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cuban revolutionaries
cuban revolutionaries

Straits of Fate: A Refugee’s Journey Pt. 2

This is part two of the series Straits of Fate (read part one here). These stories are inspired by my family’s journey through the Cuban Revolution. Because of the sensitivity of some of these stories, details and names have been changed, and artistic license employed for what some might call a dramatic effect. So…let’s get back to Cuba, back to the early ’60s, as this island nation tosses and turns in the midst of transformational change and unbridled upheaval.

THE TROPICANA

Rumba. Mambo. El Son. The seeds of Salsa music playing live and loud with all its Caribbean flare.

Big orchestra horns, congas and various drum sets, rumbling Afro-Caribbean percussion and sway.  Carlos and Maria arrive into the main ballroom of the hottest club in Havana, some might say the world, at the moment: The Tropicana.

It’s a splashy, brightly colored venue, over-the-top tropical décor, servers with long ruffled shirts with the top few buttons down, chests exposed. Carlos is straight out of the Rat Pack, silver suit, hair slicked, skinny tie, black leather dress shoes. Maria looks like a movie starlet, a cocktail dress with tall matching heels, giant pearl earrings on each lobe. They do not look at each other once as they enter.

There is a pulse in the room. Musicians and dancers gyrate on stage, with a sliver of vulgarity, just enough to titillate the crowd. The conga player is in a trance as he beats his drums, bouncing, rhythmic.

Carlos and Maria find their table up near the front of the room.

An hour later, Carlos has a glass in front of him, only a sip of scotch left at the bottom, and a half melted ice cube. Next to it, four empty glasses. Beside him is Maria, her one strawberry daiquiri sits in front of her on the table. It’s still only halfway done.

House lights dim. Stage lights brighten. The main number begins. On the stage, the first appearance by Martica – exotic, stunning, with a sharp attitude. She is the featured dancer at the club, garbed in a sensuous, scantily-clad costume adorned with shimmering sequins and bright feathers. She starts out with long, slow dance moves around a statue toward the back of the stage of an African deity, Babalu Aye.

El Babalu-Aye is the Orisha (god) of disease in the Yoruba religion (a subsect of Santeria, which like Voodoo mixes the worship of African deities and Catholic Saints) . It might seem off-putting at first, but dancing to this particular Orisha is thought to cleanse the soul, and more suitable for this crowd, also protects against venereal disease.

The conga players and back up dancers sing the chant “Babalu-Aye, Babalu-Aye” as Martica moves toward the front of the stage, commencing the Dance of el Babalu, in all its sexy, pagan glory.

First, Martica bends, limps and convulses like a sick person. She falls to the floor, sprawled, her movements are like seizures, till she builds her posture back up, with gestures that sweep the air. It culminates with a gyrating rhumba routine – a powerful, sensual number symbolizing her resurrection – as the conga players and back-up dancers circle around her. The statue of Babalu-Aye hovers ominously behind the performance.

Martica captivates the audience, having a complete command of everyone’s attention…especially Carlos.  He’s the only one at his table standing. He claps, and stares right at Martica, vying to get her to meet his eyes. She finally does, but the look she gives him is filled with ire. She abruptly turns away, and struts to the back of the stage, disappearing behind the statue of Babalu Aye.

The number ends. Everyone applauds loudly, except Maria, who all this time has been leering Carlos.

He turns to her and says, “I have to go to the bathroom. Okay? Stay here.”

“Where would I go?” she mutters to herself, “…Comemierda [s***head].”

Carlos makes his way through the nightclub. He cannot help himself from gazing at every attractive woman he passes. Carlos stops in front of a background dancer. He raises her hand in the air. She laughs, nervously, uncomfortably looking around, knowing there must be a ticked off wife or girlfriend for this drunk man somewhere nearby.

Carlos quickly turns his attention to the main dancer, Martica, off in the corner facing a mirror. Carlos stops behind, Martica. At first she ignores him, she keeps fixing her large hoop earring up in a mirror on the wall, but Carlos continues to stand there, staring at her reflection, a sly smirk on his drunk face.

Martica finally meets Carlos’s eyes in the reflection on the mirror.

“Go away…,” she says.

Mi Martica,” he slurs.

“I’m not your Martica…”

Carlos leans over and whispers…

“You will always be my Martica…”

Martica turns around abruptly.

