I'm working on this thing, the grad school/MFA thing and I have so many questions for you, but you aren't here to help me on this one. Well, you're not here here, but you're around. I know you are. I don't know for sure what my project is going to be, but I have an inkling. I want to tell my story, our story, the story of how I got here. I'm beginning to realize that I can't tell my side without knowing some of yours, even if I don't end up sharing that part with the world, because you're part of me, a big part. You and Mami and Pete and Ia. My story begins with all of you. The fact that you left Cuba and came here, to the states. That I was born here instead of there. My story begins in 1968, even though I was born in 1972. Maybe it begins even earlier.
So, I have some questions and I'm putting them out there to you, wherever you are, instead of Mami because I have a feeling you'll send me the answers in your own way. And, about Mami, in the seven years since you've gone, she's barely said a peep about the time before you all came here. Oh, she's still talking, telling it like it is and letting us know what she really thinks all the time. But unless we give her a drink or two...well, that one Thanksgiving she mentioned something about you hiding people in the house and not telling her, but other than that, she's been as tight-lipped about your life, her life back there as you were.
You never talked about it. You were born and raised in another country, got married (twice), had kids (three before me) and left that country (under some duress from what I understand) and I only know what I know because Ia told me some things when I was in my twenties. She was only seven or eight when you all left, so I still don't have the full picture. I know I didn't ask. All those times we were together in the car, at the lab, in the hospital and at home, I never asked. That's my fault. I was too caught up in being a kid - playing with my Barbies, reading my books, growing up, planning my escape - to even consider that I had everything because you gave up so much.
But that's the thing. I don't even know exactly what you gave up. I know now that you left our extended family behind knowing you might never see them again, but I didn't understand what it meant when I was a kid because no one talked about it. Everybody drank about it, (El ano que viene, estamos en Cuba, next year we'll be in Cuba), and told stories about this relative (mi primo Fulanito, cousin whathisname) or that neighbor (Menganito de la esquina, whathisname from the corner) from back home, but I never heard "The night I left Cuba..."
I want to know. I want to know what it was like before the revolution. I want to know how you met my mother. Legend says you were fixing her teeth, she says you met at a dance before that happened. How long before you married? What was it like in those few months before everything changed? What was it like for you those nine years before you left? How did you and Mami make that choice? How did you tell your kids? How did you say goodbye to your mother?
Whenever I'm at Ia's, I look at those photos of you - at thirteen posing with your parents and siblings, as a newlywed smiling and sipping champagne, as a young father standing with your wife and children - and I miss you even more. I wish I could have a drink with you, turn on the tape recorder and listen to every story you kept tucked away.
You always told a great story. With your help, I'm hoping I can tell one too. Maybe we can work on Mami together?