Winner of the 2005 Fiction Contest

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<ul><li><p>2005 Fiction Contest, First Prize </p><p>Han Transcurrido Los Aos . . .</p><p>MARISABEL ALMERDepartment of AnthropologyUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor, MI 48109-1092</p><p>My father was the most beautiful man in all of Matanzas,Cuba.1 I say this because everybody says so. By everybody, I meaneveryone who saw him in his youth, and everyone who has seenthe black-and-white photo that sits atop the piano in the livingroom of my parents home in Los Angeles. Everyone alwayslooks at that picture and asks:</p><p>Is that your father? To which I always reply, Uh huh. Towhich everyone always replies, Oh wow. Not Oh wow!! OrOh, wow? but Oh wow. And then they always add, Helooks like a movie star.</p><p>My father was six feet tall, and had dark brown, almost black,hair, with green almond-shaped eyes that gave him the appear-ance of always being a little sleepy or a little in love. In that pic-ture on the piano, he has a thin mustache, like Errol Flynn, andhis head is tilted a little to the right. All that is needed is, To myfans, with all my love, Carlitos at the bottom of the photo.</p><p>Even my mothers family, who met him only once duringDecember of 1967 when he went to Colombia for their wedding,still remembers the way he looked then. There is even a picture,and a story to go along with it, in which my mothers family, allof whom are shorter than my father, are standing at the airportsurrounding my mother. In the back, towering over everybodyelse is my father, looking a little shy, a little uncomfortable, a lit-tle out of place, as he always does whenever he is not at home. Hehas never gone back to Colombia. He says it is because he doesnot like staying in anyone elses house. I think it is because hedoes not want to betray their perfect memory of him.</p><p>When I am in Matanzas, I am always introduced to anyonewho would remember, as the daughter of Carlitos, the son ofCarlos the baker.2</p><p>At which point everyone who remembers always says, Oh!Yes! Your father was so good-looking. Even men say this, butthey always add, All the girls were crazy for Carlitos.</p><p>Anthropology and Humanism, Vol. 30, Issue 2, pp 208217, ISSN 0193-5615, electronic ISSN 1548-1409. 2005 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. Direct all requests forpermission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California PresssRights and Permissions website,</p><p>Han transcurridomuchos aos y an</p><p>vienen a mi memorialos aos felices de mi</p><p>niez, aunque nofueron los de una</p><p>nia rica, criada en laopulencia como</p><p>disfrutan en estosdas en este pas hasta</p><p>los ms pobres.Nuestra niez se</p><p>prolongaba ms queahora. Tenamos</p><p>tiempo para soar ydar rienda suelta a</p><p>nuestra imaginacin.Bastaba contemplar la</p><p>naturaleza, mirarhacia arriba y</p><p>deleitarnos viendo esainmensidad celesteque errneamentellambamos cielo.</p><p>Que misterio era parami, como para mis</p><p>hermanas mspequeas, ver los</p><p>aviones cruzar unespacio interminable</p><p>el cual noentendamos dondeempezaba y menosdonde terminaba.</p><p>Escuchbamos decir aalgunos que en esosaparatos con alas sepoda viajar como ir</p><p>uno sentado en la salade una casa. Que</p><p>haban baos, queservan comida, queuno poda caminar,etc. Qu cosa ms</p><p>extraordinaria! Quin pudiese</p><p>experimentarlo? As,y escuchando decir a</p><p>mi madre que elmundo no debera</p><p>tener fronteras porqueDios lo cre para que</p><p>todos los sereshumanos lo</p><p>disfrutsemosponiendo cada cual sutalento individual, al</p><p>13.AHU.30_208-217.qxd 21/10/2005 8:41 Page 208</p></li><li><p>Almer Han Transcurrido Los Aos . . . 209</p><p>servicio de unos paracon los otros y aspudisemosexperimentar yconocer susmaravillas taninalcanzables paraalguien como yo. Sinembargo, a medidaque creca me fuidando cuenta que siuno lucha y seprepara puede hacerlos sueosrealidad. Dios nosdej libres para tomarnuestras propiasdecisiones, si nosequivocamos nadamalo hay con volver aempezar. Mi padre noera muy amigo degastar dineroeducando a sus hijasmujeres. Lainstruccin acadmicaera para los hijosvarones. Mi madresin embargo, an enaquellos aos pensabacon una sabiduraextraordinaria y nosaconsejaba a todos sushijos queaprovechsemos todaslas oportunidades deaprender algo mejor,algo diferente a lo quea ellos les habatocado aprender. As,naci dentro de m undeseo de superacincada da mayor y miautoestima creca amedida que yo crecatambin. Aprend atravs de la lectura,de profesoras y maestros, que la persona no vale porlas cosas materialesque posee sino por susvalores morales.Entend que comoseres humanos todosestamos llenos dedefectos y virtudes yque cada quien es loque es, porque as loquiere cada cual.Comprend que mispadres tambin tenandefectos y virtudescomo cualquier otro </p><p>Carlitos is my father. Not to me. To me, Carlitos is my oldestbrother. But to everybody else, Carlitos is my father. To me, myfather is not my father, nor is he my dadhe is Papi. Sometimesmy father is also Faf, which I think comes from a failed attemptat saying father. He is also Papi to my brothers, and to my mother,who is also not my mother, nor my mom, but is Mami.