This is a story of personal struggle and hardship, of overcoming grief, fear and loss and against all odds emerging victorious. This is the life story of a young boy and his struggle to become the man he was destined to always be, the man who can take defeat and turn it into victory, an example of building something from nothing. This is the story of Juan Pablo (JP) Guzman, read it at your own risk… but first, think about this:
“A wise man once said, ‘You can’t be old and wise, if you were never young and crazy”
The following story is based upon JP´s personal experiences and perspective, let´s hear it from him.
The story begins in Santiago, Chile on September 8th, 1973 where I was born into a middle class family, as the sixth out of seven siblings. This could by all estimates be considered a rather large family. The nice thing about a family of this size; my birthday parties were always well attended, with just a few friends and all of my siblings, the party was always a success.
As a portent of what would follow, after my birth we were discharged from the hospital, my mother and I, on September 11th 1973. This was the very same day as the famous military coup lead by Augusto Pinochet.
My first automobile trip was a drive through a real battlefield, with my father waving a Red Cross flag out the window, as he drove us home. The flag was hand made by the nurses, just minutes before the doctor had discharged us. My mother was in the backseat still suffering the effects of childbirth, while I was hidden beneath the back seat to protect me from any stray bullets.
A fitting beginning for the birth of a warrior, indeed! We were stopped at several checkpoints, by patrols to assure we were in fact the “good guys” rather than the enemies. There was a quick end to the “bad guys” on that fateful day in September with fighter planes and bombers attacking La Moneda (the government palace) in an attempt to unseat then President Allende, who in the end, took his own life.
Our childhood years were a little crazy, although as children we did not realize it at the time, to us this was just normal. For example, often our gas and electric services would be shut off, because, of course, we just loved candles and romance, not because we could not afford to pay our utility bills.
As mentioned previously, we were a very large family, with myself and six other siblings. Money was very tight, especially during the oil crisis of 1982.
It was during this time that the youngest three children in our family were forced to abandon private education, for the public school system. The difference between these types of schools, at that time in Chile was huge, and a big adjustment for each of us.
My parents arranged to have me finish high school in the military academy. I was able to attend on a full scholarship as my father was a military officer. This allowed me to continue my education without having to pay (not to mention the small detail that I had been expelled from school)!
My teachers in school considered me to be disrespectful, in that I did not give them my full attention; instead spending this time telling jokes to my classmates. Well my expulsion from school may have had something to do with a series of small fights I was involved in, most notably one which ended with a friend’s nose broken, and another’s broken tooth; however, this was the extent of my skirmishes during those school days.
Two years later, I realized the academy was not for me, and begged my father to allow me to leave the military academy; I was not yet 18, and as such unable to leave without my parents authorization. He was adamant, I was to stay!
Unfortunately the only other way out was to be declared guilty of some type of military crime; not the best alternative! Had I chosen this alternative the military police could have hunted me down and had me tried in a military court, and subsequently declared a deserter. This does not paint a pretty picture, I know; but nonetheless an accurate portrayal of my academy days.
That was not to be my time for criminal incarceration, however; much later as a lawyer, I was given a better opportunity, as well as a much clearer understanding of the consequences. This was a very sad period in my life, as I felt completely abandoned by my father on the worst night of my life; as my mother stood by and did nothing. This left me utterly isolated, deserted and crying in the vast dark hallways of the academy, forced to face this crisis alone. In retrospect, I can say that I did a very wise thing, rather than committing a criminal offense, I instead sought counsel from my Captain. Out of desperation, and in my most persuasive manner, I appealed to my Captain: “Please sir, I am completely alone in this and cannot bear to remain in the military, completely against my will. If you cannot, or will not help me, I shall steal something right now, regardless of
This was when my second devil was defeated, as the Captain spoke with the Colonel and together they devised a solution to my dilemma. They were able to modify my military records to indicate a history of less than stellar experiences, indicating a complete lack of interest and competency, thus disqualifying me for a distinguished career as a military officer. I really have no idea how this was accomplished (to change records is not easy), only that I was summoned to the Captains office and informed that I was free to go home. These were the only words I wanted to hear, and they were music to my ears! Yahoo! I was free!
As you can imagine, I was not welcomed with open arms by my father when I returned home. He made it clear that he was very disappointed in me, upon my arrival he vehemently stated: “Shame on You! You should be ashamed of yourself for the dishonor you have brought upon yourself and your family by being discharged from the military academy!” No matter what my father could say to me, it was far better than being unwillingly doomed to “jail” (I mean to be forced to remain in the Military Academy) as was the case with both of my elder brothers. It was extremely challenging to attempt integration back into the family unit at home, and only a matter of time before my father, in no uncertain terms, demanded that I leave. Once again, I found myself
abandoned and alone this time to the streets, at the tender age of 18.
Thank goodness I had been provided the opportunity to refine my persuasion skills in the military academy, as they now came in handy with my paternal Grandmother. I again found myself desperate, and was not above begging for accommodations. My Grandmother was an absolute angel to myself and my siblings, and it was in this manner that I came to live with her for the next eight years, which proved themselves to be some of the greatest years of my life through young adulthood.
This my friends was how I was able to escape two years of strict discipline at the hands of the military academy. We were subjected to many different exercises including forced marches completely naked through the deep snow, four dimensional torture fields and many other forms of cruel drills too varied and imaginative to even mention. Although I joke about it now, I can assure you that at the time, it was anything but fun and games. We were often punished for the slightest offense, with the punishments delivered anytime, and anyplace.
This seemed like sheer torture, until my much anticipated further education at the University, which proved instead to be seven years of genuine hell on earth!
This was due partly to the fact that I was studying law; but also because at the same time I was working hard to pay for my studies, while also enjoying a fantastic and active social life. But I can tell you; what a beautiful and unforgettable hell on earth it was!
Tragedy struck in 1995, when a group study session was interrupted by one of my brothers calling to tell me that our mother had committed suicide. She had taken her own life, in our childhood home, by shooting herself with a gun in front of our father. Perhaps six months before this horrific event, I actually had a premonition that my father would commit suicide, but I never in my wildest dreams considered this to be a possibility with my mother.
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