cost you your life, because this "mofos" are crazy. I don't care to let this "mofos" down, but I will not let God down, and I will not give up my faith." As I was cleaning my stuff and getting ready, I felt a deep feeling of peace and equilibrium all over my body.
Lunch time was upon me, and everything was so quiet and harmonious, just like the calm before the storm. We have been getting ready for the review in front of the commander all morning long, and that was the only thing we had to do that morning. I did luster my belt buckle, and I wish I could say I did shine my boots too, cuz by then, I was still using those old holy sneakers. We formed a line in front of the barrack and marched to the food court. We stopped right in front of front entrance and waited motionless for the Commander to do the review. He arrived right on time and in a very meticulous way the Commander started the general review. He was observing and looking in detail every single one of us, from head to toe. I was in the second row and he stopped and looked at me and asked, "Why are you wearing tennis shoes instead of boots?" I said "They don't have my number, Sir!" He said "You have been all this time with no winter boots?" Yes Sir! He said, "Are you the one that sometimes they have to carry you away because you can't walk? I said, "Yes Sir that's me." He kept walking and looking at the other soldiers. At that moment Sgt. Labarca came over where I was very quick, and with his infamous smile, and a brand new uniform he asked me, "What did he ask you?" I answered "Why I was wearing sneakers Sgt." He asked "Did he said anything about your missing plate?" No Sgt. He didn't. "Where is your plate?" I don't have it Sgt. I wasn't not even finished with my sentence when he said "I told you f@# maggot to get your missing stuff, that was an order maggot." and he cling on the shoulders of the soldiers in the row in front of me, and he kicked me in the chest with the hill of his combat boots, right in the center of my chest, right above my stomach. It was a brutal and unexpected blow, but he wasn't done yet, he was getting ready to hit me again when the commander asked him, "Why are you hitting that soldier?" The Sgt. Replied, "He is missing his plate." Then the commander said, "Thanks for letting me know that he was missing some stuff, now you fail the review, and it's going negative on your records. Get that soldier some boots, stop hitting him, and that is an order Sarg!" Yes Sir! Labarca said, and looked at me with the most evil eyes I have ever seen.
Since then I have a lump in the middle of my costal arch, he broke my xiphoid bone-that middle little bone right in the middle of your ribs, right where your stomach begins. That was another painful and humiliating experience, and at that moment I truly didn't know what to think anymore. It was hard to believe that there are some people capable of so much hate in this world.
When we got back to the barrack the Sgt said, "Let that be a lesson to all of you. I don't want to see anybody losing their gear, and now because of you-looking at me-I didn't passed my inspection, so now all of you are going to pay for it. Go and put your training clothes because is time for you Maggots to get to know the Valley of Tears. I'll be back in half an hour and everybody better be ready to get your butts kicked. Dismiss Maggots!"
We have only heard stories about The Valley of Tears, but we have never been there before. For what we had heard The Valley of Tears was a place where the sun never shines, and it was a place full of human bones scattered all over the place. That was the name of the place where they punish whole squadrons when they did something really bad, and sometimes the punishment was so bad that some soldiers never made it out of that place. We were about to find out the truth about that place very soon, and everybody was telling me, "It is your fault man."
For our surprise "Sarg" Labarca didn't come back after half an hour, but he sent two privates-one first class, and the other what they call "A Morral" a rookie. The Valley of Tears was a place behind the kitchen where they unload the supplies. This place was always in the shadows, the direct sunlight was blocked by this massive warehouse. There was a few bones scattered all over the place, but not human bones, they were cow's bones, the place for sure was creepy though. Soon after we got there the privates started the punishment making us do pushups, and crawl all over this place. Many got bloody elbows and hands, all of us got poked through our skin with this spiky grass that grows naturally in that zone. After a half an hour that seems like an eternity, we were all covered with a sort of mud on our faces, the mix between sweat and dirt, and you cannot tell if there were tears on the mix, because you are sweating, but that punishment was harsh to say the least. We formed a line after they got tire of kicking our butts, and like always lucky me I cleaned my face and spitted on the ground trying to get rid of the disgusting dirt that got in my mouth. Many did the same but guess whom they noticed. The "Morral" said to me, "You don't spit on your land maggot that is like spitting on the flag. Pick that up or I will punish everybody up some more, maggot!" So I did, awkward and gross but at least we didn't get beaten some more by this idiot, he was smaller than me and I would've loved to kick his rear end, but if you do anything stupid like that, then they put you in "Summary" that is the term that they use to call an internal investigation, and even if it is a simple thing to resolve, many times it takes between four to six years to close a case of insubordination. So if you are smart you better swallow your pride and eat it, and that was exactly what I did, I ate my own spit.
