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110: Don Juan’s Childhood

(A Separate Reality by Carlos Castaneda)

“I was a skinny child,” he went on, “and I was always afraid.”

“What I remember the most is the terror and sadness that fell upon me when the Mexican soldiers killed my mother,” he said softly, as if the memory was still painful. “She was a poor and humble Indian. Perhaps it was better that her life was over then. I wanted to be killed with her, because I was a child. But the soldiers picked me up and beat me. When I grabbed onto my mother’s body they hit my fingers with a horsewhip and broke them. I didn’t feel any pain, but I couldn’t grasp any more, and then they dragged me away.”

He stopped talking. His eyes were still closed and I could detect a very slight tremor in his lips. A profound sadness began to overtake me. Images of my own childhood started to flood my mind.

“How old were you, don Juan?” I asked, just to offset the sadness in me.

“Maybe seven. That was the time of the great Yaqui wars. The Mexican soldiers came upon us unexpectedly while my mother was cooking some food. She was a helpless woman. They killed her for no reason at all. It doesn’t make any difference that she died that way, not really, and yet for me it does. I cannot tell myself why, though; it just does. I thought they had killed my father too, but they hadn’t. He was wounded. Later on they put us in a tram like cattle and closed the door. For days they kept us there in the dark, like animals. They kept us alive with bits of food they threw into the wagon from time to time.”

“My father died of his wounds in that wagon. He became delirious with pain and fever and went on telling me that I had to survive. He kept on telling me that until the very last moment of his life.”

“The people took care of me; they gave me food; an old woman curer fixed the broken bones of my hand. And as you can see, I lived. Life has been neither good nor bad to me; life has been hard. Life is hard and for a child it is sometimes horror itself.”


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