And thus 2018 comes to an end.
Without a doubt, this was the longest and most complex year of my life. I lost my mother and my life was turned upside down, everything just fell apart. Venezuela continued its rapid descent into madness with each passing day; everyone just keeps weathering the storm using any means necessary.
This disaster is no longer the outrageous international novelty that it was back in 2017, it has now sunk its teeth and claws deep into everything—it is now part of our living reality. There is no such thing as Venezuelan citizens anymore, everyone’s merely a survivor.
With all that happened in these past twelve months I feel withered and aged like never before. My personal life (if I ever had one) continues to be on pause until I find a way to escape from this maelstrom along with my brother. I’m diverting all of my strength into this goal as well as getting my book project ready for publishing ASAP.
This is, I suppose, a way to vent off after a painful year; an attempt to leave it all behind as I arm myself with what strength I can muster in order to forge brighter chapter of our lives starting on 2019.
A hopeful start of the year
The three of us had a very simple New Years celebration: some food, a couple drinks, hugs, and cheers; a simpler but wholesome version of the usual. We were all ready to start January full of hope and optimism—and we did.
I tend to conflate the actual start of the year with my birthday (Jan 9th), it’s a weird habit that I have because when I was younger classes would often start on the 10th. There’s also the fact that it takes a few days for certain places in Venezuela to get in gear, so that’s a spot on week to start things up after the traditional Christmas break.
2018 was to be a fresh start, a shining new year were we’d turn the tide after a very turbulent period of our lives. My 30th birthday was to be the start of a brilliant decade—this was to be the year of years. I had faith that my mother would get the aid she needed and the proper chemotherapy that she so desperately required. We kept knocking on doors, looking for any options, I even contacted Doctors without Borders, alas, zero success.
I also contacted the Canadian and German embassies here, because you know, #RefugeesWelcome and all that. I was met with a cold shoulder, especially in the German Embassy.
Still, I kept doing the same routine that I was now accustomed to, which included visits to several pharmacies in hopes of finding medicine for my mother, bread lines, water lines, getting her weekly blood test results, treating my mother with things like ice cream and yogurt—anything that would at least make her comfortable given the fact that she wasn’t getting proper chemotherapy. At the absence of antacids, baking soda and water had to suffice.
The chemo she was receiving for the past months came with a lengthy list of side effects, she had avoided most of the serious ones up until mid-January. Her movement began to be impaired (neuropathy was one of the possible side effects), she started to stumble—something that struck fear in her, given that one of her specialties was palliative care.
Her 60th (and last) birthday was a bittersweet one, it was the first time since her initial diagnosis that I saw her genuinely sad and distraught. None of us knew that she’d pass away exactly two months later.
Nonetheless, we carried on forward.
Cancer and death
February is a blur to me, I don’t remember much of the details. Her health rapidly declined through those days; the chemo she was taking had finally started to seriously impair her movement and neuropathy was a possible reality now—something she had been fearing for a while.
Thanks to the help and donations that I received I was able to ship stuff to her from abroad. From painkillers (disguised as vitamin supplements), to actual supplements, more comfortable socks, pain relief patches, actual toothpaste (the Chinese bootleg one you could find during those days was terrible), and other things, but most importantly: a toilet seat attachment for the disabled. At the time I wasn’t aware that I was essentially engaging in palliative care.
Sadly, she never got to use the toilet seat attachment because it arrived weeks after she passed, the same goes for some of the supplements. I’ll try to sell these off so I can have a lil more money for when the time to escape is at hand.
I continued to search for those damned Votrient (Pazopanib) pills, the one chemo that she actually needed since September 2017. I wasn’t successful in finding it and the ones that were within proximity costed an absurd amount of money (plus trying to pass them through the border is no easy task). A former colleague of hers managed to secure a small amount of a similar (but not quite the same) and loaned us a wheelchair. She started taking those pills, but unfortunately, it was too late.
And then along came March. Her health took a complete nosedive. I had to take her to an emergency room on the 9th because her body started to retain fluids, which impaired her breathing. At her request, I took her to the same hospital she had worked for sixteen years.
