Childhood left behind
Adriano, Mariana, Manuel Alejandro and Carla are the names of four children who had to face the separation of some of their loved ones, in midst of the migratory process of Venezuelan families. Childhood left behind seeks to show this grief, usually invisible to adults.
Goodbyes generate a type of mourning.
And children are the ones with the least resources to face them.
They usually find out when it’s very late.
Usually they must take it induring the process.
In the long list of preparing them before this happens, informing them about it, usually is done too late and without any advice.
GoodbyesAdriano / 8 years-old
His dad and his uncle
Adriano has not seen his father since two years ago.His uncle, who became a father figure for him, also emigrated, as also did his aunt. Meanwhile, he plays in the under-10 soccer category and dreams of the day he will be part of a World Cup with Vinotinto (Venezuelan country’s team).
—Juan left on a Friday in October, at the end of 2016. He called me with the news that he was leaving the country, heading to South America, and wanted to say goodbye to the boy. I went to look for him at school and took him to the shopping center where he was waiting for him. I left him there, and Adriano told me that they bought some candy and were together a little over an hour. He hugged him and turned around. He told him that in a year they would see each other again. And already in the car, back to the house, he burst into tears.
This is what his mother recalls, but Adriano can’t say when he saw his father for the last time. He does not know where he is, he is unable to imagine it, nor to draw it.
His dad had just left. He and his mother had begun to live alone, like never before in their lives. They had left behind their maternal family in Guarenas, a town in the Miranda state near Caracas, where he had grown up surrounded by the love of his two uncles and grandparents, after his parents split-up. Additionally, he began his 1st grade in a school with a hostile environment; to that it was the first time he fought with another boy and his mom had to find another school.
It was the beginning of a forced new life.
Adriano’s parents separated when he was 1 and a half year old. At the beginning visits were those of a father waiting for his son, but then the meetings became more distant. Every two weeks or sometimes more.
The second goodbye was when the father went to Uruguay, and on the road, he stayed in Manaus, Brazil. He is a system engineer and there he works, apparently, in a telephone assembler. It is the place that Adriano can’t imagine. He does not even want to think about it.
“I think the last time we spoke was through Skype a few days ago. He asks me how I am, how school and soccer is. He is doing well, I do not know what he is doing, I do not know. We both have our birthdays in August and he said he will come on vacation … Do you know that my dad does not like ice cream?”
Adriano kept the enthusiasm and the illusion of his father coming back a year after his departure but it did not happen, neither that year nor the fourth year since then.
Last year the teacher called her mother to tell her that he did not want to make the Father’s Day card. She did not understand how being so loving and respectful he was so annoyed. The teacher insisted and told him that he could send the card through Whatsapp.
He draws a suit and a tie, which he put together backwards and reluctantly:
Dad bless me, when I saw you for the first time, I felt like you were going to be with my mom forever but what happened that you haven’t come for a year?
Ariana majored in social communications. She runsto work the best she cans, trying to comply with her child’s activities. The main one is soccer. The boy is part of the national Sub-10 team, which allows him every Saturday to think big, on the day he will participate in a World Cup with the Vinotinto (Venezuelan national soccer team).
They have fun playing wii and they share small tasks at home. Adriano is responsible for putting away the clothes, once dry, and accompanies his mother while cooking his favorite pasta, meat with pink sauce.
The father pays school since the child started 3rd grade. But Ariana always has the fear that one day he will not be able to continue doing it.
—My dad is the eldest, what a coincidence; my mom is the eldest too. I played soccer with my dad, in the same corridor that I played with my uncle. We all lived in Guarenas. There was a road where there was no traffic. We put some stones and made a very long court. One day I beat him 20 to 19. One goal, which I think was the number 18, he did it totally in the corner.
My aunt left because of the situation.Adriano
My uncle left to do the same job
but in chile.
I don't know why my dad left.
His father’s goodbye has not been his only farewell.
—I’m just like my uncle. He always played with me on the computer. He taught me many games. I remember one in which he pitched and I hit. I slept with him when we lived in the grandparents house.
That uncle, just turned 31 years-old, left for Chile in August 2017. And three months earlier, his younger aunt had done the same to the Dominican Republic.
—Who I miss the most is my uncle. We love to eat. My mom asks my uncle and me where all the food we eat goes, we are that thin.
