Vignette:Lost in the Aftermath

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Lost in the Aftermath
22 Calle Azcarraga, Pinagurasan, Confederal Republic of the Cagayan
September 12th, 1983

here they were, on a circle of chairs in a dimly-lit house. But they weren’t there to play games, but conversely, they were there to try recovering from a particularly cruel one. Niños del estado, they were called. Children of the state, taken from their parents to be raised in national orphanages. Such were many of the children of Cagayan.

In their childhood, they would not know the love of a parent, nor even a figure remotely close to one. The closest they had to ‘love’ was contempt. To those who were charged with taking care of them, they were simply, in a word, bio-machinery. They weren’t human until they were able to work, and they were put to work as soon as they were able.

But now, they were free. The orphanages were closed, and they could, notionally, do whatever they willed. But now, they felt broken. For every family that took the last ones in, there were two stories of their unrelenting hostility, often ending with the children in the streets. It was as if the world were always their enemy.

And most of the children would agree with that statement.

In the meantime, a man was finishing up speaking. He was young, but not so young; hair had already sprouted from his chin. He spoke staring at the ground, and looked up as he finished, staring blankly at nothing in particular. The girl to his left then followed after a brief silence.

“Could you tell us your name?”

“I was given the name Lupo.”

In this act, which was reminiscent of a ritual, they disavowed the names given by their handlers. Rather than be benign, to them it was a constant reminder of what they had gone through, and was to be burned out and replaced.

“Now, I wish to be called Trece.”

Thirteen. With their choice for names, they often avoided taking names that would seem ‘normal’, for every ‘normal’ name was the name given to one such orphan, and would have even been theirs in another life. Beside Trece, Martillo, hammer, was to his right, and to his left was Sartén, pan, the main speaker of this circle.

Sartén spoke warmly, “Thank you, Trece, for speaking. You are all brave for coming here. You are all brave for even revisiting your past. I myself know how hard it can be.” Everyone felt the catharsis, after all, and she continued. “This is the first step to healing, and I am glad that we were all able to take it together.”

Now someone raised their hands to raise a question. This was Correa, leash. Sartén motioned towards them, and Correa fidgeted as they begin.

“Why healing?”

“Healing, so we can live the lives we were meant to.”

“As children of the state, we were meant to work, we were meant to die working. As normal people, we still need to work and die working. What’s the difference?”

“The difference is, in the latter, we have a chance to call the shots, in the former, we never had a chance to speak. We fought so no child gets taken and raised without love, like we were. So no one turns out like we did now—broken!”

“I just want a break. I’ve been working all my life, for what?”

They paused. “But I don’t get it. You’re one of us, how can you say that love or whatever will suddenly make it alright? Is this what the old men told you?” Their voice cracked, and they heard themselves and stopped, as if coming to their senses.

Ceja, eyebrow, followed up. “Please, may I remind you. I was adopted. They said they loved me, but I only felt… nothing. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me. I was just afraid, every day. House felt like the same orphanage. Family felt like the same ha— I’m sorry.” He held his tongue and awkwardly bowed his head.

A short silence hung over the circle, followed by a pulse of murmurs. Correa was already shaking.

Cuchara, spoon, sitting beside Correa, rubbed his hand against their back, and pulled their head closer. “Breathe, Correa. Breathe. Don’t worry. You’re safe.” Correa could only stare at the ground, and the circle quieted down as they caught their breath, except for Sartén, who came over and hugged them as they calmed.

Sartén was now kneeling in front of them, hands on their cheeks, continuing to comfort them. “Correa, they’re not here anymore. The handlers are gone. No one here will strike you for what you said.”

After a while, their eyes met hers, and they responded. “I just don’t get it.”

“Why do we have to heal? It will be the same life, you know. Can’t we just be angry? Pissed, even? We have the right to. Why do we have to be normal when we know we’ll never be?”

Sartén felt these words through the silence. They spoke to her, after all. No one understood them; to others, what they had gone through was simply an issue of political expediency, fascination, or simple pity. But they didn’t need any of these. All they needed was safety and reassurance.

And what safety and reassurance they received was all from fellow children of the state. Only they can help each other. This was what Correa had understood, and now Sartén felt like she fully understood that as well.

And now, she stood up, as resigned as Correa was. “We’ll be meeting like this again tomorrow.”

Correa then responded indirectly. “I’ll stay here if anyone wants to keep talking.”

Ceja was the first to take the offer and stay with them, and then Cuchara, and now it was almost everyone who was going to stay and talk. It was as if they were now of the same thought. And Sartén knew that she also was, though only partly.

“Actually, I think I’ll stay with you.”

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