Saturday, August 19, 2017

Chapter 34: Resting Near the Parthenon

(from 2012)*

My summer falls into a pattern of trying to bore my kids to death and answering email from students and email from my family in Cuba.

I send them news about my kids.  Sometimes I paste it in a translator, sometimes I try to tell it on my own.   I have learned not to entirely trust Google Translator when I wrote an email to my Cuban family explaining how Zoe was graduating from 5th grade. The translation was that she was being kicked out of 5th grade. My Mom fixed it up, but not until we got a good laugh and promised to never tell and forever horrify uber-sensitive honor-roll safety-patrol Zoe (now you have to promise not to tell her either, OK?).

In the exchange of information, the part where I don't tell them that not only am I watching a tarantula that someone BOUGHT (Americans buy spiders? Que?) but actually spent money buying bugs for the tarantula to hunt and then bought two new hamsters for my kids. 

I don't tell them of the air conditioned days in a  house with too many sofas watching people on TV compete to cook things and compete to have the best wedding. I can't explain Toddlers and Tiaras (actually, I kinda don't want to), Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, Master Chef or Dance Moms.

If I were to really explain TV to them it would be mostly  to warn them about Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares and Gordon Ramsey overall because if no one warned me about him and he just showed up and yelled at me I might die a little.  Imagine one day he pops up in a little restaurant in Cuba and shouts "you call these potatoes? how long have they been in this cabinet? since the Russians sent them?"   But I don't tell them about him, not yet. I'm not sure they're ready.

They send weather reports (there is no Weather Channel in Cuba, someone please fix that?) and  food reports ("it's been two days since I've had protein and I keep thinking about a wonderful piece of real steak").  Some emails come in ALL CAPS and some in all lowercase, but all are  filled with besitos and abrazos and over the top I love you so much kiss kiss kiss.

No one asks me for anything from me in their emails except for my words, which is a relief because I don't have any clue how to get things from me (point A) to Cuba (point B).  Even though they ask for nothing, I'm already packing my bags (in my head) full of things for them, things I'll give them face to face on my next trip.  Spices for Olgita. Clothes. Underwear. Shoes. Spaghetti. Books. Makeup. A belt-buckle that is as cool as the spinning dollar one my cousin now wears. 

 My Mom copies me on all her email in and out of Cuba.  Hers are better. They read like professional business letters in impeccable Spanish written by a skilled diplomat. She asks more questions, better questions. She asks "How is your daughter? Does she need anything for graduation?" and "What size shoes does he wear?" Our family, the part that is stuck over there,  asks for dresses, for special shoes for an owner's manual to car (and could we fax it?), children's fever reducer, stomach medicine.

Her emails sharpen my Spanish and help me remember names, spellings, relationships.

 I don't read them carefully, not all of them, not any more than most people read every email they are bcc'd on. I glance through and evaluate and mentally file each. Ah! These are the people from the green house; this must be the driver I never met; oh! this is the family from Trinidad.  Another one about the weather. Another one about the weather. Oh! here is from my mom's god-daughter....

Today I read the beginning of an email, just enough to bolt up and call my Mom right away.

 She answered Hello and I was silent and I couldn't say what was stuck in my throat at first, I kind of had to cough it out, and when I did, I swear to you, it isn't what I meant to say, but it was the best I could do.

"You could have called me," I sobbed then continued (not me, not me, this was not like me at all) "You can't just cc and bcc me when someone dies, this isn't how you DO it."

Her silence told me that she didn't mean it that way, didn't know it would land so square on my jaw and knock me down. Neither did I.

"At least you knew him, at least you met him," she offers like a big chunk of gold I had forgotten I was holding right there in my palm.  He came to Tia Lourdes' house when we were there, I met him, Olgita's father who people call "Cuco." Everyone calls my Abuelo "Cuco" too, which made him family to me so I stood on my tippy toes to reach up and hug the tallest oldest Cuban I had yet seen, and then left him in peace while he flipped through the copy of Marvin's Book someone handed him.

A knock on the door was the signal that his ride was here to pick him up. More hugs. Pictures. Then the conversation swirled to lunch, to Miriam.

On a walk down the Cienfuegos block back to the hotel L'Union  my  later my Mom explained it was Cuco's  job to walk her to school, home for lunch, things like that. He was kind, gentle, very protective. I could tell, I could still feel it I told her, just about as we arrived in front of Abuelo's store and took those pictures and moved on to asking more questions than finding answers.

  Now that he has jumped into the sky to laugh in the wind, his body rests in our family tomb, the one that still has space for a few more people under the oaks and near the Cienfuegos Parthenon.

Until today I could never tell you I met, hugged and laughed with a person who is buried in Cuba. Not in this lifetime at least (we can address the rest later).

Somehow, that changes things, everything.

I just can't tell you how, not until I move a little futher along in the story at least.