“You’re drunk. And your wife is sitting over there looking at us…”

Carlos flinches. He peeks out of the corner of his eye, slowly comes to the realization he’s being watched.  Carlos pats Martica on the shoulder.

“Nice to see you…” he says as he makes his way to the restroom.

Martica forces a sarcastic smile, heads toward the stage, where her fellow dancers stand by, waiting for her, having witnessed the cringe-worthy moment.

A few moments later Carlos struts out of the restroom like he’s the coolest mother****er in Havana. He puts lights a cigar, takes a long satisfying puff, but before he can exhale…SPLASH.

A bright red, slushy, strawberry daiquiri spattered across Carlos’s face. An empty glass follows, chucked right into his chest. Standing across from him, a broiling, red-faced Maria.

Hijo de gran puta!” Maria yells. Then she marches off.

Carlos just stands there, dripping in daiquiri. He grabs a cloth napkin from a passing server’s tray. He wipes his face off. Shakes his head, looks around at the crowd who leer back at him. He cracks a sheepish smile, shrugs it off to save some face. He takes a drag of his cigar.

De pinga…”

 BASE TRAX

At Base Trax, a secret U.S. Military training ground in the middle of the jungles of Guatemala. Enrique and over 1500 other Cuban men begin their training as soldiers by officers in the CIA.

It’s a hot, humid day. On the center esplanade of the base grounds, the Brigade of Cuban volunteers – known as Brigade 2506 – line up in formation, among them Enrique. Two stoned face American Soldiers stand near a fence. Sweat beads on their foreheads. All they do is stare at the Cuban men who drill fifty yards away. The instructor leading the drills is a U.S. Army Captain, looks like he was carved out of granite, tough as nails.

He shakes his head in disgust as the Cuban Brigadistas attempt to mount a high caliber machine gun. They are sloppy, unorganized, as they drag the gun on rolling stilts through the middle of mud. They fumble around with the ammo. The stilts go up off-balance. Once they mount the machine gun onto the stand, it tumbles to the ground. Throughout it all, they bicker.

Captain James waves them off. “Stop!”

The Cuban men continue to shout at each other.

Atencion!”

One by one, everyone stops, looks over. The Captain yells at them, “Either you sp*cs learn to work as a team, or you can kiss your island nation goodbye.”

Enrique can’t help but blurt out, “Easy man, easy.”

The Captain quick steps up into Enrique’s face. He pokes his finger into Enrique’s chest, yells, “You’ll die easy if you keep this shit up! There is no more easy! That’s how you lost control of your s**thole country to begin with!”

The Captain turns to walk away. The Cuban men, few of whom have any military experience, look around at each other, stunned. Enrique takes a breath, musters up the nerve to speak again.

“Captain…”

The Captain stops in his tracks. Slowly turns around, irritated.

Enrique says, “I know you are trying to prepare us for war, but we are not professional soldiers. We are regular citizens, professionals. If you keep breaking us down, we won’t have anything left to fight with.”

The Captain approaches Enrique. “Who do you speak for?”

Enrique doesn’t understand the question. He shakes his head, confused.

“Who do you speak for soldado?!” he says adding his gringo-accented Spanish.

Enrique looks around at the faces of his men. They look as unsure as he does.

“I guess I speak for the men.”

The Captain unsheathes his army knife, points it in the direction of the men. “You speak for these men?”

Enrique eyes the long blade. Gulps. Stands up straight. “Yes, I do…and you don’t.”

The Captain shoves Enrique forward, till he stumbles around on the mud trying to keep his balance.

Enrique asks, “What is the purpose of this?”

“If you speak for your men, you do it from the front!”

Enrique digs his heel into the mud, “…And where will you be, Yankee?”

The Captain shoves Enrique violently. He falls to the ground.

“…Behind you,” the Captain says.

The men groan. Enrique looks at his men, then back at the Captain. He jumps up to his feet.

The Captain yells, “You have to be ready to die-”

Before the captain get the last word out, Enrique lunges at him, tackling him onto the ground. Some of the men cheer, others wave their hands trying to keep them calm. Enrique pulls the knife from the Captain’s hand. Spikes it into the dirt. Enrique rises, stands over the Captain.

“I am ready to die, but in Cuba. Not here. Not at the hands of a barbaric Yankee boor like you.”