While growing up I have heard countless stories about "the blacklist" that book that keeps the record and the names of all those considered dissidents of the regime. Those on that list will never really succeed, they became second class citizens. In my point of view those with no equal rights in front of the law, for me they are modern slaves, and in my mind started to "click in" the fact that this kind of acts against me, they were not just random incidents, I was starting to believe that I was one of those in the blacklist. I knew one thing for sure, before September 11, 1973 we were middle class, and since then we started to go down in the social ladder, to the point where we ended up being bottom of the barrel.
Anyhow with the basic training almost over, they told us that it was time for us to get better uniforms. It was known for all of us that after the basic training is over everybody takes turns in a guard post, a real guard post located in the perimeter of the base. We have heard stories about people committing suicide in those posts, because there you are in a place by yourself, and with a loaded rifle. Some say that there are spirits, evil spirits that pulled the trigger for you, and make you do that. I didn't believe any of that, but I couldn't deny that is a creepy place to be at. We all knew that at first they send you to the post with a real rifle but no bullets, they say to you, "You have to prove yourself worthy first." There were so many things I didn't understand in that place, and the only consolation was to know that one day I will leave that place, and I will never have to come back ever again.
One of those days close to the end of the third month right before the basic training was over they told us, that it was our turn to get real uniforms. They supposed to be the clothes that you get to keep for the rest of the time you serve in the Army. We marched to the Depot and there he was Sgt. Labarca, seated behind the counter being in charge of passing out the new uniforms. While waiting in line I looked around and in this place there were boxes full of ammunition all over the place. In the middle of a slowly moving line advancing forward one step at a time, I saw a wooden box full of rifle bullets that was open, and I don't know what took over me, but I reached for the bullets, grabbed a handful and like everybody was looking I pretended that I let them fall back, but I kept one bullet hiding in my hand, I did it in a very sneaky way like magicians do. I thought nobody saw me, and I kept moving down the line. After a few minutes I thought, "Why I did that for?" Anyways it was too late to put it back. Finally was time for me to get my new uniform, and Sgt. Labarca looked at me like always, he had that sick smile on his face and he told me, "Here is your new uniform." Some of the stuff was okay, but for sure not new, and the winter jacket was as holy as the last one, no surprise there though, I wasn't expecting anything better from him anyways. Actually I was surprised that he didn't break a broomstick on my ass when he saw me that time. Once we got back to our barrack I started trying on me my new uniform, and I was just having a good time when I heard Sgt. Labarca yelling out loud, "Where's that f#@ing maggot." He saw me, and came straight up to me. He came within reach and with no warning he slapped me across the face hard and with all his strength asking me, "Did you take any bullets maggot?" I hesitated for a second, but if he was asking me, it was obvious that somebody saw me keeping up one of the bullets and snitch up on me, I answered, "Yes I did." He asked, "How many?" Just one Sgt. I said. He searched my clothes, my locker, spread my stuff all over the place, and called for a formation right after that. Inside the barrack he addressed the whole squadron, and he put me as an example of what not to do. He lectured us about never taking anything that doesn't belong to us, especially anything related to weapons, unless we were instructed to do so. Bring me a broom he said, and like always he told me to bend over, and as I did he broke that broomstick on my ass again. He started talking in a sarcastic way, even more than usual, and started looking around, he pointed at an empty garden space in front of the barrack and he said, "This garden is kind of empty so I guess we're gonna plant a tree right here in this exact spot." he made me stand steel with my arms open, and ordered the squadron to bring their gear-bags full of stuff, and hang them on me carefully and in a very organized way. They hang on me as many bags as possible, and I had to stand steel with all that weight over me for hours.