The attention was less than stellar, even for someone so renowned in that hospital. You know shit has been real when the hospital entrances are militarized. I almost got in a fight with a nurse because he demanded the wheelchair that my mother was using. Long story short, fluids were drained from her body and after getting some human albumin she was feeling better. I thought the worst had passed—I was wrong.
A couple days later we went back for further fluid draining, she also required another blood transfusion. She looked and felt better after those two lengthy treatments, she even wanted to eat something different for dinner, but everything was closed since we got out of the hospital at a very late hour. Her health seemed to have improved and she kept feeling better in the following days—even her appetite had returned.
My brother got struck by chickenpox a few days later, I took him to the clinic my mom worked at. Her former co-workers were very kind to the two of us, going as far as to not charging us for anything even though it was a private clinic.
A few days later my mom’s health began to collapse like never before. She was in utter pain, she couldn’t even move much, let alone take some of the pills (I had to crush them for her). I never saw her that frail in the two and a half years that spanned her fight against cancer.
“I think you need to start looking for a hole to bury me at.” She said to me in one of those nights. I was in tears, never felt so hopeless and powerless in my life; to see the strongest woman I’ve ever known at the verge of throwing the towel…
I tried my best to cheer her up, I told her that I would find a way to get us all out of this country, that she would get the treatment she deserved and needed, and that we’d be happy once more. I spent that night next to her until she was finally able to sleep. The next day I was at least able to make her smile for the last time in her life when I cracked a joke as I carried her to bed.
She succumbed to her tumor on Good Friday. It all happened so fast, I drove all the way to the hospital like a madman. Spend the night looking for places to test her blood at because the hospital had no materials or even paper to print the results. Twenty five hours later, she was gone.
The day after
April started with her funeral and immediate burial. My father found out about her passing right away because he has a friend on that hospital and word spread fast (I still don’t know who it was, not like I care). Because of course, he had to be a cunt when I was at my weakest, he started to text me a bunch of shit. I had more important affairs on my head so I paid no attention to his messages.
I don’t think anything could had prepared me for that moment when I had to identify her body, wrapped in the same green bed sheet I had bought for her (hospital has no bed sheets, you must supply your own) in a row of corpses devoid of refrigeration. I gave the man one of her two wigs and clothing so that they’d prepare her for the funeral. A cousin was staying with us during those days because my head was elsewhere, I couldn’t even drive her car properly so I handed over the keys.
All the messages of support that I received from across the globe allowed me to borrow some strength because I had none left, to this day they still do; never in my life had I experienced such a thing. That’s something I will never forget and will always be grateful for. All this kindness—I will find a way to make it up to all of you.
A day after her burial I went to our local church to request a Novena for my mother; my father left me another barrage of messages right before leaving. He had the audacity to blame my mother for leaving him when even though he’s the one that cheated on her.
He began his tirade with something along the lines of “Christian, I’m not a builder or a bricklayer, I’m a graduated doctor…”, as if that’d make him morally superior or something, as if being a builder was somehow demeaning or degrading.
I simply replied with “Giusseppe, look back at the treatment your family gave to her and to us, remember what you did to her. Once you do, ask yourself why she left you and why we moved to another town.” He kept playing the victim in his replies and I just didn’t cared. (Yes, his name has two S’s, it’s not a typo)
I haven’t spoken to him since. People often cry racism because someone said a no-no word on social media, but a large percentage of this outrage mobs have never felt true detestation and contempt like my mother did because she wasn’t a pureblood European like the Caruzo family or be scorned just because my brother and I committed the sin of existing.
But those are tales for another time.
I started to feel oddly ill on the second day of her novena, I attributed it to exhaustion as I had barely slept during those days. My chickenpox broke during the third day, I forced myself to go to church against my family’s wishes. I couldn’t go to the other six masses, I was bedridden by the end of the third day.
Chickenpox as an adult is no laughing matter, I never felt so bad in my life. While I’ve been legitimately sicker before (a post-surgery nosocomial infection that almost got me back in 2007) the combination of chickenpox + the depression and utterly sense of hopelessness I felt made for some awfully long nights.
