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.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Chavismo had created histories like your, mine and a lot of other people.

    My mother-in-law was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. She went to Mexico for a stem cell treatment that was experimental and did not do a lot for her. She wanted to die in Venezuela but we begged her to move to Houston instead at her son’s house due to the certainty that in Venezuela she would die rather faster. Without insurance in the US, we brought family and friends to help out. One friend stayed with her for six months (the maximum allowed). She went back to Venezuela last week, her daughter picked her at the airport. When they arrived at home in Punto Fijo they got robbed, the thieves were asking for dollars they did not have. Her daughter got shot six times. She is now in intensive care thanks to bad aim and a lot of luck (if there is such a thing).

    *******

    My uncle was chief mechanic of Mercedes Benz in a coveted car shop in Caracas. His customers were wealthy politicians, military men and businessmen. Old 4th Republic 1% population, most of them unable to withstand a legal audit on the source of their income. Anyway, this uncle was solid middle class with an apartment, some land and a small farm in San Felipe. He got into the PDVSA fiasco of vehicle gas conversion and lost pretty much everything except the farm. He now lives there, in San Felipe, driving a rundown clunker bus he bought 10 years ago to sustain the family. He told me the other day that he end up pulling old tires from a bocce court (bolas criollas) and put them in the bus for a week until they blew out. There are no tires or spare parts hence no money. I sent him two boxes of food in December. Similar to your whatsup story; I had inside tears to avoid showing how much pity I have for them. We talked yesterday, they now have the imported food containers as mementos.

    *******

    I read my hardcore Chavista aunt tweeter on an almost daily basis. I try to understand the misery from the other side. I isolated her in 2014 after a public and highly personal spat we got into. FB reminded me just few weeks ago when I denounced her ignorance even as she is a consecrated journalist. I did the same to my uncle and to all my cousins from both of them, perhaps collateral damage. I did not do it because she is a hardcore chavista but because she did not respect my political ideas and promptly dismissed me as an individual. I regret the whole situation got into this proportion, that is about eight people that I grew with, shared toys, vacations, beers, graduations and funerals. I don’t talk to them anymore, and I am afraid I will never to talk to them again. That is a good half of my family.

    • My best friend is finally reconciling with his (formerly?) chavista father (the only in the family) after some 10 years of mutual alienation. Things got very extreme to the point that the old man once claimed he had doubts about being the actual father of my friend and his siblings—this was the breaking point because my friend took it as a direct offense against his mother, who is still married to the old man.

      I’ve heard countless stories like this. Chavismo has done irreparable damage to Venezuela’s families.

  2. Audry, WOW, double WOW, and even triple WOW! The unexpected punch lines of the 95-year old man and your father in your superbly-written narrative are right to the gut! And, Colomine, I’m truly sorry for your tragedies, particularly for that of your mother-in-law/her daughter. Tragic stories of hardships of war, still undeclared, and only getting worse….

  3. It’s easy to be seduced by leftism and difficult to remember that every form of leftism destroys freedom, prosperity, lives, families and whole societies.

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