Saturday, September 28, 2013

X Marks the Spot

I come back from my 5 day trip to Cuba around noon on Saturday.

Stacks of exams I thought I’d tackle before the leaving town wait for me (patiently?). My mind is too full of what just happened to explain it clearly yet. 

I take great pleasure acting out the iPhone “incident” for my students, but then keep us all on track – we have to cover the Vietnam War, the 1980s, and all that comes after the Cold War. I don’t write much.

Summer settles in and I think about writing some of this story up for you but then I feel very urgently that I have to help a student write a book.  He falls ill and I stop writing and sit very, very quietly.

When the chapters do start coming out I feel better, but I am working so hard on writing the ENTIRE story that I don’t stop for some lingering stories along the way.

I didn’t tell you the rest of the story of what happened at the airport on the way in, and I didn’t tell you the shocking story my relatives did NOT want me to ask around about.  If there’s anything else, let me know. Soon. I want this book done; I have a deadline for it, and it’s rolling up quickly.

Meanwhile, my Mom loves every chapter I send her and giggles when she reads them.

She corrects little things, helps me with names, and instead of accepting her help I ask her to tell me later, please, when I have a pen etc. In order to finish the story quickly I have to keep looking ahead I can’t keep going back and fixing things up. If I do that I’ll never finish. 

She understands.  She’s easy like that.

The more I write, the more she reads, the more we remember, the happier we both are.

I didn’t mention earlier that before we even checked out the hotel in Cienfuegos I told Mom I wasn’t sure I’d need to come back to Cuba, that maybe I’d seen enough. 

She agreed. She hadn’t wanted to be the first to say it but maybe she’d seen enough too, maybe we didn’t need to come back, not here, not soon.

Later that day, after the whole “holding my underwear up” incident and while eating the most fabulous ham sandwich ever at the Cienfuegos Airport we looked around and said goodbye Cuba.

Maybe we’ll be back. Maybe.

But if not, thanks, this was good.

Fast forward to last week when I finished writing the first draft of the book.

Mom calls me, and with Dad in the background she says she loved it and then says this and that about Abuelo and her day.

A minute later I hear her close a door behind her.

Her voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper. “I miss you! I want to see you! We had so much fun! Let’s do it again, but somewhere different.”

OK fine, I agree.

Life seems shorter and shorter, and the years that we can do things like this are precious.

We half toss out ideas. Go to a conference? California? New Mexico? Santo Domingo? New Orleans? Puerto Rico? Orlando?

I don’t know, and it didn’t seem the right juncture to make a commitment. 

At that point one of my kids appeared and pulled me from my Mom and back into the reality of my kitchen on a long busy school day. 

Days pass, we let it go. I have classes and hours of carpickup and dinners to cook and laundry to do and more exams to grade (of course) and Mom has a more than full life of her own. 

Then she calls me and has my father on the phone. They are giddy.

She tells me they are going to ----- for 2 weeks, and they want me to come for a week of it. They will show me this, and that, and take me there, and of course to see that.

It’s not somewhere I’d ever thought I’d needed to go, and now all the sudden it’s the only place in the world I feel like I must see before I die (not that I’m dying, but really and actually everyone is always dying and seeing that brings a deep freedom from boredom and sins of that such).

It’ll be different traveling with them both, a different kind of wonderful.

Dad’s work phone rings and he has to run off, and I also want to get of the phone so I can research where we’re going.

I google it. Awesome, Rick Steves has been there. I’ve even seen the show on PBS on a day they weren’t holding me hostage and asking for money repeatedly.

Living on the Florida-Georgia border means I have 2 PBS stations that beg for money with “for just what it takes to buy a cup of coffee a day you can support programs like RICK STEVERS ***AND**** get this mug OR for the cost of dinner once a week you can get all that AND a DVD collection”

So whenever I’ve watched Rick Steves navigate small villages in Greece or drink in dark Pubs in Dublin, I never once thought, “pay attention Melissa, you might go there one day, too.”

I never paid attention, not for real, because I’m not the sort of person who travels, not far away to places so completely foreign.

For most of my life the idea of ever going to the forbidden and closed island of Cuba was so huge it shaped my heart and imagination. I never thought there’d be a time in my life AFTER I’d seen Cuba, after I’d written stories about Cuba. Now I’m there and I have to step into what comes next. 

Google earth drops me in a narrow street where a moped and a fiat looking car are frozen blurred zooming by.

I go up a block and up another block but nothing makes sense so I go to satellite view.

There, there they are. Built by Rome.

There, there it is, not built by Rome but just as delicious. 

I switch to the street view and go past wide steps to the front door.  From there I can click on pictures and get art that I stare at until my eyes go dry.

Yes, yes, my parents were right. Everything I’ve ever studied, all my coursework, all my reading, all my writing, takes me to this exactly place.

This is ground zero for every story I tell, every bit of my family, of all that came afterwards. Here, right here. So yes, I need to come and see it, touch it, sit there and breathe its air. 

I don’t want to overstudy it, I’d rather be surprised by the art when I get there, be captivated by the images and architecture, then come back and research what I’d seen.

This is probably the opposite of the scientific method. I’m OK with that.

I change the view and, oh, yes. Oh, it’s gorgeous. 

I take a screenshot. 

When this building was made no one was in the sky – no pilots, no satellites, not even hot air balloons drifting casually among the fluffy clouds.

Whoever made it might have considered it from an angel’s point of view, from God’s or perhaps Mary’s, and taken great care that it made a statement. Well it does.

When I see it the statement is clear. 

X marks the spot, as obviously as treasure on a pirate map.

Come here, RIGHT HERE, there is more treasure to find, more stories waiting to be hunted down and told.