It took me about a month and a half to fully recover from it. I now bear some small scars on my face and body as a reminder of those days. Our cousins helped us with cooking because I was unable to cook stuff for my brother during the first week of my chickenpox outbreak, hell, I couldn’t even swallow properly.
Once I was slightly better I took my brother for a pizza lunch in hopes of cheering him up. I sure looked like crap (more than usual) but I didn’t cared—he got his pizza. Sadly, what I paid for those pizzas + drinks can’t even get you an onion today.
And to top it all, my father had left me a message in Google Talk (who the hell uses this?) which I stumbled upon days later. In the message he confesses after 30 years of my life that I’m not actually his firstborn because he had another affair four years prior to my birth.
He essentially doxed the guy, gloating and bragging that he graduated magna cum laude and all that fanfare. That’s great, kudos for the lad, but the way he phrased it seems more akin to “I don’t need you two, he’s better.”
I still don’t know how to proceed with this, I mean, I’ve spoken to our half-sister and I would never blame her for the sins of our father. I’ve never let his past actions dictate the tone of our sparse conversations or how I treat her. Do I message this guy and go “lmao sup you and I have the same last name and there’s a reason for that”?
One thing at a time, I guess, my focus right now is my brother, he’s the reason I wake up every day.
Picking up the pieces
I resumed work on my novel by the end of May after nearly two months of not touching it. The first lines of the ninth chapter contain the last things I wrote before my mother passed away. Now chickenpox-free, I started to apply to different jobs outside these borders in hopes of obtaining a work visa to migrate. Legal migration continues to be the goal, not just for myself but for my brother as well. I have to work for the two of us in order to achieve this—no matter how hard it is.
While I know I’m not the most qualified person out there or the most studied (I have only myself to blame for that) I kept trying to no avail. I suppose that the years I worked at an embassy, freelancing computer repair gigs, and my most recent job don’t do much for work experience, but that’s all I have.
Friends from across the globe and even strangers have offered their input and manpower in order to find a solution to this migration puzzle even to this day. While it hasn’t gone that smooth I will always be thankful to them no matter what the outcome is. I’ve never received such kindness in my life like I have in these past months, I always stumble with words when I try to express my gratitude to them, that’s something I gotta work on as well.
At the same time, I began a still ongoing journey through the abyss known as Venezuelan bureaucracy. Successional tax statements, disability status, retrieving my mother’s original titles from certain offices as these were in the process of getting the proper certifications and apostilles required for foreign work, and many other adventures.
The following months were a blend of bureaucracy, hyperinflation, depression, anxiety, and solving one problem only have two more pop up. I’ve solved most of the important affairs and effectively eliminated the deadline in the most pressing one.
I’ve been trying to get my brother’s disability papers but alas, this is Venezuela, whose institutions refused to grant my mother proper retirement until a year after her initial cancer diagnosis (and only because she had to play the cancer card). My brother needs to pay social security taxes for at least three years before he can even hope to apply for disability—sure as hell ain’t gonna wait for that.
As it stands, the most crucial thing that we’re now missing in order to escape is travel visa of any kind so that we may enter legally to whatever country we end up going to. I need to get an extension on my passport but that’s something I’ll be tackling down in the next days. The fact that it recently tripled in price and that it must be paid with a local credit card that can cover that sum is yet another obstacle, but one that’s not impossible to overcome.
As for my book project, Sword of the Nation, I got the epilogue nailed down. I’m in the process of rewriting a section towards the end and finalizing some character names—then I can finally say that I have a first draft done. It sure is a bit lengthy in its current form (ten chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue that span ~600 pages total) but I’m putting my soul into it. I already have enough in-universe material and lore for prequels, sequels, and sequels of sequels.
I still continue to fight a one sided war against depression and anxiety, as well as other inner demons such as regret and a complete absence of self-worth. When you spend so many restless nights in a row your mind tries to pinpoint the exact point where you screwed up in life; you begin to wonder when was the last time you felt genuine happiness. You start asking yourself what you should had done differently, and how different things could’ve been had we never moved to Caracas in early ’99, as well as other, more personal questions.
