Turning 40 in Cuba

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — I’ve been writing the story of my life for 40 years now, ironing out the unappealing creases and subtly emphasizing the episodes that speak highly of me. Below are a some bits and pieces.

As a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut and a scientist. I threw together a laboratory using kitchen jars and I would fly to the stars in a plastic box – always to help humanity. Arnaldo Tamayo (the first Cuban – and Latin American – to fly to outer space) was my idol, and adults explained to me the path I had to follow to be like him.

I studied, behaved, did my homework, occasionally told on my classmates, made it to Havana’s Lenin Vocational High School, joined the Young Communists League, served one year in the military, completed university, graduated with good grades, became a researcher at a medical sciences institute and then…everything went to hell.

To explain why this pivotal change took place, I have to rewind the tape some.

When I was a sperm cell (I was able to regress to that stage during a nano-hypnosis session), I didn’t get on too well with my highly competitive, flagellated brethren. One day, when they all stampeded off, shoving and killing one another like beasts, I felt unhappy and retreated to a corner to cry. As it turns out, the ovum was waiting for me there. Since then, I tend to feel strange and alone among the wolves – among the people around me, I mean. We lone wolves are like that.

During the acne years, my chronic lack of social skills resulted in an existential earthquake of profound consequences. The torments of the ego, the fantasies that haunt the psyche and the drama of human relations took center stage.

I finished high school in 1993, the peak of the Special Period. They weren’t offering a career in piloting that year. I was left with the option of becoming a scientist. Inertia took care of the details.

My year in military service was one of the happiest in my life, for a very simply reason: the rotten lot in my brigade accepted me as one of their own. Such a reconciliation was comforting, but it came a little too late: I had already distanced myself from society and its values. I was already a foreigner among “my kind,” the blindfold had already been fallen off…and there’s no coming back from that. One tends to suffer more, but it comes with its own, cognitive advantages.

I managed to survive university thanks to the gang of nut-jobs that the devil threw together my enrollment year. Rock and roll, drugs (of the worst kind), disrespect for social taboos, a brutal rejection of political pressures, crazy parties, wild sex: our pockets were empty but we were happy, barely managing to pass our classes. It was the ideal environment for personal exploration.

After five years of self-questioning, the results were conclusive, at least in one regard: I didn’t want be a pharmacist. The problem was how to switch horses in the middle of the race.

I said farewell to the century in a nuclear medicine laboratory, researching, publishing articles and taking in dangerous radiation in exchange for a salary I couldn’t even buy a snack with. I would re-sell peanuts to make it to the end of the month.

(A quick aside: The Castros are so disrespectful towards university graduates, I am almost happy they flee the country en masse. How disappointing a scientist’s life turned out to be: standing between linoleum walls the day through, hurting harmless white mice, taking part in research that didn’t interest me in the least and working harder than a mule).

When the first opportunity came along, I shoved off and was out on the street, looking for a way to set my life straight. That’s when the story becomes exciting, but I can’t go on now. The editor asks me for short pieces, having read somewhere that you are hyperkinetic and suffer from attention deficit disorders. Let’s see if I can get into the spirit of things and finish the story in my next post.


5 thoughts on “Turning 40 in Cuba

  • Ay, Erasmo! Como me gusta tu estilo de escribir! La proxima vez que yo vengo a Cuba, este “40-something” te invito a tomar tragitos! Sigues, joven. (Estas joven todavia. jaja!)

  • Congratulations Eduardo! I have been going to Cuba for almost 30 years and a fellow Canadian recently said, “Cuba is in John’s blood” More than that, it is in my heart and I long to go back…Unfortunately it will be December, but then for 3 months…can hardly wait.

  • Happy Birthday Erasmo! I too enjoy your writings and now pictures. Thanks for the insight!!

  • After being in Havana for a mere week on a People to People tour and returning homeward a month ago, I yearn to return– but this time to stay much longer and to venture to more places in this island nation. Once I’ve found out about HavanaTimes and some other web sites and blogs, my interest in Cuba has further piqued; I want to go back and experience the culture and its people much further!

  • Erasmo! I love your style of writing…would love to meet sometime. Keep it up! When will your next post be?

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