Two American Soldiers nearby run in the direction of the skirmish. The Cuban Men look on as they approach, guns drawn. The Captain rises to his feet, holds his hands up, motions to the Guards everything is fine. They put their weapons down.

The Captain pulls the knife out of the ground. Walks over to Enrique. He grabs Enrique’s hand. Places the knife in his palm. “As of today. This is your captain. He is a soldier. And if the rest of you don’t turn into soldiers soon, you will lose your country…and your lives.” 

The Bay of Pigs

The Bay of Pigs invasion is a turning out to be a complete s***show.

What a disaster. To begin with, Fidel’s Cuban national army knew the Brigadistas were coming. They were expecting them. How? Simple. Cubans can’t keep a secret. Thanks to the incessant blabbering that went on about this invasion throughout the preceding months in Miami, and the infiltration into the exile community by Cuban spies, the surprise attack was nowhere near a surprise.

On top of that, when the attack did arrive, it amounted to a sequential comedy of errors. First, one of the boats carrying the men and most of the supplies runs a ground on a reef. Another boat is sunk by the squadron of Cuban MIG fighter jets who were on the scene as soon as the boats cross into Cuban waters. There was supposed to be air cover provided by the US Air Force warding those MIGs off. But it was called off at the last minute by President John F. Kennedy, who was never fully onboard with this American sponsored invasion to begin with. He inherited it from the previous Eisenhower administration, and he got cold feet on the precipice of what he felt would be the spark to start World War 3. Over a thousand men were left stranded and disoriented in the swamps along the Bahia de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs, on Cuba’s southern coast.

Needless to say, things were going as bad as they possibly could when Enrique, who is on the last boat over, arrives at the Bay. Aboard the midsize military vessel are about 30 men. Off in the distance, the shores of Cuba.  The men look up to the sky. No sign of their promised air support. Only the Soviet built MIGs. Enrique rings up his American CIA-advisors, yells into the radio mic, as explosions go off in the distance near the shore.

“Headquarters, this is Battalion 3 on boat GT56. Over.”

A fuzzy voice comes over the other end of the radio.

“Battalion 3, copy, this is headquarters. Over.”

Enrique asks, “There is no sign of air cover. When is it coming? Over.”

There is no answer for over ten seconds. The men look intensely at the speaker for the answer. The crackle returns. “Air support has been aborted. Over.”

Enrique responds, “Headquarters, we were promised air support! We cannot make landfall without it. Over!”

“Air cover is not possible at this time. I repeat, air cover is not possible at this time. Over.”

“By whose order?! Over!”

“The President…” the voice says, ominously.

The men look at each other. F***! The worst case scenario is now the reality. The voice comes back over the radio to add, “…Proceed with landfall at your own risk. I repeat, proceed at your own risk. Over and out.”

Enrique slams the radio. “We’re on our own.”

One of the soldiers, Andres, yells out “Me cago en los gringos, cojones! I knew we couldn’t trust any Americans!”

Another soldier asks, “Now what?”

Enrique stands up, answers him, “We do what we came all this way to do. We land, join whatever units are left at one of the meeting points.”

“But we’re supposed to have bombers clear the beach! We don’t have enough firepower on our own to get through that swamp! Who the hell knows what’s waiting for us out there?” Andres says. “It’s a suicide mission!”

“The recon team’s already landed. You want to leave them behind? I say we join them, and we fight!” Enrique begs.

Que vas Enrique…I didn’t go to school for this. We’re f****** accountants!” Andres replies.

Enrique looks at his men, says, “Look, if you want to stay on this boat and head back to Guatemala, then fine! But I’m getting off. We’ll do what Fidel did- Take the island back town by town. He did it with less.”

The unconvincing faces of the men in the unit stare back at him. Reluctance fills them. But as they look in each other’s eyes…the mood shifts. Enrique stares at Andres, who looks over at the shoreline in the horizon. He looks back at Enrique.

“You get off this boat. I follow you,” Andres says.

Another follows, “We all do.”

They all cheer “Cuba Libre!”

“NO CUBANS OR DOGS ALLOWED”

Miami, Florida.

In the early 60’s this is still a backwater Florida cracker town with remnants of the Old South prevalent everywhere. An influx of Cubans has spurred mixed reaction among the locals. Some restaurants in South Beach post signs on their doors, “No Cubans or dogs allowed.”

“Enrique” and “Carmen” with children.