In his room, Adriano shows his albums of the soccer world championships and begins to play with a little yellow plastic ball that he used to play with that uncle he misses today. He tries to play with the soccer table that his mother gave him, but now he needs an opponent.
He jumps and says he better makes a family tree for his family. After a while he lowers his head as if he followed his memories with a sad look. He goes back to the drawing and makes it clear that his mom and his uncle are the most important people for him. He decides to put their favorite colors on the portraits.
In December of 2017, Adriano left his wish written in an envelope at Christmas tree. He requested Santa for a cell phone to talk to his uncle every day. His mom could not afford it, so she had to reveal to him who actually brought the Christmas presents. And he had to settle for his moms old phone.
Adriano knows some things about Chile. The first thing is that it is cold and a lot. He also knows that one of his favorite youtubers: Germán Garmendia, is Chilean. Suddenly he runs to look for his dictionary to show in which countries his family has gone. The best way he finds is to draw the flags in the order in which they left: first his father, then his aunt, and finally his uncle.
He finishes his family tree by placing a thin line on the edge of the trunk with little imperceptible dots.
—The ants go up for sugar. For us it would be like very difficult obstacles to go through. The ants are not like us, we stick to the wall, they stick and climb.
Farewells imply ruptures. Daily life ruptures, family tradition ruptures, affections rupture. Everything that has a sense of stability and belonging breaks apart. A farewell is an abrupt change. Being away for hundreds or thousands of kilometers means a physical absence, the collapse of what used to be a normal life.
RuptureMariana / 4 years-old
her 7 years-old brother
Juan went on vacation with his mom. Mariana, her little half-sister expected him to come in a few weeks. But they didn’t return. Without any farewell, that bond turned into emptiness and nostalgia.
Nobody asks children what they feel.
Documents, money, lodging, school, tickets, visas, luggage, permits; everything is part of the time trial of the adult who decides to leave the country.
But nobody are not included in this family decision, and much less when its made, far from being planned, answers to an opportunity that arises during vacations. And there is no return.
That’s why nobody asked Mariana or Juan.
There was no need.
Mariana is 4 years old and Juan 7.
They’re siblings by the father side, half brother and sister.
—My Little brother— as Mariana says.
For her he is everything.
But that never happened. Mariana made it up playing with a car she made out of playdough and painted for Juan, a way of remembering when the family used to visit the Transportation Museum, in Caracas. In her imagination she imagined a farewell that never happened.
In July of 2017, just after finishing the school year, Juan went on vacation with his mom. That was what the family knew. Mariana expected he was coming back in a few weeks.
He left, without seeing his dad. Without seeing Mariana.
Without knowing he wouldn’t come back.
Without saying goodbye.
Her mom looks at her. She is moved to see her little girl, so small, so fragile, coping with this separation that is already hard for adults. She looks for the words to answer each time Mariana asks when Juan will return. She is gathering strength to take care of her: Mariana has just been diagnosed with myocarditis.
—I enjoy playing with my little brother when we jump on the trampoline. I jump very hard. Juan does many very funny things. Sometimes we jump in bed!
—I have not jumped in bed for years. I have to be at rest because my heart was beating fast, very fast, like a whirlpool” – her throat tries to imitate the noise of the tricolor tornado that now she draws on the sheet of paper.
Mariana discovers that the tornado she drew resembles the cover of one of the books on the table and asks them to read to her. She makes of the book a game to alleviate pain, in a scenario of pictures: she puts together the family of paper dolls on the book’s colors, and the crayons and says.
—Now Juan lives in the United States and I am always missing him. I felt lonely when he left. I feel alone.
Then she recalls beautiful memories: brushing their teeth together on a bench, because she could not reach the sink, but he could because he is taller or when they played hide-and-seek with mom; or the “ere” with Valentina, the oldest cousin.
—But I can’t play here anymore, because I do not know the rules. Only Juan knows them.
—When I screamed because the ants, he killed them. My little brother took good care of me. Now that he is not there, I scream so loud for him and he hears me and comes running. We hug and I feel happy.
And it is how human beings try to overcome the absence. We fill the empty spaces. The unanswered calls. The silent photos on the cell phone. The things we could not do with those we love.
The paper dolls come alive again in Marianas little hands and they dance a fashionable song that she hums, Happy.
—When Juan is not here, I like to play alone. I think of my little brother…
—…with the sun I see his smile.
The void is filled with poetry.
