Nobody wanted to listen, 1

One of the problems with translating fragments of a book is that you lose context. Strictly speaking, the ten chapters that I will translate from Hojas Susurrantes (Whispering Leaves), pages 378-430 and 443-444, can only be well understood after having read the previous three hundred and seventy-seven pages.

However, when I recently reviewed the syntax and edited that text, which I had not reread for several years, I realised that those pages were understandable if I translated them. Similarly, Day of Wrath (see the sidebar) contains translated pages 472-634 of my Hojas that, even in isolation from the rest of the book, make perfect sense.

So here is the first of ten instalments of pages 378-430 that I’ll be translating this month. It begins with some anecdotes that happened in 1976…

 

______ 卐 ______

 

NOBODY WANTED TO LISTEN

Hurt by my loved ones

In the most difficult moment of my life, my seventeen years, I fled to the house of San Lorenzo with my grandmother. A few days later there was a meeting at her home. Besides grandma Mecho there was also my grandma Yoya; I remember Aunt Esperanza and also Aunt Elsa: my father’s sisters-in-law, and I think my Aunt Mercedes was also there. As I tell in Letter to mom Medusa, at that time my character was extremely self-conscious because of what my parents had done to me. But despite my inhibition, I plucked up my courage and threw a comment on the table that was intended to reveal the tragedy at home. At that time they had just released One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I projected myself into the stuttering lad who commits suicide at the end. My mother, still at a distance, continued to harass me: now through the infamous Dr. Amara. In the film it is mentioned that the lad had a possessive mother. I projected myself because, just as in the movie the villainous nurse was an ally of his mother, that doctor was an ally of my mom. Thus, at dinner with my aunts discussing the film, in a moment of unusual courage I said to my grandma Yoya:

‘There are mothers like that with their children!’

I meant that there are mothers who destroy their children as in the film. Although I don’t remember my exact words, I said it not only with great emotion, but with immense anguish. When I write these paragraphs I have to get up from my desk to walk around in the modest study in which I live. The memory touches me so painful fibres that penetrate so deep in my being, that I need a little peripatetic comfort before I sit down again to write. Yoya perfectly got what I wanted to say, and what I am about to tell is what hurts me.

Here is a minor who, for mysterious reasons for her aunts and grandmothers, runs away from home to take refuge with his grandma. This boy is patently distressed, self-conscious, and in great stress when speaking. He makes a herculean effort and, using a movie, tries to talk about his own drama. Instead of his anguished comment marking the beginning of some serious communication with the family, Yoya, who has said that I was her favourite grandson, immediately turns to Aunt Esperanza with the words:

‘But Blanquita and other mothers aren’t like that, right?’

Yoya repeated the question (‘Oh no, of course!’ Esperanza answered) and mentioned my mother’s name in the second or third repetition. My grandma originally used my absent Aunt Blanquita to avoid mentioning my mother directly; and she meant that if these things happen in other families, never in ours.

The pain of which I speak has to do with the fact that it is this sort of axiomatic deafness, this root disbelief, this anti-empathy towards an extremely anguished boy who desperately needs a friendly ear, that destroys a life.

Anyone who has been the victim of their parents to the level that I was, suffers a panic that undermines his mind when, to boot, no one shows the least compassion; that is, when the kid lacks what Alice Miller calls ‘a helping witness’. I didn’t have a single person to comfort me when I was being attacked by my parents. On the contrary, the family and my friends put up incredible resistance (and let’s not talk about the analyst). As Jeffrey Masson wrote on page 17 of his anti-therapy pamphlet, ‘Whenever our own truth is denied, ignored or invalidated we experience the greatest fear we can ever know: the threat of the annihilation of our self’. For those who haven’t been victims of parental beating, it is impossible to imagine how the universe falls; how the sky breaks and the stars collapse when the child has absolutely no one who wants to hear his story.
 

After the turbulent years

If as a teenager it was a miracle that I made up my mind to denounce my parents, in my twenties I managed to do it more frequently. In the 1980s my adolescent agonies were distant. Years had passed and I was much more emotionally robust. So I criticised my mother in various conversations.