One afternoon, Carmen cooks in the kitchen of a small, one-bedroom bungalow near downtown Miami, where she and her five kids are living. Tonight’s dinner – Spam chunks and white rice- same as last night’s.

Gabriela comes running into the house. “Mami, mami! The old man next door is throwing things at Eddie and Miguel.”

Carmen grabs a broom stick, and runs out the door.

Out on the front yard, near the fence separating them from the property next door, an older white man, their neighbor, angrily hoots and hollers, and points at her two young boys, both of whom yell out for their mother. In one hand he holds a can of Schlitz beer, in the other a box of bleach.

“Shoo! Shoo! Stay away from my yard,” he yells.

He tosses bleach in the direction of the boys. Eddie already has a white bleach stain on his blue t-shirt as he runs toward Carmen.

“You dirty, little sp*c!” the man yells.

Carmen confronts the man, broomstick held high. She swings, he lunges backward.

“Get back!” she yells.

“No Cubans! No Cubans! Go back to your country.” He takes a sip of beer in between his tirade. Carmen realizes this is not only a bitter bigot, but a reprehensible drunk. “You’re not welcome here!”

“But we are here. And who are you to push us out?” she asks.

“An American,” he answers.

“Listen, sir. When my husband gets back from the war your government got him into, he’ll come looking for you. Until then you leave my kids alone, or I’ll come back with a .38 special I keep loaded under my pillow. And I know how to use it.” She makes a gun sign with her hand and points at him. “Pow-Pow.”

The Neighbor backs off a little. “At least speak English. I don’t want to hear no Spanish,” he slurs. “No Espanol!”

The neighbor’s wife sticks her head out the door. “Get your drunk ass back inside!”

The Neighbor begrudgingly walks away. Carmen and her kids walk back to their porch.

“What happened?” Carmen asks.

“He got mad when us for playing by the fence. But we did nothing bad!” Eddie implores.

“I know, mijo I know. Just stay away from there okay. They don’t like us,” she says.

“But why?” he asks.

“Because we have class.”

The kids nod, but have no idea what that means.

“Mami,” Gabriela chimes in. “What’s a sp*c?”

P.O.W. LIFE

Spring 1961.

A sprawling athletic complex called La Sportiva, anchored by a baseball stadium, is converted into a prison camp for the men of Brigade 2506, the captured Bay of Pigs invaders.

It has immediately become one of Fidel Castro’s most notorious prison for political offenders. Where most Cubans accused of counter-revolutionary activities are tried – and where executions are carried out.

Inside one of the hold cells are ten Cuban men, including Enrique. He walks around the cell, pats his men on the back. Looks them over. Nods to each of them as they sit around, play cards, write in their journals.  All of sudden, one of the men hurries to the barred open window.

“They’re gonna blow us up! They’re gonna blow us up!”

All the men rise and run to the window. Outside Cuban soldiers arrange sticks of dynamite on the outside wall of their section of the prison.

They speak through the bars on the window slit. “What are you doing?”

A Colonel, menacing, unsympathetic, oversees the war prisoner’s ward.

“Los Yanquis set up a blockade. They won’t let any Soviet supply ships through. If they don’t let up, well…ya tu sabe compadre.”

The Colonel points to the dynamite being laid down around him. He continues, “If Kennedy drops the bomb, Khrushchev launches a counterstrike, and all of your traitors will have served as the gringo’s pawns in starting World War 3…for that crime against humanity, you will all die. Justo y necessario!”

Enrique, who knew many of his captors, yells, “Call the general. He promised our safety. Let me speak to the general!”

The prisoners’ attention all turn to the prison door. Where Prison Guards burst in. They lead Enrique out of the cell. The Prison soldiers lead Enrique to the end of the courtyard with the firing wall where they execute some of the prisoners. Waiting for him there, is a provincial General, who acts as the prison ward.

He watches as the Colonel removes some fabric from his pocket, a blindfold. A Prison Soldier strikes Enrique’s stomach with the butt of his bayonet. Enrique folds, falls, cries out in pain. They pick Enrique back up by his arms. The Colonel ties the blindfold around Enrique’s head.

Enrique shakes, yells out, “I’m the only officer in my unit! If you kill me, it will leave you no officers to negotiate with.”

The General exclaims, “One less traitor as a bargaining chip, sure. But the message will be loud and clear.”

Enrique asks, “That you cannot be trusted?”