—When the sun shines, I feel that my little brother is here.
When Juan is not hereMariana
I like playing on my own.
I think of my little brother...
With the sun I see his smile.
Juan doesn’t talk. Juan does not say a word.
—I did not see him with his new teeth that tooth fairy brought him. And he did not tell me what the snow was like,— Mariana slides this claim between the watercolors.
When they call from the United States, Juan does not want to talk. Or he can’t. He feels uncomfortable. Serious. His answers are always the same, almost monosyllables. But sometimes, when his mother is not there and they call him from Venezuela, Juan is again the brother brilliant like the sun. And he tells that he is feels lonely. That he misses Mariana.
Juan also remembers Mariana. From the photos of when she was born and he wore the t-shirt that said “big brother”. Of when she had surgery on her leg and she crawled behind him dragging her cast. Or the time he taught her how to walk. Of when Mariana’s was afraid when she lost her baby teeth and she got under the table after seeing the blood. Of the times they painted their faces and bodies with finger painting and had to wash twice. From the Transport Museum and the motorbike that he liked because he was going faster. Of all the times they found it last when they played hide and seek. From the toothbrush he left in his sister’s house.
And when they made up that greeting only between them:
—Hi, baby’s bottle face!”
Today Juan is an absence.
A big brother that now is unable to play with Mariana
The table is full: ice creams, watercolors, paintbrushes, play dough, wax crayons, sheets of paper, cardboard, puppets, white figurines, a camera and stories. Almost everything needed to paint, to create in another dimension what modifies the rhythm of life and presses the chest until it increases the heart beating. To tell what is being drawn.
Marian picks up a book: Coco & Pío.
Then the sun came out.
—That little bird looks just like my brother’s smile.
—Just like us.
—I suppose we must say goodbye,— Pio said.
—Goodbye,— said Coco.
—Do they miss each other a lot? -she whispers slowly- I miss Juan a lot. Too much!
The story end. Coco and Pio meet again.
—Good night, sweet dreams— and they close the book.
The paper doll come back to life through her hands. Mariana and Juan move between Mariana’s fingers. They get close. They hug.
—Hello baby brother. Baby’s bottle face. I love you.
Ruptures cause pain, anguish, and fear. Without enough life experience, children need to restore their balance. Distance creates voids. And just as physical presence becomes a habit; absence also begins to shape a new everyday life. A daily routine that ends up filling the voids. Falling into oblivion.
OblivionManuel Alejandro / 5-years old
Manuel Alejandro was just over 2 years old when his mother immigrated to Spain. His two oldest sons went to live with their grandmother, and Manuel, the youngest, with his father. At home, and in his memory, there is little left about her.
Manuel Alejandro’s bed is three-fourths high. When he wants to climb up, he uses both hands to hold to the edge and jumps in. He rises up his left knee and then the rest of the body follows. He does it to reach his backpack and show his karate kit he keeps there. He practices karate and swimming since he was 3 years old. He began this training six months after his mother left to Spain.
Now he is 5-years old, his favorite color is red and is a fan of Lightning McQueen, one of the main characters of the film Cars. He likes strawberry lollipops, and no so much chocolate. He enjoys playing video games on his dad’s cell phone. He is learning how to read.
He has almost forgotten his mom.
—I had a little dog called Luna. My mom did not like her. I loved her, but not so much,— he says, referring to her for the first time and without taking his eyes off the phone, after 10 minutes adapting himself to the visit of the journalist
In the cell phone a pitched battle develops, which he handles very well with his agile fingers. The game is over.
Nothing happens, he cries, he lies down on the couch, hiding his face towards a cushion. Dad calls him. Manuel runs and hugs his legs. The crying becomes a sob. He exhales and finally forgets and laughs away.
A long search
The first half hour his sentences are less fluent. He thinks, begins to pronounce, stop in one syllable, then in the next. He forgets the word, and asks dad. He asks his dad about everything.
He was just over 1 year old when it happened, and he had second-degree burns that did not leave sequels.
—He does not remember that, but I’ve told him about it so many times, that he already knows it by heart,— his father says.
—And you took care of me,— Manuel adds from the couch
With each phrase, with each gesture, Dad displays a sweet smile.
—For 20 years I wanted to have a son. Inseminations, treatments, two wives. Nothing happened, until I met his mother.
—And I was living in Valencia,— Manuel replies as he laughs and listens attentively, without taking his eyes off the television. He was born there, in Valencia, in the center of the country.
