The New Normal

Walk­ing to school, I al­ways passed by a house full of bul­let holes. That was, if mem­o­ry serves, the cor­ner of Mar­cial Can­di­oti and Ituzaingó. I nev­er knew why that house was full of bul­let holes. The win­dow shades were al­ways down, and noone ev­er ex­plained it to me. It was not a long walk, just 4 block­s, from home­ ­to to the Mar­i­ano Moreno school.

I was cu­ri­ous about that house, since I was 7, and cu­rios­i­ty is the nat­u­ral state of ­sev­en-year-olds ev­ery­where, and there were not many hous­es like that (num­ber of ­hous­es with bul­let holes I’ve seen since: 0). Of note is that this was 1977, an in­ter­est­ing year where there were about 600 bomb­ings in Ar­genti­na, and there was a ram­pant dic­ta­tor­ship killing and kid­nap­ping seem­ing­ly at ran­dom.

And I was walk­ing to school, alone. And that was not strange for me. I had been ­mov­ing around in the city by my­self for years. I used to go from home to art ­class­es by city bus when I was 5. Yes, I was tak­ing city bus­es, alone, in­to the c­i­ty down­town, in Ar­genti­na, while a dic­ta­tor­ship kicked out a pres­i­den­t. So I ­could at­tend pup­petry work­shop.

My moth­er was a school prin­ci­pal in the worst slum imag­in­able. I was 4 and was un­der the watch­ful eye of the school cook and keep­er­s. Which means that if they had to go buy some­thing, I went with them, I played in the yard­s, I ­got lice ev­ery day, and par­a­sites at least once.

My fa­ther used to make my broth­er sleep when he was a ba­by by putting him on the right seat of his car and driv­ing through the night. And I don’t mean “putting him in a seat” as in a safe­ty seat, he was swad­dled in a blan­ket, ­placed on a seat, no seat­belt­s, while my sleepy fa­ther drove through the night.

I used to spend the sum­mer­s, when I was about 8, in a place where the ex­pect­ed ac­tiv­i­ties were start­ing fires, build­ing bows, piss­ing com­pe­ti­tion­s, pin­ning crick­ets in­to board­s, climb­ing 30 feet tall trees, eat­ing ran­dom fruits from ­sus­pect bush­es, fish­ing mori­bund bats from the swim­ming pool and try­ing to nurse them to health in pea can­s, pok­ing wasp nest­s, hunt­ing toad­s, es­cap­ing ­to wan­der sand roads with­out telling any­one. One whole sum­mer, we could see through the bus win­dow a dead horse rot­ting in a ditch a few min­utes be­fore ar­riv­ing. We washed our uten­sils with dirt. We drank well wa­ter from hoses. We carved wood us­ing knives. We digged pits us­ing shov­el­s.

When I was about twelve, I roamed the Buenos Aires down­town at night, bought teather tick­et­s, at­tend­ed the shows alone, rode the sub­way, got lost a lot, vis­it­ed gam­ing ar­cades, ate piz­za stand­ing up, dis­ap­peared from morn­ing to mid­night.

I was re­mem­ber­ing these things last night, talk­ing with my wife about my son, who just turned five a few weeks ago, and I walk to school ev­ery morn­ing. His school is rough­ly 3 blocks from home, in a nice neigh­bor­hood. The sole idea of him walk­ing to school alone is un­think­able. How old should he be be­fore he can walk to school? How old must he be be­fore he can cross the street to buy can­dy. How old be­fore he needs his own mon­ey, be­fore he has a key to the house, be­fore he can go to the park to play alone, be­fore he can vis­it a friend down the street alone, be­fore he can go to the toi­let in pub­lic places alone.

I have no idea. The ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing been 5 in 1976 does­n’t help me know what be­ing 5 in 2012 is like, I am at a loss, I am a for­eign­er from a d­if­fer­ent place, where our chil­dren fought wolves with their bare hand­s. I am not pre­pared for this. Ei­ther that or my par­ents were com­plete­ly in­sane.

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