I translated this extract of my mother’s memoirs because of its sentimental meaning for me. I hope that, if the translation is decent, it delineates the moral silhouette of a heroic figure. I would like to share it as a tribute to her courage.
I called my brother Roberto and told him that he should tell my son the truth. I thought that my only son, Erick, was old enough to know the truth. He was 18 at the time this happened. Roberto sat him down and told him that I wasn’t at a beach house with my friend Carolina as I had told him but that I was hiding from the police somewhere in the city. I thought that he should know so that he would be prepared for whatever could happen to me.
A couple of days later the police knocked on the door. Erick answered. We are looking for your mother. Sons of bitches. They asked if we kept my art in the apartment. A couple of days later I got beaten up on the street by a group of Chavistas (government followers) led by Tania Giménez, the evil being designated by the State to persecute and neutralize me. A couple of days later Erick was waiting for my brother to pick him up from his college prep course when Tania pulled over and he had to run and hide. Things were escalating vertiginously fast. I didn’t know how to give my son some feeling of safety. I couldn’t. It felt like shit. I felt like shit. I couldn’t even offer him a room of his own. I felt like. A shitty mother.
We used to live with my mother and my two brothers, Roberto and Rodolfo, in a three room apartment in the east of Caracas. We shared a car –a white 1988 Toyota Corolla, a year older than my son. We called it cajita de fósforo (matchbox). As my sister Toti put it one day when I was complaining about natural cohabitation issues If you wouldn’t stick together you would all be living in the slum across the street. It shocked me because it was the plain truth. Toti was the lucky one, the one that left.
I called home sometimes but Erick wouldn’t tell me much about his feelings. He would barely ask me questions about what was happening. About my absence. About the accusations against me. Maybe he was afraid. Maybe he hated me. Maybe he was just trying to ignore the whole thing hoping it would go away by itself. Anyways, he was very open with Roberto. He told him in detail what happened with Tania that day. They saw and recognized each other on the street. Erick had seen a picture of her that an inside source had given me to caution against her. He ran into the building, up to the second floor, went into the restroom, into a stall, and called my brother to tell him not to come yet. He could see Tania’s car –a silver Mercedes A190– from the restroom window parked some meters away from the building with the flickering lights on. He never returned to the prep course after that day.
Erick had recently finished high school when I handed him a restraining order and asked him to always keep it in his wallet as if it was a holy card. This was supposed to protect him from Tania. A brave judge, whose fate is unknown today, granted us the restraining order. This woman was not allowed to get closer than twenty meters to my son. But, even though we didn’t say it aloud, we both knew that Chavistas were above the law. That that document was just bureaucratic placebo. No practical value.
Despite the forced interruption of the prep course Erick took the admission test for the private Universidad Metropolitana (Unimet). They had a new program, Estudios Liberales, whose syllabus I thought suited him. They taught philosophy, political theory, history, literature. All the things he was interested in. And it definitely suited him better than Relaciones Internacionales. He was thinking of studying Relaciones Internacionales at Universidad Central de Venezuela, the public university, in order to become a diplomat. The main reason why I didn’t want him to study that was because I knew that being a diplomat wasn’t possible anymore. Not in times of La Revolución. Not being my son. Only friends and family members of the ruling class had access to those positions.
I was happy to see him feeling enthusiastic about this new program. The problem was though that we couldn’t afford the tuition fees. He claims that he didn’t get his hopes up, but I know him. He probably had some Machiavellian plan in mind. I don’t know who he gets that from. It’s a bit crazy how he can get obsessed with his personal projects. He doesn’t care much about people or material things, but when it comes to his books he is willing to sacrifice anything. He has this need of being the best at what he does. Since he was a kid. I don’t know if it’s healthy. I always worried about that. To be this ambitious in this country is a guarantee for frustrations. And I. Well, I don’t want to see him get hurt.
