Thursday, August 28, 2008

Amazing teenage love.

This amazing man called E appeared in my life like some sort of Mythological Warrior. Achilles!...Apollo maybe!...With the brightest and greenest eyes I have ever seen, a piercing intelligence and the wittiest sense of humor, he soon became my hero.

A lieutenant in the US Army stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, he was about 25 or 26, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and one of the few survivors of the sealed truck where nine young invaders- including some friends of mine- asphyxiated and died while being transported from Bay of Pigs to the Havana prison where they were kept for one year.

His brother was a friend of my brother --and one day he brought E to meet us. We had lived in Miami for only a few months and my life was jolted by this intense and perfect man who quoted my favorite writers, had very open and avant garde ideas about life, enjoyed watching the stars sitting in our little front patio at The Betty and loved music and laughter; while still being passionate about Cuba and its freedom.

As soon as we met it was an instant connection. Like we had known each other all our lives and during his first ‘leave’ from the Fort we were together everyday -- and not only he looked great with his khakhi uniform of the United States Army, but he also had a brand new white Ford Galaxy convertible, which we drove with the top down all over Miami. Cruising with him over the Julia Tuttle Causeway from Miami to Miami Beach, right under the stars and listening to music, was sheer heaven! To this day.

Of course, my very fickle love life was ‘acting up’ again --and I felt awful about my quasi boyfriend R in New York, who wrote me many beautiful letters and was coming to Miami to see me -and talk to my mother ‘seriously’- in the coming Christmas. Seeing and romancing E was making me feel very guilty about him, so -naively, I guess- I wrote him a letter explaining that “I had met a very nice guy and since I was dating him --I felt it was fair he knew about it”. His reaction was not to write me or call me again!

This made me very sad because we had known each other since we were children, but I deserved it! Still -- E’s presence filled such a big space that I really did not care.

He came back twice again on leave, introduced me to his father, whom he adored; and one night I wore the violet chiffon dress with the spaghetti straps (the one I took out of Cuba ‘disguised’ as a nightgown!) and he took me dancing to “Les Violins”, which was Miami’s first elegant Cuban-nightclub; a very happy place with singing waiters, great music and great food. For Cuban exiles during those early years, being able to afford a night at Les Violins was like having reached Nirvana and it certainly felt like it! Oh, I forgot... since it was 'winter', my aunt Fela lent me her silver Cerulean Mink stole which I absolutely loved (the picture of that night illustrates this post, minus E's picture, which I prefer not to show) ...And I felt like a princess with the fur around my shoulders!

Before E returned to Ft Benning -after spending my first American Thanksgiving with his family- he told me he was coming back for a 2 week leave for Christmas and New Year’s Eve and made me promise I would spend all the holiday parties with him, and I happily agreed!

As a awaited his return on December 19th my plans for a ‘holiday wardrobe’ were paramount and I went into action. Since I had a few weeks to buy it, I used my $2 a week leftover money to buy -in layaway!- in a downtown cheap store, called “Lynn’s”--a beautiful $7.99 pastel blue cotton brocade A line dress, a $3.99 embroidered white ‘orlon’ evening cardigan made in China, and $4.99 dyed shoes from Baker’s to match the dress. As the ‘pièce de resistance’ my mother bought me a gorgeous $2.99 two strand knotted pearl necklace with a pretty clasp, to be worn -very fashionably- on the side of the neck!...I still remember the moment she gave me "the pearls" --and how we started laughing and crying, since this was a very serious and expensive purchase for us!

With only $20 I had acquired a really beautiful New Year’s Eve outfit! It was wonderful!

So I counted the days until E’s return. On Dec 15th my 'lay-aways' were paid up and I took home my ‘treasure’. I hung the dress -with the cardigan and the pearls around it- outside the closet door, so it would not wrinkle. It was the first thing I saw every morning when I woke up -and it really looked absolutely gorgeous.

I was so in love with the idea of this romance, that I felt exhilarated and profoundly happy all day long. This handsome and bright man (who was also so brave!) represented not only the feelings and passion of teenage love, but his presence was a larger-than-life ‘bright light’ to cheer up what still was a very dull life. To feel young, beautiful and ‘in love’ was such a blessing that I forgot the ‘snack bar’ at Woolworth, the American Cheese sandwiches I ate every single day --and the many sacrifices we all had to go through to make ends meet every week.

December 19th finally arrived and went --and I did not hear from E. The same happened on December 20th and the 21st. On the 22nd of December I started getting a terribly dull feeling in the pit of my stomach --but pretended I was OK.

The 24th is the big Nochebuena celebration of Christmas Eve, which for Spanish speaking people is even more important than Christmas Day --and still there was no sign of E. At the time email did not exist and calling ‘long distance’ was very expensive and a big deal. What had happened? Where was he? Not a word. Total silence from his part. I could not believe it was happening.

We spent Nochebuena -the very first one in exile- with our neighbors at The Betty --and the thought of E’s ‘dissappeance’ was in everybody’s mind (all the neighbors knew him by now!) but nobody said a word. Just like that --every day went by, one by one, in silence...

And I never heard from him --ever again-- in my life!

On New Year’s Eve I put my beautiful dress inside the closet, all the way in the back, and accompannied my mother to a baby sitting job, where I hung around the TV set at midnight still stunned by my ‘boyfriend´s’ inexplicable dissappearance. The new year had not started in a good note.

A few weeks later his brother came around our house and told us the news: E had gotten a girl pregnant in Fort Benning and had had to marry her over Christmas. She was the daughter of an important officer, a colonel I think, and he was so embarassed that did not dare to let me know about it. At least that is the ‘story’ his brother told us, but it still was a terrible blow, taking me months to heal because I really was ‘mesmerized’ by E's intelligence and personality.

Although I never saw him again, years later I learned he had become an important officer in the US Army, had volunteered as a Green Beret for 3 or 4 tours of duty in Vietnam, where he won many condecorations and medals and later on was assigned to a US Base in Germany. I still wonder about him once in a while. Did he ever know he had caused me so much pain? Has he ever thought of me again? Is he still alive?

The questions are still unanswered.