Hearing my criticisms in a conversation alone with Godmother at her cozy flat, whom I had dreamed of when I was very little in that beautiful dream in which she approached me happily dancing [a dream recounted in the previous section], she raised the palm of her hand as a sign of please stop my dear! In my late twenties her lack of empathy didn’t cause me the terrible panic I had suffered as a boy with the psychoanalyst. But it hurt me in such a way that I stopped talking to her for a long time: something that no relative had dared to do. Godmother, the sister closest to my grandma Yoya, was a respected figure in the family because as she stayed single she acted as a counsellor to the relatives. But like the deaf analyst, the family counsellor was unable to listen to any accusations about the parents, despite the fact that on one occasion she commented to me ‘If you could see what they come to tell me here!’

On another occasion, and also in the 1980s, my uncle Beto did something similar. He was the one who had rented us the house in Ermita, the place of my first memories, and with whom Elvira herself had worked after her stay in Palenque [recounted in the previous section]. When Uncle Beto heard my criticism of my mother, he raised his eyes to the ceiling as a sign that I had crossed the line into forbidden territory. Although Uncle Beto, Godmother and Yoya’s younger brother, didn’t enter into an argument about something so important to me, I didn’t get angry or stop talking to him. Not long after he would die. But the unspoken message from my great-uncles, grandmother, and analyst was the same: they weren’t willing to listen to something that touched parents.

It could be thought that only that generation of people wasn’t prepared for this type of revelations. Neither is mine. Not even my younger brother allowed me to communicate my views to him.

In 1998, without any inhibition and with a fully developed intellectual capacity, in a restaurant I quoted to Pablo some passages from a treatise by Silvano Arieti. The tract showed how paranoia was due to the stalking mother of his young female clients, and these passages surprisingly portrayed the delusions of one of our sisters. In a gesture that I felt rude, my brother closed the Arieti book that I had on the table between us. That aborted discussion marked the beginning of a total and absolute estrangement with my brother.

Pablo, the fifth of my siblings, at thirty years old didn’t want to know anything about the dark side of our parents because he wasn’t abused as a child. But the incredible thing is that I’ve also been hurt by my battered sisters when I wanted to communicate my findings. Since Genevieve follows me in age—the photograph in which she and I embrace as children is a treasure in my heart [photo that appears in the previous section]—she is the one I feel closest to. But by introjecting our mother’s paranoid vision of me since her teens, a phenomenon that Theodore Lidz once called folie en famille, Genevieve distanced herself from her older brother: something that has hurt me deeply. The only time in my life I asked to speak to her about the family, she refused. And when I put the manuscript of my Letter to mom Medusa on her bed a few days later, she returned it to me without having read it: a gesture that, like Pablo’s, naturally offended me.

From my family Genevieve has been the only one who has distanced from me of her own free will due to the discord that our mother sowed (‘… she took you out of the family and turned the whole world against you with pure lies’, my sister Korina wrote me in her own handwriting about our mother when I had gone abroad [an already quoted sentence in Letter to mom Medusa]). I would distance myself from others because of their lack of compassion, or in the case of Korina herself, because of her lack of empathy. As seen from the quote in this paragraph, Korina was the only one who made deep emotional contact with my adolescent tragedy. However, my sister believes that the family tragedy shouldn’t be made public, and has vehemently maintained the social convention that it is wrong to bring up the subject with others.

Humanity ignores that communicating one’s own tragedy to someone is essential to settle accounts with our past. Humans, in general, see reality backwards. For example, instead of trying to understand my autobiographical mission, throughout my adult life Korina has treated me with sobering attitudes. This is very ironic because in my family only she developed great compassion for me (which is why I had thought to dedicate my first book to her) and also because our mother martyred her. But Korina refused to read the manuscript of the Letter that I planned to dedicate to her when I lived with her and her little son. Even after I left her home, and despite my pleas for her to stop meddling in my confessional passion, she continued to bother me. Like the rest of humanity, Korina has a fear of radical soul surgery. For her, my initiative to speak out about my findings in family psychology isn’t intelligent behaviour: it is foolish behaviour before which the sister, assuming the role of a new mother, reprimands the memorialist. I quote the crucial passages from the last of her epistolary scolds without adding ellipsis between unquoted passages:

Caesar:

The other time I spoke with one of the Tort cousins and he told me that you had sent him part of your book and that it’s not the first time you do this. I know you want the whole world to read it or something like that since you worked so hard on it and it’s your life and what my parents did to you and all that, and believe me I understand you. But what you don’t understand, Caesar, is that people don’t like problems, let alone problems as big as yours, and even less if they are about the family. Also, think that even if people read it, that’s not how the world is going to be fixed, Caesar, that’s not how the Revolution is going to do you justice. The damage is done and only you can fix it.