</p><p>My aunt says that many of her friends were her friends justto be near Carlitos. She never knew who her real friends werebecause she suspected they loved him more than her. One of herlittle friends finally asked her to put in a good word on herbehalf. But my aunt told her she never got involved in his lovelife. She never spoke to my aunt again.</p><p>My father says that once while walking around the ParqueLibertad in Matanzas a girl came up to him with a handkerchiefand wiped his face because she wanted to see if he had on anymakeup. She could not believe how perfect his skin was. He hadon no makeup and the girl went away jealous and upset. Jealousbecause she wanted his skin, and upset because she wanted him.</p><p>My father remembers all this. He remembers how beautiful hewas; he remembers his sisters friends and my mothers family.</p><p>He remembers how beautiful he was so well, that now some-times he does not even recognize himself in the mirror. When hesaw my brothers wedding picture, he asked who the old manwas dancing with my mother before realizing he was pointing athimself.</p><p>My fathers departure from Cuba was very anticlimactic. Hewas not fleeing anything, nor did he have anything taken awayfrom him. In fact he went back and forth between the U.S. andCuba before he finally, or rather, before my grandfather, finallydecided that he should stay in the United States with my grand-mother and my aunt. My grandmother lived in Los Angeles withmy aunt because she had left my grandfather a few years earlier.</p><p>I only met my grandfather once, when I was seven years old. Wehit it off. Apparently he was very mean, very strict, and did not likeanybody except my aunt. Apparently he was also hard to live with.He expected complete silence while he slept, complete order whileawake, and total discipline at all times. I didnt experience any ofthis, because he adored me, and I adored him back, and for thosefew days he stayed at our house we were inseparable.</p><p>My grandmother did not want him to come visit. She said thatunder no conditions would she let that man step foot in thehouse. My grandmother had left him in Matanzas twenty-twoyears earlier because he brought another woman home and shegot tired of cooking for three. On the eve of her departure for theU.S., my grandfather took her a chicken and asked her to cook itfor him because nobody cooked like she did. And so she did. Andwhile she did she told him that she would stay and forget every-thing if he left the other woman. He told her he couldnt. And shetold him she wouldnt. And they ate.</p><p>13.AHU.30_208-217.qxd 21/10/2005 6:30 Page 209</p></li><li><p>210 Anthropology and Humanism Volume 30, Number 2</p><p>All my lifeseven years at the timeI had heard about thisawful, shameless man who had brought this other woman home.You could maybe understand why he had if she had been pretty,but she wasnt. She had long teeth, like a rabbit, and when shelaughed, she looked and sounded like a witch. And she didnteven know how to cook.</p><p>Some mornings my grandmother would wake up to find littledolls of herself hanging from the window. And occasionally theother woman would throw a bucket of water with chopped upflowers on my grandmother.</p><p>Seven years of stories, and fifteen more before those, of insultsagainst his mother, of cursing the day he was born, and of curs-ing his looks that had made her act so stupidly in the first place.Why did she ever leave her other boyfriend, the one who hadbeen so good to her, for this guy who she knew all along was nogood? Even her mother had told her that. Even his first wifewould have told her that if she had ever spoken to her. But goddamn he was so good-looking.</p><p>At so it was, I was prepared for the showdown, the fight ofa lifetime, the Thrilla in Manila between my divorced grand-parents. I couldnt wait. My grandmother was going to showhim, she was going to show him what he had missed out on, howmuch better her life had turned out because she was over hereand he had stayed behind. And when he walked through thosedoorsafter complaining the whole ride home that my fatherwas cheap, that he didnt even have a decent car that worked,that he couldnt believe we all had to take a taxi home becausethe car had broken down, but if only he had known that myfather had bought that new used car exclusively for his visitnofight, no insults. Only smiles and pleasantries.</p><p>Every night my grandfather asked my grandmother to makehim toast for his coffee and milk before going to bed, and everynight she complied. Every night he told her how much he hadmissed her cooking because nobody cooked like she did. Andevery night they sat across the table from each other and didntsay much to each other out loud. As I watched them interact witheach other, I felt the same tingling feeling in my stomach andlight-headedness that I felt when I watched a love scene on a soapopera where the protagonists shared silent glances.