This is a longer entry than usual. I debated (a short debate) whether to break it into two entries or not and the "not" won out. Maybe I just wanted to "get it over with" since it was not easy to put on paper...
One morning, not long ago, started with some news I had been afraid would come at almost any time.
As I was getting ready to leave for my first morning class, the phone rang. I saw the name of my sister in law on the screen and, at this early time of the morning, the thought of some negative news immediately came to mind. Her voice was a little shaken when she said
–“Rafo”, “your mom passed away last night”.
I saw her last some 34 years ago, when she was given the opportunity to come and visit us (my sister and I), after 20 years of not seeing each other. This is the very high price paid by all who leave their homeland searching for a better tomorrow or because, simply, there is no choice. It often means the past is left behind, to be retained only as a memory expected to create the background and basis for that “better future”.
Random memories came to my mind for several days. They have, as I sit here and revisit them, helped me weather the moment. It was not unexpected; in fact, the last pictures I saw of my mother -already at age 93 and suffering from advanced stage Alzheimer’s, showed me a physically diminished woman I had known to be strong and full of fight, but now at the end of a long and not too easy life.
My mother, as well as her sisters and mother, came from fighting stock. None of them would give up easily when a goal was set and visualized. I wish I had inherited more of this but it seems that it is not only a gene pool issue, but it comes also as part the makeup of upbringing. Here is where I lost out when my family was left behind at a relatively early age of 15. I understand circumstances made it so that there could be no delays but I also understand that I, like many others in similar positions and of similar age, were deprived of a very important learning period in our lives. The final family-led formative years of our growing process into young men and women.
(continued)… It’s now been a few days since the start of this entry. It’s tackling an emotional issue which has many undertones, without being sure which of those are honest and which are veneer.
To say we had a very close mother-son relationship would be brushing on a coat of whitewashing. I was brought up by my grandparents while my mom was working and trying to bring her life back into the “right rails”. We lived in a traditional society where single working moms were not appreciated and she wanted to have a second chance at having a traditional home. A lot of her time and emotional efforts went into that. I remember moments when we (my sister and I) wished some of that emotional involvement came our way.
Unfortunately, as life developed, we didn’t have the time that perhaps she thought we would have downline. We were separated by external issues stronger than us as individuals and as a family, and were sent off to live in parallel universes, as it were. Not to touch, see or hug each other again, save for a very brief period in the summer of 1983 when she was allowed to come to the US and visit. My own personal issues precluded my being able to visit there once the ironclad restrictions (especially the ones that applied to those of us who had left Cuba in the early stages of the Castro Govt) began to relax a bit in the mid 90’s.
Now she is gone. I don’t think she suffered physically, for she was in good caring hands. But I do think that emotional distress was doled out and handled -as well as she could- over a lifetime. Through her actions more than her words, I had a glimpse of what life was like in Cuba in the mid 80’s, during our interactions when she had a chance to come and spend a few weeks here.
At the beginning of her stay, If we went to a restaurant she would never finish her dish, saying “but… we have to save some for the next meal, no?” “What are we going to eat next?”. At another occasion, when entering a supermarket in the US for the first time, she quietly began to cry. When I asked her if she was alright, she just looked around and said: “don’t worry, I’m OK” “I cry not for me, for I had all this growing up; I cry for your brothers who have never seen such wealth of food in one place” “They don’t know what an apple is, or what it is to have so many choices of food”.
At another time, in our living room, we were talking about the situation in Cuba and she was -hesitantly at first- telling us about all the negative issues everyone had to face on a daily basis. Suddenly, in mid-sentence, she stopped cold and looked around. “Disculpa m’hijo” “Sorry son”, “A bad habit we have; we need to make sure nobody is listening, because there are gov’t ears everywhere” These reactions could tell me more than anything she could have said. A grim picture of what had been not a problem free, but well developed and relatively easy going, middle class oriented society.
She spent time with us, then went to stay with my sister in NYC and afterwards, spent some time with childhood friends on the west coast before going back to Cuba. She chose to go back for her husband was still alive and she also felt her children and grandchildren in Cuba needed her presence more than we did here. Perhaps so. My sister had a chance to go visit in Cuba in the mid 90’s but for me, her visit was the only time I saw her again.
All the what-if’s one could ask would not really give a satisfactory answer to the Why? Questions. There are no answers. As we navigate the often-times rough waters of our lives, we begin to understand that. Even in this understanding, we should never cease to entertain hat question Why? For in looking for an ever elusive answer, we begin to accept that we don’t know, And this, is as true an answer as we will ever get.
Be well Mami; be at peace and, hopefully your spirit will be -in whatever realm it may now exist- in the company of those who were your kindred in this life. My love to you and my gratitude for the not then understood sacrifices you made on our behalf and on behalf of a future we had not seen yet.
Be Well … Be Back!!!