His knees hurt very much; they were like two old rusty hinges. He could hardly see. His tears became condensed and stuck to his pupils, forming a cloud that caused him to only see black and white, sometimes only black. He couldn’t hear much, but he remembered sounds: a dog’s bark, a note from a muffled trumpet, the voice that took away his things, and that cough, that unbearable cough… He talked endlessly. It was his only defense, his ultimate trench.
Pepe was 88 years and nine months old. At that age, and even older, some have better vision. But not Pepe. He was tired, disappointed, and his disappointment made his health worse. Less than 24 hours after December 17, 2014, he suffered what would be his last massive heart attack. He was an assiduous survivor of heart attacks and also attacks of rage, all of them or almost all of them caused by Cuba…that’s what Pepe used to say.
“Look son, I left Cuba 52 years ago. I never believed in that government. Communism doesn’t work, not in Cuba or on the moon. I was always a humble man from the countryside, hardworking, and I lost everything, they took everything away from me. I came to New Jersey without a cent, and by working hard, I earned my fortune. For 52 years, I’ve supported every non-violent action against that government. You die with your principles and your convictions held on high, even though they give you a kick in the teeth at the end.”
According to his son Saúl, this is what Pepe would have told me if he’d known me personally. Also, according to Saúl, Pepe would have asked me if I was a communist. “That friend of yours is always helping those communists….” Saúl knows that’s not the case, but he never clarified it for the man, nor did he admit that it was the reason why he never introduced me to his father, even though he and I had known each other for so many years.
Pepe died on Dec. 22. He died the way he lived: thankful to the country that adopted him, and upset with the country where he was born. However, there are loves that are suffered, and therefore impossible to overcome. He swore, and made them promise, that no matter what, he wanted to be buried in Cuba, in the tomb of the Pérez Gracia family, together with the bones of his parents, whom he never saw again. It would have been better to return while alive, but his pride worked against him, and after so many years, his life was over, and he had not returned to Cuba.
I’m not related to Pepe, and I didn´t know him; if I had, I wouldn´t have asked for any explanations or reproached him for his extreme convictions, but his ashes are going with me to Cuba. Pepe is going back with me. Neither his widow nor his two sons want to accompany him on this journey. “It’s not bitterness,” Saúl says to me. “It’s respect for his memory…. Maybe next year.”