Standing steel as a tree in front of the barrack I started to think about a movie that I saw when I was just a kid. I was appalled to see an Egyptian guard on the movie slashing a slave because the slave was not moving fast enough, he was not working hard enough and I thought, "I'm glad that those times are over. I am living in modern times now, a time where there are human rights." I believed those times were over millenniums ago, but there I was, being treated in the same manner, and not a thing I could do. I realized that "Nope" those times were not over yet." I thought "God made me free and free I will always be." So I thought. In that place I was a slave because I didn't have any rights, and rights are the stick with which you measure democracy. In a true democracy you are born with rights, they stay with you throughout your life, and you take them to your grave. After that moment my thoughts were not all that good anymore, everything changed from one moment to the next. Now I was feeling reality setting in on my mind and my reality as I saw it was a very simple one I thought, "You say: I am a slave with no rights at all, and I have to do as you say, but I say: God is my Lord, and he made me free and I will die free."
After hours of being a tree in front of the barrack they finally let me go, and for some reason I was a different man. I had no pain, no hate, no rage and no regrets, no nothing. My mind was clear and my heart was beating steady like a drum. I went inside organized my stuff, made my bed and I even joked with my comrades. One of them asked me "Hey, why did you steal that bullet?" I said "I love bullets, I come from a family of hunters and gun owners, I wanted to make me a necklace as a souvenir maybe, what can I say? I wanted a souvenir." He said "What you've got was a shellacking" We laughed and I said, "I know one thing for sure my friend, I am a record holder, nobody has gotten more broomsticks broken in his butt than me, I am "Numero uno, amigo!" I am the record holder!"
Soon the sunset was upon us and I had a bit of free time for myself, so I went for a walk to the edge of the base. The west edge of the base is by the old-trucks' yard and is located on top of a valley that extends all the way to the Pacific Ocean, you cannot see the ocean, but you can see the valley getting lost in the horizon. You are so high up in the mountains that you can see the clouds at your eyes level, and that day, it looks like Monnet and Bangkok were in charge of the colors, because it was an extraordinary beautiful sunset. I have never seen colors so vivid and intense as I saw them that day. There were in the mix dark reds and bright yellows, with a touch of light blue here and there. At the end of that sunset you could see the sun light shining through the clouds, until all the colors slowly faded away.
Back in the barrack everybody was getting ready to go eat and we heard, "Formation Maggots!" we all run outside, "Formation!" we all rush to our place, "Head count Maggots!" and very fast we yelled our number out to the one next to you, that way very fast you get a head count, and we were getting good at it. That was my comment to the soldier next to me, "We are getting better hah?" I was not the only one talking either, but guess who the one was called to the front for talking while in formation. I was the one called to the front of the squadron for talking, and the private looked pissed and he asked me, "Were you talking in line maggot?" I said "Yes Sir! It won't happen again Sir!" He asked me to give him twenty-twenty pushups that is-but I didn't. I just stud still staring at him, I don't know what happened to me, but I had lost all respect for this people, and I just had it with them. Not knowing what was going to happen to me I just brace for impact, I knew it was coming, he slapped me across the face with all his strength, I didn't even flinch. I've seen before others get knocked out from those hits, but like I said I didn't even flinch, and I stared back at him like saying, "Is that all you've got?" His hand was slightly shaking and right over his handgun, I could tell he was hurting. Why he didn't grabbed his gun and shoot me? I don't know, I don't know what stopped him, I knew he could if he wanted too. At that time in history Pint-of-shit was in the paramount of his ruling days, but I didn't care. Like I said after being a tree in front of the barrack I was a different man. After a second that seemed like an eternity, with his hand still by his gun, he glassed at me and said, "Go to the infirmary maggot!" and so I did.
