Today marks the 57th anniversary of the first day of my exile from my beloved country. I am sharing an excerpt of my memoir, not yet published, Fragments of my Cuban Heart. Remembering, yearning, grateful, bereft….so many emotions, so much loss.
“Yolie”, my grandmother said interrupting my rendition of Fur Elise on my piano, “we have decided that you are leaving for the United States and….”
I heard nothing else, and I didn’t really hear that, exactly. I heard “decided”, “leaving”, and “United states”. I missed the “YOU”. I missed the YOU ALONE. I missed everything lost in the sudden realization that my impossible love story with Benny, the oldest son of a taxi driver considered the most unsuitable of suitors,, was quickly coming to an end. I’m not sure how long I stayed frozen in time, but something in my face must have given my grandmother pause.
“Of course, it is not something we are going to force you to do, but with your father in Isla de Pinos prison and your mother sick- you know, she’s in her room with the windows closed all the time, and you need an education and we don’t know when your father will come back and well…we think it’s best that you go on now, just for a little while until Fidel is gone. We all know the United States is not going to tolerate a Communist government ninety miles from its shores…” she was babbling now. That was not a good sign. That meant she was flooding me with words to keep me from talking back because she didn’t want to hear my protest or my pain.
“ This is the end of March and I am sure you’ll be back in time to celebrate your fifteenth birthday at the Biltmore”….
Had she forgotten the Biltmore was no longer our country club but another nationalized piece of land?
“and your father will have the first dance with you, and Fifina will make your dress…..”
Was it amnesia? Fifina was now Jacqueline Kennedy’s seamstress at the White House! Had she forgotten THAT?
My poor grandmother, the grandmother who had made sure I understood that cowboys and Indians weren’t really dying on TV, that they were just actors pretending; the grandmother who had berated my dad’s good friend, Ernest Hemingway, for teaching me about toreadors and sparking my interest in bullfighting; my grandmother who had been unable to explain the real bodies lying dead on our streets, was again trying to make the truth easier to bear and not succeeding.
“And you don’t need to worry. There will be a man waiting for you in Miami at the airport and like I said, it won’t be for long…”
“And”, she said, with a gravity I had seldom seen in her, “you CANNOT TELL ANYONE YOU ARE LEAVING!”
BENNY! I had to tell Benny. I had to stop her, stop this. Now.
“Abuela, I don’t want to go. I can’t go! I won’t go! I almost screamed. I like it here and I want to fight for my country and help the counter- revolution. I want to play my piano and be with all of you and…” I couldn’t finish the sentence. How could I tell her that Benny had my heart. How could I tell her that I wanted to marry him one day, have his children. How could I tell her that I was in love?”
“We have your passport ready.”
My grandmother glanced at my godmother and said: “Celia, bring her passport so she can see it!”
Panic. I had a passport. How did I get a passport? My body was going numb as a few moments later Mina approached with the little blue book. Abuela opened it to a page with my picture on it. I remembered the day the picture was taken. I hadn’t known why.
“Abuela, you said I don’t have to go if I don’t want to”, I said in a low voice knowing that she had lied about this just like she had lied every time she promised me one day I could have a pony on our property. My grandmother liked for me to think all things were possible even when they weren’t, creating a state of permanent disillusionment. I always forgave her. Would I ever be able to forgive her for this?
I had to call Benny.
In the days after my father had been taken prisoner, the adults had relaxed their vigilance despite my blooming adolescent figure and my obvious interest in Benny, a beautiful seventeen year old boy they found totally unsuitable. They were so caught up in their own grief and loss, that they failed to notice I had found “LOVE” My maid Margarita became my accomplice and they didn’t suspect much when we went for “walks” together. They never knew we went to Libertad #58 esq Heredia to visit with Benny and his family. Never knew about visits to my sousing Myriam where we were sometimes allowed to be alone! The beautiful innocence of first love…
In the end I called Benny. I loved him with all the love my heart was capable of feeling and trusted him with my life. He promised he would meet me at the airport the next day. And he did. And we said good bye in a hallway at the airport. He gave me a corsage, held me, gave me a Hollywood kiss, and my last image of him was of a very handsome young man with a terrible sadness in his eyes. A young man with whom I left my adolescent heart.
I don’t know how I found the strength to walk to the plane. What would happen if I began to run? What if I followed Benny and we took a cab or a bus and no one knew how to find me? In the end, I consoled myself with the belief that everyone held onto. lt would be for a few months. Only a few months….
And then I entered the metal womb of the KLM plane, on the way to find a man at the Miami airport. A man who birthed me into my new life as a Pedro Pan exiled child.
Copyright 2019, Adrianne Y. Miller