My friend Piti and I grew up next door to each other. Our grandparents were friends as were our aunts and uncles. Two generations above us tied us together. Our families had become family.
Piti was a beautiful little girl. She had alabaster skin, big brown eyes, and a gentle spirit. But she hated her orthopedic shoes. I was a chubby little girl with a crossed eye and curly hair courtesy of my mother who delighted in perming it.
When I think of Piti I never remember her shoes, because I didn’t “see” them. I remember how beautiful and self -assured she was and how smart. And I remember her dollhouse.
Piti’s dad Felo built us a life-size dollhouse in her back yard. We played dolls with her dolls for hours on end, never tiring of one another’s company. Sometimes we played at my house where a seesaw, a swing set and a slide provided a whole other world of play. We learned to ride bikes and skate together and discovered chewing gum,.
When Fidel came down from the mountains we shared the excitement of the Revolution. Quickly disillusioned we sat on our porch and watched the militiamen marching by. Under our breaths we muttered:
“ Uno, dos, trés, cuatro
Comiendo mierda y gastando zapatos”
(one, two, three, four
eating shit and wearing out shoes)
There wasn’t much else to do any more. We had seen too much to go back to our childhood games. We had hurt too much. We passed the time differently now- in a state of dread, and since all the industries had been nationalized, we couldn’t even de stress by chewing gum.
Many of our friends had already left and the day came when it was Piti’s turn. We said goodbye twice. Two heart- wrenching moments, the second made possible by a problem with paperwork that delayed her flight. Then she was gone. I was inconsolable. The militiamen continued to march by almost daily, and I would watch them and pretend Piti was still by my side. “Uno, dos, trés, cuatro”. So many young men dressed in olive green wasting shoes. A whole country dressed in olive green. A never ending line of men that seemed to find no pleasure in anything but anger and envy, and hatred.
One morning my aunt Celia called me to her room. She handed me an envelope. Piti’s unmistakable handwriting spelled my name. I opened it and got ready to read it as if I had been a dehydrated desert dweller, but I couldn’t start reading right away. Taped to the paper was a totally unexpected treasure. One piece of Juicy Fruit Gum!
After I read her letter I put the gum in my mouth and went to sit on the front porch, my heart warm from her words and my mouth in heaven. Two militiamen passed by unaware of my antirevolutionary pleasure. I chewed my gum feeling Piti next to me and remembered.