There in the infirmary they asked me, "Why are you here?" I responded "I don't know, I guess I disobeyed a direct order, and right after he hit me, and like I didn't move anyways, he said to come over here, and here I am." They said, "You need to calm down maggot." The male nurse grabbed a syringe and a little bottle with some clear liquid in it, filled the syringe up and asked me along with another two male nurses that showed up out of nowhere, to turn around, pull my pants down, and bend over. I had enough for one day already, so even if I was terrified of needles I did. Ouch! I said and lights out for me till next morning.
I woke up next morning in one of the infirmary rooms, and as soon as I woke up they told me that I have been assigned to the infirmary now. They said that I will stay there for the rest of the time I had left, and that one of my responsibilities now was to feed the sick, and help to keep the infirmary clean "Can you do that maggot?" they asked me, I said sure, and that's how I ended up serving the rest of my time I had left in the Army on the infirmary.
In the infirmary everything was a bit different, I didn't have to do formations or reviews, and everybody was nice and well educated. Other than keeping the hallways always spotless, especially for the occasions when the Colonel stopped by to visit the sick or wounded, everything was pretty calm and civilized. I had to go to the kitchen to get lunch for the sick, and get especial diet food for some of the patients, other than that, everything was just fine. The best thing of all was that I got to sleep in a very good and clean bed. A few weeks after this tremendous change, that by the way it blew my mind "cuz" I thought I was choosing certain death when I decided to stop obeying orders, but no, I was now serving the sick in a nice place, and nobody messed with me. I started thinking, "This is too good to be truth."
One of those days I was mopping the floors when a lieutenant came over and told me that the Colonel Commander of the base wanted to talk to me. That really surprised me, and the Colonel wanted me to read an article of a magazine before I talk to him. The lieutenant handed me a magazine and said, "Tomorrow morning be ready." And he left. I didn't know what to expect, and next morning while I was making my beds the Col. showed up, and I salute him he said "At ease" and he asked me what I thought about that article in the magazine. I started talking about what I did remember about the article, and I gave him my point of view about the article. I wasn't even done when he just looked at me, turned around, and left the room saying, "You are too smart, that's your problem! You're too smart maggot!" Right after that, I thought somebody was going to come and say something to me, but no, things just kept going the way they were.
After a couple weeks after I talked to the Col. they send me to the base down in the city to be seen by a doctor. That threw me off, and I was surprised, but there I was, still alive. By all means I was praying just one thing, I was wishing that they didn't start a summary on me "coz" having to be in that place for four to six years, was something that I could not endure for sure.
Down in the base they told me to find a place where to sleep, and like always, nobody told me what was going on. I found a nice spot where to put all my stuff, and I was resting in one of those old bunk beds when a private came over, and told me that tomorrow morning right after breakfast I had an appointment with the doctor, and he told me as well that while I was down in that base, my duty was helping in the kitchen with whatever they needed. Next morning after breakfast, I went to see the doctor and he asked me, "Why did you disobey a direct order?" I didn't know what to say, my mind was full of uncertainty. They conduct themselves like saying you can trust me, I am not here to kill nobody, but after all I have seen, I couldn't trust nobody. I wish at that moment I could speak freely, and tell them things like, "I think you are a beast, for sure the worse animal I have ever known, you take pleasure making others suffer for no reason, you don't produce nothing with your hands, you are nothing but a parasite of society, you are a good for nothing, a whole bunch of useless sadists, and I had it with you people." Instead of saying something like that, the only thing that came to my mind was, "I don't know maybe I'm crazy, my older brother suffers from schizophrenia, and maybe I do have the same disease." The doctor did make me elaborate on that, and I told him the story of my brother Luis in a few words. I told him that my brother Luis when he was about eighteen, right after the military coup of Sept. 11th, after they killed his best friend he started acting weird and he got schizophrenia. The Dr. asked me, "Do you hear voices in your mind?" No I don't "Do you have problem sleeping?" I said, "No I don't. Actually I do have problems waking up, I always sleep very good and deep." Then he looked at me and said, "You can go now. Go back to whatever you were doing." So I left the Dr.'s office and