Would I be less of an introvert social outcast if I had taken a different path in life? Would things be different if I had done X instead of Y? Then, one night, when you’re looking for documents that you need to submit you stumble upon a boatload of pictures—some of which are as old as you, and then you remind yourself of how happy you used to be as a child.
I still think that I failed my mom, I couldn’t find that damned chemo and she deserved so much better. For all my mistakes, for all my screw ups, not being able to save her is my greatest failure because I never deserved such a great mother. All I can do is keep my promise to her: that I will take care of my brother and make sure that he has a good future.
I need to grab my shards and reforge what’s left of me into something better, to build something that lasts longer than my flesh does, something that endures through time after I’m only dust and bones; hopefully this upcoming fiction book series that I’ve been working for so long is one of those things. To make sure that my brother has a good future and is able to exploit that unbound potential he has locked inside that introvert mind of his is one of my other paramount goals right now.
Find my place and purpose in this world as well.
Should this fiction novel be deserving of some success then I’d love to use whatever comes from it in order to find a way to help others achieve their dreams. That’d be a noble cause.
My health is a mess. While it’s great that I’ve lost some weight and I’m able to use clothes from 10+ years ago (including my old rad as fuck reversible high school jacket), I’ve lost a lot of muscle mass as well (according to a former colleague of my mom), and insomnia has laid waste to my body.
The Venezuelan maelstrom
Venezuela, as shattered as it is, continued to be ground to dust through the year. While there wasn’t widespread protests as in 2017, it wasn’t without its fair share of events.
The totally 100% legitimate presidential elections, normally scheduled for the end of the year, were done on May. The results surprised no one: The main (controlled) opposition figureheads were banned from participating, and the other guy being a former government member well…Maduro basically ran unopposed.
None of the problems we’ve been carrying out for the past eight years or so were fixed in 2018. The widespread shortages continue, obtaining meds is an odyssey, meat and chicken are rare to find these days, and the list goes on.
Questionable assassination attempts, further suppression of press and free internet access, people getting arrested for “hate speech” (aka, mocking the President on social media), a large scale scam cryptocurrency, hindering access to passports, and so many other things happened through the year. It was almost as if every new week something more outrageous happened.
It’s gotten so bad that even government officials are being censored when they begin to criticize the government, be it by guilty or to try and save face. The narrative continues to be “everything is fine here and it’s all Trump/USA/Colombia/etc’s fault.”
The new “Sovereign” Bolivar currency is already done for. Its introduction in August axed five zeroes off our currency scale. As of today two of those zeroes are definitely back, and the third one is pushing its way. Funny though, its announcement hailed the return of coins in our economy, I never even got to see one of those new coins—they’re already not worth minting.
One of the most deceptively dangerous things being pushed right now is the Fatherland ID system introduced in 2017; built on the same basis of China’s Social Score system. This ID is now being used to control and weaponized people’s necessities, hindering access and rights to those that fail to fall in line.
Politically, the status quo continues in this country. The physical embodiment of failure known as the Venezuelan opposition has lost all credibility and they have only themselves to blame for that.
While there are rising political groups out there that have begun to form up in order to stand against the government (and the controlled opposition), their reach and mass is still not quite there. Hopefully something new sprouts from these seeds soon, otherwise the wheel will keep spinning.
And yes, even though World of Warcraft’s latest expansion is a complete and unmitigated mess, WoW gold continues to be worth way more than the Venezuelan Bolivar.
Longing for a daybreak
And thus here I stand, withered, shattered, less than what I was back in January, but unwilling to give up. If 2018 wasn’t the year then 2019 shall bring a daybreak in my life.
We will escape, I will build a future for my brother, I will get to publish my book, and be able to reciprocate all the help I’ve received during these past months, as well as help more people along the way. Perhaps find some of that happiness that has eluded me for so long in the process.
I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to publicly thank you all once more, from my Patrons, readers, friends, and everyone else in between. You have all helped me survive through all of this in so many ways. The light at the end of the tunnel is almost here and the best is yet to come.
Here’s to a fantastic 2019 to all of you, we’re all gonna make it.