“Who wants a Vodka cranberry?” Bill asked after leaving Cynthia’s.
“I do,” Adam said as I raised my hand. We needed something to numb us a little after what we had seen.
We went to the little open-all-night bar near the boat and poured ourselves and everyone in the place(the bartender and a couple guards) cranberry vodkas. They loved the cranberry juice, never having had it before.
I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and went to bed. It was nine o’clock.
I woke up at two in the morning with no boys. I wanted to go see what trouble they were into and either join or help. But my brain was foggy so I took a cup of water to the cockpit and sat there for a while watching the waves crash against the barrier between me and the sea, but not really seeing them. Indeed I was 2000 miles and 3 years away.
Three years before that night, on a beautiful summer day, with the windows wide open, and the breeze coming into the house on Michigan St. in Minnesota, I was drying and putting away our dishes after a fourth and last dinner had been made in our kitchen. We lived at the time with five people, one normal person, two vegans, one gluten free and a child who only wanted to eat Mac and cheese for the rest of her life. The couple we lived with, Zeke, with his long hair and his hard, workers hands and Shelley, one of the most beautiful women I have ever known in real life, with her great big eyes and long shiny hair, had taken their remarkably unique, smart, charming, energetic daughter upstairs and would more then likely be back down to sit at the island talking with us about all the important things in the world, until we all started yawning, as they did every night. Adam had gotten home from a trip that day and he looked tried. But there was something else.
“What’s up babe?” I had asked, wiping my hands on a towel and sitting next to him on the couch, giving him my full attention.
“I’ve been doing some research,” he said.
“Shit…” I said, kind of teasing, kind of not, as this always seemed to mean some sort of huge life change.
“I want to sail around the world,” he said looking up into my eyes to see my reaction. My heart beat 3 times. “Ok,” I said getting up to finish wiping the rest of the dishes.
Our lives had never been normal. Not from day one, when he texted me “meet me in Hawaii tomorrow,” after meeting once for half an hour in Detroit’s airport. On that trip he didn’t let me go back to the room to sleep for three whole days. Sitting in that cockpit that night in Cuba I knew we had reached a whole new level of abnormality. Because this felt, if not normal(a word I’ve never really grasped), right, this walkabout. Being in Cuba. On our boat, in which we lived. We were headed to the islands(unless plans changed, which they do a lot) in a couple months, and then on from there. To new adventures I couldn’t imagine. I finished my water and with a zenned out smile on my face, got up to go find my men.
There was a party on a boat down the next dock. I figured they were there but had to pee so I headed to the bar where I had left them. When I opened the door there they were, just the two of them, and a tiny lady bartender asleep in the corner under her jacket.
“JOSIE!!!” They both yelled and threw their hands in the air when they saw me. As I walked past, on my way to the bathroom Adam tried to grab me, “jooooosssiiiieeee…” He said. I rolled my eyes, dodged his hands and laughed. They were both shit-faced.
I got back to the table and poured myself a drink from the almost empty vodka bottle.
“My Pebble Beach hat lives in Cuba now!” Bill yelled at me from across the tiny table. “But don’t worry, one guy wanted Adams hat, but he told him it was an anniversary gift from you.” As I set the bottle down and got up to get a juice from the refrigerator across the room, I laughed. “He lied,” I said. Adam, his eyes pointing at the ground, gave a big drunken, sheepish grin and as he turned red, he shrugged.
“I love you baby,” Adam said and pawed at my lap drunkenly when I sat back down.
“Yaaaay Josie!” Bill said as he threw his arms in the air again. Never have there been 2 people happier to see me in all my life. “We made sooooo many friends,” he said. I looked over at the only other person in the room and laughed. “Before I mean, people have been in and out all night. I even gave my hat away.” He pointed to his unadorned head.
“Oh boy.” I said, realizing just how drunk they really were. Adam still stared at the ground with a silly grin on his face.
“We’re better then every other couple, baaaaaby.” Adam said and he put his big paw in my lap again. “Of course we are honey.” I said placatingly.
As I talked I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. The bartender poked her head out of her coat. We smiled and rolled our eyes to each other. Bill sipped his drink and looked, in an exaggerated sweep of his head at what I was looking at. “Josie,” He said, swallowing quickly so he talk. “I have spoken so much good Spanish. I am so good at speaking Spanish when I am drinking the vodka.” The last word coming out Vaka. I wasn’t so sure about that.
Adam was, at that point, trying to pour the empty vodka bottle into his glass, while still looking at the ground. “Oh no,” he said sadly and put the bottle back on the table with a thud. “Actually,” I said, “that is an impressive feat.” The giant bottle of vodka having been full last time I saw it. “We didn’t drink it all.” said Bill, “we made so many friends.” He smiled happily way down into his drink.
Adam pointed the empty bottle at the lady in the corner. Who must have felt this because she opened one eye and looked at him before shaking her head no. She put her hands under her head in the international sign for sleep and pointed at him. As I was certain he couldn’t actually see her I said helpfully, “she wants you to go to sleep.” The next day the dock master, who hadn’t been at their party would say “No Vodka tonight!” And point at the boys threateningly when he saw them.
“Noooo sleeeeeeeep,” Adam whined.
“May I have one more?” I asked her having downed my small glass already. She got up and poured some rum in a glass for me. I went to the fridge and got an orange soda and poured half in my glass and half in a glass for Adam, knowing full well he would think it was an alcoholic drink and be happy. He took it with both hands and smiled, unable to focus his eyes on my face. “Baby,” he said, “can I go to Ireland with Bill and not…” he trailed off.
I almost spit out my drink. I threw my head back and laughed. “And not me?” I asked helpfully.