Anyways, soon after the admission test my sister Toti called me from Miami where she lived. She told me that Erick had been placed on the so-called first list meaning that he had scored high on the test. He was utilizing this to guilt-trip her into helping him cover the tuition fees. And by helping he meant cover the whole thing. He told her After all the national currency is so devaluated that the tuition fees are actually not that high if you have lettuce (slang for dollars).
Erick called his aunt instead of me because he knew that the little money that I was making by selling my art abroad was destined for financing the political party. After the constitutional reform of 2004, the leader of the revolution, Comandante Hugo Chávez, abolished the state economic support for political parties. This was part of his plan to establish a totalitarian one-party-regime. They were thoroughly scrutinizing the opposition party’s finances. Sons of bitches. Harassing is more exact. Many members of the opposition, many friends, had to flee the country because they were being falsely accused of corruption.
My sister agreed to cover the costs of Erick’s studies. For that I will always be grateful to her. And I think Erick will be too. She has been. Great. She has offered him the security I was never able to offer him. She is like a mother to my son. Around that time I painted the series Good Mother Shitty Mother.
Erick would always repeat that he wanted to be a diplomat and once retired write books. Books were a good thing for him; they eventually eclipsed his plan of becoming a diplomat. Books came to play a central role in his life. I should have asked him to write this little text for me. I think he is better than me at communicating feelings. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I think one day he will become a writer. He recently asked me if he could write something about this time of our lives for his university blog. I think that this dark episode of our lives is as much his as it is mine. Plus, who cares anymore? I’m sick of living in fear.
When he was 16 he started reading the Bible. Soon after he started to write some sort of weird religious poems. I was scared. He was always kind of an odd kid but this was a bit too much for me. I thought he might become a priest or some dark shit like that. But theology led him to philosophy, and philosophy to political philosophy. Then I was scared because I thought he was going to become a politician or some dark shit like that. But political philosophy led him to literature. Now I’m scared he will end up in a dungeon for writing against the government.
On August 27, 2010, my son and my brother Roberto had a car accident down the road Avenida de las Lomas. They were on their way to Unimet. Luckily my brother made a smart maneuver and hit the bushes on the side of the road. My god. Imagine. Thank god nothing serious happened to them. Every day of my life I think of this day. God. Imagine. I think it’s better not to go there or I’ll vomit on myself on the table on the paper on the fucking paintings.
They took Cajita de fósforo to the workshop. After inspecting the brakes, the mechanic held up a piece of metal that had been newly and cleanly cut and asked my brother if he had any enemies. Tania Giménez.
Tania Giménez Tania Giménez I want to vomit.
Sons of bitches Tania Giménez my stomach twists.
Tania Giménez almost killed my son I want to vomit on the walls of this fucking hideout.
This is how these sons of bitches operate. The wanted to get to me through my family. And honestly, I think it would’ve worked. God. Imagine. The image of the restraining order burning in the crash in my boy’s wallet. How naïve was I? How stupid was I? A restraining order in this lawless, criminal, blood-thirsty revolution?
I guess the reason why I was so deep in that mess was precisely because I wanted to give Erick something. I don’t know. A better country where he could offer his kid what I couldn’t offer mine. A free country. My god. Every time I think of what could have happened that day I swear. I want to vomit on a fucking canvas.
I immediately started planning with my sister how to get Erick out of the country as soon as possible. She was going to cover the costs of a student visa and he was going to stay with her in Miami. He was going to be safe there.
In the meantime I went on painting and meeting with buyers clandestinely. As my reputation outside the country grew the dangers inside the country grew. I was accused on national TV of financing fascist, terrorist cells in the country. When I saw that, I ran to see my son despite the risks. Just took a cab. I couldn’t know if I would see him again.
I helped him pack his bags. Old clothes and books. He wanted to stay, he told me. He was enjoying his classes. I’m good at it. But it wasn’t safe for him anymore. You know this Erick. Plus, Toti arranged a room for you. Your first room. A whole room for yourself and your books.
That’s how I conceived the series A Room of My Own.