Grief, death squad logic, and my poor relationship with Honduran dogs

On the afternoon of March 31st a dog killed my cat Sy, my most faithful companion throughout the past fourteen and a half years. She accompanied me to my various positions in San Francisco, Cairo, Washington and is now buried in Tegucigalpa. The dog bit her by the neck, severing her jugular, removing a massive chunk of flesh, grinding her into the dirt, mauling to her to near-death in short order. Someone separated them, put her in a box, and called me over. When I saw her she was still breathing torturedly. She couldn't look at me; I don't know if she could see. Two young men, one of whom I had seen just an hour earlier with a frightening-looking dog (he had assured me that it was gentle as could be when I expressed concern that he'd tied it to the property's entry-gate), were hovering over her, trying to feed her water from a hose. "Pour it on her!" one said, "she needs hydration!" I told them to stop and give me the box, and I started carrying her off to try to find a vet.

I knew she wouldn't make it. I had only gotten a few steps when I saw the same dog that had scared me earlier, a boxer, tied to a post. "Was this the one who attacked her?" I asked the group of the young men's friends standing by. They confirmed it was. On hearing this, I lost my shit. That's my technical term; if I were in a court of law I suppose I'd want it to be called temporary insanity. But that wouldn't be entirely honest. Still holding my dying cat in the hose-soaked box into which she'd been placed by the dog's owner, I started kicking the boxer with all the force my smallish body could supply. In its side, then directly in its mouth and eyes. I wished I had had steel-toed boots on, instead of my old sneakers. I wanted to kill it. I shouted at the dog, damning it, telling it to die, and could faintly hear my friends yelling "Adriana, ¡Nooo!" in the background.

The owner, ashamed but obviously wanting to protect his dog from me, quickly undid the leash and yanked him out of my reach. As he walked the dog away I shouted at him "¡Usted es un mentiroso, me dijo que su perro era tranquilo! ¡Maldito hijo de PUTA! ¡Nunca jamás vaya a volver acá! ¡NUNCA!" Sounding frightened as he walked away with his dog, the young man replied "I promise I won't. I won't. You have my word. Se lo juro que no volveré." As I shouted and sobbed over Sy, the thought that it was odd that I was addressing him in the formal usted scampered across my chaotic grieving mind. His friend accompanied me to help get a taxi, and was solicitous and kind, but I hated him as well. He offered to carry the cat for me. I responded "No. And you tell your friend that if I ever see that damn dog again, I'll kill it myself!"

"I will tell him," he said.

"And tell him not to come back either. I'll kill him too, I swear I'll kill him!"

"I will tell him," he repeated.

At that moment, it occurred to me in a completely normal and reasonable way that it would be a good idea (and easy enough, to be sure) to hire a sicario to kill the dog and possibly his owner as well. The thought shocked me as it formed in my head, but I liked it. I wanted them dead.

I found a cab. The driver agreed and asked which vet. He called a friend trying to find a closer one. He seemed concerned, especially when we hit traffic. Sy was still breathing, but her breaths were few and far between, and came to her with so much apparent pain and difficulty. I spoke to her, saying her name, telling her I loved her over and over again. And then she really stopped breathing. We were stuck in traffic, and I said to the driver “You know what? I think she’s dead. I don’t think we need to go to the vet anymore.” He looked genuinely worried, and turned around. He put his hand on Sy gently, feeling for a pulse for a while, maybe a half-minute. But she was gone.

“I love animals too,” the driver told me as he headed back.

I buried her in the dirt. I sobbed over the box while two friends dug the hole. My two-and-a-half-year old daughter came running, worried about me. She had loved Sy, but seemed to immediately understand (without much sentiment) that she was dead, and what we were about to do. Before they finished digging, she started gently scattering handfuls of dirt over the cat in the box in my arms. The next morning as I cried over Sy's grave she told me "quiero besar a Sy." And I told her "You can't, sweetie. Sy's dead." "Sy's dead," she repeated (she repeats a lot these days). Since then, every so often when it occurs to her, she matter-of-factly announces to me "Sy is dead." The other night she started screaming it monotone over and over again like some child in a Stephen King movie. I begged her to stop.

In the evening after I buried Sy I sat at home, trying to make sense of what had happened, trying to order and clarify my grief. I was glad I had been with her for her last breaths; I was glad to be holding her and caressing her and telling her I loved her as she bled to death. I was glad she hadn't died alone. I was glad that during her last few months she had seemed happier than ever, that she'd gained weight and had her special spot under the tree and by the little koi pond. I was glad she had seemed less angry and more content (she had always been an angry cat).

It occurred to me that her death might have been caused by Cadejo, taking his revenge from beyond the grave. On searching just now for the link I realize I’d already attributed misfortune to his angry spirit, but never actually went so far to appease his spirit with the offering of sausage I’d promised. It’s the problem, I suppose, with being a less-than-devout animist.

I also told myself Sy was just a cat. How many humans bleed to death every day in this country? In the abstract it wasn't much solace. But I recently spent a month in the home of a young man whose mother had bled to death in his arms in a taxi days before I arrived to stay. That did put things into perspective for me.

So here’s my question: What kind of conditions must be present so that hiring a hit man can occur to a person as an obvious first option when something goes wrong?

