Sunday, August 13, 2017

Through a Glass, Darkly

From 12/6/07

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known"
Corinthians 13:12

It's about 8:15pm on Wednesday December 5 , and I am home in Tallahassee after a long drive from Fort Lauderdale.

I am surrounded by love, hugs, coloring pages and candy canes, all things that make me thirsty.

I open the cabinet, grab my favorite aqua cup, the one with the Mickey Mouse insignia so subtly and artistically etched on it, then cry.

This was HERS, I sob to the unlistening sink and the empty 2 liter of Sunkist.

Wave after wave of sadness and guilt wash over me.

I stole this cup from Abuela.

I did.

She had a set of 8 that my mother bought her at Downtown Disney a few years ago. One day I poured myself a "to go cup," stuck it in my car, and never returned it.

Every time I've used it, I've thought, "nope, not going to give it back... not until I get myself a set..."
I always loved that set, and each of the countless times I've been to Downtown Disney I haven't made a single sincere effort to buy myself Mickey Mouse cups.

Maybe I didn't really want my own cups.
Maybe I just couldn't be honest.
Maybe the truth was just too ugly.
What I wanted was Abuela's cups.

The cups aren't that old, and maybe they aren't very special looking, but they mean something to me.

I imagine that other people -- maybe people who aren't descended from refugees? -- have heirlooms like great-grandpa's rifle, great-great-Grandmother's teapot, lace curtains, WW2 letters, tiny silver spoons.

We don't.

So instead of things, we have traditions.

We lie.

And then, of course, tell stories about our lies.

For example, my abuelos lied to their children when they were leaving Cuba in 1960.

Instead of saying "tell everyone goodbye, we are OUT of here!" they told the children it was just for a vacation.

This is forgivable.

Tearful goodbyes or packing sentimental things-- baseball gloves, love letters -- were red flags that have jeopardized their safety.

Just a small lie, but a memorable one nonetheless.

Years ago, my abuelo's sister -- Tia Fifi ( stayed at with Abuelo and Abuela house while recovering from a heart attack.

During her month-long visit, Tiafi's son Eduardo had a heart attack.

She kept trying to call him at home, but he wouldn't answer.

Because, of course, he was in the hospital.

Finally someone -- I won't point fingers here -- told her "Oh! Didn't you hear? Eduardo is in the Keys."

For awhile, every time someone was sick or dying, we'd say, "Oh? Visiting the Keys?"

Lies, lies, lies.

One year while I was home from graduate school for Winter Break my mother confided in me that she had three tickets for the Orange Bowl -- don't tell your father!

Later that same day, my father pulled me aside to show me the three tickets he bought for the Orange Bowl -- don't tell your Mom!

When the three of us were together, Mom would rant about how she wished we could go to the game, how we couldn't afford tickets, how there were no tickets to be found.

Dad kept making speeches about how he wouldn't dream of going to the Orange Bowl and missing other games on TV.

Keeping their secrets and watching them lie made me physically ill.
This went on for a painful long week until game day, when they both broke it to me there really only was only one set of tickets.


They laughed.

I cried.

We still see that as a positive family experience.

And then there's last Saturday, December 1.

I guess we couldn't tell my abuelos why I was really driving down.

Imagine "Melissa is coming here to say her last goodbye."

That's too deep.

Too real.

Too honest and painful.

So when I got to the hospital, Abuelo asked, "Where is it that you're giving a lecture again? University of Miami? On Cuban History? That's something! " I stammered, said something vague, changed the subject.

When I sat next to Abuela, my mom elbowed me, and I dutifully looked the woman right in the eyes and let out a string of lies.

"Aren't I lucky to be here, now, giving a paper? What a wonderful coincidence that they brought me down right now, and I can see you?"

Abuela pulled her hand out from under mine, narrowed her eyes.

I could hear her thinking all sorts of curses for me.


And worse.

She knew why I was there.

And now that she no longer sees things, "through a glass, darkly" I just know Abuela forgives me for lying to her on her last day on earth.

It was, after all, a cherished and unbroken family tradition.

Abuelita, I'll see you in the Keys.