"Adversity is a fact of life. It can't be controlled. What we can control is how we react to it."
- Unknown -
It is important for me to give the reader an understanding of who I was and who I had become through my personal experiences prior to my kidnapping in 1994. This will help explain my acts during these events and, more importantly, why I was able to survive them and continue on with my life afterwards.
I was born on a rainy winter day in August 1957 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My family and my country were going through turmoil. My grandparents had emigrated from Russia in the early 1920s and had chosen Argentina because of its economic prowess and political stability. Of course, all that changed after Juan Peron took power in a coup in the 1940s and the country began its long slide as the world’s third-largest economic power.
As went the country, so did the economic condition of my family. I was the second child. My older sister, Michelle, was born almost five years to the day before me. When I was born, my family’s situation had become precarious, and we were forced to move into my grandmother’s house, which was also shared by my father’s younger brother. I always joked with my dad. I said it looked as though I had brought bad luck, since prior to my birth they had lived a comfortable middle-class life.
So that was where I spent the first six years of my life. We had three families sharing the same house, trying collectively to make enough money to pay for food and other necessities. In 1964, a distant uncle who lived in the United Sates visited us. Dismayed at what he saw, he persuaded my father’s younger brother and his mother to immigrate to the US. He tried to talk sense into my father and make him move also, but my father decided that he was a patriot and would sink with the ship.
So, at the end of 1964, we were basically homeless. My father’s economic situation had gotten worse, and the only thing he could do now to get enough money to eat was selling socks door to door. We were forced to move from the city to a rural area called Gonzalez Catan. Here was the Wild, Wild West, and gauchos still roamed the prairie. Our little house had no running water, and the scarce electricity was not enough to light two lamps at the same time.
It was a little pink house with two bedrooms and an old-fashioned kitchen. It was rustic, simple—bare bones, as certain prefabricated houses can be, but it was home. At least we had a small parcel of land where we could grow some food and have a few chickens to provide us with eggs. Our closest neighbor was about two miles away; it was pure desolation. My school was a one-room building with a dirt floor about four miles from the house. I made the trek every day and hunted for frogs or tried to kill snakes along the way. Once or twice a month, the garbage truck would actually show up on the one and only paved road. I caught a ride to school by hanging on the back of the truck.
During the summer, we went swimming at the water hole where horses drank. I spent most of my free time wandering the fields, inventing new adventures. That year, my brother, Alex, was born, and the situation seemed dimmer than ever. My father’s brother came to visit and again tried to persuade my father to leave and immigrate to the US. Father was adamant. He would not budge.
Finally, in 1965, the situation became so dire that my father gave in and left for the US. The four of us, my mother, my sister, Michelle, who was twelve, my brother, Alex, who was a few months old, and I, at seven, were left behind to fend for ourselves in a hostile environment. After my father left, our situation deteriorated further. We had no one to tend the few crops we had. Our few chickens were dying and laid no more eggs.
We resorted to eating a mush my mother prepared, and to this day I have no clue what was in it. It just looked like white paste that you could use to hang wallpaper. We also had plenty of wild blackberries that my mom used to make compote. Sometimes, we ate that five days a week. I have never been able to eat anything with blackberries since those days. Years later, my sister sent me a ten pound jar of blackberry jam for my birthday—very funny.
After a while, my father was able to send some money so we could buy food. That was wonderful, but there was no supermarket or convenience store in our neighborhood, so my mother had to go into the city to buy groceries. She left at five o’clock in the morning and did not return until one o’clock the following morning. She had to carry the grocery bags for miles, since there was no public transportation where we lived. We three children were left to fend for ourselves, and after dark we simply sat in a room together and waited.
Finally, in May of 1966, my father had saved enough money to bring us to America. Michelle stayed home to care for Alex while Mother and I went to the city to see if someone could give us some hand-me-down clothing for the trip. Our wardrobe was nonexistent; you really didn’t need much clothing where we lived. We lucked out after going from place to place and received enough clothes to get on the plane to our new home. It may be surprising that those days were as grim as they may sound. Bring back no bitter memories, no sadness, and no negative feelings.
In fact, my memories are happy ones. It was a time when I felt totally free. There was no pressure, and I was able to grow up free from the complications that can often deluge a child in big cities. Because I was free to explore the environment, I developed the self-assurance I would need to be able to survive no matter what circumstances I might encounter. This episode in our lives gave me the internal fortitude and self-reliance that would help me survive in the difficult situations that were to come.
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Genre – True Crime
Rating – PG