—If I have known, I would have had you before,— dad says.
Manuel likes to draw. He has two cartridge belts. His works of art are all over the house. Seven drawings cover the back of the front door: three of them painted when he went to nursery school and four in preschool where he studies now. That’s how he classifies them. There is a Spiderman that covers two sheets. The others are attempts of human beings. There is another drawing at the entrance to dad’s room: it is abstract, but his name can be read clearly.
He empties the cartridge cases and make a mess of colors on the dining table. He begins drawing his family. First, he paints the sky in a highlighted block. Then he paints the ground, and on it the first figure is mom. She has a yellow dress and black hair. He counts the fingers carefully. He paints it without pencil edges. He does not draw her face.
Now, he draws itself. His self-portrait makes him laugh. He is dressed in his favorite color, and holding his mom’s left hand. Beside him, he draws his older brother, Diego. He exaggerates his features, makes a giant hand, mocks, but then asks for help to erase it. He wants to draw “mommy”, as he tells his maternal grandmother, his uncles, his paternal grandfather, but the sheet is not big enough. He draws Daniel, his other older brother, on the right side of mom, and next to Daniel he paints his dad.
Two hours have passed by since his day began, and he has already exhibited all his swimming goggles, his board, his three karate tapes, the order of his closet (shows the pajamas, he folds them and put them away), photos of him taken by Dad, photos of dad’s girlfriend, photos of his best friend’s birthday, his diplomas, the poster of his last show-and-tell (about soccer). He laughs a lot. He gets up, sits down, and lies on the floor. “Look” is the word that he repeats the most inside his room, with which he shows a Pokemon towel, a wall with school pictures and his fifth birthday party souvenir.
Mom is in Spain. She left with the promise to send money and, perhaps, one day get back to pick the children up with her, Diego and Daniel -Manuel Alejandro’s half-brothers- live at “mommy’s” house, in Tocuyito, in the metropolitan area of Valencia. Manuel lives with dad in Caracas, 180 kilometers away. The father tells that separating from his brothers was confusing and painful for the child. One day there were five people living in this house and the next, there were only two.
He was quite young, restless and in need of distraction. Dad started working from home and devoted to take care of the child. The routine begins at 5:15 am, when he wakes up to prepare breakfast. He arranges the school clothes the night before and has already checked the homework. At 6:00 am he wakes Manuel. He gets him ready, takes him to school, he does what he can while they are not together. He picks him up at noon, they go home for lunch, then swimming, then karate, sometimes the same day. Manuel always asks to go to the park later. He also goes to therapy once a week.
No, i can't imagine Spain.Manuel Alejandro
No, I don't want to draw again.
No, I don't know what colors she likes.
—No, I do not imagine Spain. No, I do not want to draw again. No, I do not know what colors she likes. No, she has not bought me toys,— he replies without gestures, although Dad reminded him half an hour before that his Batman toy was sent by mom, and that the next day they will go to “Mommy’s” home to look for a tablet that she sent as a gift. Manuel insists that Batman is a gift from a cousin, then from an uncle, then from Santa Claus. “No, I do not have anything that reminds me of her,” he assures.
—No, this one is not here. It ended. It left the country.
Manuel seems older and young at the same time. He accepts calmly that dad is his family, and he thinks his girlfriend looks cute. Also, that his mom is far away. But when he rides his red bike and falls, he does not hesitate to come back crying so they rub his ankle. It’s sweet, he’s constantly hugging. He hugs strong and laughs a lot. He is kind, polite and even shares his glass of water. He is responsible and in less than five minutes all his toys return to his room, and he picks up his bag, his goggles and his swimsuit to go to his Tuesdays’ swimming practice.
The day comes to an end.
It is difficult to figure out if farewells are too hard or not so for him. Manuel understands and accepts. To deal with this is why he goes to therapy, to try to understand and accept.
He looks up, smiles and says goodbye.
Grownups try to support their children’s needs. Material needs, because it seems everyone forgets many things that build up with farewells and ruptures within their kid’s day-to-day world. But when life is just beginning, it’s always filled with hope. Waiting is a way of growing up.
HopesCarla / 7 years-old
Her father went to live to Ecuador with the promise that, in a short time, he will come back for her. Daughter of divorced parents, Carla counts the months before he comes back for her. Only three: May, June and July.
