HAVANA TIMES — When I was a little girl, I would accompany my mother to go and visit her younger brother, my uncle, at a unit where he was doing his military service.
The linear buildings, the inhospitable environment, the crowd of bodies in uniform, hair shaven so they were almost bald, seeing my uncle thinner and with a somber expression, all had a huge impact on me.
Years later, life forced me to experience this firsthand. It was only then that I understood what that expression on my uncle’s face was: stupor, maladjustment, sadness.
I visited the psychiatric wards where boys who reject this kind of legal kidnapping and forced containment, without a military vocation or ideological conviction, end up.
I especially remember a young man from Pinar del Rio who had tried to commit suicide by slitting his wrists. When his time was up at the hospital and an official from his unit came to collect him, he had to put on the same bloodstained uniform.
He seemed so downhearted that I hugged him as if he were my son. He mumbled that he was going to escape into the mountains if he wasn’t discharged.
I met a young, well-built man in that same room, who had tried to shoot himself. When I asked him why he had done it, he replied that he couldn’t bear the claustrophobic feeling any more. He looked like he had grown up in a marginalized environment, trained in social coarseness; however, he broke when he suddenly lost his autonomy.
There was also a young man with a personality disorder and a long history of depression. A young man who could have been a model but cut himself 45 times in the arm in a fit of rage when his superior gave an arbitrary order. Another young man who lived in the country’s East, who was caught hanging himself and would have died a couple of seconds later had they not found him.
Once I was back on the street, I watched people stunned; mothers with male babies in their arms, or sleeping peacefully in their laps and I thought: “They don’t know that one day their having given birth and this and blood relationship will mean nothing and their instinctive anguish will clash against the impassivity of walls, regulations, with tradition’s indifferent voracity.
It will clash against the inertia which sets things out of convenience or panic; for an alleged security. And on the basis of preventing something far worse (unthinkable, unmentionable), they will ask their children: “Adapt”. Bear it, pretend. Let them destroy your identity, judgement, individual will. Kill this useless, embarrassing hindrance called sensitivity.
The young people I met inside those white walls, with barred windows to stop them from jumping into an abyss, were assessed using complex tests which try to rule out “disabling illnesses” and reinsert them into the same environment which had broken their lives, but with some adjustments. Unappealable decisions come from the higher level, which doesn’t deal with lives but figures that uphold the economy.
Have they survived? I find myself asking sometimes. Those who have managed to do so, did so at the price of renouncing values like respect, honesty, transparency. Faith in humankind and society.
All of them felt a heaviness upon them which left them paralyzed. Officials, and psychiatrists even, told them over and over again: “For two years, you’re State property.”