Chasing Hope

The morning of the accident, Rosalia awoke before dawn in her apartment with a sharp, pressing pain in her chest.

She lay in bed, anxious and unable to fall back to sleep. Later, she remembers calling her sister-in-law and saying: Something has happened to Jacqui.

Amadeo spent that Sunday morning walking near his apartment on the Avila, the lush mountainside that looms over Caracas. In the early afternoon, he returned to find frantic messages on his answering machine. The family friend who had helped arrange Jacqui's trip had been calling all morning.

Something terrible has happened, she told Amadeo when he reached her.

Amadeo dialed Rosalia. Jacqui's been in an accident, Amadeo told her, but she's going to be OK.

They arranged a flight for that afternoon. They made plans to meet at the Caracas airport. 

Amadeo and Rosalia
Jacqui, their only child, was the lone thread holding Amadeo and Rosalia together. They had married young and soon realized they were mismatched. The couple separated in 1996, long after their 21-year marriage had died.

On the surface, they had much in common. Both were born in Galicia, a poor, rural province of Spain. Both were brought to Venezuela as teen-agers by their parents, who sought a better life in the promising, oil-rich South American country.

Amadeo's father spent the first decade of his son's life in Venezuela working construction. When he returned to Galicia, he taught his son carpentry, but Amadeo didn't want to labor with his hands. He daydreamed of flying a warplane and ruling Spain, like Gen. Francisco Franco.

"I was a rebellious boy," Amadeo said.

After the Saburidos settled in Caracas, Amadeo went to work. He was still a teen-ager when he started an electrical installation company with a friend — the first of a series of businesses. Years later, he and his older brother bought Climar, the air-conditioning factory the family still runs.

"For me, it always was important to feel industrious," Amadeo said. "How bad is it to say, 'I'm not good for anything'? This filled me with fear."

He met Rosalia in 1974 at the beach, where their families introduced them.

Rosalia was an 18-year-old beauty with clear blue eyes and long, brownish-blond hair. She lived with her mother, who had gone to Caracas to work as a housekeeper after the death of Rosalia's father. Rosalia, who chafed under her mother's strictness, was working at a hair salon when she met Amadeo.

The 21-year-old carpenter's son was driving a flashy new white Mercedes, but Rosalia remembers a shy young man in a frumpy bathing suit.

She liked Amadeo's perfect manners: He always opened the car door and said sweet things. Amadeo admired Rosalia's looks. He thought she had a difficult personality, but he always liked difficulty.

He said he got cold feet just before the wedding, but, as his father had taught him, he kept his word.

The fights started soon after they married in 1975.

"I was explosive," Rosalia said, "and he wouldn't talk."

She said Amadeo never respected her. She began missing the polite man who had courted her. Amadeo said he wanted a hardscrabble wife — a woman like his mother, who worked the land as she raised her five children — but Rosalia wanted to stay at home.

"I managed every situation I faced in life," Amadeo said, "but not her. I don't know if she's unmanageable, or I'm incapable."

Amadeo said he was thinking about divorce when Rosalia became pregnant.

Jacqueline Saburido Garcia was born Dec. 20, 1978. 

Growing Up
The young mother delighted in having a little girl. Years later, she still remembers how Jacqui looked in her first Communion outfit: a white dress, white gloves and a large white hairband.

"I didn't want even a fly to touch her," Rosalia says.

Mother and daughter were inseparable. Rosalia took Jacqui with her on errands and taught her to read in the car by pointing at signs. At home, Jacqui watched her mother clean the apartment until it was spotless.

In the living room, Rosalia arranged figurines of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on a round glass table, spacing the dwarves evenly along the table's edge and placing Snow White at its center.

The decorations, Rosalia taught Jacqui, were not for touching. Soon, Jacqui was measuring the dwarves, too.

"It must be genetic," Jacqui recalls with a sigh.

As a child, Jacqui saw much less of her father, who put in 14- and 16-hour days at his factory. She called him "Amadeo." They spent more time together on weekends, when Amadeo would take the family to Venezuela's Caribbean coast.

On their boat, Amadeo showed Jacqui how to fish and maintain the engine. He wanted to teach her to fend for herself, just as his parents had taught him.

"I think my father wanted a boy," Jacqui says. "I always had oil on my hands."

When she was little, Amadeo sat Jacqui on his lap in the car and showed her how to steer. When her legs reached the accelerator, Jacqui ordered Amadeo to scoot over. As Amadeo clutched the emergency brake, she drove.

He gave Jacqui everything she asked for — a new car, a Jet Ski. When he resisted her wishes, she badgered him into submission. Jacqui was mastering the art of bending the world to her will.

Everyone who knows her — cousins, friends, their parents — has a phrase or adjective to describe her: the Queen of the Power to Convince. A pineapple under your arm. A tongue that could raise the dead — just so they won't have to listen anymore.

"Say no to Jacqui? Impossible," one friend says. "It always costs you less to say yes."

When she was a teen-ager and her parents' relationship was deteriorating, Jacqui and her mother began clashing, too. Both had the same strong will — a carácter fuerte, as Venezuelans say.

Jacqui says she wanted to live like her friends — have guests over, throw birthday parties in the apartment and put on lipstick — but her mother wouldn't let her.

After her father moved out, Jacqui stayed with Rosalia, but she says it soon reached the point where her mother didn't want her touching anything.

Finally, at 17, Jacqui packed her car with her clothes, her stuffed animals and the family's picture albums. She made the move to her father's in five trips. She did it all alone.

Across town, in Amadeo's new penthouse, Jacqui assumed command. She got angry at the help and often did the cleaning, shopping and ironing herself.

"It was an adoration, Jacqueline and her father, her father and Jacqueline," a friend says.

Amadeo says those years with Jacqui were the happiest of his life.