Looking back

All that's left in Venezuela for me is ashes, ruin, misery...and my estranged father.

Original illustration by @artofgonzalez

Roberto Ramírez was abandoned.

He was found on a bright June morning, in a residential building complex in Maracaibo. Roberto had a cardboard sign with him. It showed the address of a close relative that apparently lived in that building. His possessions were limited to a black plastic bag with his clothes, his ID and a few bolivars.

The neighbors quickly notified the supposed relative. She took one look at him, replied that she could not take care of him as she was about to go on a trip and suggested they call the cops so he could be sent back to her uncle’s place, where Roberto apparently had been staying.

Roberto remained in the apartment complex for a few days. The neighbors took care of him and notified the authorities. He laid on a mattress during the day and slept in one of the neighbors’ homes at night.

A few days later he was taken to INASS, the Social Services Institute, and given proper medical attention.

“How could their children do this?” the comments on Facebook screeched.

But Roberto was not a child.

He was a 95 year old man.

He had six children and 11 grandchildren of his own. But still, no one to take care of him.

About a month later, Roberto passed away. Only one grandchild showed up at the funeral. He said that the family could not afford the costs and that his body could be donated to the LUZ medical faculty. Once again, the neighbors stepped in to give Roberto a funeral.

“How could their children do this?” the comments on Facebook screeched.

“How can children forget their mothers? How can children forget their fathers?”

“How can they be so spiteful?”

“How can they be so ungrateful?”

You do it because you have to.

I didn’t know Roberto Ramírez, but his story shook me to the bone. Everyone judged. But I — I knew I couldn’t judge. I’m not allowed to.

Don’t look back, can’t look back.

There is nothing left there but ashes and ruin.


The last time I saw him he was strong —same as always— hair cropped —short same as always— skin almost wrinkle free —same as always— hair without a single grey mark. Dressed smart, yellow polo shirt tucked in, immaculate, slacks freshly ironed, shoes polished, neck perfumed, handkerchief at hand, same as always.

Stubborn and arrogant and infuriating, too. Same as always.

Don’t look back, can’t look back.

I steel myself. I tell myself to acknowledge what has been given. What was denied was denied. Do not ask for more. Expect no more.

And then the main thing: to keep your heart from breaking, don’t look back.


It’s a cellphone video, sent out over Whatsapp.

You see a gaunt man, mid 60s maybe early 70s, hard to tell in his state. He’s wearing a greenish tartan plaid shirt and khakis. His clothes hang off his body, like a child playing with a parent’s outfits. He’s looking inside a blue duffel bag.

¡Maní!” he squeals like a child — peanuts— taking out a jar of peanut butter and showing it to the camera.

He takes a deep sniff at the coffee and stays still for a second.

He continues to take out other packets of foodstuffs, saying their name slowly as he takes each item out, as if he’s remembering something forgotten. He holds on to the bags of sugar, making calculations in his mind.

“This will last me till November ” he declares, and keeps on scavenging. His hands hold the packages of spaghetti delicately, like a fragile treasure.

“Tuna in a bag.” He says wide eyed “Amazing.” He murmurs to himself.

He takes a deep sniff at the coffee and stays still for a second.

Everything is placed carefully into another suitcase.

The family has just received a box filled with toiletries and foodstuffs from abroad. They’re dividing everything between them.

The video is sad, it’s miserable. It’s overwhelming.

But for me, it was much more, because the man in the video is my Father.


I looked back.

I have been estranged from my father for a few years now.

When I was a little girl, I always wondered how people could spend 20 years without speaking to another family member. It just didn’t make sense.

Time was slower back then, of course, months were years and years were decades.

Now, at 33, I find that I haven’t seen my father in almost a decade, and I can’t truly remember the last time I spoke to him on the phone. Months? Years? Time creeps up and makes the divide insurmountable. I never wanted to look back.

But the guilt, oh! It eats at you, it gnaws at your bones.

If he was well, if he had made it, if he had another family, perhaps I could just go on with how things are. I could keep on feeding my anger and pain and keep digging the divide. I could keep remembering all the shitty things he did, I could remember when he lost our house to loan sharks when I was in college; when he tried to blackmail my mother into giving him money; when I learned that I had six other siblings; how he fucked a 20-year-old and refused to acknowledge her child, how he hid our family photos when he brought his girls into our house, how he stood me up on my college graduation; how he never showed up to meet his  grand-kids before I left Venezuela. There’s a limit, isn’t there? To people who hurt you, who abandoned you.

But, do you leave your family to starve?

Do you turn a blind eye or do you turn the other cheek?

Of all the things chavismo has done, I never thought they would be the ones to make me look back.