Monday, November 29, 2010


Dear Daddy,

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 an
o 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?

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I went to see a medium last month in hopes of hearing from my father. I walked in, shook her hand, wrote my name and birth date on a card. She told me my numbers, my signs (stars, moons, the works) and what all of that meant. She told me things that reassured me about the path I'm on now. And she told me that since I'm a Gemini, I get “a double helping,” whatever that means.

At the end of our hour together, she asked if I had any questions. “Is my dad around?” She closed her eyes, “Tell me his name.” “Domingo.” And then he was there. Here's some of what she said he said:

“His message to you is don't settle. He's behind you 100%. He's encouraging you, he's giving you a little nudge, saying 'you can do this, you can do this'. Ask him for help. You're a little bit hesitant to ask him because he worked so hard here.”

She was right. I talk to my father a lot, but I don't ask him for help.The last time I asked my father for money was in the spring of 1993. The money I made at my summer job ran out before I finished buying all of my books. I needed $70. I didn't want to ask, but my first work study paycheck wouldn't come through until after the class had started.

“How many books will that buy?”

“One book.”

“$70 for one book!”

He wired the money that day. I still own the Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (in Middle English). He always tried to give me what I needed and even though he didn't go to college or really understand what I was studying, he supported, encouraged and helped me. And he still does. All I have to do is ask.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

What's the story, morning glory?

Nettle asked me THE question over beers at Richter's last Friday. The question I expect to hear quite a bit over the next two years. “What are you going to write about?” Valid question. And I had an answer. I knew. I knew because I've been telling the story for years. At some point, I'm going to write about the following:

Growing up first-generation Cuban American in Northern New Jersey in the 1970s and 1980s.

I'm not saying I know what my final project for the MFA is going to be. I don't. But this story is the story I've been telling all my life. I just haven't written it all down. I've written some of it on this blog and I've told plenty of parts of the story to plenty of people, but writing it all in one place? Turning it into something? How am I going to do that? I don't know. But I know I'm going to do it.

I had a dream that points me in the direction of what I want to be writing about. I was in one of those tunnels like the “It's a Small World” ride at Disney. I was traveling through the images of my life. Here's a sample of what went down in the dream:

I'm on the beach right where the sand meets the water. I can feel the sand and the waves at my toes. I can hear the song “Dos Gardenias.”

I'm swimming and a voice over explains how and why I never really got the hang of swimming.

I'm in a gallery where images of famous Latinos, most notably Ricardo Montalban flash across the screen.

The last gallery I'm in before I wake up shows images of cartoons I loved as a kid, most notably George, Judy and Jane Jetson. Sidebar: I spent the better part of my life spelling George Jetson in my head as “Jorge Jetson.

I remember that in the moments before I woke up, I spoke to the dream. "I know this is important and I want to know more. Stay right here. I'll be back soon for more information!"

There's a story there.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Write here and now

I was at work until 8pm, got home, had dinner, put on my pajamas, washed my face, brushed my teeth and am now at my desk, writing. Yes, I'd rather be in bed reading a magazine, but at my desk is where I need to be and writing is what I need to be doing. I got accepted to an MFA program in creative writing, what did I THINK I would be doing when I wasn't at work?

Getting my application and portfolio (did I even HAVE a portfolio? I sure didn't) together was the first challenge, but I did it. And I got in. I got into graduate school (I do love the sound of that sentence). Post acceptance, the tiny bursts of panic started. OK, not tiny. How was I going to do this? And work? And have a life? It's a lot, but people do it. My soon-to-be cohorts are doing it. Right now. And, about them, my cohorts, these people I have not met yet. They've welcomed me into their virtual world already. Thirty nine notifications of friend requests on facebook in two days, a welcome shout out from my “big sister,” and lots of welcome messages. So great.

The schedule says I start in December, but the work begins now. I have to get ready for school, adjust the lifestyle I've become accustomed to for the last three years, for the next two years. I need to curb the going out, cut the unnecessary spending (this isn't going to pay for itself, no matter what the mysterious Stafford says) and quit making excuses for why I'm not writing. Every night after work, I'll be doing some combination of reading, writing and editing (though E says not too much editing).This is the thing I have always wanted, and I'm ready to do the work. Time to get serious about Daisy, the writer, version 2.0. Am I ready? Maybe? Yes. Is it worth it? Without a doubt.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Word from the Wise

I had another dream about my father. It was a vivid one, but free of the sadness (and sobbing) I normally experience. He is at his best, at the lab, surrounded by friends and work. He is in jeans and one of his blue surgical scrubs tops. He is wearing his glasses and his hair is graying but not totally white. That puts him in his fifties (probably) though I realize that while my father's appearance changed over the years (dramatic weight loss, etc) he didn't seem old to me until those last few months before we lost him. Up until the summer before he passed away, he was ageless and seemingly invincible.

I am seeking comfort from him in my dream. My heart broken yet again, I turn to him for advice. He never offered romantic counsel in love life was not something I discussed with my dad. I know he wanted me to be happy, but maybe not married off. I was his little girl, always.