And just think about this, I say in good faith Caesar, once more. People don’t like problems. If I weren’t your sister and I knew you, the third day you arrived and told me this, Caesar, I would dump you because what you don’t understand is that not all people in the world are therapists or psychiatrists or psychoanalysts and we don’t want to hear about problems, let alone such serious ones. We are normal people who run away from problems. We are not interested and cannot do anything about it.

If you need to get it out of your head, go with someone to tell them as many times as you need, and I’m not talking about a therapist, maybe a friend or someone who wants to hear from you. Remember when you told me that a married couple who had lived in a concentration camp [a fictional film: Left Luggage], that the lady no longer wanted to hear any of that afterwards because it hurt her a lot, but that it was good for the husband to talk about it because he took it out, it was like his therapy.

Well, if you understood that, I don’t know why you don’t understand that reading your book hurts me and a lot of people in the family.

Korina

My sister thinks that reading the book I was going to dedicate to her would hurt her. The truth is that my work would shine a light in her dark mind by understanding what happened in our family. Dark, I say, because she was the one I was talking about with my younger brother about her paranoid delusions: obvious delusions for all her distant friends and close friends. (To give just one example: once Korina told me, crying with extreme anguish and expelling me from her house, that I was part of a plot led by our mother to put poisons in her food.) Furthermore, Korina is wrong in believing that ‘the world won’t be fixed’ if others read my tragedy—or hers—and she also errs that ‘only one can fix’ the damage caused by parents. Like the rest of humanity, my sister is seeing things backwards, in a photographic negative. I don’t want to get my past out of my head. I want to get it into others with my writing. Taking it off leads to psychoses, like hers. Instead, making people aware of the hell caused by parents like ours prevents them.

‘We are normal people who run away from problems; we are not interested and cannot do anything about it’. What Korina and humanity see as normal, in my eyes is the behaviour of a very primitive dude, a Neanderthal. If my sister were correct that it’s healthy not to talk more about the problem, as she advises me in a paragraph that I omitted from her letter, she herself wouldn’t suffer from delusional ideas. On the other hand, I don’t suffer from the slightest mental disorder, not even addictions; but the aforementioned cousin that Korina mentions in her letter did (he once confessed to me and my brother that he was addicted to cocaine). The accepted wisdom in our society is what Korina believes: that burying a tragedy is the correct mental practice. I never tire of repeating it: repression and denial are the royal road for crime and mental disorders.

Korina, who watches soap operas and doesn’t like reading, reproaches me in her letter that ‘I want everyone to read me’. She ignores that we have an obligation to listen to the tragedy of the brother because only that can heal his soul. But at seventeen I didn’t need everyone, just one person. To take the most dramatic example that comes to mind: If, dismayed by my attempt at communication, Yoya would have called me to speak privately during that 1976 family dinner, she could have saved me. A single friendly ear would’ve led me on the right path in life. I wouldn’t have sought my salvation for so many years in stupid cults that alienated me and prevented me from pursuing a career. Although I didn’t respond to my sister’s letter, I can do so in an open letter: What hurts, Korina, isn’t digging up the past, but hiding it under a mountain of cakes. It seems to me that in Left Luggage the adult was the man, and the mental infant, his wife; and it is the man who scolds her for her childish defence mechanism, the pastry. But you, who try to avoid the mourning over our parents in inane distractions, are the one who thinks you are the adult. How daring of you to scold the digger as if he, not the pastry chef, were the child.

In other words, I’m not the one who should change. My family and relatives, Korina and company, are the ones who have the obligation to emerge psychically. Jung saw it clearly: enlightenment isn’t achieved by imagining figures of light (which Korina has tried for decades). It is achieved by analysing our darkness, our own shadow.

4 Comments

  1. I’m so happy you’re sharing your (translated) autobiographical excerpts. I always share your work with anybody who will listen.

    • Thank you, daftwaffe. This is the most potent taboo of the human mind, and welcome to this forum.

  2. Is it in any way similar to how a racist can never find an audience for his hatred? Isn’t Korina right that most people are normies, both blind and deaf (for good or bad)?

    Can a child ever abuse his mother?

    • The big difference is that before WW2 Westerners were allowed to speak racist. In the case of parents who mistreat their children, the taboo is endemic to all cultures of all times. That’s why I put Miller’s photo in my previous post: it was she who broke the taboo.


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