Sometimes we think that because someone hasn’t got much to say that they must not have a story to tell. The truth is, sometimes those who stay quiet have the loudest stories. Stories that need to be told.
After a few Coronas my dad might get chatty. But he is – and always has been – a man of very little words.
Most, if not all, of my previous boyfriends were terrified of him. “I don’t think your dad likes me very much.”
And my response was always the same, “He’s just not much of a talker.”
My dad is a man of little words. He doesn’t brag or share his story unless he’s asked. And even then, I, who have asked, has pieced it together over thirty-seven years. Decades of stitching together small details, open conversations, short answers, and candid retellings.
I am the talker that my dad is not. But telling this story, the story of my dad leaving Cuba, has brought me a lot of anxiety. How do you tell a story that changed not only one life but that altered the life of a whole family for generations after?
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.
For many of us, we could probably, mas o menos (more or less), point to a time in our life when our lives – our path – entirely changed its course. But how many of us could pinpoint to a specific day and say This day. This solitary, single day was the day that changed my life and every life hereafter.
November 11, 1966 was my dad’s day
51 years ago this week, on a Friday night, when others were deciding what to wear out dancing or what bar to meet their friends at, my dad was preparing to leave Cuba for the rest of his life. He would leave Cuba, his home, and his mother only 20 days after turning 16 years old.
My father, as 16-year-old boy in Cuba, was turning the legal age to be involuntarily recruited to the servicio militar obligatorio (obligatory military service). Many of my dad’s relatives were defecting or had already. This didn’t mean you had to serve but that you had to register and be ready to serve. What this really meant was that one you turned 16, you were stuck. Once you were registered you were in the military’s service for the next 10+ years. His age made him an anchor. Cuba would never let him leave and my grandmother would never leave without him.
I can only imagine that this decision for my dad was no decision at all because if you know my dad, you know he ain’t no kind of military man (a chapter in the book I am writing). A military guy? My dad? He once threw a stapler at someone who threw him attitude.
In Cuba, each neighborhood or block had a vigilante known as the Comittees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in charge of “guarding communism’s enemies.” I’ve heard people tell stories of playing American music quietly in fear of being reported or throwing the scraps of their meal away in a distant garbage away from their house to avoid the CDR knowing what they ate for dinner for fear of being asked where they got that “extra” steak from. People learned to keep their doors closed and their mouths closed even tighter. Anything you said could be used against you and you never knew who you were talking to.
My dad was from Caimanera, a small fishing town in the province of Guantánamo that in this instance had many perks, the biggest being the proximity to the U.S. Naval Base in the Guantánamo Bay. The base was so close that if you lived in Caimanera, it was said that you were either a fisherman or a Base man.
On the afternoon of the 11th, my father along with 2 other friends, went to another companion’s house where they would begin their escape. They arrived one by one to avoid rising suspicion with the neighborhood CDR. Yeah, a group raise suspicion. And the last thing they wanted was attention.
TO BE CONTINUED…