The General responds, “…That you are not in control.”

He motions to the Prison Soldier “Sigue.” They drag Enrique to the wall. Posture him up.

“Stop!…Please, don’t do this…You know my family!” Enrique cries out.

Off in the distance, his men can see through the bars of their prison cell window, yelling out, pleading that they stop. Enrique is on the verge of hyperventilating, but takes a deep breath, trying to regain some sort of composure.

The Prison Soldiers take their position. “Apunta!” They take aim with their bolt action rifles. They cock the rifles in unison, CLICK-CLACK. Enrique shivers, holds his hands out in front of him. Begins to recite the Lord’s Prayer aloud…

Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo. Santificado sea tu nombre. Venga tu reino…[Our father, who art in heaven, hallow be thy name].”

Laughter fills the air. It’s the Colonel’s.

Enrique stops praying once he hears his laughing. He slowly lowers his hands realizing he will not die today. A prison soldier removes the blindfold.

The General motions the Colonel aside, gets right up to Enrique’s ear.  He whispers, “Do not for one second think you can get away with being unafraid. If you are allowed to live, then every single day we will bring you out here. And every day, we will point our rifles at your head. Every day, till the day I get the order to shoot.”

He pulls a handgun out of his holster holds it to Enrique’s head and pulls the trigger. CLACK. Empty. “Maybe tomorrow…”

Because of Enrique’s injuries from repeated blows to his mid-section land, he can no longer stand up on his own. Only after he passed out in pain, do they take him to the prison’s infirmary.

He lays on the gurney. Clutches his stomach. Grimaces. Carlos enters. His hair slicked back, white doctor’s coat on, shiny black shoes. A cigarette in one hand. Medical report in the other. Carlos drops the medical report on a table. Stands over Enrique, puffs on his cigarette. Blows smoke in Enrique’s direction.

Enrique coughs.

Carlos asks, “You know why you are in such pain?”

Enrique just coughs some more, waves away the smoke

Carlos continues, “Tell me Yankee, do you know?…Contestame chico.”

Enrique responds, “No soy Yankee, accerre, soy Cubano como tu.” (I am not a Yankee, bro. I’m a Cuban just like you.)

“You’re a Cuban just like me? No, socio. You are a foreign invader. A mercenary for the C.I.A., straight from under the Yankee’s boot,” Carlos retorts. “That is what you are. A gusano.”

“Are you here to torture me more?! Your men haven’t done enough?” Enrique asks.

“Torture you?” Carlos puts out his cigarette. “I’m a doctor.”

Enrique looks at Carlos with utter disdain, “Yeah? Well, you smell like a barrel of Scotch.”

Carlos pulls out his clip board. “Look the reason for your pain is diverticulitis, and it’s pretty advanced.”

Enrique disagrees. “It’s because your soldiers have beat me with their rifles over and over again…como un animal cabron!”

Bueno…I admit, none of that helped. But regardless, you have a perforation in your intestine that has been leaking feces into your abdomen. You have an abscess and we need to perform surgery, tonight.”

“I do not want you to cut me open. Me oye?”

Carlos is dumbfounded. “Why wouldn’t you trust me? If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead.”

Enrique is aghast at the question, “Why wouldn’t I trust-?! You ruined our country you son of a bitch! You fell for a lie! Imbecile. You have no morals. That’s why.”

Enrique pants, out of breath, falls back on the bed, exhausted from his impassioned tirade. Carlos approaches the bedside, calmly.

“I’m the one who lacks morals here?”

Enrique points his finger at Carlos, “Do you believe in God?”

Carlos huffs, “I’m a man of science, not superstition.”

“Exactly! Just leave me alone. I’ll leave my fate with my lord and savior.” Enrique coughs.

Carlos leans in.

“Listen compadre…You come here, to your own country. This is your home. And you come with a rifle in your hand. Pointed at your own people, your brothers and sisters. Threatening us with death if we don’t go back to corruption and exploitation. And now here you are lying in this infirmary, dying – and you probably deserve to die- but I won’t let you. I will do everything I can so that you can live. I took an oath. From there, I get my morals. Not from some God who looks down at starving children and does nothing…Now get some rest, accerre. You’re going to need it.”

