In meditation I have had the experience of feeling that it is not I that breathe but that I am being breathed. Lately, I have begun to feel that God is a writer and that I am a character in one of his many books.
I met Ché Guevara when I was fourteen years old at the Mirta de Perales beauty salon in Havana. My father was a political prisoner under Fidel Castro at the time and the decision to send me out of Cuba had already been made by my family. My visit to the salon was in preparation for a portrait that was to be taken that same day. It was to be the portrait of my 15th birthday, a birthday that it was now obvious would not be celebrated in Cuba.
As my appointment neared its end the beauty shop became as quiet as a church on any weekday morning. All eyes were drawn to the front of the beauty shop where the backs of two men were visible. They were dressed in olive green uniforms. Militiamen now in the company of many gusanas (the name Fidel had given to the rich and the antirevolutionaries- the “worms”). It was truly the last place you would expect to see an olive green uniform. The silence deepened when our new guests turned to face us. We were staring into the faces of Ché Guevara and Fidel Castro. We later learned that they had come to Mirta de Perales to buy conditioner for their beards.
Ché walked towards where my mother and I were standing, looked into my eyes, put his hand on my cheek and said: “You are beautiful”. My mother dug her fingers into my shoulder doubtlessly terrified by the man’s proximity to her only daughter. Time stopped.
As I looked into Ché Guevara’s eyes expecting to glean the monster I had heard so much about, the man responsible for no less than 150 deaths by firing squad of fellow Cubans, I found myself staring into the sweetest and most compassionate eyes…eyes that met mine without judgement or apology. He stood staring for what seemed a very long time. I’m sure it was only moments, but those moments had a profound effect in a young girl’s life. I remembered the nun’s warning that Lucifer could appear in the form of an angel of light to lead the soul astray, and on some level I wondered if everything I had heard about this man could possibly be true, thus feeling that my thoughts were betraying my father who at that moment sat in a lonely cell.
Ché gave me a bullet from his belt- the first of three for the three times we met before I was sent away. He accompanied my mother and I to the photographer’s studio and watched as the photographer worked his magic. After the session he said to me: “Someday you will tell the world that Ché Guevara was with you when your portrait was taken.” What an odd thing to say to a young girl….
A little over a year ago as I sat in my study working on my memoir, I checked my new Facebook account. In the list of suggested friends I found several Guevaras. I emailed the members of my writing group in a panic. They and my husband were the only ones that knew that I had decided to include a chapter about Ché in my memoir. What were these Guevaras doing on my Facebook?
I soon learned the connection. I have a friend I never lost touch with in Cuba whose son lives in FL now and was one of my Facebook friends. He had gone to school with some Guevaras and it was because they were his friends that they were suggested to me. After much thought I decided to reach out to one of them. His name is Martín Guevara Duarte. I asked him what it had been like for him to grow up in the shadow of such a man. He asked me to tell him about the “beautiful” story. We began a correspondence that led to our decision to collaborate on Martin’s memoir, The Haunting of Martin Guevara.
Last summer I became reacquainted with a grade school friend from Cuba, Ana Soler, who arranged for Martín and I to appear on A Mano Limpia with Oscar Haza. On November 22 of this year as I sat having my makeup done before the show, I closed my eyes and remembered my now deceased father who had given so much to his country and died in exile. I looked in the mirror and asked myself if I was truly ready to speak publicly about our project knowing that once I walked into that studio any hope of ever seeing my country again would be gone. Just when I thought I would begin to feel nervous I was instead filled by an inexplicable sense of peace. I had no doubt that what I was about to do was just the right thing. I thanked the woman who had applied my makeup and asked her name. She looked in my eyes and said: “My name is Libertad” Liberty. I had never met a Libertad in all my years. It is not a common Spanish name. What a great touch from the Author!
As I sat down in the studio and the show music began I looked across from me to Martin Guevara, my collaborator, my partner, my friend. Behind him a portrait of Ché looked back at me and his words from that day so many decades ago came back to me.
“Someday you will tell the world”…..
I did. I will.
Bella manera de contsar un episodio habanero que marcó un hito y un día en que dejamos dicho en Hialeah, que los hombres no estamos en la Tierra para la discordia, hasta se nos vé más pintorescos entendiendonos.
Gracias Martín. Eternamente.
Nada de esto hubiera existido sin ti.
Yoli: No estoy de acuerdo contigo: ¡Volverás a ver nuestra tierra!
Gracias, Gaston! From your mouth to God’s ear!
I am not sure how I came to find your blog, what word or phrase led me to you, but I read what you wrote and i found it really touching. Maybe it was your words, how they shorten time and made me think of a place and time forever etched in my memory: the years I spent in Cuba, and how the older I get, the more those memories seem to become like photographs of the past.
As a writer, myself, I am fascinated by your project and I cannot wait to read what you are working on. After all, the past always looms large, and often defines us against our will.
I wish you well.
Thank you, Sandra!