When a Friend Leaves Cuba

Isbel Diaz Torres

illustration by Yasser Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — When a friend leaves Cuba, it’s as if they’ve died. The relationship that had started at a bus stop or in a classroom suddenly dissolves into the past and nothing else grows after the moment of their departure.

It doesn’t matter that online technologies allow us to know about their sled rides down some Canadian slope or their exhausting workdays trying to hold down three jobs in southern Spain. The only certainty is that they’re effectively dead.

With those who manage to return to the island after a number of years, their deaths are even more easily verifiable. We discover this in those brief get-togethers (there’s almost never time for anything longer) it is as if the anchors had been lifted one by one.

In the eyes of the recently returned, those of us who are still here seem like poor caged monkeys, tethered by the permits, passports and visas that are inaccessible to our pockets, forcing us to miss out on the consumeristic binge.

At the same time, those who return from the outside appear to us to look distracted. Their heads are full of foreign thoughts as they mentally calculate their budgets trying to determine whether they should give gifts to everybody or throw a party (though those are never like the ones before).

As I said, they’ve died. And we too have died in their eyes, which no longer understands us.

All of the best friends in my life are gone. Apparently I’m not lucky. Though I now have other wonderful friends, these aren’t the ones from high school or college, the ones who can remember the first time I was in love, your fear of being discovered, my naive plans about the brilliant future that awaited.

Yesterday I learned that one of them died of a heart attack before having even celebrated his thirtieth birthday. Although he had experienced love and had managed to see a little bit of the world (something most people don’t get to do), I thought about his loneliness, his desperate search, his anguish.

But, returning to my point, I understand: he had died earlier, along with others. The saddest thing is that, despite their deaths, you continue to love them …and wait for something – though you don’t really know what it is.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

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4 thoughts on “When a Friend Leaves Cuba

  • This is a very thought provoking piece for me. I have lived and studied in Cuba, and my boyfriend is from Havana and made the painful decision to leave and overstay his visa in the US (painful because while there are more economic opportunities for him in the US, he did not want to leave his family and friends in Cuba and renounce his rights.) I think this piece has many thoughtful observations by the author that ring true for him. These are sad observations to me though, because it can be such a painful situation on both sides of the straits. My hope is that there would be respect and love and understanding for the dignity of people who live in Cuba en la lucha and respect and love for the dignity of those who have chosen to live abroad and are in a different kind of lucha.

  • Those feelings and experiences are not unlike those of immigrants from other countries around the world. An Iranian friend of mine in Canada returned to the old country for a visit, which was a bitter-sweet experience. His old friends and family said that he had changed. He thought they, very tragically, had stayed all to much the same.

    People leave for a reason, and going back only serves to remind them of that reason.

  • My Cuban wife has also felt a sense of envy from many of her former work colleagues and associates in Cuba. This has been particularly hurtful as few Cubans who remain on the island fully appreciate how much harder Cubans who leave have to work to simply earn a living to sustain themselves. She has often felt that her former school classmates and neighborhood pals preferred to see her as “dead” because to do otherwise would cast more light upon their own unchanging lives. She also agrees that parties she has held at her parents’ home in Guantanamo are different now that she lives in San Francisco….they are much better!!

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