“Sometimes I’d start crying in class for no reason. Then when I got home from school, I’d just go straight to my room. I couldn’t even talk to my mom about it because I’d just start crying. People would tell me: ‘Just get up, exercise, and take a walk.’ But none of that helped. Things got so bad that even the school was watching me. I started bawling during a chemistry exam and I ended up in the school psychologist office. I remember thinking: ‘I don’t care if I ever see another chemistry exam again. Or my friends. Or my mom.’ And I started to get this feeling that I was definitely going to do it. I was going to lock myself in my room that night and take a bunch of pills. The only thing that stopped me was imagining my mom finding my body. That was three years ago. That time seems so far away now. I found a great therapist. I learned so much about myself. There’s so much that I want to do now. I want to travel. I want to get married. I want to have kids. There are so many poems that I haven’t written and songs I haven’t heard. So it’s terrifying for me to think that I came so close. My problems were small back then. They were teenage problems. But I came one step away from not being. And I had made the decision to take that step. I’m afraid that I can go back to that place again. And next time, my problems will probably not be so small.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“I think I’m obsessed with the idea of finding a girlfriend. I think about it all the time. I really want to know what it feels like. I’m twenty-four. I’ve never been in a relationship. I’m terrified by the idea of being alone. And I think that this desperation comes out in my energy. The last girl I dated told me that I just needed to ‘let it flow,’ and ‘see what happens.’ But I don’t know how to do that. I tried too hard to please her. I wanted to make her fall in love with me. I had to know for sure that we were together because she felt like my last chance to not be alone. My anxiety ended up ruining everything. When I finally get a girlfriend, I’m not sure how it will feel. Maybe it will be great. Or maybe then I’ll just be terrified of losing her.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
(1/3) “I knew nothing about the guerrillas before I joined them. The only thing I knew was that they lived better than me. I grew up on a farm in a rural area. We were very poor. My mother abandoned our family so I had to take care of my younger siblings. My father was a good man, but he didn’t give me any liberties. He didn’t let me go to town. He didn’t let me go to school. He didn’t let me have a boyfriend. I wanted freedom, and the guerrillas seemed like my only way out. They used to drive by our farm in their jeeps. They seemed powerful. Even the women wore camouflage. One day the guerrillas stopped by our farm to buy some chickens, and I told them I wanted to join. I was only thirteen years old. They told me to meet them at a certain spot at 5 AM the next morning. I didn’t even say ‘goodbye’ to my father. They told me that I was never allowed to speak to my family again.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“I’m unemployed right now, but it’s my own decision. I’m trying to rethink my life. I’ve been a biology teacher for the past seven years. I’d wake up at 5:30 AM every day and wouldn’t get home until after 5 PM. Then I’d spend the evening preparing lessons or grading exams. Teaching was beautiful but I didn’t like the philosophy of the school. The focus was on being as productive as possible. The kids were stressed. They had no time to be children. I just didn’t feel that life should be like that. It can’t always be about growing, growing, growing. There have to be cycles. So I’m trying to take a step back. I’m trying to enrich myself without having an exact objective. I’m reading, and doing yoga, and participating in a dance group. But it’s been hard to appreciate the moment. I’ve always felt such a pressure to work. And when I’m not producing, it’s hard to escape the feeling that I’m doing something wrong.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“My father never valued my mother. She did everything for him. She worked all day, then she came home to cook dinner. My father just came home to sleep. She’d bring him his food on a tray. Everything had to be perfect: right colors, right napkins, everything. But he’d still call her names. He’d get drunk and yell at her for nothing. My mother was submissive and accepted it all. She’d even get mad at me if I tried to intervene. Eventually my father had an affair with our neighbor. And two years ago he left our home to be with her. Recently I spoke to him on the phone. He sounded depressed. He’d just broken up with the woman. He told me that he’d given her everything, but she still left him. He’d cooked for her, he’d treated her well, and he’d bought her whatever she wanted. But nothing was enough. I asked him if he realized what life was teaching him. He had no answer.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“My sister was murdered when I was twelve years old. Her husband killed her because of jealousy. After that it was just me and my mom. I stopped studying. I became the black sheep of the family. I left the house and went my own way. There was a gang in the neighborhood. They gave me a place to live. They gave me work. They gave me marijuana and cocaine. I was always high. My job was to collect protection money from local businesses. There were five of us who made the rounds. When I turned fourteen they told me I was ready to ‘test the knife.’ There was a shopkeeper named Maria. Her husband was a pain in the ass. He would always scream at us and call us sons of bitches. So we stabbed him over and over. There was blood everywhere. I felt like throwing up. Afterwards I felt empty inside. So I just did more drugs. And the way I looked at it—if my sister got killed, why shouldn’t other people die? At least that’s how I always justified it to myself.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“We've been dating for a year and a half. It’s been a wonderful relationship but recently it’s changed a lot. I feel like I’m the one holding it together. I’m the one that calls. I’m the one that texts. We used to talk every day, but now she’s not even trying. Maybe she just feels smothered. Maybe she’s testing to see if I’ll stick around. I just don’t know. I can’t decipher what she wants. When I ask her directly, her answers are never precise. She keeps saying: ‘I’ll think about it.’ So I keep giving her one last try—over and over again. I just want to get things back to the way they used to be.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“It was a slip. The first thing I thought about was an abortion. I was only fifteen at the time. But after getting my ear chewed off, and all of the bitching, and all of the scolding, I decided to take responsibility. My daughter is three now. I’ve had to give up so much. I can’t go to university. I can’t go out, or go on trips. Now my life is nothing but a routine. I’m a slave to paying rent. I work seven days a week at a casino for minimum wage. I have to support my grandmother and sisters. My mother left the house in December to live with a man. I never talk about any of this. I keep to myself because nobody cares. Even if I’m happy—nobody cares. I only worry about my daughter’s happiness. I only think about her future. I have hope for her. But not for me.” (Medellín, Colombia)
