In ‘Rapt lives’ (Planet),the journalist weaves the intimate memories of José Mari and Víctor, aged thirteen and eleven years old when in 87 ETA blew up the barracks house where they lived and lost their entire family.
José Mari was thirteen years old. Victor, eleven. He was in 1987 and the two brothers were simply children who lived with his family in the headquarters of the Civil Guard in Zaragoza. It was after six in the morning when the building was blown up by an ETA attack. Only one wall was left standing, only one: that of the children’s room who woke up in a panic in a world, in a life already in ruins. It would take them a while to find out that their mother, father, and seven-year-old sister had just died.
A wound is also a place to live, as Margarit said: they have lived in pain ever since. In pain, in misunderstanding and silence, in the deepest and most severe silence. They could never express it. They did not receive psychological help at the time of the attack and for a long time afterwards. They didn’t talk to anyone – not even each other – about what had happened. It took decades to tell a friend. Everything was filled with monsters. Everything was filled with a very thick loneliness, an infinite helplessness, a bestial skepticism towards institutions, politics and the future of things. From the people who were laughing out there.
The meeting with Pepa Bueno
Foster Wallace was right: all love stories are ghost stories. It has been thorny, ever since, to trust someone again. But they have managed to open up, decades later, with the prestigious journalist Pepa Bueno. She did not look for history: her history found her. It was her editor of Planeta de ella who told her that there were two young people who wanted to finally narrate her trauma and that they would like to put it in her hands. “The first thing I read were the notes that José Mari wrote at the direction of his psychologist. They were tremendous. There was the abyss. I went to meet them in Bilbao and the ice broke immediately ”, she tells this newspaper.
“They placed tremendous trust in me and I came away convinced that I had to write it. It seemed to me that it was not something that was widely told: the intimate tragedy, that of every day, that of the horror that is installed in everyday life. How far does the shock wave from the bomb that ETA exploded in that barracks house in the year 87 reach? ”, She launches. It goes so far that it resonates today.
The music they listened to on car trips with their father -from Isabel Pantoja to Rocío Dúrcal’s rancheras- still screeches in the ears of the two survivors, the sound of the sirens that they placed, playing, in the official cars, the firecrackers that exploded on the stairs of the barracks or the joke they played – the fruit of their childhood unconsciousness -: calling the guards by phone warning that a bomb was going to explode. Today José Mari apologizes for that mischief with which he has not stopped dreaming. That call that always appeared in his nightmares, always and every day, since the bomb really exploded.
Alone in the world
The state neglected them. No one protected them from post-traumatic stress, from heartbreak, from devastation. At first their grandparents took them in, but ended up sending them to a Civil Guard orphanage. No one told them where their pensions went or the compensation they were entitled to. The natural achievement of the events led them to end up also joining the Civil Guards, in a rather perverse twist of fate. Victor did it without vocation, but back in the academy he ended up finding “the closest thing I’ve ever had to a stable family.”
However, he was soon sent to the Basque Country: a terrible idea devoid of any sensitivity whatsoever, for putting the victim back at the nerve center of terrorism. José Mari didn’t hold out either, despite the fact that in his case, the job was desired: he wanted to dedicate himself to the same thing as his father, he had an enormous vocation of service that he could not exchange.
He wanted to end up becoming a fighter pilot, as he would have liked. He recalls with horror the flood that devastated the Biescas campsite in 1996 and caused 87 deaths. He couldn’t bear to see living people trapped, people screaming, people dead. Dead everywhere, in and out of his dreams. That experience overwhelmed him and he began to drink. “No one tested what psychological stage these two creatures were in. They put them in front of the trauma and increased their emotional imbalance. In the case of José Mari, it was dangerous, ”says the journalist.
Disabled at 40
The two ended – after all the administrative rudeness, after the coldness of the military medical court and after the injury to the memory of his sister, who did not appear in the tribute to the victims of ETA -, on the verge of forty years, receiving total work disability. “That is the big question: what comes next. What do you do if before the age of forty you are already retired and you have to fill the rest of your life. What do you do with all those hours. For what purpose do you get up and go to bed? It has been very exciting to share all of that with them. Each one has managed it as he could, ”says Bueno. Hence: strict schedules, routines, a separation, a marriage. Search for peace. Always peace.
Have we lost ourselves in the statistics and have we forgotten the individual pain of these cases? What have we done wrong with our own citizen memory and what have we done wrong as journalists? Pepa Bueno says that these surviving victims were “uncomfortable witnesses for us, that we had a desire, very human on the other hand, to look ahead and get rid of ETA’s nightmare”: “The whole of society was dealing with the attack , the funeral and the brief note of ‘leaves a widow and two children’. Later we would come back to our lives, but they stayed there, and they had to split the cards of their lives again in gloomy conditions of emotional hecatomb ”, he says.
“And, in some cases, with a very fair economic situation. The same thing happens now – saving all distances – with the dead from the pandemic: at first each figure mattered tremendously to us and now we have anesthetized ourselves. Societies become survivors of their own traumas, ”says the journalist.
What most caught Pepa Bueno’s attention in this story is that the protagonists were “so young” when it all happened. That year she had already finished her degree and started working and “ETA was very present in my life, in everyone’s life, both personally and informatively.” “No one penetrated their heads, no one followed them. At that time, psychological treatment was not automatic for victims of terrorism. Fortunately, all that has changed for the better, ”she says.
And what continues to draw the attention of these adult children is “their innocence”: “Their lack of resentment, their resistance to considering themselves victims. His refusing to fall into rage, ”she reflects. “They distrust the institutions and everything that surrounds them. We were caught together by the arrest of Josu Ternera in the south of France. He still has a pending trial. I was surprised by how coldly they received the news. I told them ‘democracy has defeated ETA’. And they: “Well, yes, but … have they surrendered all their weapons?” They look at everything from a distance, with skepticism, even ”, she explains. “They say ‘yes, if they get caught, let them pay …’, but the absence of resentment that poisons life is surprising in them.”
They also look at the Civil Guard from a distance, which never made them their children or made them their family. “Victor found unforgettable friends there, but he does not fondly remember the institution itself. He is very critical of her, he felt very badly treated. They say that the Civil Guard gave it to him and took it all away, ”he says. Of course this is not a story with a happy ending. Of course it is not a Christmas movie or a Hollywood tale.
Hasél and Otegi
What does Pepa Bueno think about the entry into prison of Pablo Hasél, convicted of insults to the king and glorification of terrorism? “I believe that freedom of expression must be protected when we like who uses it and when not; or, rather, when we do not agree with who uses it. It has limits, of course, but I think the limits have to be weighted and proportional and it has already been said, actively and passively, that the legislation in Spain has to adapt to reality. The prison sentences for certain behaviors are disproportionate ”, he closes.
What is your opinion of a figure like Arnaldo Otegi? “Well, as part of the nationalist left, I am delighted that he is in the institutions. We spent years saying that “those who were in ETA or those who supported or understood the terrorist gang had to make the leap to democracy by stopping killing and entering the institutions.” I am delighted, yes, that they are in politics, but they have to take an ethical journey that goes through the process of self-criticism. Some nationalist leader has said that “ETA’s damage is recognized, but the story depends on who does it.” Nerd. We need a competing story that makes it clear that he will never be kidnapped or killed again and that all this was a terrible horror. “