I adamantly oppose the death penalty. I abhor violence in theory and do my best to minimize my use of any of its manifestations in practice. Although I won't lie—kicking that dog was one of the most satisfying feelings I've had, and I still wish I'd managed to kill it. Nearly every day since, I have fantasized about killing it in dozens of different ways. As I write this, I fully recognize how incompatible my kicking the dog and wishing for its death is with my own beliefs. I don't hold the dog responsible for killing my cat. It's a dog. They're stupid creatures, and I have never seen evidence that they are endowed with a capacity for advanced moral reasoning (although they certainly can be kind and faithful and follow orders and all that crap that people seem to like them for). Its owner should have trained it, leashed it, and/or not taken it to a place where it could lunge at small mammals (there were also infant humans crawling around). And I don't think I really wanted its owner to die, even in the moment. He was clearly remorseful—not one of those horrible dog owners who blame the victim for getting attacked and heroize their murderous animals for being warriors, like in that horrific San Francisco mauling case.

So again: How could it have occurred to me even for a fraction of a second that a hired killer would be a good solution to my grief?

For one thing, it's the easiest and fastest route to "justice" in this country, if you consider old testament justice just (and for reasons I explore below, at that moment, I did). It's not hard to find people who are trained to kill and hard-up for cash around here. It's just normal. Secondly, there is no real venue for any other kind of justice. The courts here are a kind of sick joke, worse in their consistent criminalization of poverty and dissent than even their U.S. counterparts. If I won any sort of legal case against the dog's owner, it would probably be because I have more money and white/imperialist privilege than the dog owner. And what would I win anyway? Money? It wouldn't bring my cat back. Too hollow a potential victory. A judicial assassination of the dog? Meh. Also, I'd be embarrassed to bring it to court. She was only a cat. (How could losing her hurt this much?) How could I spend this energy on getting justice for a cat, when so many thousands of human beings are murdered with complete impunity in this country, every year?

But I didn’t have all these thoughts right in the moment. The only thought I had was a coldly practical "I must hire someone to kill the dog and his owner."

It only lasted a moment.

Obviously it passed—I don’t want anyone killed, and I’m horrified that the thought came to me, and that it came so naturally. But it made me realize that in trying to understand popular support for "social cleansing" programs, maybe I've been using the wrong theoretical lens all along. Maybe it's not Bourdieu (on symbolic violence) but Rosaldo (on grief and rage) who can best help me to understand the apparent generalized bloodlust that results from the embodiment of a history and structure of total impunity.

I should point out that it’s not a direct leap from wanting to kill a person (or animal) whose existence comes to represent the perpetuation of the original insult at the root of one’s grief, to wanting to kill an entire class of people, or to supporting state policies and/or actions that target that class of people for elimination. I had some pretty perrocidal feelings in the days after I buried Sy. I couldn’t pass a dog without feeling something slightly murderous. And that’s what genocidal logic is; extending one’s hatred of a symbol (applicable to a person) to a whole class of symbols.

Since Sy was killed I’ve asked a number of people here if they’ve ever thought about hiring a hit man. Quite a few of them have answered in the affirmative. It would be so easy, I am told. There’s so little risk involved. It’s the only justice that exists here.

In one such conversation, I told a friend that if anyone killed him I would hire a hit man to kill his murderer. We both knew it was a joke, but he smiled so gratefully, like it was the sweetest thing I could possibly say. And in this context, maybe it was. "I would hire a hitman for you too," he replied.

A couple weeks later some young friends (themselves grieving the recent loss of their mother and aunt) came to visit at my house. "Where's your cat?" one of them asked. They knew how much I loved her. When I told them what had happened the first thing they said was "You should have told us! We would have come right away and killed the dog." I knew they were telling the truth- I'd seen one of them kill a bat on an earlier occasion (it was the most adorable little thing) and I knew they'd killed larger mammals before. Dogs were no big deal. I also realized their murderous offer was a gesture of kindness and compassion toward me. I found it deeply touching. (The same family opted against taking part in any sort of investigation of—or, needless to say, extrajudicial revenge for—the murder of their deeply loved aunt/mother/sister/daughter for fear of being killed themselves).

My question about hiring hitmen provoked other stories as well. Like a friend who told me about his girlfriend’s mother who received a call from a police officer she knew a few weeks ago saying they had her son at the station, and were going to kill him because he had tattoos, and they had orders to kill anyone they brought in with tattoos. The young officer’s call, I was told, and the mother’s subsequent panicked intervention (and classed performance) ended up saving the boy’s life. But now they are terrified of him leaving the house. I have every reason to believe it’s a true story. Police and military impunity have become even worse since "the party ended for criminals" (one of Juan Orlando Hernández’s radio ad refrains).

Homicidal and symbolically-related genocidal desires here, I think, are the embodiment of state policies (enjoying de facto U.S. support) of impunity for real criminals, and of the criminalization of poverty and resistance. This is close to what I have said all along. But having apparently embodied it myself—even if only for an instant—gives me a different understanding of what’s at the root of that refrain I’ve heard so many times. "Es que Adriana, no sos de aquí. Por eso no podés entender." The combination of individualized grief with total structural impunity can indeed effect an ongoing rage/impotence that defies intellectualization, and that is bodily unsustainable. The only solution to the violence of a symbol that keeps killing one’s love, hope and happiness, over and over again by its mere existence, is ending that existence. I don't think this is logically or factually true, but it may be true at that deeper level of embodied rage and impotence. No discussion based in liberal notions of fair judicial process could be anything but academic here, in this Honduran context today.

And this is the logic in which we are all immersed. Not just me here, finally starting to understand Honduran subjectivation, but anyone who is not livid about Obama’s (poorly) targeted assassination program, or about racist disparities in sentencing in the United States. Anyone who doesn’t take seriously the dangers of militarized impunity in the service of extreme wealth and resource extraction. It’s a homicidal logic that becomes a genocidal logic, and it frightens me to feel like I understand it.


(Thanks to Norma for the photo)

Comments

Sy

I am so sorry. I am a cats, dogs and almost all animals lover. It is too sad that a dog has killed your friend.