Who Am I?

I don’t know how to swim. Despite the fact that I was born in an island, I never learned. I spent my childhood between Havana and Santiago. In both places, the sea was always in the horizon. But neither my sister nor I learned to swim. It seems that some mysterious twist dictated that I would spend my life sitting at the Malec
n, looking at the cresting waves and waiting.

Cuba was different then, when I was growing up. Not that life was easy. Unemployment was high. My father earned little. My mother found herself living a life of penury she had not anticipated. I played with my sister whenever I did not have a book to read. But never worried about what she was thinking because I was too busy living in my own head. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a nun or an actress. I could not decide if I wanted to be Rose of Lima or Joan of Arc. But I was absolutely sure that I wanted to be famous, ideally, a famous saint.

My father’s brother encouraged my creative fantasies and intellectual interests even more than my father. Other relatives—aunts, grandparents—also were present in my childhood. I can see their blurry faces in my memory and in the old saw-toothed edge photographs I have kept.

From childhood I had had a sense that not all was right in Cuba. But that vague awareness was transformed into a rude awakening without warning or anesthesia. I was always grown-up beyond my years; the new circumstances forced me to take charge even more.

The Revolution came in like a storm. It brought radical changes into daily life and altered the future. Nothing was ever the same. My life went on roads I had not dreamed about. Exile defined who I have ended up being. Hoped for and fantasized possibilities had to be reconstructed by sheer strength.

This is the narrative of what was then. And perhaps in the interstices of this story, I too will find out why, despite the fact that I love the sea, I never learned to swim.