I went to the kitchen. There in the kitchen they asked me to help them out cutting vegetables. That day I was told how to cut vegetables, and that was my new assignment until new orders, so the cook said. That same day at night before they turned the lights off to go to sleep, I was asked to take some medicines, but I refused, and that was another bad idea. I thought, "There is no way that I was going to take that medicine, I don't know what those medicines were, and like always nobody explained me why I did have to take those medicines for, so I refused. Soon they gave up on me, and tried to inject me with something, and I refused again. Three big nurses tried to hold me down to inject me but they still couldn't. As I was in the floor they asked the soldiers around to give them a hand, and more than ten guys that were around came and helped them. After a short struggle they inject me with something, and lights out for me again. I woke up later on that night, feeling inside my heart something very hard to express, but not new for me, I had experienced that way before. I remember being at school in Arica city right after we moved from my home town La Serena, and I was in my classroom listening to the teacher when I felt really strong the feeling of not wanting to be there. I was in the place where I had to be, but I didn't want to be there. At the time I was just kid, not even ten years old and when I had the chance I left the school without telling anyone that I was leaving. I just walked out the school, and walked all the way home. Nobody knew what happened to me, and my mom and I got in serious trouble for it. At the end I apologized and never happened again.
This time I was feeling exactly the same and ten times worse, but the situation it was completely different. Walking out the base will be the desertion, and the feeling of wanting to leave was so strong, it was almost bigger than my reason. Good thing I didn't left, and I felt the need for a cold shower. I was still under the effects of whatever that drug was, and like a zombie I walked to the latrines. When I got there I got under the shower with clothes and all, I let the cold water run over me for a while. With the cold water running through my body a memory crossed my mind, the memory of my daddy Oscar punishing Ricardo, I remembered my daddy Oscar putting him in an empty metal barrel with clothes and all, and with a garden hose he threw water at him. I remembered my daddy Oscar saying to Ricardo not to be a bad boy no more, not to be disrespectful to his older sisters, and not to do something like that ever again. I felt in a way like I was being a bad boy, but I couldn't help myself to act or to think any different, even if I tried. Under that shower I realized how much I was still missing my daddy Oscar and with tears running down along with the water I stood there for a while until I was able to handle that feeling of wanting to leave a bit better.
Next day I was surprised that they didn't ask me to take any medicines again, so I did continue my day as usual. After breakfast I went to the kitchen and spend the day helping them with whatever they needed help with. Most likely they put me to cut infinite piles of vegetables, and I was getting pretty good at it. That was my routine for a while and I was okay, but the feeling of wanting to leave still was there, and the more I thought about it, the stronger the feeling it got. The way I felt being in the army I am really sure is a very particular way of seeing things, but I felt as if I was trapped in the hands of organized crime, I felt in a way that I was helping them, I was enable them to commit more crimes, and I didn't want to have any part of it. I was thinking while cutting vegetables what was going to be of my life after the army. All this troubles I was having for sure they were going to be in my records, and with a bad record in the army how I was going to find a job. A dishonorable discharge from the Army is like having committed a felony or worse, then I thought, I am in the blacklist of this government anyways, so what is the difference. I was feeling really hopeless and even sometimes I wondered if I was ever going to make it alive out of that place. In my mind whichever way I looked at the prospects of my future, I found nothing but negativity. Things inside of my head were not looking good at all, for some reason I have lost all hope in a better way of life, and I have lost all hopes in humanity. Weeks went by and the feeling of wanting to leave was still very strong, for me to be in that place was unbearable, and every time I had to go to the latrines I saw myself being kicked on the floor by that animal dressed in a uniform of honor. I thought things will get better, but no, they didn't, and it got to the point where the only thing that make sense in my mind at the time, was taking my own life. I wanted to end the suffering, and the torture of having to be in that place anymore. At that moment in my life, suicide was the only way out, the only way to end the pain, and the more I thought about it, the more reasons I found to act on it.
