Jay Vader

 

I created a seal and a shield around myself

 

Esta historia se escribe en Español = This story is also written in Spanish here.

 Editor’s Note:

War does not end when the conflict ends.  Its victims go beyond those bodies lying on the battlefield we see splashed across the news and on the cover of Time Magazine, beyond the leaders and soldiers on both sides fighting for a cause, beyond the decimated villages and homeless refugees left behind.

 These victims often include the children on the sidelines who get caught in its aftermath.  These young, innocent children are often sheltered from details and facts or hear skewed, one-sided explanations, which may be accurate, inaccurate, or only partial truths.  If they are children of military families, often they are raised not to ask questions and be tough, accept the little information they are told, and deal with it on their own without resources or guidance.

In the case of a father’s assassination, as is true of our storyteller, this ten-year old child was told one story which was perpetuated throughout his life.  We don’t know whether the version he was told reflects the truth, but that version is what he has held onto.  He was told not to ask questions.  He was offered no outlets to deal with his grief.  In the absence of healing opportunities, anger and revenge have carried over into his relationships and decision-making as an adult.   He recognizes now how he suppressed many feelings he had as a child and has gaps in his memory surrounding the period of time when his father was killed. 

The long-term effects of war can last a great deal of time outwardly, but even longer inwardly in the form of emotional trauma.

I grew up in a protective bubble.  My mom, Liliana Rubio de Valdes, whose father was an influential military officer, was raised in a military family.  She married my dad, Lt. Colonel Baltazar A. Valdes, also a career military man.  They raised us three kids in a loving but strict household in the Utila neighborhood of Santa Tecla ( later known as Nueva San Salvador) where they chose our friends carefully, who were children of other military officers, friends of my parents and relatives (mostly for our safety).  Our family life was stable, and my dad made certain to provide bountifully for guests during our social gatherings.  We owned a beach house in Metalio where we gathered and rested as a family overseeing the port of Acajutla.

School for me consisted of eight years of Catholic school followed by four years of military academy before going onto Jose Matias Delgado University.  When some schools became targeted in the late 80s, I was sent to the U.S. until the situation in El Salvador became less dangerous.

Dad had a strong sense of control, but I would describe him as an officer and a gentleman.  The word chivalry comes to mind when I remember him.  My favorite moments were spending time with Dad at the base shooting range or hanging around the Officer’s Club where he served as second in command.  I never thought of him as an important military officer; he was just my dad.  

Our family was secure and protected by a heavy security detail due to several death threats my dad had received.  Dad had bodyguards assigned to him, as well as to my mom and my two older sisters and me.  There were always four guards in the house, two in the car plus the driver, and one assigned to each of us everywhere we went, sometimes including school.  I assumed everyone lived that way, since we associated primarily with other officers’ families.

That sense of well being I took for granted was shaken up for good in 1978 or 1979 when a favorite uncle was killed. He was a landowner who was being pressured to sell a parcel of land that was located in a prime location to be urbanized.  A school and large houses surrounded it.  He stood firm in refusing to sell that property and was punished for his commitment.  His tragic death marked the beginning of a cycle changing my reality forever.  I was eight years old.

In El Salvador as events escalated and hostilities grew in 1979, more terrorists began taking to the streets to rob banks, attack soldiers, destroying infrastructures, etc.  About that time in the area, the guerrillas were fighting including bombing local utilities, ie. water and electric companies.  On one occasion, they placed a bomb in a utility office six blocks away from our house.  It consisted of dynamite charges set to fire around 11 PM. The four or so perpetrators mistakenly parked their getaway car right in front of our house.  Our bodyguards heard the commotion, saw them running toward the vehicle, a shootout ensued and they got shot trying to get in the getaway car.  I was not home that night. When I arrived the next day, I saw the bullet holes in the front and garage doors. I was told the getaway car was bullet-ridden with holes so much that it looked like a colander.  I never saw it.

