HAVANA TIMES — My niece is leaving. In a few days, she will immigrate with her husband and her two sons to the United States.
Like so many friends and relatives who I have seen in this decisive moment, she is desperate to take the great leap. With their visas in hand, she has bought a ticket for the closest date possible.
But why so much anxiety if it’s set in stone that she’s going to leave? I ask myself. Why, if the time that she has left in Cuba in nothing compared to the time that she will now live abroad?
“Who knows what might happen with the change in the US president – she tells me – these people can ruin everything (with a political disagreement).”
And all I can do is think about my big sister, a single mother who is now going to be separated from her only daughter. Next week, reality will be cut into two; the experiences shared here will remain definitively in the past, like the bodies Death makes us leave behind in ossuaries.
The so-called Parole visas are set for 2030, the most viable option for her is to wait for her daughter’s appeal, when my niece finally gets permanent residency.
God only knows how much time will pass, the phone’s ringing. Analyzing changes in voice, in accent, watching how the bodies of our loved ones transform in photos, stirred by waves of events and emotions. The grandchildren, twin 4 year old boys, will replace the Spanish that they are only just discovering with English.
My niece is running around trying to sort out the last bits of paperwork and distributes her humble belongings. Seeing her impatience, I’m reminded of a friend who was also about to disappear by air and travel the legendary 90 miles, who felt the few days she had left on the island were never-ending. She found everything dirty, mediocre, and unacceptable. I said: “You’re not seeing it for what it really is. These are your last moments in Cuba, remember them. Say goodbye to everybody you meet, to everything you see, because you won’t see them (just in case) for many years.
However, I also understand this desperation, which is made up of much more that scams, selfishness or naivety. Reasons pile up along with the long wait loaded with uncertainty. Along with the confirmation that there’s no future on this island, there is the constant fear of the geographical curse which carries on if the stroke of luck isn’t taken advantage of.
The need to leave helps to come face to face with change and what will come afterwards: the painful adaptation process. If “here what you have to do is leave”, like I’ve heard time and time again around me ever since I can remember, why put it off?
I myself, who saw my father leave when I was two years old (and even though I don’t remember, my mother’s pain took root in me in the form of a constant sadness which I associate with beaches), have given so many farewell hugs. To my only maternal cousin, my only aunt, my younger sister and her daughter, friends, former partners… I know the incremental feeling that this bitterly indefinable combination of time and distance also creates.
After all, it’s a little less traumatic now because we have cellphones, internet and the chance to chat looking at a screen (no matter how small it is) and see the face that we miss so much. My generation lived exile in a heavy silence which was only broken with letters and postcards which took a month to arrive (and sometimes they got lost on the way), the cold and brief telegrams, and once every so many years, a phone call from public phone booths, with a wavering connection and the bewilderment at the metallic, unrecognizable voice on the other side which used to cross the chasm of memory.
I face the my sister’s fragile emotional balance with these thoughts, I encourage her, even though deep down I’m imagining what it’d be like if it was my only son who was leaving, and I feel the world crashing down, the sharp fall, vertically, just like my mother felt when my sister left and she wasn’t able to meet her last grandchild.
My father never stepped foot back on Cuban soil, neither did anybody else from my father’s family. Letters and phone calls ended up dying out. My younger sister has only come once in 16 years, my aunt came a few months ago after a decade of absence.
Promises and dreams become weak with time, and non-immigrant visas are denied time and time again. It’s like the world “outside” is the only solid space, emigration continues to be the most secure option for reuniting with loved ones.
Therefore, it isn’t quack theory but the objective (and accumulative) experience of loss which comforts me with the gloomy reasoning that at least my mother isn’t here to suffer another strong pull at the strings connected to her heartstrings.
I’m trying to take in the idea that I’ll never see my niece again, nor will I see how these children who are laughing and kissing me now grow… and they will forget me in a future which is just beginning. Because in this world of dialectics, the visible and the tangible inexorably replaces the absent.