John Thorndike | The Last of His Mind |

Message from Camilo Feb. 7 2018

At my 86th birthday party yesterday we all gathered in the patio behind the house, with it’s two token coffee trees and many flowers still in bloom. It’s the midst of the dry season, but we’re living in the perfect climate. Pura vida, indeed.

I could do without a birthday every year. What’s there to celebrate? That my knees feel like someone’s taken a wood rasp to them? That I forget, for ten whole minutes, the first name of one of my great-granddaughters? Well, I covered that up pretty well, and back it came when she ran up to me and told me she’d started break dance classes. Instead of ballet, break dancing! Somehow that pulled her name out from some cave in my brain, and I said “That’s great, Maria Sarfrela.”

This getting old, as they say, is not for the timid.

I cover it up, but I keep wondering about Fidelito, shown above in the Plaza de la Revolución. Not the nine-year-old boy, but the grown man, still called Fidelito. It’s obsessive, I should forget about it—but I want to know how he died. Raúl’s not going to tell us. No one’s going to tell us. But did he throw himself off some building? Did he shoot himself? Did he gather up some pills? These aren’t so easy to come by in Havana, or so I’ve heard.

What a different path the two of us took. Okay, he was just a kid when I knew him. But while I was tossed aside from the Revolution, Fidelito knuckled down inside it. Well, he spent some years in Russia, he had a Russian wife—but in the end he came back and lived in El Caballo’s shadow. That’s what everyone did, for decades. If I’d stayed that’s surely what I’d have had to do. It was a huge shadow, so there was plenty of room.

Not for all, though. Huber Matos couldn’t stand it. He tried to step aside, and for that he did twenty years in prison. Would there have come a time when I’d have stood up, stood out, made trouble? I think there would have. And once you came out against Fidel, in any way, you either went to jail or you humbled yourself. And once humbled you were done. One day you’d get fired, the way Fidelito was fired from his nuclear projects job. The way my brother got fired from the Politburo, and then from the Ministry of Tourism. The way Fidel took the army away from me and gave it to Raúl.

I couldn’t have lived Fidelito’s life. I didn’t want a life in the shadows. No wonder he wound up depressed.

One good thing: I’m never depressed. I wake up each day to Clare’s drooping old lovely smile. I have a granddaughter who’s a break dancer! Coño, I wish my knees would let me do that.

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