HAVANA TIMES — Most weddings in Cuba used to be celebrated by throwing a big party at the house of one of the newly-weds, with enough food and drink to keep anyone from going home hungry, thirsty or critical of the spread.
That’s what Maria and Oscar’s wedding was like, with additional and subtle touches of good taste, such as canapés spread with exquisite pates or caviar, salt herrings, anchovies, olives…in short, everything one could come across at a Cuban dollar store.
They had, for instance, decided to forego the habitual dance music. Instead, they played background music and let everyone have their private conversations in peace.
At parties, I was usually a sociable and gregarious person. Generally speaking, when the first drink turned up I became almost funny, suddenly the best friend of anyone willing to spend some time with me knocking back bottles, the exact opposite of what I was when I abstained from drinking, when I was a sullen man who evaded all crowds and was put off by hugs and groups of more than two people.
In my gregarious phase I always exceeded my limit. It was the moment right before losing my sense of space and time, when I became hostile, aggressive and downright unpleasant. I was about to enter this state when Mariana’s father entered the room where I was trying to maintain a conversation with his daughter, uttering senseless phrases. Mariana’s father told me he had something important to tell me. He asked Mariana to slide over and he sat next to me. He then said: “Martin, your grandfather, Ernesto, passed away.”
I heard Gabriel’s words and, despite being boozed up, I felt something akin to being lashed, a call from beyond the party, beyond the still-warm body of my grandfather, beyond sensations, people, love and hate.
I felt I was being called from my childhood, still intact, that my life had not yet been lived, that I had not gone anywhere and remained on the pedestal of my infancy. I felt the old child I was tug at my pant legs. That is when it dawned on me I would never again see my grandfather’s gray hairs, the big eyes and hands that accompanied his voice with the gestures inherent to a picturesque gentleman born in Buenos Aires the very year in which the 20th century began.
Granpa Ernesto had preferred to die three months after his stroke rather than lose interest in women forever. I started crying, weeping convulsively, a torrent of tears sliding down my face. I don’t recall ever having cried that much. Had grandpa been able to see me, he would have asked me if that was truly in his honor, and I would have had to give to reply that he had meant a lot to me and that those tears also condensed things that came from a place he had helped create, and that was no small thing. The emotions were intensified by that awkward, impetuous and profound sensitivity that alcohol gave me.
There were people at the party who suggested I did not go to the wake that same night. I was set on going. I had to be there and show my respects. People said to me that, given the state I was in, it was best that I stayed till the end of Omar and Maria’s party. My insistence came out victorious and the husband of Ruth, a friend of my father’s and the father of my girlfriend Mariana, Maria’s sister, took me to the funeral parlor on Linea St.
We drove around the place in the car and, on seeing there were flags and a large group of people at the entrance and surroundings, he again suggested I do not go in. I thanked him and got out of the car. When I started going up the step, two people took me by the arms and led me to a bench at the park in front of the funeral parlor. They were my cousins Pedro and Juan.
I hadn’t seen them in a long time and it took me a while to recognize them. They told me they were expecting Raul and even Fidel Castro, and that it wasn’t a good idea to be seen drunk inside. I said to them I wanted to recite some farewell verses. In the end, two other cousins joined the first to hold me in place, because I didn’t see what Raul or Fidel’s visit had to do with anything. I finally gave in when they told me they would tell people that I had come but that they hadn’t suggested I don’t go in. Juan took me and Mariana to my place in Alamar.
In part, I am thankful I wasn’t allowed to see his corpse. The next day, I went to the burial at the Heroes Pantheon located in Havana’s Colon Cemetery, a pair of sunglasses covering my swollen eyes. Fidel didn’t attend the burial. His brother Raul gave a typical speech. He greeted all of us and my cousin Roberto took me home in his car. He asked me to tell him about the night before. I told him that I had gone to the wake and that I was drunk, that they didn’t let me go in and that I didn’t put up much of a fight.
“Wise idea,” he said to me.
To this day, I ask myself what gave them the authority to keep me outside the wake. Rosario and I had been the only two of his grandchildren who, while still children, had been given a ten and even a twenty peso note from him every time he said goodbye.