There is a concert being held in the back room of the dental lab. I'm there enjoying the music, singing along and taking photos. I see an ex-boyfriend walk in with a woman. I try to ignore them and focus on the music. She begins to make a fuss about me being there. First of all, what are any of us doing at a concert in a dental lab? Secondly, it's my dad's dental lab so if anybody has a right to be there, it's this girl. I go into the front room to find my dad at his work station. I'm upset, so he hugs me while I explain. Then he puts his hands on my shoulders, looks me in the eye and says one word. "Irrelevant." At least that's what I think he says. He didn't speak much English and I doubt that word featured prominently in his vocabulary, but that's what it sounds like. It makes sense, considering what my mind has been focused on lately (the single lady's lament). But he's right. That stuff is irrelevant, because I've got plans. Big ones. Relevant ones.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Session

This weekend I met Carl Kurlander, a screenwriter, director and producer. He wrote St. Elmo's Fire. Yes, that St. Elmo's Fire. He was in town promoting his documentary, My Tale of Two Cities: A Comeback Story. Nice guy. Good movie. I helped plan the premiere and post-screening discussion at the Criterion Cinemas. We had a small screening room, but it was packed, so I felt good about my role in the whole thing. After living in Hollywood for years, Carl packed up his wife and daughter and left Los Angeles to return to Pittsburgh and live "an authentic life." This is not to say that one cannot live an authentic life in LA (although I've never tried) but it might be a tough thing to do when you are in "the industry." The movie is about his journey home as well as Pittsburgh's journey from industrial giant to punchline to one of the most livable cities in America. Carl is funny, smart, talented, a little neurotic (aren't we all?) and really passionate about the work. Not the work of making movies, although I have no doubt that he is passionate about film making, the work of making a difference, which movies can do on occasion and this movie definitely did on this occasion. Carl's film resonated with everyone in that screening room on Friday night. The discussion lasted an hour and people lingered after that to talk to him about it. They weren't just asking questions, they were sharing their stories. That's pretty great. The Chief and I spent about two days with Carl, showing him around the Have, introducing him to people, talking up the movie, hearing stories about famous was exhausting (but fun) for everyone.

I had a little one on one time with Carl on Saturday night after the final weekend screening. We had beers at Richters and talked about how the screening had gone. He asked me about my story, how I got here, etc. I told him about my family leaving Cuba, what my Dad had gone through to get us here, how I ended up in New Haven, all that stuff. He said I had a great story and asked if I ever considered writing a screenplay. That's right. The guy who wrote St. Elmo's Fire asked me if I had ever thought about writing a screenplay. Um, no, I hadn't considered it. But it's nice to be asked.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Away I Go

I was in Philly this weekend helping the Aaron move into his new house (it’s lovely and he and the little dog are very happy, thanks for asking). When we weren’t doing the semi-heavy lifting, cleaning, discussing furniture placement, laughing at ourselves and each other, eating or napping to catch a second wave of energy, I was reading Amy Bloom’s novel, Away. I picked it up in preparation for a book signing Bloom was doing in town. I haven’t read her work in a while, so I wanted a refresher before I went to the event. I came across a passage that I haven’t been able to shake for days:

"Sometimes it's the case that when you hear the thing you have most wanted to hear, you cannot take it in. Hope is everyone's mirage and everyone who comes upon that green and grassy spot, the swaying date palms and the bubbling blue pool, is temporarily taken in, even people who have been there before and even when, upon closer inspection, the oasis is nothing but a reef of sand; even with grains of sand blowing lightly across our faces, we find ourselves standing on soft grass of a tenacious, unreasonable green."

Wow, right? I know. I’ve read it over and over again. There’s a part of me that doesn’t get it at all and a part of me that goes “yes,” every time. It’s been a long time since something I read had that sort of effect on me. And now I am trying to figure out why. I know, I should just go with my gut and not try to figure out why, but that’s what I do sometimes, think too hard and too long about something because I need to figure something out instead of just running with the feeling. But this many days later, this many hours of mulling it over, I think I know. I read that passage in the afternoon, I experienced it later that night. And that might be what I’ve been really thinking about for days.

Aaron and I were having dinner in his new house on Sunday night. We were sitting in a couple of armchairs in the dining room (we ran out of steam before we could get the dining table together), finishing our drinks and talking. The discussion turned (as it so often does) to relationships. Here’s what my dear friend told me:

“You don’t have any role models for the life you’re leading. You’ve had to carve this life out on your own and figure it out for yourself. And you’ve accomplished a lot.”

Seems obvious doesn’t it? It wasn’t. Not to me. I’ve spent all of this time feeling like a misfit because my two strongest (literally) role models, my mother and sister were/are working married ladies with children. Yes, I’m a lady (I mean a woman…fine, I’m a broad) and I work, but the other two parts…not so much. My mom and sister are from another generation and a whole other culture. By the time she was my age, my mother had gotten married, had two children, moved to another country and had another baby. My sister took a modified approach to my mother’s plan as she so often does: marriage, two children and a house (instead of leaving the country). I spent much of my life breaking away from that lifestyle, setting the apron strings on fire when I left for college, moving away without ever considering going “home.” I’m not saying that any of us Abreu ladies chose the wrong path, just different ones (and sometimes the paths chose us). Now that I’m not some brooding kid who didn’t want to be like them, I’ve begun to realize that I want to be like them in some ways (my sister’s endless positive attitude in the face of anything, my mother’s ability to cut to the chase regardless of who gets sliced by her words), I’m already like them in others (fiercely loyal, tender hearted, eager to please) and may never be like them in others (mom: widow with 3 kids; sister: married with 2 kids; me: late 30s, childless and single) It’s all OK. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.

I’ve had to figure a lot of it out on my own and I’ve done alright for myself, right? Right. Sometimes you just need to hear it, even if you can’t take it in right away.