“There was a lot of sickness in my house. My wife has heart problems and is connected to oxygen. I was drinking a lot. Everyone kept to themselves and stayed in their rooms. But one day I had a prophecy in the church that I would have a very big happiness. The prophecy said that someone was going to come and fill all the voids of my home. A few weeks later my daughter was pregnant. And here he is! He’s consumed my entire life. I get to watch him every afternoon. I want him to see me as the happy grandpa who never says ‘no.’ I don’t even drink anymore. He’s brought our entire family together. Recently my wife told me: ‘I can tell you are so happy. Your eyes are always sparkling now.’” (Medellín, Colombia)
“I met him at the company where we worked. We went out dancing. He was kind to me. Things started changing after we got married. I’d rush home from work so I could cook for the whole family. But if the food wasn’t ready on time, he’d get upset. One day his mistress came to the door to tell me about their affair. I was pregnant at the time. He came back from work and found her in the house, and he hit me so hard that he broke my face. I still have the scars. The abuse got worse and worse. I stayed for a long time. At first I thought marriages were supposed to be like that. And by the time I learned otherwise, he wouldn’t let me go. He’d lock me in the house. He’d threaten me by putting a gun to our son’s head. When I finally got a restraining order, I was in such bad shape that I checked into a mental institution. Now I’m alone and it’s the happiest time of my life. I’m able to work. I can eat whatever I want. I can go out whenever I want. Even sitting here and smoking a cigarette is a joy for me.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“I’ve been sitting here for four hours thinking about what I should do. I don’t want to go home. I fucked up again. I’ve been a drug addict my whole life. But I was clean for three months. I got a job at a call center. I was doing well. Then as soon as I got my paycheck, I went out drinking with some coworkers. Just a normal thing. But then I tried a little coke, went on a binge, and lost my job. Same story as always. And now I don’t want to go home. I live with my mother. She’s never lost faith in me. My brother was killed in the army so I’m her only son. She doesn’t deserve this. She was so happy that I had a job. She’d convinced herself that things were finally going to be OK. And I’ve got to go home and tell her what happened. And I don’t want to do it. She’s not even going to be mad. She’ll just be so hurt. Then she’ll ask me if I’ve eaten.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“I do yoga at the senior center. But it’s not advanced enough for me. I can do the cat, the dog, the bridge, the snake… all of it. My class is filled with younger people in their sixties and seventies. They are always complaining: ‘My hip! My diabetes!’ But you’ll never hear a word out of me.” (Medellín, Colombia)
“I didn’t find out that I liked teaching until I was 45 years old. I was working as a graphic designer, and I volunteered to teach a group of kids from a poor region. It was part of a special program aimed at teenagers who’d dropped out of school. At first I was scared. Many of them had behavior problems. Some of them were addicted to drugs. One of them even brought a knife to class. But I discovered that I could really connect with them. Sometimes I could even reach kids that refused to talk to psychologists. I learned that I could transform someone’s life just by listening. The program only lasted six months, but it gave me such sense of satisfaction. I’ve been training for the last two years to become a real teacher. My test results just arrived and I got assigned to the school I wanted. I’m going to teach Portuguese to elementary school students." (Montevideo, Uruguay)
“I was thirteen when my mother started to change. My parents had just gotten divorced. My mother should have been sad but she kept going out to dance. Sometimes she’d stay out all night. She became very talkative and had a hard time concentrating. She’d say that she wanted to sell everything and travel the world. Then she got depressed. She stayed in her room. She gained a lot of weight. I actually preferred the depression, because at least then she’d stay at home. The manic phases got worse and worse. They are so bad now that she has to go to the clinic. Then the depression will come again and she can’t stop crying. Last October she returned to her normal self. It lasted about a week. I didn’t leave her side. We took walks every day. I always tell her that she gave us the best childhood. She was always there for us. She made crafts with us. She taught me how to cook. She would even throw birthday parties for my toys. I still think I’m very lucky. I hate seeing her like this, but she’s still the best mom in the world.” (Montevideo, Uruguay)
“In twenty minutes I lost what I had been building for forty years. It happened while I was at work. My mother tried to turn on the stove and it caught fire. I lost everything. All my possessions and photographs were destroyed. Everything seemed hopeless. I didn’t sleep for many nights after it happened. But so many people came to help me. My friends let me live with them for months. My neighbors helped me clean the site and we began to rebuild. People were giving me extra materials. Twenty-five volunteers showed up from the local construction union. The experience changed me. I see people differently now. I thought that the world was full of people asking for things that they didn’t need. So I just focused on taking care of myself. As soon as my house is finished, I’m doing whatever I can to help people.” (Montevideo, Uruguay)
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