At a point while cutting endless pile of vegetables, I reached the conclusion that suicide was what I was going to do. I thought that suicide was the only way out, and the only way to end the pain. I thought about it seriously for days, and then weeks, until I got to the point where I started planning how to do it. I thought that before I did anything I could regret in the future, before I did anything I wanted to be sure, so I decided to think about it seriously one more time over. I decided to think about it for four days straight, and if at the end of those four days I still felt the same, then I will act on it. Four days went by quickly and for my surprise, I was still thinking exactly the same. At the end of those four days my answer was, "Goodbye world. Goodbye army. Good by pile of criminals." As a kid growing up you heard stories about the end of the world, and when I did hear those stories I always thought, "I wish before I die, I get to know what sex is." By then I already knew what sex was, so I was ready to go. I said, "Goodbye world. I have seen enough! Sorry my Lord but where in the fuck are you? How can you allow all these atrocities to happen? How come that the thief, the hypocrite, and the assassin have a better life than those who follow the rules, and work hard to earn their ends meet? How come that those who produce the most are at the very bottom of society, and those who have never work on their lives, are living like a king. I don't know the answers, and I don't care anymore "cuz" I'm out of here." That kind of thoughts I had in my mind they didn't have to make sense, because all of them were guided by the same deep feeling I had in my heart first.
After those four days I started to plan how to end my own life. I realized that was not that easy, especially in a place full of people, a place where there is always a pair of eyes on you, but I came up with a plan, and it was a very simple one. About an hour after lunch time, there is a very quiet period of time where everybody is resting, and most of the uniform personal is out for lunch or taking a nap, so that was the perfect time to do something. Now that I had found the right time I just needed to decide how I was going to end my life. One of the first ideas that crossed my mind was to hang myself, but it was too difficult. I needed something strong enough to support my weight, and a place where to tie a rope. The only place where I could do that was in the showers, and even if I was able to find a piece of metal strong enough to hold my weight, the bathrooms and showers had an opening all the way around between the top of the wall and the flat roof, so they could easily see if somebody was hanging something on the ceiling of the latrines. My second idea was cutting my wrists, and to bleed myself to death. For that I needed something sharp, and I thought about a kitchen knife, but what about if somebody could see me taking the knife out of the kitchen, like they saw me taking that rifle bullet at the depot, and anyways any kitchen knife was not sharp enough for what I needed it for. On top of all that kitchen knives are too big and hard to hide, so I gave up on that idea really quick.
I have been always been very creative and a MacGyver kind of guy, so thinking about how to get a sharp knife I thought, "If I take apart a cheap disposable razor blade, I can have a pair of very sharp blades, almost or as sharp as a surgery knife, and if I wrap around any piece of cord like my shoelaces, I could have a very sharp knife, small, easy to concealed, and with a good handle." So I tested my idea and soon I had everything I needed, and I was ready to go.
One afternoon in a windy sunny day of winter, I went to the showers about an hour after lunch, and I was pretending that I was going to take a shower and shave myself. It was the perfect time, no one around, and no one in the showers, so I got inside of one of the latrines, and sat down like I was busy. I grabbed my razor blade, and I broke it apart really quick. I took the blades out, picked one of them, and I rolled up a piece of my shoelaces on one end. Very quick I had a blade as sharp as a surgery knife, and with a handle strong enough to grab it with a good grip. With the blade in my hands, and ready to go I started saying my last prayer for whatever good that was, regardless I said, "Forgive me my Lord for not being strong enough, but making use of my free agency I say goodbye to this world. I say goodbye to this place where I cannot fit in even if I try. Sorry if I have failed you, but I cannot understand this world." As I was saying my last prayer, I started cutting my veins straight down, from the center of my wrist, and right between the tendons. I made a cut about 2 inches long, and about half an inch dip, at least. I could see the blood gushing out of my wrist getting in my face and all over. I was almost fainting when I started cutting my second wrist in the same way, and I did it quick thinking that soon finally my pain will be over. My heart was in my throat, and I could see lights twinkling all over my sight, and soon everything turned black, and I couldn't feel my body anymore. The last thing I remember was the sound of my heartbeat slowly fading away, away into total darkness.
