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Sykosa (that's "sy"-as-in-"my" ko-sa) is a junior in high school. She belongs to an exclusive clique of girls called the "Queens." The leader is her best friend Niko. Their friendship has been strained lately because Tom—Sykosa's first boyfriend boyfriend—has gotten all serious about making her his pretty Prom princess. That is if he ever gets around to asking her. Before Prom, there's a party at Niko's cottage where parental supervision will be nil. He wants to have sex. She doesn't. He sometimes acts like that doesn't matter.
Sykosa has a secret she has never told anyone about. Although, some people—Tom included—know anyway. It happened last year and it was big and she'll cry if she talks about it so she's done talking about it, okay? Never mind, it's nobody's business. Except it keeps happening, and it never stops. She doesn't want to deal with it. He does. She sometimes acts like that doesn't matter.
A Home Unknown.Justin Ordoñez
Contrary to popular belief, Americans can visit Cuba. You don’t need some weird sponsor who monitors you. You don’t renounce your US Citizenship. You don’t need to circumnavigate American authorities by first flying to Canada, then taking a freighter to Greenland, before being smuggled into Cairo, waiting until you’re declared dead to be air dropped into Columbia, hike all the way to the Mexican coast and then sail the Gulf of Mexico until you land on, what the Internet has assured me, are Cuba’s awe-inspiring beaches. In fact, about all you do is buy a forty dollar visa at a travel agent in south Florida, then schedule a charter flight, and depending on how you split the airfare, you’re probably getting to Cuba—the mysterious land that feels like this far-away place despite being only ninety miles offshore—for about a hundred and fifty bucks.
It’s literally that ordinary of a trip.
I never imagined I would visit Cuba, and I think I never imagined it because no one I know seems to imagine it, or they do, they imagine it constantly, they think about it constantly, a country, a homeland, a place in their heart somewhat similar to the love one holds for their mother. It’s both invigorating, special, and slightly devastating—it’s enormity, like a personal Big Bang. The paternal side of my family is Cuban, and not only are they Cuban, they are refugees. Though, you’ll never catch them acting that way. They hang the American flag, they’re US citizens, they speak English, and like a lot of Cubans, there’s a love affair with Ronald Reagan extending beyond politics, that somehow relieved old and deep wounds, though it did not heal them. What happened to my family is like an injury that won’t fully heal, an infection that’s constantly being debrided, and about the only time you’ll ever truly see it is during family reunions—when everyone is happy, when everyone is merry, when people let down their guard and be with the ones they love, and at some point, things change, you forgot you’re an individual, you forget you’re a selfish person who has hurt and been hurt by many of these people, as families often do, and this extra-sensory pull occurs, telling you that you belong with these people, you think like these people, and suddenly sentences don’t need to be finished, people start laughing in anticipation because jokes no longer need punch lines, and the same old stories that’ve been told one thousand times become as fresh as the day they happened.
It overtakes everyone—the momentum and the eventual crescendo, then the silence. It’s not awkward, it’s not hanging, it’s not begging for someone to fill it, it’s satisfaction, it’s let’s sit here and feel the fat of our love, it’s a mass-conspiracy between the spirits of those at play, as they’ve each jockeyed to speak, worked to get in their points, oftentimes interchangeably switching from Spanish to English, then from English to Spanish, like it were all one language, and now no one is interested in filling the space, or in minding the gap. That’s when you know it’s about to happen. It’s usually somewhere after the party hit its first lag, but before the second.
They’re about to talk about Cuba.
What follows is not hatred, not resentment, not fiery political speech of this or that and all the tired dribble Americans seem entitled to spew about simply everything. No, I think you learn something when you go through the kind of loss these people have gone through. You learn a certain respect for temperament, a dignity that, since it was so stripped from you, has you treat life and its issues with a rational distance, and beyond that, there is a fear, a knowledge that these things are real, these things happen—you can lose your home, you can lose your government, you can lose your possessions, your family can be split in two, and you won’t even realize it was happening until you are on a boat, leaving forever and forced to rebuild it from scratch, contemplating along the way how it went so very wrong, how peace and happiness and security slipped past you, and why you were so powerless to stop it. You learn that your anger is counterproductive. You learn that ideology is a weapon far more dangerous than any gun. And for all these reasons, and many, many more, when it comes time to talk about Cuba, the talk is one of happiness. The smiles on the faces have never been bigger. The laughter has never been louder. The stories themselves have never seemed so personal, and everyone has a long-forgotten detail to add.
