July 13, 2013 by Caroline Leland
The disappeared ones
I cried during my Spanish lesson today. Tears streaming down my face, crying.
My Spanish tutor, Sergio, told me last week that his brother was one of the “disappeared ones” in Argentina’s so-called Dirty War. It came up again today because Sergio talks a lot about that time in Argentina’s history.
Except it’s not really history, is what I’m finally understanding. It’s the present, for thousands of people. It’s part of their lives now, not just part of their pasts.
Sergio showed me pictures of his brother, Pablo, at age 19. Portraits from the same year he disappeared. Sergio knows the exact place and time he disappeared, the exact date. 8 a.m. on July 31, 1977, from a plaza in Buenos Aires.
Sergio was 15 when his brother disappeared, and he has spent the entirety of his life since then trying to find out what happened to him. He knows the three detention camps Pablo was sent to. But then the trail is lost.
Pablo, like the thousands of other “disappeared ones” who have never been accounted for, is presumed dead. After they tortured and killed him, they probably dumped his body in Rio de la Plata like so many others. Uruguay, the unfortunate neighbor, got a lot of bodies washing up on its beaches during that time. Women and men, usually between ages 17 and 30.
Sergio’s mother was one of the first to join Madres de Plaza de Mayo. She joined the organization the year after they formed, and marched around Plaza de Mayo until cancer held her back. Sergio has her headscarf, the uniform of Las Madres, on a shelf in his room.
Imagine this world, a world where the government snatches people from the streets without warning, to torture and kill them. Imagine the atmosphere of terror. No one is safe. Some of the disappeared ones were targeted because they were seen as a threat, but just as many of them were random.
Hearing a firsthand account from someone I’ve gotten to know personally hit me hard. I cried for Sergio; I cried for Pablo; I cried for their mother. I cried for all the families like theirs whose sons and daughters and brothers and sisters were torn from their lives. I cried for the people who inflicted such pain. I cried that an innocent child can grow up to be a police officer who tortures and kills innocent people. I’m crying now thinking about it again.
In Spanish, the word for bereavement is nearly identical to the word for pain.
Duelo duele. Grief hurts.