After that moment I remember somebody screaming for help from far away, I could barely hear it, but I fell unconscious again, and I thought that was the end. Later on I woke up in the infirmary with bandages in my wrists, and I don't know how long has been since that happened, and I started cursing the one who found me, and saved me or whatever. I was awake and I wasn't supposed to be alive, but there I was, and I didn't have a plan for that. As soon as I woke up they called the doctor and they put me back to sleep again, injecting me something with a syringe on my left arm.
I did totally lost track of time, I woke up in the middle of the night, and after I realized that everyone was sleeping, and they lights were off, I went right back to sleep, I could not really wake up. Next thing I remember I opened my eyes and this time I saw day light, and I even saw some people moving around. I still dint know what time it was, and I was still very dizzy. The first thing I did was to take a look at my bandages, and they looked kind of a small. I got curious and I picked under the bandages, and I didn't see my cuts. The ones that I remember making with my own home made knife, they were not there, and what I saw it was a wimpy thin cut across my wrist and not along my arms. I was in disbelieve I looked under the other bandage, and I saw exactly the same. I was still dizzy and disoriented barely waking up, and I went to look again when an avalanche of people hold me down, and inject me something that knocked me out quick, again. They were saying almost in panic mode, "He is trying to take his bandages off."
I had never before second-guessed myself about anything I have seen, my eye sight has been always very good but this time, I was shaking in disbelieve, the cuts I had in my wrists were not the ones I remembered, I was baffled.
After things calmed down, I was so disappointed and embarrassed of myself, once again I have made a fool of myself, and I was in disbelieve. I had never experienced before recalling a vivid memory of something that didn't happen. I was confused and shaking inside out, nothing that I have experienced before compared to the memory of seeing one thing happening, when in reality something completely different really happened. All the facts pointed to something completely different of what I saw. Having to accept that it wasn't easy, I was so ashamed of myself, I felt so insignificant. For the first time in my life I have doubts of my own convictions. The days that followed that failed attempt of suicide, they pretty much left me alone, and the only thing they said to me was to rest, and you'll be okay.
One of those days, a few days after my failed attempt of suicide, one of the guys that was with me in the infirmary handed me a Bible and said to me, "Read it, it might help you." I really didn't like to read, and I always had problems at school because I didn't like to read or write, but that day I did open the Bible in a random way, and the first thing I read was something that pulled tears out of my eyes "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, because to them belongs the kingdom of God" I closed the bible saying "bullshit" but that night was the first night I had the courage to pray again, and I did it with all my heart, even if it was really hard to have the humility to accept that things sometimes are not the way you want them to be or we wish they were, I did pray that night.
My Heavenly Father
I give you thanks for all your blessings
And with a humble heart I ask you to bless my soul with solace
so I can keep moving forward.
Give me the strength to forgive those who have hurt me, so I can stand by your side
And not to became one of them.
My Heavenly Father
I don't know what happened that day when I attempted against my life
But whatever it was don't let me lose my mind
Like I always say "Let it be your will and not mine"
And I leave these things in the name of your son Jesus Christ, Amen.
Right after I said my prayer that night, I heard a voice almost like a whisper in the wind "Read the Bible just like any other book, from beginning to end, and remember never waste your time reading and trying to understand the Apocalypses. The Apocalypse is going to be your forbidden fruit."
That was the first time in my life that I sort of hear a voice in my mind, and it was so fast, but at the same time so profound. I thought at first, whatever they are giving me must be very strong, because is making me hear voices. I must be hallucinating, that is what I said to myself, shook my head, and went right back to sleep.
The experience of seeing one thing happening but not really, had a big impact in my self-confidence and self-esteem, from that moment on I was never the same man again.
