This evening I went to see Carmen Aguirre speak at the reference library. Earlier in the day, I’d read a Globe and Mail article about her journey, and I was transfixed by what she had experienced in her life. I was curious to see what kind of woman she was, what her experiences had meant for her. She had that twinkle in her eye, of a person who had been through a lot, and seen the light through the darkness.

She talked about PTSD, and how the childhood rape had never left her. I couldn’t believe how she was able to talk about such trauma with a sort of detachment. In fact, she was able to address most of the tough questions very evenly, even while the people asking the questions were breaking down in tears. One woman spoke at length in Spanish about how her mother had joined the resistance in Chile, and to this day, she has been unable to find her, but lately she has been having dreams about her mother and she feels as though her dreams are a sign that she should seek her out. Carmen advised her on human rights organizations to follow up with – although she said that most people who join the resistance change their names (she had), and it would be almost impossible to track someone down.

The rape occurred when she was only 13 years old, by a man who had been wanted by the police for years, known as the Paper Bag rapist, because of the way he would cover the victims eyes with a paper bag. He later went on to be convicted of more than 14 sexual assaults, even though it is suspected that he was responsible for hundreds. She describes how during the rape, she escapes her body and becomes an eagle that soars overhead. It is a stunningly beautiful depiction of her spirit, and how she experiences something that is at the depths of evil, the absence of love, light, and anything good. It is so beautiful the way she describes it, and you can picture that eagle, flying high above her little 13-year-old body, that is being forever altered by this one man.

Thirty-three years after she was raped, she faces her rapist in prison, with another woman, Laura who was also a victim. It’s hard to understand the compassion that she has for this man, and I could see people in the audience shuddering as she talks about their encounter (“It’s nice to meet you again” he says). She said something to the effect of “I am him”, recognizing that she was part of him and he was part of her. I wish I remembered her exact words because they were perfect. She has genuine compassion for this man, who most of us would hate with every cell of our being. It reminded me of a quote that I read in Aphrodite’s Daughters, in an essay about sexuality and evil. “Even if we never have done and never will do an evil deed, we would be fools to ignore the potential for evil that lies within us all”, the author says. She references the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Buddhist monk, as he reflects upon an incident that he witnessed during the Vietnam war.

I am the 12-year-old girl, refugee

on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean after

being raped by a sea pirate,

and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable

of seeing and loving

Carmen talks about her childhood as part of the Chilean resistance in her first book, Something Fierce: Memoirs of A Revolutionary Daughter. This new memoir, which flashes back to the rape that altered her life is called Mexican Hooker #1. She is a fierce woman who has led a revolutionary life in both senses of the word.

 

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