I thought – and at some time said – that the story about Cuba’s migration drama was an exaggeration. That it wasn’t such a big thing if persons were leaving because they wanted to and that, also out of their own decision, others stayed. That in the end it was a political game of the sides, placing the people in dilemmas. That’s how I thought until the big family parties ended and my friends left. And all the drama hit me.
Two of my girlfriends told me, on the same day, that they were leaving. One in the morning, the other in the evening. It was like in the movies. That coincidence was like some prefabricated drama. Both of them left with teary eyes. They had tried many things before making that decision and, like for so many others, Cuba ended up giving them the last push out of the island.
The first notion I had that they weren’t here was not being able to talk to them on the phone. It was the end of me calling to tell them: “Turn on channel 6 and look at what so-and-so is saying,” and continuing the conversation in person, commenting, going from irony to irony.
I can no longer tell them anything else with my own voice. Neither can I hear theirs. Now all our communication passes through the chats, which isn’t a minor thing. In fact, it is everything.
But they weren’t the only ones I lost. The groups have come undone and the last-minute parties are over, the “let’s go grab a bite somewhere,” the special dates. With time I see how their faces have started disappearing, one by one, from my photos.
A year ago the fountain in front of my house at last started having water after decades. The father of one of my girlfriends took pictures of the event to send them to her. She shared them on Facebook. When I looked on Facebook for those of us who had played there and never saw the fountain working, I discovered that, out of a dozen names, only three of my childhood friends remained in Cuba.
Walking through my barrio I was able to count house by house those who were no longer here, Houses, nests, with parents and grandparents without their descendants being present.
My family parties are increasingly boring each year; those who were young before are now old, and the young are no longer present.
A country of absentees and silent persons inhabiting a yearning has been created; the shadow of the emigres and the deceased is everywhere.
Those of us who remain, do so with their absence and their silence, with the symptoms of loneliness. We remain passing ourselves off as the children of those empty parents.
The parents of my émigré friends are now my friends and they are also a bit my parents.
I’m a bridge: they ask me about their children, they ask for news, photos of them, I visit them and see them get old, sometimes get sick, and sometimes die. I’m going to the funeral services of the parents of my émigré friends; I am accompanying widowers and the bereaved.
Luckily there are less sad inheritances, even though it still seems tragic for me. My émigré friends send me by email photos to print and frame for a birthday gift, they ask me to buy and deliver flowers for the wedding anniversary of their parents, they confide in me telephone calls, communication of great news.
I record a video for a friend: it’s her mother feeding the dog. They haven’t seen each other for two years. I take a picture of her wearing the dress her daughter sent her and looks so nice on her.
I also keep secrets from both sides. None of them wants the other to know when they aren’t well. “Don’t tell them I don’t have money,” they say from over there. “Don’t tell her/him that I’m not well,” they ask me from over here. And me in the middle, a messenger of what each side wants to send to the other, taking so much care of the message, being daughter, adoptive daughter, in exchange for lessening distance.