I remember being a teenager about 15 years old playing soccer, swimming, catching big waves in the beach in front of my house, and sometimes being slammed against the sand on the bottom of the ocean by this massive waves, and being pin down by the waves crashing on top of you, just repeating yourself don't pass out, don't pass out, because if you do you were history. I remember being fearless, I felt invincible, and now I could barely figure it out. After that experience was hard for me to hold my head up high.
While cutting endless piles of vegetables was the perfect time to let my mind free. I just put my body on auto-pilot cutting vegetables, and inside my mind I was flying high in freedom. I was thinking sometimes how beautiful it would be to live in a true democracy, to live in a place where you're never alone, a place where everybody is part of a team, where everybody is part of something greater than themselves. A true democracy is based in a very simple principle, the principle of multiplication. A man is able to produce certain amount of goods on its own, but if a man can get together with another man the amount of goods that they can produce together is at least double the amount of what they can produce on their own. That rule is known from ancient times and is called multiplying. Like the strength of a thin wooden stick, on itself is not that strong, you can break it easily, but if you put together a few of them, they become something very strong. The idea of a nation is based in that same simple principle "The Ancient Principle of Multiplication." I don't know why I always liked to think about things but I did, I did think about democracy, about God, that was always fun for me, just like putting a puzzle together.
After I was done with my duties in the kitchen, I had a little bit of time of my own, and at that time I found nothing better to do than followed the advice of that whisper in the wind, "Read the Bible"
"Blessed are the peacemakers of the world, they shall be called the children's of God"
"Blessed are those which are persecuted trying to follow truth, justice and honesty, because to them it belong the Kingdom of The Heavens"
After a little while on that base being at the infirmary I heard the news that I was going to be sent back to the base up in the mountains. I was doing okay, and I had no objections, and I had no desire to start any problems. I finish reading the Bible as I was told by the whisper in the wind, from beginning to end just like any other book, and soon I was sent back to base up in the mountains.
Back in "paradise" I thought I was going to go back to my squadron, but no, for my surprise I was assigned to the infirmary. I was not expecting that, I thought I was going back to Sarge Labarca's world but no, I wasn't, thanks God for that. Many times I wondered what would've happened if I would've been send back to my old squadron with Sgt. Labarca, what would've happened? I don't know, but I was glad I didn't have to find out.
In the infirmary I did what I was told to do until a year in half went by, slowly but it did, I was counting every single day of the month, week after week, month after month, and sometimes I cannot deny that I was counting hour after hour. After a year and a half, one of those days they send us down to the base by the city and they gave us the best news I could ever wish for, they told us, "Because of too many kids turning eighteen at the same time, all of you are going to be released right now, so get ready to be released of your duties. Grab your personal stuff and get ready to receive your discharge papers." At first I was happy as happy as I could be, but after a few I got worried, I was wondering what my discharge papers were going to say. For my surprise again, I was called to an office by the side of the base, and a Sergeant told me, "What you did was wrong, nobody refuses to follow orders in the Army and get to pay no consequences, but because you helped the swimming team, and brought honor to our division, we have been instructed to give you a regular honorable discharge from the Army." He hand me a paper and said to me, "You're free to go. Go now!"
For the very first time in a very long time I felt alive again. It has been only a year and a half, but on teenager's time, a year seems like a decade. I felt like I was waking up from a very bad, and long nightmare, of which I never thought I was going to come out alive, but I was. I had a paper on my hand that said I could leave, and never have to come back ever again. I started thinking, "Is this true or this is the part where they tell me to run just like they did after September 11, 1973 to Carol-the best friend of my brother Luis. Whatever it was I was ready to find out, I grabbed the paper, grabbed my stuff, and I got out of there as fast as I could. The first couple blocks I was euphoric and paranoid, all at the same time. I was walking fast, and looking behind my back here and there, trying to see if somebody was coming to pick me up or something, but no, nobody came. Finally after a few blocks I calmed down, and I started to walk normally, just being happy to be free and alive again.