Two hands clasp under the
sizzling Cuban sun.
He was a tall, skinny,
handsome farmer boy with twinkling bright blue eyes. She, with coffee
colored skin and deep brown eyes, was one of eight beautiful
daughters of a rich plantation owner.
She was a quiet rebel.
Sitting inside the crowded bus, upon hearing the communist cheers she
quickly stepped out, opened her purse, and released stink bombs that
filled the air with a pungent odor. She spoke out for liberty and
ended up in shackles, thrown in a musty cell with rats as her only
companions for four months at the mere age of sixteen.
He was a loud, defiant
rebel. His booming voice could be heard over the underground radio
leading cheers for freedom. His house was filled with forbidden
pamphlets, yet when the militia arrived to search his home, his
cleverness kept the treason hidden, sparing him the life imprisonment
that befell his best friend.
She waited and prayed
patiently during his six months in the seminary, waiting for him to
return to her. But when he did come back, their greeting was simply
one last hug as he packed his small suitcase and flew away, not
knowing if he'd see her again as he landed in the Atlanta airport.
Months later, she hid all
her possessions, the diamonds cleverly concealed in tubes of
toothpaste, the dollar bills and shiny coins padded neatly into
socks, and a few photographs to remind her of the life she'd left
behind. She boarded the small boat, tears streaming down her face as
she reached the white, sandy beaches of Miami.
Two strangers roamed a
foreign land with their wealth, family, and friends all left behind
on an island they could never return to. In their adoptive home, they
experienced thousands of new sounds, smells, sights, and the ramble
of a foreign dialect.
Her sisters, who'd once
dreamed of becoming nurses and businesswomen, instead became maids
and nannies, reminding them of the ones they once had, long ago. Her
brothers, who aspired to become politicians, bankers, and lawyers,
instead became grocery baggers, dishwashers, and bellhops, carrying
the suitcases the wealthy that brought back memories of their own.
Their home, no longer the
sprawling mansion on a plantation, became a small duplex apartment
and they had to scrape coins together every month to pay the rent and
routinely lie to the landlord to fit a family of sixteen in a home
with a legal occupancy of five.
Their schooling was no
longer in top boarding schools. Instead, they sat in steel trailers
where they were put in special needs classes for not being able to
properly pronounce the difficult sounds they'd never heard before.
They were both lost,
separated by hundreds of miles in a foreign land. That is, until the
day when their eyes locked again and two hands clasped under gray
clouds of snow, and life resumed towards a hopeful future.
Their story became that
of the fabled American Dream. At last, they settled down and married,
raising five children who all went on to fulfill their own dreams,
becoming lawyers, journalists, business leaders, and White House
Some fifty years, five
children, and eight grandchildren later, I walk into the crowded
living room and find my grandmother her latest telenovela at full
volume as she lounges on the couch, occasionally bickering with my
grandfather in between sips of her large diet coke. When I ask her to
turn the television down, she instead invites me to sit and watch the
drama with her. As I see the young Latin couples flash across the
screen I can't help but remember the awkward truth that my
grandparents were once like that, and I wonder how their story would
have turned out had they not had to flee their homeland.
They never returned to
the island where their story began. Instead, they can only see it
through faded photographs and endlessly recounted memories. However,
three years ago I went back to Cuba and experienced a week of their
lives, visiting their former homes that are now showing signs of
decay, worn out by the strangers who took their place. I sat on my
grandfather's very own small, wooden, chair looking around at the
aging furniture --- all left exactly the way it was on the frightful
night they fled, over fifty years ago.
To outsiders, they may
look like another aging, bickering, white-haired couple. Yet, to me,
my Cuban grandparents are my heroes, and I swear that I can still see
the twinkle in their eyes when they look at one another.
McCabe is a junior at Balboa Academy