For my eleventh birthday our mother took us to a camping site that was in the middle of nowhere, between Havana and the province of Matanzas. It was a beautiful place, with small mountains filled with tropical vegetation and a pool. We rented a tent and took enough clothes and food to stay there for three or four days. In the morning of our second day, I woke up with a story to tell. My mother listened as I explained the strange dream I’d had.
In the dream I was standing in the kitchen of my father’s house. His house had the kitchen in the back of the property and it could be accessed through a hallway that connected all rooms. I saw myself standing in the kitchen, facing the hallway and at the end, the living room. My father came into view, carrying two suitcases in his hands. He said, “Don’t be afraid. I need to go, but I’ll keep watching over you. Everything will be okay,” and then he turned around and marched across the long hallway, into the living room, out the front door and out of sight.
My mother, knowing I had the gift of mediumship, knew the dream meant the death of someone close. There’s, however, a belief that when you dream of someone dying, it’s never the person you dream about, but someone else. That morning I went to the pool with my sister, the two of us as carefree as children on vacation who only want to have fun. A few hours later, our mother showed up holding towels for us to dry ourselves. She had been informed by the office staff, that someone had called from Matanzas with the news of my mother’s step-father passing away. I saw the shock in my mother’s eyes, the three of us rushed to our tent to get dressed and gather our belongings. I don’t remember the trip back home; but I was told that even though the camping site was closer to Matanzas than Havana, our mother couldn’t find transportation to get there. We had to take a bus to Havana, so that from there we could take another bus to Matanzas. Ridiculous, but transportation was horrible in Cuba in those days and, believe it or not, it got worse shortly after.
Late at night, the three of us arrived at our building. We looked quite dismantled after the long trip, our bodies hot from having had days of fun in the sun, our legs heavy from standing in the bus for hours, carrying our poorly-packaged belongings. We still had to climb the stairs to our tiny apartment on the third floor of a turn-of-the-century century building that was ready to collapse. As we were getting ready to enter, our neighbor who lived on the lower floor came out to greet us. With a sorrowful face she said, “I’m so sorry, how is Klara doing?” My mother shook her head, and replied. “She’s doing fine, but why do you ask about her?” Our neighbor went on to say, “I’m sorry, didn’t you hear? It was her father who passed away.”
The building, the sidewalk, my mother, sister, and neighbor seemed to spin around me as I heard those words. I remember saying, “No, it can’t be,” but knowing fully well that I’d known about his passing this whole time. I remember crying, but I don’t recall making it upstairs or going to bed. The next day, one of my aunts came to visit me from Matanzas, and she gave me a red apple—a rarity in Cuba. I’d never seen an apple in my life but I had seen Disney’s Snow White being tempted by one. I took the apple and took a bite, expecting it to change the plot of my life and take the pain away. But it didn’t. The apple didn’t taste like anything I’d tried before. To me, it was like chewing on paper. And my father wouldn’t come to visit me that day. Or any other day. I wanted to close my eyes and fall asleep like Snow White. I wanted to fall asleep so I wouldn’t have to deal with the truth.
That morning I learned that my father had died the same night I dreamt of him. He was found the next morning by his wife, face down on the floor of his kitchen.
At the time I didn’t know how much I’d miss him. He’d become a dad to my sisters, too. Although the pain was distributed evenly among us, it was my life that became fractured at that point. I couldn’t possibly write a memoir if I wanted to. My mind has been blocking things since the day my father passed away from a heart attack. I only remember snippets—twenty-minute short films of a life lived. I don’t remember the days that followed or anything else I did that summer. I don’t remember explaining what happened to my friends at school when classes resumed. I don’t remember who came to pick me up from school that first day, when my father wasn’t around to do drive me home. I don’t remember.
But I remember him.
I remember spending weekends at his house, the two of us sharing the guest bed while his wife slept in their bedroom. I remember him caressing my arms and telling me funny stories so that I could fall asleep with a smile on my face. I remember him waking up in the middle of the night whenever I had insomnia, and taking me to the kitchen to serve us drinks—sugary water—as if that would help me sleep! I remember running in the rain with him, the two of us grabbing tiny pieces of hail that had fallen so we could chew them as if they were ice cubes. There was no such thing as pollution or acid rain. The world was a friendly place whenever I was with him.
From my father I learned that it’s okay to be a dreamer. From him I learned not to worry so much about what others think of me. I learned to choose happiness every day under all circumstances. Because a humble life doing what you love is ten times better than a life filled with luxury, stress, and pointless obligation.
Above all, he taught me to never grow up, to see the world through the eyes of a child. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember my life as others do. It isn’t bad memory I suffer from, and it isn’t my subconscious mind swallowing all the trauma I’ve lived in order to protect me from suffering. Maybe I’m to experience life like a child does—a moment at a time, holding no grudges, expecting nothing in return. And who says that is not how life is supposed to be experienced?