Friday, April 18, 2008

Letters From My Father

As soon as we left Cuba, letters from my revolutionary father, Cuban poet Justo Rodriguez Santos, started pouring in.

The sight of the envelope with the Cuban stamps produced in us a mixture of joy, pain and fear. We were happy to hear from ‘papi’ --but we feared what his sense of tragedy could do to us from afar. The pain of leaving him behind was present everyday --specially in my brother, who had been very close to him, but it was not so hard for me. I had tried to distance myself from my father since my parents had gone through a bitter divorce in 1957 and he had reacted to it with both violent rages and melancholic drinking binges.

Now we were trying to start a new life and my father was like Jimmy the Cricket --a constant reminder of having commited a possible mistake in leaving Cuba (and the fact that we ‘left’ him behind and would never see him again, as he dramatically and resolutely told my brother at the airport the day of our departure) --and a constant reminder of a life that was not ours any longer.

Havana, March 30th, 1963

My Loving Children:

Today, very early in the morning, when the sun had barely shown itself, I drove all the way to El Salado Beach. Then I came back, slept two hours and drove back to El Salado again.

But this time I came back slower, taking my time, going through the small towns of Caimito del Guayabal and Mariel. It was a beautiful ride! There was not a single cloud in the sky and it was breezy and cool. In Mariel I stopped briefly and remembered the many times we all went there.

Still, this is not a good day for me. I feel very ‘down’ and pesimistic about everything. Still, I will try to ask my good friend Raul Roa (NOTE: Cuba´s Prime Minister and Ambassador to the UN for many years) at the Ministery of the Exterior, to see if I can get permission to travel to Mexico to see you before you leave for the United States. I am trying to woo away my sadness looking at my stamp collection. Please try to send me some Gilette blades....or I will have to start growing a beard!

Your father,

Havana, May 3rd, 1963

My beloved Antonia, Mari and Leon:

Today my sadness is overwhelming. So profound that I doubted about writing this letter. The reason is always the same: the passing of time and the impossibility of traveling over to see you all. I have the money for the trip. I don’t have any work commitments either. They just won’t let me go!
I know that is unfair of me to ask of you to come back.On the other hand I can see how difficult it is for me to take a simple vacation trip to Mexico. I know you will not come back to your country ---or to me. This finality frightens me very much.

If it was not because I still have hopes to one day see you --and be of help to all of you-- I would take my life. It seems to be the only exit to relieve me from my pain.



Havana, May 16th,1963

Dear Mari:

Last night I fell asleep reading Mark Twain´s “Life in the Mississippi”. Although you won’t believe it, I had never read MT before --and the truth is that I just loved it.

I am still going through a terrible morale crisis. Sometimes I can overcome it, if only temporarily, riding around in my motorcycle, playing chess or looking at my stamps-- but at the end I fall back into a state of ‘inertia’ that frightens me. Your absence is the cause for this up and downs of my spirit. My health is not good either, since my stomach is bleeding again. Yesterday I tried to get a hold of some fresh milk (through my friend Commander Rene Rodriguez, who sometimes gets me some) but he is away in the Soviet Union for a month. My mother has a special permission to buy rations of fresh milk (because she is over 75) -- but I feel bad about drinking her allotment, since she's been very weak lately...These health problems depress me even more.

As you asked me to do in your last letter -- I went to “Jesus de Miramar Church” and tried to light some candles, but there were none available...There are not candles in Cuba!..Instead I sat there for a while, put some money in a charity box --and did all this in your name. I mentally begged the Heavens to help you all. I could not pray because I have forgotten all the prayers I learned at La Salle (Note: La Salle Brothers Catholic School, where my father studied since childhood until he graduated from High School)...I don´t even remember the “Our Father”!

My darling daughter, I feel very pesimistic about seeing you again! Although I try to boost my hopes, in this country everything seems so dificult ........ Love Papi