Wait a few minutes, though, and you’ll see, while your great-aunt is smiling and laughing, she is hiding her face, she is wiping a tear from her eye. Your uncle, who had gone to the kitchen to refresh his drink, stays away from the conversation for a minute or two—until he comes storming back into it, like he never missed a beat. Or I recall my grandmother. She passed away almost ten years ago, but I still see her presence in these conversations, I see her not being entirely happy the topic is being discussed, I see her doing anything to subtly, yet forcefully change the conversation. Sometimes she couldn’t accomplish it, and sometimes I think she didn’t want to, she wouldn’t participate, but she’d listen, herself sometimes smiling, and deflecting it all by using a kind of Abuela Ordoñez trademark, an upturn of her voice, empathically stating while kind of lazily shrugging, “I don’t remember that.” But, she’d also become severely withdrawn, with eyes so glossed over it was impossible to reach her, no matter how compassionately you stared. She was stuck in her mind, living a life that had never ended, living out all the memories she thought would be hers until her final days.
For this process, I’m always on the outside looking in.
I wasn’t born in Cuba. I didn’t leave for America. I didn’t struggle against poverty, working below minimum wage delivering papers for the Miami Herald, as my father did, in a foreign country with its foreign language and its foreign customs and being so out of place he didn’t even know how to use the system of money. I was born in Spain, to an American mother, and by the time all of this had happened, my father had lived in America, or an American territory, for near two decades, and had worked for an American corporation for near a decade of that time. Like a lot of Cuban-Americans from my generation, I don’t speak Spanish, a language I was picking up before dropping it to learn English when I was a child, and since Cuban-Americans have shown such effort to conform to Americanism, a lot of the culture—beyond the food—was never instilled in me, so I understand this pain my elders suffer only peripherally, and when I watch today’s America rip itself apart over ideology and by extremism, I wonder if their pain will soon be one I understand much more intimately. If I will wake up one morning, walk to my car, look to my neighbor and say, “Hello,” in a way that means, “I guess America is over now, huh?” It seems preposterous and impossible that such a thing would ever take place, but I feel that because its feels so preposterous and impossible, it’s somehow much more likely to happen. Still, it’s only a hypothetical, just me extrapolating what I’ve learned from those around me—and yet I am a member of this family, I am somehow linked to this pain, and in these great communal moments we all share as a family, I find myself in need of answers, I find I want to walk the soil my father walked, I want to see the house where he was raised, I was to visit the hallways of the school he attended.
Going back to Cuba isn’t something that’s discussed, and for a long time, it was an impossibility, so it was quite a shock when, a month or so ago, my Aunt wrote me a message I feel will bring me to a country that will forever change my life. She invited me to go on a trip with her and her sons, my cousins, to Cuba—to stay there for a week, and she promised, “The first thing we will do is visit your Grandma’s house.” At first, I was struck by a profound desire to go, and an instant—almost programmed—reaction that said, “No, you can’t go.” I debated this hotly for about ninety seconds before deciding, definitively, that I had to do this. I agreed and we’ve been planning it ever since, collecting what data is needed in order to find the pertinent places. It will be hard, people aren’t sure of the addresses any longer, and even if they are, much of the country has since experienced redistricting; yet, I find myself compelled, I must go, I must visit this land that has given and taken and been, for so long, the veil obscuring the world the family above me sees, I must get closer to it, and I must learn to develop my own sense of peace with it.
I don’t know what I’ll find, if I’ll find anything at all—maybe it’ll turn out to be only another island, another series of beautiful beaches and exquisite meals, another hot spot where the nights are always more interesting and the woman are always more beautiful, the type of place you wish you could stay at forever as your mundane life swallows you upon leaving. Or perhaps it’ll be bittersweet. I’ll find everything I came to find, I’ll feel everything I came to feel, only to discover that I misread the situation, that I misunderstood it—to never experience the epiphany I feel so awaits. How does one come to terms with everything that has secretly driven your family for over four decades in one week? Perhaps the illusion is the belief that resolution awaits, that this polarizing land called Cuba holds a knowledge and personal enlightenment beyond any bounty, and enough to share and heal those whom I hold dear.
About the author:
Justin Ordoñez was born in Spain, raised in the mid-west, and currently lives in Seattle. He's nearly thirty years old, almost graduated from the University of Washington, and prefers to wait until TV shows come out on DVD so he can watch them in one-shot while playing iPad games. His debut novel is Sykosa, a raw story at contemporary female life told through a sixteen year old girl who’s trying to reclaim her identity after an act of violence shatters her life and the life of her friends.
Sykosa will have her Kindle free days on June 6th and June 7th, 2012.
To find out more about Justin, including when additional blog posts will be released, follow him at any (or all) of the following places.