Shortly after that incident occurred, our home became target to a house bombing on Mothers’ Day, 1980.  The wave of the explosion broke windows in homes eight to ten blocks away. The device itself was a crude one made of 25 sticks of dynamite (so I was told), and fortunately for our family, it was placed against a 16”-18” thick concrete wall, which absorbed the greater thrust and saved our lives.  My mom and we three kids were home at the time.  I had just turned off the light switch in my bedroom when the bomb went off; I thought I had somehow activated it.  I ran downstairs to discover every window in the house shattered; the cars were mangled.  Thirty minutes later my dad returned home instructing me in a calm matter-of-fact way, “no crying, go back to bed and go to sleep, everything is going to be fine.”  And I did.  The next morning I awoke to the sounds of construction workers already beginning the repairs.  No explanation was offered; no questions were asked. The usual two bodyguards protecting my dad increased to six, and he had two cars to alternate using.  We knew then, we were in real danger.

Whether there was a connection between the nearby utility bomb incident that could have triggered more bad feelings toward my dad because four people were killed in front of our house and our own home being bombed, I will never know.

On Saturday, January 10, 1981, my dad was assassinated.  I was not permitted to see his body due to the cruelty of it. I had no closure, no counseling.  At that point my mom and our family were mostly concerned with our safety at that point.  I just remember feeling deep sorrow. The custom for mourning was to wear black to show respect for a year, and I was frowned on because I didn’t wear it that long.  To this day I have very few black items in my wardrobe because I associate it with funerals.  I remember only a few vivid details about my dad’s funeral.  One is the large groups of people who would recite the rosary over and over and I had to leave the room because I could not listen to that constant repetition.  That remains true to this day whenever I hear the rosary recited.  The second is when he was buried, they had the saber he had been awarded when he made lieutenant and his military hat at his casket, and I picked them up and shouted, “I will avenge your death!” at that moment I was whisked away from the funeral.  People kept telling me over and over, “You are the man of the house and must be strong now.”  I was ten years old and had to be tough.

I have many gaps in my memory surrounding this period of time.  After the funeral my mom sent me to live with various extended family members for about three weeks to create diversions for me.  My sisters stayed home. The only information I was told was that one person was responsible for my dad’s death.  I was never allowed to ask questions.  Certain subjects were not to be discussed.  Even years later as an adult I never asked my mom for more information lest I upset her.  To my knowledge my mother never reported his death to the Truth Commission or to Tutela Legal to investigate.

Emotions were handled privately in our family.  I can remember seeing my mom cry only once or twice in her life.  In my mind, she was the strongest woman I have ever known.  I never stopped to think about it or ask about it, but hiding my feelings after my dad’s death was probably for self-preservation.  At age 15 I had my first real relationship with a girl.  She asked me to role-play pretending to break up with her.  A month later I initiated the real break-up.  Maybe I was trying to avoid her hurting me first.

Because the story surrounding my dad’s assassination I heard was that only one person was responsible, I blamed him for everything negative that happened in my life and swore revenge.  My feelings blinded me and most likely affected my every decision and relationships.  I blamed him for our house bombing.

I was unable to sustain long romantic relationships.  When it came to choosing a career, I seriously considered joining the Salvadoran Air Force as a pilot with the sole purpose of crashing a plane into my dad’s assassin hideout.  My mom wanted me to continue the family military career tradition because she gave me the name of a general, a friend of my dad’s, who “will wait at the gate for you” if that is what I wanted.   However, my rational side knew joining the Air Force was for the wrong reasons; it was only to avenge my dad’s death.

My mom campaigned and joined the ARENA party in 1981.  She was one of the original members whose name is on the re-writing of the Constitution and was elected to the legislative assembly in 1983.

 

 

 

I used to join her in taking beans, rice, medicine and blankets to the needy.  These experiences opened my eyes to another segment of our population needs that I never knew existed.

