Remembering a Friend

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Foto: Caridad

A friend of mine from back in senior high school (what we in Cuba call “pre-university”) had become very ill.

Back in those early days we used to share tastes in the music of Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, to name just a few.

At that time he dreamed of walking the streets of Saginaw, Michigan.  He said he wanted to see the places where Stevie walked as a blind child. He also wanted to see a live performance by Michael, who was already emerging as an international star.  His yearnings were such that these wouldn’t stop until he left the country.

Although I was a pretty rebellious kid, I believed in the ideals of the Cuban Revolution; back then at its height, my Afro had more to do with mere youthful exhilaration.

My friend struggled hard for the authorities to let him return to the island a year ago, after he was diagnosed with pulmonary emphysema.  Since then he has experienced a worsening of his lung problem, which he blames on his unconcern about going to the doctor when his constant coughing was giving him the first warnings.

I went to the hospital where he was admitted. After stopping a moment at the entrance to meditate over our imminent encounter, I steeled myself and went up the stairs that led me to the room.

As I approached him I immediately recognized his almond-shaped eyes and that same honey-colored gleam in his face.

He didn’t delay in recognizing me, but he could hardly speak. I recalled the times of our studies, in military-like formations while dressed in our uniforms, but above all the parties and pranks.

Like that afternoon when he — with two pairs of socks stuffed in his underwear — walked up to our social studies teacher who blushed at that suggestive bulge.  A wave of laughter was heard after someone read the paraphrased Lezama’s line about “the courageous swelling mule,” which accompanied the joke, because we were indeed cultured youth.

A few days ago I learned of the sad death of my friend.  What came to mind was the picture he gave me as a gift during his last visit.  I prefer to remember him like he was in that picture, full of joy next to Michael Jackson.

One thought on “Remembering a Friend

  • Thank you for this touching vignette. I just attended my 50th high school reunion, just across the pond in Miami, Florida, and learned that 1/3rd of my classmates from 1961 have already paid Charron to cross over the River Styx (including several of my closest friends from that time, so long ago). It is at times like these that we begin to reflect on life’s meaning, friendship, love, the relationship of past to present and future. Most of all, those who have learned anything from life arrive at the conclusion that…”the best things in life are not things!”

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