An Old Friend

Carlos walks through the center courtyard at the La Sportiva. The prisoners walk solemnly around the dirt esplanade, some chatting, most of them looking down on the ground. Carlos looks on them, studying the faces of these men, former compatriots. He is searching for something that separates them from him. Then Carlos notices Andres, a soldier from Enrique’s unit. He recognizes him. They both grew up in the same town.

Carlos meanders around the courtyard, away from Andres, nodding at various prisoners passing by, all the while keeping Andres in the corner of his eye, occasionally glancing at him.  Andres is fixated on a makeshift game of chess using black and right rocks on the ground. Carlos circles around, indirectly, until he finally finds a spot to light his cigarette, right beside Andres, who has yet to look in Carlos’s direction.

Carlos coughs. Andres looks up. His face lights up. “Guida! I thought it was you.”

Carlos looks around at the Guards, to make sure no one notices Andres and him talking.

Calmate socio, calmate…Don’t act like I know you,” Carlos whispers, looking off into the other direction. “How are you?”

“I’ve been better…,” Andres whispers.

Carlos looks off at one prisoner, limping around on crutches, one of his feet missing, offers, “All things considered you look well.”

“If you say so Guida. What are you doing here?” Andres asks.

“I’m a doctor in the prison infirmary.”

Andres chuckles. Now, he stands up. Meets his old friend face to face.

“So Fidel tears us to pieces and you put us back together again?” he says.

“Look, I have a hard time seeing someone from the neighborhood here,” Carlos says.

Andres looks deep into Carlos’s eye. “So do I…”

Uncomfortable silence. It’s Carlos who flinches, looks away, as Andres’s gaze never wavers from Carlos’s eyes.

“You are still like a little brother to me,” Carlos tells him.

“All this madness is brother against brother, no?

Carlos nods, “Sadly.”

“Here we are. Two boys from Manzanillo on either side of a civil war,” Andres adds.

Carlos looks around, makes sure none of the other prison staff notices his conversation.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” Carlos asks.

“Yes! Get me out of here right now,” Andres replies.

“You know I can’t do that…”

“Then why’d you ask it, socio?”

“I mean is there anything you need? Food? Medicine?” Carlos replies.

Andres thinks about it. “I would love to brush my teeth…a toothbrush, some toothpaste.”

“That I can do. I’ll see you here tomorrow. Just act like it’s nothing. Okay?”

“Okay…”

Carlos turns to go. Andres tugs at his sleeve, “Guida…”

Carlos turns back.

“…And socks,” Andres whispers.

Carlos nods, turns toward the gates. He walks past a Guard in the pathway. The Guard eyes Carlos.

“Que?” Carlos asks.

“Nada,” the guard says, steely look in his eyes. Carlos keeps walking.

THE ASSASSINATION OF PITI FAJARDO

Piti Fajardo (right) with Che Guevara (left)

La Bodegita del Medio, a small, historic bar in a cobblestone street in Old Havana. Carlos takes the last sip of Scotch. Plants the glass on the ledge, and steps out into the street to light up a cigarette.

He notices the stack of newspapers by the entrance. He picks one up.

The Headline reads: “CIRUJANO GENERAL PITI FARJADO ASSASINADO- POLICIA BUSCAN LADRONES  [SURGEON GENERAL PITI FAJARDO ASSASSINATED – POLICE IN SEARCH OF MUGGERS]”

Carlos stares at a front page photo of Piti next to the story of his murder. He sits down on a ledge, buries his head in his hands. He looks up, notices a couple of policeman walk by. They share a look after glancing at Carlos. The paranoia explodes within Carlos. If they killed his friend, will they be after him too?

“Carlos” and “Maria” on their wedding day.

Carlos walks into his condo. He’s tired. He hangs his coat. He pours himself a glass of whiskey. He walks over to the record player. He pulls out a record. Glenn Miller Orchestra – “In the Mood.”

Maria appears behind Carlos. He takes a deep breath.

“Did you read the newspaper?” she asks.

“Yes…”

“He was your best friend!”

“And what was he to you?!” Carlos snaps.

“What was he to me?”

“Yes! What was he to you?”

“He was your best friend…that’s what he was to me,” she answers.

Carlos relents. “I’m sorry…I need you more than ever Maria.”

Maria looks down at the floor.

“Isn’t that what you have always wanted to hear? I need you Maria. Okay? I need you now!”

“I’m filing for a divorce. I’m taking the kids to Mexico City,” she tells him.