“Well, not NOT with you just with Bill and with me,” He replied sipping his drink and looking guilty.
Still laughing and completely charmed I said, “of course you can go to Ireland with your friend Honey. And if you were even slightly less drunk you would know you wouldn’t have to ask me that. Actually,” I said sipping my drink. “I think that would be an epic trip.” I turned to Bill “Ireland is one of my favorite places in all the world.” We talked for a while, about Ireland and Toucanet coffee, Bills awesome organic coffee business, and all manner of things intelligent and otherwise as Adam stared at the floor happily.
Having had only 2 small drinks, I was surprisingly buzzed as we stood up to leave. The lady in the corner was visibly relieved as we stumbled into the night. We wanted food. We decided to walk to the shop a mile away. Someone had told the boys it was open all night. In hindsight it had probably been the poor bartender hoping to get rid of them. Adam was shockingly capable of walking, if a lot more serpentine then usual. When we had walked half the distance to come upon the guard station they looked at us like we were crazy. Of course that place isn’t open, they clearly said in Spanish. Go home drunks! We wobbled back to the boat and I made the boys mashed potatoes with half a brick of Velveeta. We ate in silence under La Luna, the super-moon. Because it was the time of the super-moon while we were there the moon in Cuba will always be bigger to me. The boys laid back on the seats in the cockpit, bowls on their chests, eyes closed, slowly and gratefully spooning potatoes into their mouths. When we could eat no more we went into the boat and Adam decided to serenade us with the worst rendition of a Sublime song on the ukulele that I have ever heard. He said it was Sublime anyway. How could I not have recorded this?? As the sun came up we went to bed.
The next day we met up with Anna, a sweet, loving, brilliant girl we had met the night of the yacht club party. We took her, or she took us rather, though we paid, to a restaurant in a neighboring town. We walked through a beautiful massive garden and then out across the water to a hut, on stilts, in the ocean, where we were sat to eat. It was sunset on our last night in Cuba. We had woken up quite late that day, obviously. We ordered food for the table family style and we all dug in with our hands when it arrived.
Anna, her dark hair blowing in the breeze, told us that when she was a child, she and her sister had been playing at the beach and a speed boat with huge motors pulled up. The men had guns and her father told them to get behind a rock and stay there no matter what. She and her sister poked their little heads out to watch. The men kept looking at their watches and growling angrily that “the men” were supposed to be there. They were very agitated and when they could take it no longer they said, “who wants to go to America?” A mom and dad who had been picnicking on a blanket immediately stood up and ushered their two small children unto the boat. Leaving behind everything, their food, blankets and her purse.
“What would they do once they got to America?” I asked her.
“They would contact the families already in the states and make them pay a thousand dollars to have their family.” She replied.
Then she told us about three men. They had hidden in cargo containers and boarded a ship bound for America. Someone who knew of this had heard that they sprayed chemicals onto the containers to kill the bugs when they got to America. Fearing for the lives of the three boys this person called the police and told them what had happened. They knew in which three containers the boys were hidden. They stopped the boat in the middle of the gulf-stream and searched it. Finding no one, they pressed on. When they got to America authorities were waiting for the boat and they searched the containers again. Again they found no boys. Somewhere between that point and the bug spray the boys jumped out and with their feet on American soil (like goal in tag) they basically na-na-nah-bo-boed the police because since they had touched American soil there was nothing the police could do.
“Would they get in trouble?” Bill asked. “Oh they go to jail for a couple weeks and then they get out and get green cards.” She said, spooning more fish onto her plate. She was very close with one of the men. It was national news.
We talked a little about why things are this way. She told us that under Fidel Cubans were not allowed to even look at tourists or it would be hundred peso (equivalent to four months stipend) fine. This is why the older generation of Cubans wont look at us or look angry when they do make eye contact. She said they weren’t allowed to enter hotels either or ever hold American dollars in their hands. Fidel allowed no religion, and no homosexuality. Even though she was a strong, respectable, proud, Cuban woman she spoke of Fidel only in a whisper, looking around nervously.
“What do you think of the embargo?” I asked her and she said the single most profound thing I would hear anyone say about Cuba.
“The embargo exists here,” she pointed to her head, “the blockade is an illusion.”
We stared at her, rapt. We waited for her to go on.
“I am a dog.” She said, “this is a thing we say in Cuba. ‘I am a dog’. It is not your people who treat Cubans bad, it is Cubans who treat Cubans bad. If I want water, I go into a store, “Here! Your water!” the store clerk says, ‘give me money and get out!’ If you go into a store to get water she say, ‘yes ma’am what can I get for you. Would like bubbles in your water or no bubbles?’ She don’t treat her own that way. Because we are all the same we can not do anything to help each other. None of us have enough. So we steal from each other. Like dogs.”
We all sipped our drinks. Not knowing what to say to that.
She continued, “Once I saw a man on a motorcycle cut a bus driver off. Not bad, just go in front of him. The bus driver stopped at the next place, get out of the bus and beat that man until he almost dead. I was screaming crazy. Cuba has to help itself. It will not be up to you, it is up to us.”
People always ask, “how was Cuba?” and they expect me to say “It was great.” So we can all go on with our lives. Yes, Cuba was a true adventure and an experience abundant with euphoric moments. But it was not a relaxing easy vacation. I have never felt my white privilege more then I did in Cuba. I have never had such intelligent people know so much about what is wrong in their country and be so incapable of changing it. If they can’t even speak the name of a leader who isn’t in power anymore how will they ever be able to stand up for real change? Things are changing though, slowly, with Raul. But they have a long way to go. I leave Cuba enlightened. I leave her grateful for the experience I gained from her. I leave her in the hands of some pretty damn smart, diligent and remarkable people.