About Carlos and our life

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Author Carlos David Illescas Vacas


Rosario Vacas de la Calle

Mother of Carlos David, who participated at the exhibition “The World in Singular”,  member of  TEAdir-Granada

We would like to begin thanking the organization for their invitation to reflect upon our life, that revolves around a singularly beautiful and admirable person: our son Carlos. It is difficult to identify the mechanisms that drive us in a constant search for a more amiable path through life. The attempt to put words to these matters and express them in this forum has also been complicated by the emotions aroused by so long a walk through memory lane and by our determination to feel comfortable with what we say. We wish to emphasize our appreciation for people who work in education and the fundamental role they play in construing a pleasanter world.

Forty years ago, we decided to have our son Carlos, the first of three brothers and the first grandchild. He is healthy, cheerful and perhaps the only thing that singles him out are his impressive contrasts: affectionate in his way, generous in his way, splendidly eloquent on the subjects that interest him, able in his way of great efforts to please the people who show him love or that he believes do so, with a high self-esteem and wondering why some people do not see his worth, he knows everything about subjects that matter to him, he is tireless regarding things he finds appealing, is mostly tender, unpredictable. He doesn’t tire of watching planes, of which he has abundant information but is terrified of flying. He is mostly fascinated by light, color, shapes, sound; he is very sensitive to certain sounds and lights but nevertheless loves fireworks.

The nursery school would sometimes tell us about his inexplicable absorption in certain objects or substances (water earth) and how during long moments his surroundings didn’t seem to exist for him. He was precociously talkative and people who first met him would frequently comment on his intelligence, surprised both by what he said and the way he said it. He would invent and still invents words and he refuses to substitute them for the grammatically correct ones, explaining that existing words cannot make us understand or make himself understood. For example, when he was a child he would say: “I am Mr. Fastible” (he is very important and super fast) or recently, “it is a sparkling pain” (there are no words to describe it).

During his first school-years we were lucky overall, especially with Maria Dolores, a great teacher who taught us a better way forward. She would calm our worries regarding, for example, the shape and size of his handwriting by telling us repeatedly: “he is doing fine, he is very intelligent and also very sensitive and it is important to know him and imagine how to proceed. Besides, children mature differently”. Since then, “knowing, imagining, acting and observing, keeping in mind the singularity of every person” has guided, encouraged and comforted us in multiple occasions and in the recurrence of difficult moments.

Things became more complicated with the diversifying of school subjects and teachers, we had to intensify our relationship with the school and increase the already considerable support to our son. Subjects or activities that were previously of great interest to him (sport, music, theatrical performances or festive or commemorative events) would turn into anguish or isolation when their day arrived, because of unattainable objectives. For example, the objective of the gym teacher was to have him jump over the vaulting box and his pressure only resulted in a fall with important repercussions. Carlos, motivated by his father, is paradoxically enthusiastic about sports, practicing daily ever since he was very young. He especially likes running, which has earned him quite a few prizes and that he describes as pure pleasure, as if flying and that allows him to live amazing adventures with his imagination.

The purpose of the music professor was unavoidably to sing and play in the school band, which would seem to fit with the fact that he has always loved music, that it soothes him, that he has a good ear (he can identify a melody with only a few notes), that it sometimes moves him and he has good taste. But all of this would fade before the difficulty of harmonizing all the intervening elements in sounds, particularly when nervous or excited. If, for example, he was told not to speak so loud (or, worse, not to shout) he would answer in surprise “I don’t shout and I will try, ok?” and would make an effort and continue speaking in loud, broken whispers that would end in a pharyngitis. Eventually, given his love of music, we discovered that it was sometimes effective to ask him to lower his voice one octave.

Portraying a specific role in events and performances was complicated for him, but the mere fact of dressing up made him happy and even today, his biggest thrill is to contribute in decorating sets. Whenever and wherever he could, he would spend hours and days creating and recreating scenery: with soldiers, monsters, tall peaks, impossible colors, incredibly snowy or amazingly green landscapes, lights in the shadows or glistening shadows … they were extraordinary! It was around then that he obtained a place in Art School and this brought him equanimity and calm, as well as satisfaction and self-esteem.