Her hands are shaking. His eyes broil with anger.

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s been arranged,” she says.

“You are not going anywhere! You’re not taking my kids anywhere!” he yells.

“It’s not up to you. You of all people know Piti was not the only man I know in high places.”

“Are you crazy woman? I’m not letting you leave with my kids no matter how many leaders of the revolution you’ve teased.”

Maria slaps Carlos in the face. Carlito Jr.’s head pops out of the hallway behind them.

Maria straightens her blouse, then her hair.

“Carlito go back to bed,” she implores.

Carlito Jr. jumps back, disappears around the corner of the hallway as if to go to his room. But as his parents focus on each other again, Carlito Jr. peeks back around the corner.

“It’s done,” she whispers.

“Is your father behind this?” he asks. She won’t answer. He adds, “Think about our children…”

She back tears. “That’s exactly what I’m doing.”

Carlos’s tough exterior crumbles, his shoulders slump. He sits down on the sofa, gingerly. He stares off into the wall. Sips his scotch. Glenn Miller Orchestra music continues to play in the background. He takes a long drag from his cigar.

OUT TO SEA

One year later and so much has changed.

Enrique was freed from the Cuban prison, negotiated out by the Kennedy administration in exchange for 100 million dollars worth of food and medicine for the Cuban government. He is reunited with his wife Carmen in Miami. The Brigade veterans get a hero’s parade, with down Calle Ocho (8th Street) in Little Havana, culminating with a speech by President Kennedy himself. But the mood is solemn, the invasion was a failure, and the American president welcoming them back had, at least in the eyes of the Brigadistas, had sold them out.

 

Brigadista’s welcome back by President John F. Kennedy

 

Back in Cuba Carlos is now without his family. Maria divorces him and takes their children to Mexico City. Soon they will emigrate to Miami where much of Maria’s family is relocating. Carlos is left alone, his family is gone, his best friend Piti Farjardo has been assassinated. The official line is he was “shot by muggers.” Word was Carlos was being watched by the government due to his affiliation with Piti. It was clear. Time for him to go.

So Carlos and two other doctor friends traveled to Playa Cardenero, the nearest point a Cuban could get to the American base in Guantanamo Bay.

They camouflaged their faces with shoe polish, tied supplies to a plastic bag, tied around their waste, and in the dark of night plunged into the water, only large lifesavers to hold on to. They make their way to an atoll of “cayos” or cays, small islands a mile or two off show. They waded through waist high water during high tied, and climbed into the hardened mangrove vines for protection. There they spent the night.

The next day they began their swim toward Guantanamo Bay. Between them and their destination was ten miles of open sea, an assortment of sharks, stingrays, and barracudas, and worst of all, Cuban military boats on patrol for defectors. They get caught by one of those it is jail, maybe even execution. And so they swam, the waves were high on this day. Getting half way took most of the day.

The high winds made for choppy seas and a rough swim. Then one wave strolled under them and lifted them high. That’s when they spotted a green military boat.  It’s a scary sight, as they can’t make out the flag yet. The wave rolls out and they drop down behind it. As the next wave approaches them from the rear, they know that if this is a Cuban boat, if it has a Cuban flag, they are f***ed. They could go to prison. They might even be executed on the spot. If it’s an American flag, they get saved.

Here it comes, moment of truth. Once again they are lifted by a swell, the wave crests, and their sightline reaches over the top. This time they see the flag unfurl in the wind. It’s the American flag.

“Yankee! Yankee! Aqui! Aqui!” Carlos and the others yell and wave their hands in the air.

After several frantic minutes of yelling and waving their arms. The boat spots them. The Cuban men are pulled out of the water by American naval soldiers after being out in the ocean for almost two days. Their drinkable water is long gone. They hug the American sailors onboard, men who a mere month before would have been regarded as their mortal enemies. On this day, the enemy are Carlos’s saviors.

From the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Army Base, Carlos is sent to Homestead Air Force Base, about 25 miles south of Miami. As he is being process he is spotted by a cousin of Maria, who is there to pick up someone else. Carlos sees it as a sign from God, who he is only beginning to believe in. He gets on the phone, calls Maria in Mexico City and begs her to reunite.

“Will you marry me…again,” he asks.

With Carlos standing there, in a processing station on a military base, waiting on her answer, Maria’s voice answers on the other end of the line, “Maybe…”

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