Helen Hernandez Hormilla (Progreso Weekly)
HAVANA TIMES — “You there?” she asks anxiously, counting the seconds — the minutes — before the hoped-for response appears on the screen. The Internet connection in Havana is very slow. From a keyboard in Miami, someone responds, “Yes, my love, I’m here.”
Thus begin the afternoons, when Adria invents an excuse to stay after hours in the office and steal some Internet time to chat at ease.
Alone in the office, connections are faster and she avoids the indiscreet glances of her fellow workers, who already comment how poorly she looks now that her boyfriend has left for the United States.
She was ready for the sadness that awaited her, the uncertainty, the solitude, the grief. Ever since she met Leonardo, she has been preparing for these moments. He warned her on their very first date: in less than a year he would leave for Mexico with a work contract and then cross the border to go live with an uncle and aunt until he could get ahead in the automatic engineering business.
He wants to own a house, a car, go on vacation, send money to his mother. In Cuba, he summarized his attitude in a single phrase: “There’s no future here” — although right now he’s just washing dishes in a South Beach restaurant.
Adria, more optimistic, enjoyed teaching at the university and had no plans to leave the island until she got her Master’s degree. Their long-range plans did not match. But they met, started going out, liked each other, felt safe.
Then they wavered. They broke their agreement to maintain an informal relationship. The conversation in which they agreed to not commit to each other, to not need each other, to not share plans, never took roots. They disobeyed their own rules, one by one. And they reached that point of no return, the sentimental irrationality that keeps them connected to “the chats,” to the intermittent WiFi provided by Nauta, to the SMS in free sites, and the messages in code:
ONE: I received your message.
TWO: I miss you and love you.
THREE: I have something to tell you.
FOUR: Pick up the call; urgent.
They tell everyone they meet that they’re one another’s “love of my life,” with the certainty of their 20-some years. They create extravagant routes for communication, encourage one another and don’t worry about being tacky when they copy and share poems on Facebook, send stickers and emoticons with hearts bound together, find photos from childhood and create a collage, dedicate songs to each other and record voice and video messages on memory sticks that travel 90 miles in the luggage of some friend or acquaintance.
They married nine months ago, a few days before Leonardo arrived in Florida. He hopes to call for her once he gets U.S. residence, thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act. With any luck, she might arrive 14 months later. A two-year wait, at least.
I look at the wedding picture that shows them kissing each other, the signatures of the witnesses, the little party on the rooftop. They seem happy but they’re afraid. They suffer in silence because they know they’re young and there’s a possibility they’ll run out of energy. They have seen many others waver in the face of solitude, jealousy and uncertainty. They fear getting used to the distance.
A tearful Adria confessed that to me, looking into my eyes shortly before I left Havana looking for love. Leonardo reveals it in his silences, as he covers up his doubts with ambitious plans of progress that he describes to me in telephone conversations here in the States.
I’d like to picture a happy ending to their unfinished idyll but that’s not easy. Success depends above all on the willingness each may have to maintain the level of hopes and communication. It also depends on the money, on international relations, on whether Adria gets a scholarship in Mexico, on a little bit of luck.
I have heard stories like theirs time and time again in Havana and Miami. They’re a litany in my conversations with friends. They’re similar to my own story.
My generation is one of young people marked by the distance, with the desire to emigrate stepping on our heels, crisscrossing everyone’s fate. Some assume the project of leaving Cuba by creating a sort of emotional armor to protect themselves from the bindings of falling in love even before starting life in the country of destination.
In practice, that’s almost never achieved, because at the least expected moment someone decides to drop the armor. Then comes a new anguish over the departure, a desperation caused by loneliness, plans for a re-encounter.
A few days ago, from Havana, Cloe confessed to me her panic every time she meets a boy, because her last three boyfriends have left the country and she has had a bad time recovering from the breakups. She has a small son, a profession, an apartment and doesn’t want to emigrate. Nevertheless, she ends up asking herself if that willingness to remain on the island will end up depriving her of a stable mate.
Ivet, who still carries her first daughter in her arms, may soon find herself without her husband. He wants to go work in some Latin American country to make money, and she probably will have to face the toughest years of child-rearing all alone.
In Miami, Delia lives in anguish, trying to figure out a way for her husband to rejoin her as soon as possible. Theirs is a new relationship. She met him four months before she traveled to the United States and, although all their plans broke down, she refuses to discard the feeling that both accepted as a gift from life.
Since then, he has tried twice to come to the U.S. by sea, on a raft, without success.
I know their reasons. I myself have felt that anxiety, when I bade someone goodbye who took my happiness away. I became addicted to the chats, got a visa, abandoned everything, took a chance, came here to find him. But for most Cuban youths that’s not an easy thing to do.
Unrequited romances, renunciations, spectacular re-encounters marked by the desire — or the need — to leave Cuba. Among the many conflicts associated with a tsunami wave of emigration, these might seem the least transcendental. However, when the youth of a country bases almost all of their projects abroad, a part of the social soul is in danger of vanishing.
I wonder if the illusory confidence that “love conquers all” is also in danger.