I was born in paradise.
The land of rum and salsa and the medianoche. Six months later, it was paradise lost en la medianoche.
Bad luck, bad karma, brujeria…who the hell knows? But I got to know hell and the devil himself: fidel.
And the devil and his minions destroyed society, outlawed decency and canceled Christmas. It was their way or death, my parents chose neither, they chose the highway. Actually, the shark infested waterway, but that was better than turning your first born over to the devil for indoctrination. But…not so fast…Paradise had turned into a hellish island prison. Yes, and hell came with its own shark infested moat around it, complete with machine gun equipped coastguard boats to prevent the inmates from trying to escape to the shark infested waters. Absurd, but it made sense, even to a child. No one is going to stay in hell voluntarily and the devil needs souls to torture. No escape.
You either joined the torturers and became part of the red mob of minions or you got tortured. It was that red or white. It was unthinkable for decent people to join the devil and so we became the tortured. Every day, it seemed, there was a new hellish edict designed to torture, torment and subjugate us into submission. After all, the devil loved to torture and torment, but what he was really after, what he really wanted was your soul. So with each dreaded new day, you could look forward to the dark evil cloud that seemed to hover over paradise lost blocking out God’s light. No hope.
So my sentence in hell on Earth lasted for nine long years. Childhood was cancelled. It was too bourgeois a concept for hell. Again, absurd, but it made sense since children don’t belong in hell. We were to be “pioneers” instead…junior minions… mini hate mongers. Education? Hardly - just intimidation and indoctrination and slogans. Lots of revolutionary slogans. Lots. They wanted me to be like che. Imagine that. To be like a racist, homophobic, cowardly Argentine who reveled in personally administering coup de grâce to the firing squad victims. Innocence lost in Paradise lost. Even a “pioneer” can see the pattern here… All was lost.
And….as the plane finally lifted off the Varadero airport tarmac, I remember telling myself to look back at the hell I had just left because I might never see it again. I forced myself to look back as the plane sped away from the coastline, seeing the green island rapidly disappearing in the distance. Good! I hated that place and all the crap we put up with anyway! (Sometimes the hardness that comes with losing one’s innocence at an early age can be quite useful.) And as I sat there in the air conditioned cabin of National Airlines 707 climbing to reach the cruising altitude of 13,000 feet, (I will never, ever forget that), I realized my grandmother, Ramona was dead. Dead. She had died, suddenly, four months earlier. The devil had killed her, her weak heart had not been able to withstand the constant stress of the daily onslaught of misery and humiliation dished out by our tormentors. I was convinced. I hated them and him most of all.
To be exiled in the land of plenty isn’t half bad. One could make an argument that leaving paradise was the best thing that ever happened to me as I settled into an American Dream life that fit like a glove.
But, even on the most beautiful of occasions, on the greatest of days, like when the Giants won the Superbowl back in ’87, there was always a part of me that couldn’t be totally happy. That feeling would return. Suddenly I’d be back in the air conditioned cabin of the National Airlines 707 climbing to reach the cruising altitude of 13,000 feet watching paradise lost fade into the horizon and hating the devil. I had left a tiny bit of myself there in Paradise Lost. The devil had gotten a grip of it and torn it from me, forever. Give the devil his due.
One by one, those in my parent’s generation started to die, not being able to outlast their tormentor, the devil. The devil always won, it seemed. And as much as I tried to put it behind me, the devil was there at every funeral, taunting me, pulling me back into the air conditioned cabin of the National Airlines 707 climbing to reach the cruising altitude of 13,000 feet.
And for the last 10 years or so, since the devil has been preparing for his trip back to Hades, my biggest fear has been that he would outlast my parents.
I lay there in bed. It’s late. I should have gone to sleep hours ago, but I’m checking Facebook on “Precious”, my iPhone. And I read it. fidel died. Again. Funny. We will now have to endure another proof of life video from the regime of the devil wears Adidas variety. Great. But wait, this is from an actual news organization…
And back I go…swoosh… back into the air conditioned cabin of the National Airlines 707 climbing to reach the cruising altitude of 13,000 feet.
The TV is already on Fox News when I turn it on,(no CNN in my house since Elian), and they confirm it. But, they go right into commercial. My wife tells me to put the local news and viola! It’s true! And I’m cruising at 13,000 feet. Finally. Al fín.
I was going to call my parents. I had dreamed of this phone call all my life, but I didn’t. The devil had already taken so much from them. They would find out in the morning and call me. Give them their day.
And so, they never called. I finally called them and didn’t bring it up. I asked the old man how his back was doing as he was having a flare-up of arthritis. Then I asked if he had heard the news and he talked about it as if the pot banging on calle ocho was going on in some far away land.
And there I was…my ears popping in the air conditioned cabin of National Airlines 707 circling…always circling looking for that piece of me forever lost in paradise.