Before I wrote my memoir, Cuba Adios, I played around with the idea of writing the story as a novel. What if, I asked myself, the story revolves around a mother who has to deal with a double loss; her children going to the US as part of Operation Pedro Pan and the dissolution of her marriage. The story would be told from the Mother’s point of view. I wrote several scenes following that concept, which was all discarded when I gave up on the idea of a novel and chose to tell my story as a memoir. Recently looking through my computer I found an old document named “Violeta and her guitar.” I couldn’t remember writing it. I opened it and found this, which I’ll post on my blog in four different parts because the initial file is too long. I hope readers can tell how I used these as exercises to stimulate my creativity and get myself ready to tackle my memoir.
Violeta Part 1
A month ago, Pablito and Ricky left for Miami, and still Violeta hadn’t heard from them. She was worried to the point of despair. How could they not write? “You must write to your mamacita,” she had begged repeatedly. “Muchachos son muchachos,” Diego would say trying to comfort her. Yes, Violeta knew they were only boys, but that didn’t soothe her frazzled nerves; she wanted to know, needed to know, they were fine. Short of being reunited with them, the one thing that would allow her to eat something other than “café con leche,” that would bring her a good night sleep, would be their letters.
She longed to hear about their adventures in their new country and had spent many nights awake, looking out the bedroom window, staring at the moon, talking to it, asking it for news of her children.
Thinking that Pablito and Ricky might be looking at the moon at that very moment would give her a sense of connection, spiritual in feeling. That feeling, however, would fade quickly. Soon, reality would shake her and she’d find herself drowning in a sea of tears, pain splitting her insides.
She couldn’t spend one more night feeling as if a tumor of despair was growing inside her.
Today she decided to go la Colonia Española to see Sister Margarita. She needed the Sister’s reassurance that all would be fine, an intravenous shot of hope. Her faith, even when most threatened, was always renewed after a visit to her dear friend.
For the last 30 days Violeta had been a figure frozen in space, a mother that rather than living just waited, waited to be thawed and brought back to life by news of her children. Even her disillusionment with Diego, the confrontation she expected to have about his infidelities, had been put on hold. Nothing mattered now as much as knowing about her children’s safety; the rest of her life would resume later.
It was in this waiting pattern that her robotic-like steps took her to La Colonia up the second floor of the Children’s Pavilion. On her way, wearing black mourning clothes, she walked by the Passport Office where Pablito and Ricky had applied for their passports. She remembered her nervousness as she took possession of them and placed them safely in her purse. Now, as she walked up the circular stairs towards the nun’s quarters, she touched the marble column around which the circular steps revolved and with her index finger traced the date when the passports were issued, August 4, 1961; then with the same trembling finger she traced the actual date of her children’s departure, April 24, 1962. Those dates would be permanently etched in her consciousness. The first indicated the painful realization that her boys would be separated from her; the second the final moment when the umbilical cord was severed and her children removed from her, making her feel like a mother who had given up her children for adoption, in her case the adoptive parents were the US.
Close to a year spanned between the two dates, a year during which she trembled at the thought of sending her children away, a year that went by in a flash, a year that seemed to have transpired in less than a day. One day she and Diego were talking, sharing their thoughts about the need to protect the boys from Fidel’s influence, the next Pablito and Ricky were gone, adiós. She wished they were still the small children she’d put to sleep every night, kissing them, protecting them, reassuring them all was fine when they woke up from a nightmare, taking care of them when they fell ill. Why did they have to grow up? Why did they have to escape the claws of communism, leaving Violeta lost in her own loneliness? Regret over her decision to send them away would often feed and aggravate a paralysis that had become chronic since their departure.
She waited for Sister Margarita in Mother Superior’s office. A number of chairs forming a slightly askew circle gave her the feeling a meeting had just taken place. When Sister Margarita entered the room, her face looked flushed, and although she tried to put Violeta at ease, she couldn’t hide her nervousness. “You bring me news from my Pablito? Has he played Carnegie Hall yet?” She said, forcing a smile.
“Sister, I’ve heard nothing. I’m about to go mad. Me estoy volviendo loca. Completamente!”
“Ay, querida, you must have faith. The Lord is watching over them. They’re safer than we are,” she
said, looking out the window as if she were afraid of what she might see outside. Then, turning her back to the window, she added, “I’m so sorry about Lucila. A wonderful woman. God knows when it’s our time.”
Before Violeta could utter a word, two nuns rushed into the room, talking rapidly and stepping over each other’s words, “Sister, sister, they are here.” “In the chapel.” “They’ve desecrated the Baptismal Font.” “With urine.” “Threatening to take the gold paten and chalice.” “Please hurry.”
Sister Margarita’s expression turned into a mask of horror. She told Violeta, “Don’t move. It’s best if they don’t see you. I doubt they’ll be coming to this area, but just to be safe. You don’t want them to see you here. The rest of the hospital they don’t care about. It’s us, the nuns, our chapel, our faith that they want to destroy. Criminales!”
Violeta knew Sister Margarita was not exaggerating. Initially the Catholic Church had been one of the strongest supporters of the revolution; however, as the trials and arbitrary executions of anyone who opposed the regime continued after Fidel took power in 1959, the love affair the Church had enjoyed with Fidel soured. “Paredón…paredón… death to the enemies of the revolution,” had become a common chant on the streets of Cuba, which shook the pious sensitivity of many church goers. Furthermore, an increased placement of communists in key government positions and gradual confiscation of private foreign properties continued, actions that added to the Church’s discontent.
In 1960, in a valiant move, the Church alerted parishioners through a Pastoral Letter that Cuba was gradually adopting a communist profile and challenged Fidel to implement the ideals of democracy he had promised in the Sierra Maestra.
Although Fidel never publicly acknowledged the accusations in the Pastoral Letter, his response came in the form of an organized campaign against the Church, interrupting religious services, ordering the desecration of churches, and conducting mass arrests of clergy. In May of 1961, the government took possession of the Church’s school system and seminaries, and in September, a month after Pablito and Ricky had received their passports, a procession in Havana honoring la Virgen de la Caridad, Cuba’s patron saint, was quelled by Fidel’s police. The incident was followed by the expulsion of 131 clergy on board of the Spanish ship Covadonga. The relationship between Fidel and the Church was so chaotic that Violeta at times had doubts Pablito and Ricky would ever get out of Cuba. She was certain Fidel would wake up to the Church’s participation in the children’s exodus and would stop these boys and girls from leaving the island.
“They are here. In the chapel”. The words resonated in violeta’s head.
Fidel’s men could no longer stop Pablito and Ricky from leaving. They could, however, victimize her now. Her life was in danger.
“They are here.”
(to be continued)