By Yosálida C. Rivero-Zaritzky
As Paula’s condition remains the same, family members gather to visit her and support her mother. Ernesto is able to travel for visits. While he is there, he has a dream and, in despair, looks for Isabel during the night to tell her about it. After talking, they perform a farewell ritual, although Isabel is not completely ready for it; a mother never is. She says she has visions and dreams as well, and her health is suffering from all her emotional pain– not only her health, but also her relationship with her husband whose pragmatic minds finds placing Paula in an institution a more reasonable solution than keeping her at home. Nevertheless, he does not articulate such thoughts because it would only serve to separate him from his wife.
Isabel refers then to the time they both met. As she mentioned before, his life was a novel, a fact she suspected at their first encounter, when she ended up spending the night in his house and leaving the next morning for Venezuela. It was an unusual farewell; after what was supposed to be a one night stand, she asked him to commit to a relationship, arguing that she was 44 years old and had no time to play around. Once she arrives in Venezuela and informs her son about it, he laughs and tells her to go back for a week to get Willie out of her system. She does, but she does not come back. She stays in San Francisco until the present.
She went back to Chile with her husband, Willie, for the plebiscite scheduled by Pinochet. Pinochet wanted to create the impression that his regime was democratic. Blinded by power and accustomed to the silence he had imposed on the citizens, he unwittingly set a trap for himself. The campaign against him was called NO. SÍ was for him to stay in power and NO was to call for elections in a year. This campaign had very little exposure, only 15 minutes a day on public television at a time when everybody would be sleeping. This campaign was very creative and in the end won. As result, the following year Chile had the elections that took Pinochet out of the presidency.
Trailer from the movie NO based on the campaign that overthrew Pinochet in 1989.
One morning Allende noticed her daughter’s condition had drastically changed. Her mother and she got together in Paula’s room and started to say goodbye. Other members of the family came by without being warned, just because they felt they needed to be there. With laughs and tears, they reminisced about Paula’s life and stayed with her until she parted.
Of these three books, this one is closest to my heart. First because I am a mother of two little girls, and also because I am an immigrant. As a mother there is no greater fear that seeing a daughter or a son suffer, or worst of all, die. The first time I read Paula, I was single and without children. This time it has been harder to read and my experience with the book has been different.
As an immigrant, the book reminds me of lost relationships, a lack of contact with the land, extended family, traditions and history, and the sentiment that with the years I have become a foreigner both here and in my native country. One lays down new roots, but there is always the question of what could have been.
I am Venezuelan. I have not been in my country for 12 years, and I will end the hiatus this coming week when I travel there. I am not ready for what I will find. For certain, it is not the same country I left or grew up in. I smiled at Allende’s description of Caracas in the 80s because her perception was quite different than mine, and then I inferred that Santiago de Chile was even more mellow. In her own words, it took her a while before she could really understand Venezuelan. I lived there in the period described in the book; I could walk the streets with nothing to fear, and, like Paula, could navigate almost any part of the city without thinking that something might happen to me. That will not be the case now, but I miss family and friends, places and flavors, and I need to return.
As a nation, we Venezuelans are going through a very difficult time politically, and that has given us more political awareness, especially among the youth whose future is now in jeopardy. We are fighting against a new type of dictatorship that calls itself democracy, but reading Paula I look at how Chile got rid of their dictatorship and I am hopeful that we will see better days.