 

Center is Jay’s mother, Liliana Rubio

In 2011 my mom died of lung cancer.  She may have kept her symptoms private for awhile, but after my cardiologist cousin insisted she have a biopsy, her health deteriorated much too quickly. After I arranged her funeral and I laid her to rest, I mourned privately at the beach at La Libertad over a beer and a bowl of seafood soup; her dying wish had been to go there, have a beer over seafood soup, but she did not have the chance to do it. So I did it for her.

In my life I’ve experienced some close calls that leave me scratching my head and asking questions.  The early morning of my dad’s assassination I was supposed to go along to the base with him, but I was still asleep; my dad decided to let me sleep late in instead.  On June 19,1985, the FMLN guerrillas were responsible for the attack at the Chili’s Restaurant in the San Benito neighborhood resulting in the death of four U.S. Marines.  My friend and I were driving into that parking lot and then changed our minds at the last minute, approximately five minutes later the attack started.  Another time friends and I were going to the movie theater but were turned away because it was full.  The theater was bombed during that function.

Another time, some friends and I were mugged as we were on our way to mountain bike in Guatemala.  Some men (possibly off-duty police due to the lingo they used) robbed us at gunpoint threatening to kidnap us for ransom when they saw my mom’s prominent position in the government on my ID.  But the other was satisfied with the cash we had, and they left.  I ask myself why I survived?

I was back and forth living between the States and El Salvador, working in various jobs and studying in a variety of fields.  A marriage ended in divorce which I had been raised thinking should never happen.  I must be a failure, I thought.

One day a friend and I were in a Salvadoran restaurant and accidentally stumbled upon my dad’s assassin.  I chose to leave quickly and control the chain of events rather than perpetuate my all-consuming vengeful feelings and plans I had been making all those years.  At that point I think I began to take control of my tormented psyche and change its direction.  Although I can’t forgive, I can move on.

I am making plans for my future.  I have earned associate degrees in two diverse areas.  My plan is to complete my bachelors’ degree in Business.

When asked if I would make changes in my life, it is difficult to respond.  Changes along life’s journey may not have led me to my wife.  She and I have been married for five years.  She is the light of my life. I couldn’t survive without her.

My family still owns properties in El Salvador, but I have not returned there for several years.  I hold dual U.S./Salvadoran citizenship.  I earnestly hope the Salvadoran government will get control of the gang situation, which has become an epidemic. Gang members don’t view their victims as human beings.  They do anything for a cell phone or a wallet.  At least in the civil war both sides had a cause, inequality; rights were not applied equally to everyone.  The maras (gangs) have no cause other than greed.  I have no respect for their extorting business people as they do.

Friends describe me as loyal and persuasive.  For fun I enjoy traveling with my wife, reading, playing tennis, watching movies, and listening to music.

This is the first time in my life I’ve opened up to anyone other than my wife.

I have never really felt like I had been a victim. I just dealt with whatever life dished in my direction. I guess I’ve created a seal and a shield around myself, which maybe has something to do with self-preservation and with the Latin culture saying of “real men don’t cry.”  Thank you for giving me another perspective and helping me open up a little.  I have come to consider other possibilities in my dad’s story from the one I heard as a young child.  I have a future to look forward to rather than a past to dwell on and devour me.

Editor’s Note:  This middle-aged man is undergoing a transformation in his thought processes.  He is receptive to allowing himself to consider other possibilities surrounding the details of his dad’s death.  The dark cloud that has hung over him for 35 years is beginning to slowly dissipate.  Daylight shining through is giving him new hope.  We are appreciative of his honesty during our candid conversations and the trust he has in us to accurately represent his story.   We hope this experience helps empower him to continue moving forward in positive directions. 

We also are fully aware that Jay is not alone.  So many other individuals in the same situation as Jay who as children experienced emotional trauma continue to harbor resentments from the war.  We can only hope they find the appropriate outlets for their angst and revenge so they, too, can lead positive, productive lives.

Contributions

    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.