we who were,
we are the same no longer.
HAVANA TIMES — I belong to the analog generation. The generation that watched Russian cartoons in black and white and lived the boom of the videotapes.
I only received letters every three months and a birthday card from my father who had emigrated. After years of silence, I heard his voice in the distance from a public phone booth, among strangers. A metallic-sounding and alien voice. It wasn’t emotional, even though I wanted to believe it was: everything was confusing and deafening.
When I traveled to France in 2011, I went onto Facebook for the first time. Without anyone to guide me, I clumsily followed the software’s instructions. I opened up an account, I put up a picture and I revealed myself open to reencounters. But in my exaltation, if I was able to remember faces, I forgot their names… everything was so confusing and stunning too.
Can you overcome friendships cut short, (the escape), forced oblivion and decades of silence?
Back in Cuba, Internet became an inaccessible luxury again. Today, paying 1 CUC for an hour of internet, I go back to my profile on Facebook, I post more photos, texts, details (like someone opening up a drawer and putting their personal objects on show), I try to make this space resemble me as much as possible.
I go out onto a cyber-sea which isn’t forbidden, where the Coast Guard won’t catch me.
And in haste because of the countdown on the right-hand side of the screen, I rummage around this ambiguous storeroom called the “past”. I find faces and names, I ask myself who I want to look for, to find out who they became, to show them who I became.
And I discover that there are so few! Because the tide of life doesn’t make mistakes when it moves us.
Is Time just as devastating everywhere else? Time yes, but not this mental distance that was imposed on us, smudging countries and cities in an undecipherable haze. Converting 90 miles or 45 miles of normal flight time into an abyss, seamlessly.
Many of us emphasize the trauma of splitting with others because our goodbyes weren’t natural, separations weren’t letting people go but having them ripped from us. I had friends who left on rafts; on boats they paid for with the money they got from selling everything they owned; getting into phony marriages; selling a fake painting by a fake Tomas Sanchez.
Suddenly, Facebook asks for the names of the schools I studied at and I’m not sure I’d recognize anyone from this short melting-pot of blurred faces.
The names/faces come up separated, puzzled, late. Some don’t even respond to your friend request. I can’t stop thinking that they (we) are the survivors of a shipwreck.
The impact of reencountering someone can be summarized in a few sentences. They bring echos of a world that is too different, too foreign. The majority aren’t interested in Cuba’s present or future. They don’t read Havana Times or any other website where our complex social reality is described. They left precisely because giving their opinions, questioning things, was synonymous with danger and today, indifference. Or oblivion.
Which isn’t a bad or good thing. Nobody is to blame. Everyone reacted as best they could, as they wanted to, or as it was their destiny to. (We don’t know which of our reactions are improvised or a part of a larger script).
Nearly everyone who appears and makes contact, is shocked by the fact that I haven’t left. They are frightened by the fact that I don’t feel shame in staying on in a country condemned, maybe not to death, but to the strangulation of progress and other freedoms. They refuse to believe that there is a point to living, creating, aspiring to… in Cuba. As if recognizing this would invalidate their choice, their absence and even their success.
I don’t know how to say that all roads lead to Rome without sounding like a pseudo-philosopher or self-help guide. So I don’t say it, I just think it. I feel sad and I ask myself why that is if no reunion is worse than someone leaving.
And I realize that there are faces who go around, stuck in my memory and I won’t find them, no matter how hard I try to remember their names and surnames. Even their gestures, the tone of their voice, the non-transferrable uniqueness of their gaze. Because they have gone much further and you can’t reach them with a mouse or “enter” anymore.
Because you can’t recover everything. And death is an inaccessible space to technology, wherever you are.