One, two, three. May, June and July. Carla repeats. These are the months before she finishes 1st grade. “Three months!” she exclaims and shows the baby teeth she lost recently.
—My dad says that when the school year ends, my mom and I are going there,— she says as she shakes her head from side to side, while wearing a unicorn in her hair.
“There” is Quito, Ecuador, where her 35-year-old father, a graphic designer, has lived for eight months.
Carla is already thinking about what she will take with her to Ecuador. She does not want to leave the dolls, nor the kitchenette. She has only discarded the Hula Hoop.
In her 7 years life, Carla got used that in order to see her dad she has to travel 123.3 kilometers, the distance between Caracas and Maracay. But instead, she will have to travel 1,629 kilometers to fly to Quito.
The first time she and her father came apart she never noticed. She was only 6 months old when her parents got divorced. The second time was in September 2017 and, apparently, she did not notice either.
—I think her dad did not tell her he was leaving so she would not feel it so literally,— says Carla’s mom, a 37-year-old publicist. She explained to her that he would be in Ecuador and shortly she could go.
Of “behave yourself”, “listen to your mom” and “keep eating”, what Carla remembers the most is that soon she will also be in Quito.
—I tell him: “hello, daddy, how are you doing?” And he tells me he’s fine and he asks me the same thing. Then I ask him when are we going to Ecuador, and he says when I finish my school year.
She asks her mom the same thing. She knows that both “are saving some money” to make that possible. She has no doubt that in her 2nd grade she will have new classmates, some Ecuadorians.
But Carla will need to do new calculations. Which includes one more difficult than adding 21 plus 30. For these figures she recommends using sticks. For her 3 months and 1,629 kilometers she will have to multiply.
She insists with the questions: “When are we leaving?” Or “When are we going to pack?” Her mother does not know what to say.
Her father wants to give Carla a better quality of life and education; her mother wants her to learn another language and indulge her into practicing ballet, activities that now, she’s unable to afford.
—In Venezuela he provided her with what he could, within his means. I think he was frustrated sometimes because he wanted to give her more and he could not. Then he just left.
Carla wants to go to Quito.
She looks through her notebooks for a drawing she made at school on September 25, 2017. She portrayed her dad, mom and herself. As she turns the pages, she explains what the class was about. “First you are small, you grow, you breed and then you die. It is a living being”. She ends the first notebook but still does not finds what she’s looking for. In the second notebook there is nothing either. But in the third one she finally finds herself with yellow hair, although it’s black. She laughs. She looks at it one more time and says:
The opening phrase: “I will draw you and you draw me”. Her wrists always followed him.
Carla remains silent for a moment to talk about Andrea, her schoolmate.
—One day my friend told me her dad had gone to Peru and my dad to Ecuador. Then my friend wept and also I. Because she misses her dad and I miss mine,— she says and tries to hide behind the drawing.
I like this drawingCarla
because I miss my dad
and he misses me.
I stayed within the lines.
—I feel bad because I’m not the playful type, on the other hand, her father was like a child with her. In that sense, his departure has been a bit difficult.
Carla’s hugging her dad could end up in a game of hangman (ahorcados???). “Carrr-la,” he tried to pronounce when he had her daughter in his arms.
—My dad was happy when I was with him,— she said through her teeth.
Seeing at a distance
Carla places the violet, yellow, pink and blue crayons on the table. She thinks out loud that the first will be for her mom’s dress, the second for the sun, the third for her dress and the fourth for the clouds and dad’s clothes.
She draws the mother taller than her father. And gives her a smile that covers great part of her cheeks.
Carla thinks she knows why her dad is watching her.
—He’s watching me because maybe a puppy is coming and he is not aware of it. Maybe I’m going to try to touch it without knowing that it’s a bad dog and it will bite me.
And she recalls
—Once a neighbor‘s puppy bit my finger. After that my dad did not allow any dog to get close to me, unless it was one I already knew. My mom says that I want defend myself and my dad won’t let me.
For now, they look at each other in photos and, sometimes, on Skype. Until Carla can travel to Ecuador, and everything can be how it used to be.
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Héctor Torres and Albor Rodríguez
Martha Viaña Pulido (Adriano), Linsabel Noguera Lameda (Mariana), Johanna Osorio Herrera (Manuel Alejandro) and Carmen Victoria Inojosa (Carla)
Martha Viaña Pulido
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