How I loved coming out of my house in Zacamil at the hour of dusk to the calm of the setting sun and the illuminated volcano towering over the rooftops of the rows of small houses of many colors competing with the colors of the sky—a competition destined to fade into the dark starry sky without a winner. How I loved sitting near the almond tree with its big green leaves that seemed to dole out their night dew slowly and steadily throughout the night, and talking to Juancito and the small cadre of friends who congregated to laugh and marvel as the stars blinked at us and shared the mantle of mystery that kept them cozy and distinct above.
There was Juancito, my older next door neighbor, with a name that fits his loving gentle light that poured though a face that seemed as smart as it was bright with idealistic youth, a round face with thin lips and wide almond eyes that smiled easily. He must have been 17 and I 10, and the others came and went through many evenings of what my older brother called bullshit conversations—useless and devoid of the adrenal flavor of fútbol
and fights, of fashion and girls. Far removed from the expectations of our age and situation, we talked and marveled about the nature of the stars, the silent unknown around us, science, history, and the heart of humanity. We delved into topics that to this day grip my heart of hearts. Juancito shared with us his marvel for life, his hopes for a world free and true, his vision of a human race mature and just, and his enthusiasm for science and the future.
I was alone with him one night, leaning against my father’s car in the parking lot above the row of houses of our neighborhood, after the other friends congregated around “El Chele” Medrano, the feared dad of a pretty girl who had been my playmate since I was 3, to hear him speak of sex and whores and why Jesus really sweated blood with Mary Magdalene in the desert. Juancito and I stayed apart, pondering hard on the infinite nature of the universe and the relentless nature of its laws, and came to that point where the mind wakes up into a sense of timelessness and ceases to be his mind or my mind, and it becomes a book of ideas that said that, out of the infinite number of solar systems, there had to be others with life like ours, or even life unlike ours but conscious and alive. The mind speculated that any mind which wakes up to the realization of its universality would wonder, perhaps at that very moment, if there was perhaps another mind pondering the same question about the existence of other minds like this one that is thinking right now; and just like that, we looked up to the night sky and realized that, at this very fleetingly eternal moment, another child like Juancito and me was looking up towards the infinite space above him and wondered about us. The mind who wonders seemed to breach the dark gulf separating one from another, and there was just the wonderment of having, for a moment, touched another.
After this and other conversations of religion, politics, philosophy and things, life took over, and I lived the life for me, and he went on to his revolutionary calling. I overheard once that conversation when his aunt, the nurse, the one who took him in her home and once saved me from the toys I had shoved into my nose to see how far my hole went. It was that conversation where the mother figure tells him to be careful, that he is taking too many risks, that he could end up dead or tortured, that he should study and prepare himself for a good future and a good family, that he is smart and good and therefore must not throw everything away, that “be careful and think of us who love you and will miss you,” and that the revolution he is struggling for will never happen and is all a farce and everyone is for himself and more good can be done by staying in school and raising a family. Yes, I heard that conversation, and I heard his response, loving and kind as when he talked to me, and just as full of splendor were his words when he told his aunt that what we are doing, this our thing, is not for us, that we will never see the benefits of our work, that it was for the future of humanity and that others in distant times will live the life that is right and just and good. This is not for me, not for us. It is for the future of humanity.
That was the last I heard of him. Juancito became a “disappeared”—a victim of a repressive paramilitary government for whom Juancito was a terrorist, a public enemy, the disease of the world coming from outside to disrupt their world of possessions and private wealth and the rule of arms. Juancito disappeared and was never, ever found. His happy, tender voice full of hope and smiles was never heard again.
There is a silent void where you used to be. I called you “Juancito” when you were older than me, and I call you “Juancito” now that I am older and you are still a very young man. It hurts, Juancito, to know you gone, to intuit you tortured and killed. I have kept our talks in my most intimate abode, and once in a while I look across the gulf of time and space and I see your face looking up into my eyes with a wide-eyed child next to you, wondering if I see you and if I am also thinking about you and know that there is another out there in this limitless, free, and revolutionary vastness.