For the next few days I will be sharing this with you. It was written a few years ago when I had not yet considered writing my memoir, and it contains the seeds of what later became Ordinary Terror and then The Long Night of Whispers.
For years I have journeyed back in my daydreams and night dreams to my grandmother’s house at San Mariano 102 in Havana, where I spent most of my childhood. Like a ghost, my spirit haunts that house; a purposeful exercise I liken to astral projection, although I am no shaman. I always pause at the front gate and grasp the hot black iron with my hands. Only lately have I noticed the hands are no longer the hands of a child but the wrinkled hands of a sixty two year old woman. I open the gate with a child’s heart, aware of the discrepancy.
It is a clear day and heat waves under the sparsely clouded Cuban sky cause the white house encircled by its carefully tended gardens to shimmer in the sun. The Greek columns look splendid and immutable. I slowly breathe in the air pregnant with the scent of a multitude of tropical flowers and let it fill my lungs. I linger there, breathing heaven. After a while I amble toward the intricately tiled front porch as my grandfather’s carefully tended roses greet me. I always pause to look at the roses and to honor them, for I am sure that my attention pleases them and him. The child has not forgotten.
Entering the house I walk to my grandfather’s study. The Capestany coat of arms adorns a wall next to the Cuban coat of arms. My grandfather’s desk is positioned in the center of the room, his chair facing the door that is always open in welcome. He cherishes his time with me in his study and often uses our time together to teach me about the world as if he knows that someday I will need this knowledge to survive. On his desk is the telegraph key that he uses to teach me Morse code. How I love the times we spend together “talking” to one another! Dot dash, dash dot dot dot dot dot dash, dot, dot, dash dot dot, dash dash dash dash, spells ABUELO: grandfather. Also on his desk are his unique glass paperweights displaying his favorite quotes in beautiful calligraphy, all except for one that features a picture of a broadly smiling cross-eyed little girl. Me. His “Yolandita”.
Sometimes my grandfather reads the paper to me. I savor the sound of his voice forming words. I am pleased by the attention he gives me and proud that he considers me smart enough to understand what he is sharing. This day my newfound sophistication crumbles as he reads the headline: “Patricio Lumumba Trata de Mantener la Paz en Katanga”. The African sounding names are foreign to my ears and they strike my funny bone causing an interminable burst of giggles. In his wisdom, he allows his own laughter to join mine and the moment remains forever in my memory.
Giant bookcases fill the walls of my grandfather’s study and my eyes immediately seek out their greatest treasure: Enciclopedia De La Mejor Musica del Mundo; several tomes that begin with simple tunes and increase in difficulty through fifth-year piano and beyond. In the months after the Fidel’s militia destroyed the chapel in our school and attending school was no longer an option, I taught myself to play every piece of music on every page of every tome, allowing the music to drown out the sound of death and desperation that surrounded me and to fill the silence left behind by my imprisoned father and my disappearing friends.
I turn my attention to my grandfather’s first editions of the classics; veritable treasures rest inside those bookcases! By the time I left my Cuba I had read them all. Books and music were my refuge from the terror.
After a time I wander to the family room and sit on my grandmother’s rocking chair and rock as she once did. She spent hours and hours on this rocking chair saying the rosary during Lent while she sometimes watched movies of the crucifixion. I wonder for what or whom she prayed, and suspect many of her prayers went unanswered.
Suddenly, I become uneasy. I remember sitting on this very spot when I was twelve, directly across from my grandfather’s dead body. His weak heart had finally stopped beating; too many heart wounds in too short a time. Looking through the haze of the Revolution, he could glean nothing but suffering for himself, his family, and his country.
I rise from the chair and turn away from the horrible tableau of all the weeping women dressed in black. My grandmother stands stone-faced, not joining in because weeping was foreign to her or perhaps because she had long ago run out of tears from burying six brothers and sisters when she was a child, dead during a smallpox epidemic.
I amble to the formal living room. I caress the ivory keys of my piano and play Lecuana’s La Comparsa. I get lost in the music just as I did then. I am so glad to be back in that room, at that piano. Slowly, the music fills all the grieving spaces.
When I am ready, I gently close the piano cover, get up and stroll through the rest of the house. I touch the walls, the floors and the furniture in a futile Braille-like attempt to suck all of it into myself until my senses are full to the brim and can hold no more. I must never forget. So many memories…..
Adrianne Miller 2008