In middle school he had to face a new world of teachers, subjects, classrooms, schoolmates and even a change of neighborhood, in addition to his own particularities and to his adolescence or his difficulty to resist pressure. For example, he has always liked to dress according to his singular taste, and this was intensified during this period. It would seem logical to attribute a meaning of originality, creativity or vitality to this but he was constantly in the presence of the intransigence of his peers, of the professors and even of the family’s fear. Since a return to uniformity didn’t occur we would ask him about his reasons and his answers immersed us in deep self-criticism and filled us with tenderness and hope: “because I like it”, “so that they’ll notice me”, “I wear a suit because I am a man and want to be respected”, “so that they’ll see I am worth a lot”.

At the time, a big mistake made by the family that saddens us and that we have regretted very many times, was to separate him from Art School, based on a mistaken sense of practicality. Our only consolation is that fortunately, he eventually has found out and we have understood what is his passion in life as well as his main current activity is, what he calls “recreation of geographical spaces as a work of descriptive and divulgation geography”, focussed mainly on olympic subjects.

Daily life was becoming more complex and a considerable amount of effort was needed to continue but despite resistance, he was accepted at the University. After a change of career from Chemistry to Geography in the first year (he has always been an advocate for a better habitat for all), he went through a more serene period, making good friendships amongst the faculty that he still tries to preserve despite the distance imposed by geography and life. He was always very skilled at discovering and encouraging relationships that are agreeable to him.

Even though our life project has constantly been reinvented, since then it has perhaps been redefined with more frequency, will and effort than in other family groups. Each day can be an uncertain event with no place nor time for despondency. Life with Carlos is a mutually demanding and enthralling challenge because new standpoints allow for mutual understanding, for the building of small, fleeting steps towards connection that cause us to admire of a surprising inner world, giving us and him the opportunity to mitigate the pain, the worry, the anxiety, the fear of being invisible and of not having a place in the world despite constant effort.

Throughout our life we have looked for help but for a long time, when we were hopeful we had found it, we in fact were burdened further by hints on the inadequate performance of our parental duties or by the blame attached to Carlos for not assuming his own. About three years ago, our daughter who was always very worried about her brother, led us to María José Olmedo, an extraordinary psychologist. We later met Juan Carlos and Javier through her and the entire Lacanian psychoanalysis group of Granada. Since then our lives have changed substantially, given a very different vision and the necessary calm to address new possibilities.

With the passing of time we have learnt some conducts that we continually restructure, such as being careful with words that can be demolishing and even more so with the tone and gestures, which can be crushing. Faced with a recurring difficulty regarding the subtleties of communication, we try for a better understanding by asking him things in different ways, until wearily, (as if thinking “When will they get it?”), he begins his explanation with “Alright, alright …”. Also, when we encourage him to tell us what bothers him or to let us know when he doesn’t understand us, he puts down his things and says: “let me see, let me see, I don’t get it”. We assume that subjects that come up once and again reflect his desire to solve a problem and in these situations the use of new approaches and ways of reasoning usually produces results. He simultaneously tries new solutions (for example, he has recently begun to leave the room when a solution appears unattainable, to reduce the burden of presence and renews the discussion through written messages and emoticons on WhatsApp). On the other hand, if we pressure him to do something, he sometimes answers: “perhaps it’s not that I won’t, perhaps it’s that I can’t”: comprehend what you ask of me, do it in that specific way or not at this moment.

As a final reflection, Carlos had the opportunity to teach a class on the environment as a professor for the Youth Guarantee Plan. The students were teenagers who despite their young age had already been through considerable familial and social conflicts with the law. The director of the center commented that, even though he didn’t keep to the syllabus, he obtained the admiration, respect and esteem of those young people and their memory of him is of somebody who cared for and respected them.

Translation: Soledad Székely