Image thanks to NASA
My first year at the National Institute would continue to pose challenges to my ever increasing desire to write. Writing was something I yearned to do during any moment I could find free.
There came a time in my stint at the Institute that there seemed to be a relative absence of teachers. This wasn’t unusual in most public schools, however, and the Institute was no exception. Consequently, we, the first year or First Cycle students of secondary school would end up having a lot of free time on our hands.
I always thought that our period as adolescents at school should be a time of forging closer friendships as boys, soon to become men. We should have been encouraged to become friends for life since these relationships would set up your professional as well as your personal network in the future as educated Panamanian men.
My experience, however, would be altogether disappointing in this respect. Right from the beginning, we would receive a set of messages from our teacher, families and society in general that such a notion would not be part of any cherished memories. In fact, it would turn out that my memories of those first two years of school at the Institute would be dotted with incidences that I would rather have forgotten; forget or become a vengeful maniac.
Even then, I had perceived that our experiences at the Institute would be similar to the times of my uncle Eric Reid and, in turn, I would end up reliving some of his difficult memories. I used my time to turn to doing some free time writing, something that I’d been accustomed to doing since my early childhood at home. In fact, it became a handy way of escaping feelings of being totally useless. In class my writing time for me had again become something useful to do.
On the other hand, I didn’t look forward to abandoning the company of my classmates even when we had all that free time in or out of the classroom. Sometimes we roamed some other part of the school away from other classes in progress just to act up.
Later on I would get into taking off from the school proper and end up visiting the girls at the girls’ school in the Bella Vista District which we knew as the Liceo de Señoritas in Spanish. My next door neighbor Elena, with whom I had enjoyed a brief romance, went to that school so I was not entirely ignorant of it.
However, with nothing to do, whether the teachers were present or not, I took my friend Marco Ruiz up on an invitation to meet some girls I had not known before. But writing was still my early passion and in class I wrote mostly made up stories, my first attempts at fiction.
One of my persistent themes I remembered following was what I thought traveling into Space would be like. I also had come to write poetry that I thought was equally out of style for my time, something that I would never show anyone. Mostly I wrote about the love of my baby sister Lidia and who would be her heavenly brother to keep her happy. But then it would be years later that I’d notice that when the U.S. Space program got started that I’d become convinced that my ideas had not been so crazy after all. But, at the time, it was just an idea I’d used to keep out of mischief.
At any rate, for us in Panama it was a far away notion that the U.S. military had taken up to travel into Space. It was more of an unreality and something that had a more useful place in my secretly written stories I was jotting down in school.
Nevertheless, what had been a great adventure would soon become a farce for me, something that I would never share with any living person and hence, never use the theme again in my writings. My discouragement was probably coming from the fact that I was personally feeling the voices of my Westindian people admonishing me for “being too old to be wasting time like that in school.” My Aunt Gweni was one of them that drove this message home as crudely as possible, nagging me about staying up so late and using electricity that I didn’t pay for. “Why can’t you do it during the day,” was her harangue every time she’d come home from her job at the Fuerza y Luz phone company. She’d also taken to criticizing my drawing and any other thing I was engaged in for school.
My stories, however, were of Latin American military personnel of different countries traveling into space all the while speaking to each other in the Spanish language. That alone seemed farfetched even for me to believe. It was unfortunate that I would have never foreseen that I might have been writing stories that could turn into real events.
At that time, however, I yearned to see some kind of coming advancement in our history as a Westindian people. But the times would prove differently for such things to happen to our families and even our country. The biggest and most important event that touched my life then would be that the U.S. Information Service would set up a special library just across the street from the National Institute. This was unique in a country with an almost total absence of libraries.
This story continues.