</p><p>All my memories of my grandfather are good ones because I did not really know him. From what everybody else tells me, hecould be a very mean person. He made my grandmother worklike a mule in the bakery. She had to be awake before dawnand would not stop until late at night. And of course she wasexpected to raise a family, keep house, and keep husband all atthe same time. She was so sick of making desserts and cakes,especially cakes, that I never tasted one of her cakes. After she lefthim she said she never wanted to make another cake again. Andshe didnt.</p><p>ser humano y que enm estaba el aceptar o</p><p>rechazar lo que msconveniente fuera</p><p>para m. Finalmentelleg el ao 1964,</p><p>cuando despus dehaber batallado</p><p>duramente durantedos aos por adquiriruna visa de residente</p><p>y de tener unaoportunidad de ir a</p><p>los EE.UU. deNorteamrica por un</p><p>lapso de dos aosnicamente, para</p><p>estudiar un poco deingls y regresar a </p><p>mi patria con la posibilidad de</p><p>adquirir un buenempleo que me</p><p>permitira ganar unbuen sueldo y en cada</p><p>vacacin, viajar aEuropa y otros</p><p>continentes para verde cerca esas</p><p>maravillas inal-canzables en los</p><p>sueos de mi niez.Las cosas no salen</p><p>siempre como uno lassuea. Sinceramente</p><p>lo confieso, nuncahubiese salido de mi</p><p>patria con elconvencimiento</p><p>absoluto de que nuncams regresara a vivirah por el resto de mi</p><p>vida. Ah se quedaban toda mi</p><p>familia, mis amistadesy los aos</p><p>inolvidables de unaniez y adolescencia</p><p>llenas de felicidad.Ahora, llevo en mi</p><p>corazn el dolor y latristeza de una Patria</p><p>lacerada y destruidapor el crimen, la</p><p>violencia y la diariapreocupacin por la</p><p>suerte de tantos seres queridos ah</p><p>dejados pero, nuncasin perder la fe y la</p><p>confianza en El TodoPoderoso quien ha</p><p>sido siempre mi norteen mi diario vivir. Un</p><p>22 de mayo del 64, </p><p>13.AHU.30_208-217.qxd 21/10/2005 6:30 Page 210</p></li><li><p>Almer Han Transcurrido Los Aos . . . 211</p><p>sbado, llegamos porprimera vez mi amigay yo al aeropuerto deMiami, en unaaerolnea cuyonombre eraEcuatoriana. Antes debajarnos del avin enque venamos, paratremenda sorpresanuestra, nos vimosfumigadas porque de acuerdo a lasreglas de aquelentonces, no sepermita dejar entraral pas gente quepodra tener ciertosvirus contagiosostrados de nuestroslugares de origen, quepudiesen contaminara su puebloamericano. Quironas tiene la vida!verdad?. . . Al salirde Colombia, patriaamada, nuestrosfamiliares, amistades,etc. nos despidieronno sin antesadvertirnos una y milveces ms que noscuidramos mucho delos cubanos quienesestaban invadiendo elestado de La Floridapor razonesconocidas, y serumoraba quealgunos de ellos eransumamentepeligrosos. Porsupuesto quedesembarcamos concierto recelo e bamosa la defensiva. Nostocaba pasar la nocheen el HotelInternacional paracontinuar al dasiguient a nuestrodestino Los ngeles,California. Por temora los cubanos ocualquiera otrapersona extraa,decidimos encerrarnosrpido en nuestrocuarto y trancamosfuertemente nuestrapuerta. Dormimostranquilamente y sesupona quedeberamos estar al </p><p>The day my grandfather left I was devastated. My grand-mother had even bought him a boom box, paid from her socialsecurity checks, for him to take back to Cuba. As soon as the doorclosed behind him, my grandmother asked us if we had seen howshamelessly he had acted, and insulted his mother and cursed theday he was born. She no longer cursed his good looks, because hewas no longer good-looking. He was an old man. That was notthe man I married, she told my mother in disbelief.</p><p>As before, the insults continued and her words seemed as fullof anger, hurt, and hatred as before. But unlike before, I couldnow recognize love, or maybe it was pity, in her voice. I think shefelt betrayed by him, not because he had betrayed her with otherwomen, but because he had aged.</p><p>Many years later I decided to write to my grandfather. Mymother was actually the one in our family who wrote to him overthe years, instead of my father. They had a long correspondencevia letters. Mostly mundane lettersthat my brothers and I weredoing well in school, that my father was fine, the occasionalscholastic or athletic award, and every once in a while with aneedle or two woven into the paper for the other womantheone he never leftto mend his shirts.</p><p>One day, for some reason I now cannot remember, I decided towrite to him. He wrote me back. I wrote him. He wrote me back.He told me that I was the only one of all his grandchildren thatwrote to him. I knew he was sick. I wanted to tell him that despiteall the bad things I had always heard about him at home, thatdespite the fact that he had been cruel to my grandmotherbecause he really had beenand that despite the fact that we hadonly met on that one occasion when he stayed with us, I wantedto tell him that I loved him. I wanted him to know that he neverdid anything mean to me, even though he had to other people,but that still I loved him because he was my grandfather. I feltstupid saying all that, so I didnt. Instead I decided to wait untilhis next letter to tell him. He died. And I never told him I lovedhim despite, or because of, who he was.</p><p>When I started planning my first trip to Cuba, my grandfathercame to me in a drea...</p></li></ul>