I still remember, though I was very young, the canned food and soap that my mother kept in a Russian metal basket, so we would be prepared for a U.S. military intervention. It was called “a state of Red Alert,” if my memory doesn’t fail me, and sometimes we had rehearsals about how to protect ourselves; luckily I didn’t participate in them. According to my father we would have to hide – my mother and I – in the basements of buildings, and stay there until the war ended.
The image was terrifying, made worse because at five I didn’t understand the difference between “eternal test to prepare for defense,” and “imminent armed confrontation.” I thought – for many years, in fact, I believed – that one day I would have to hide from U.S. soldiers who would try to kill me with their machine-guns.
Several times, with tears in my eyes, I said goodbye to my toys. At about eight I read the diary of Anne Frank and the example of that brave girl gave me the strength for when it would be up to me to survive in the dark.
In high school I discovered the lie, I felt so mistreated I never said anything to anyone. How could they have terrorized us like this for fun? In a good Cuban there is a phrase for this: they “took us for a ride,” me and my whole family. Even in the Special Period my mother suffered when she had to open some of those Soviet cans of food, meant to save us from starvation as the bombs fell.
The worst thing is that official speech hasn’t evolved very much. There are still high school classes in PMI (Integral Military Preparedness), and before they are sixteen teenagers know how to crawl on the ground “like special forces soldiers” up to a trench and shoot a rifle, and they also know by heart what to do when we are in a ridiculous state of “Red Alert.” But something happened to us, the adults, and also to them: my mother no longer saves cans (except for hurricanes), my friends don't fear running to the basement with their children to protect them from bullets, the PMI teacher is not as demanding (he knows we’ll never be in a real trench), and young children in elementary school are not afraid of one day becoming Anne Frank.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.