Ft. Lauderdale: 1982
"Shhhhhhhhh, you are going to wake up your parents," I said in a drunken giggle.
Cathy grabbed my hand and lead me through her back yard, navigating the lawn furniture like a girl on a horse carving barrels at a rodeo. We slid through glass doors into a living room. Suddenly lights flooded the room. I froze, knowing I was too trashed to hide my drunkenness.
Raul had been sleeping on the sofa and was now standing next to the lamp on the coffee table. Raul's blue plaid pjs made him seem like a little boy playing dress up even though he was easily in his mid twenties. He looked startled. He patted down his black hair.
"Hola, cómo estás?" Cathy said in a snicker to her cousin from Cuba.
Raul responded in full-speed Spanish. I was sure Cathy didn't understand him even though her father was Cuban and she was in level 2 Spanish. Just like me, Cathy schemed her way through high school by cheating, creating fake hall passes and carefully selecting classes with burned out teachers who never assigned homework.
Cathy yelled, "You need to speak English. We are not in Cuba."
Raul responded in more Spanish which only flamed the fire for us two drunk sixteen-year-olds. "Your mother eats donkey poooooh." Cathy said, "Donkey poooooooh."
I joined the game, "Your father is a monkey who lives with the donkey. The donkey who makes donkey pooooooh. The pooooh your mother eats."
Cathy and I laughed; we cried. Then bored with our target, we wandered off to Cathy's bedroom where we listened to music on the radio and crashed for the night.
Somewhere in the morning, Cathy's dad sat at the end of the bed. "Good morning," he said as he pulled at Cathy's feet. She grunted.
I was always impressed by her dad. He had deep brown eyes and smooth dark skin. He wore bright pollo shirts, plaid shorts, dockers, and a stylish straw hat. He had fled to the US two years before Cathy was born where he met Cathy's mom. Her mom had blond hair and green eyes; the contrast of them together was striking. They both loved sailing, Cuban music, and gardening.
Cathy was the perfect outcome of them both. Deep brown eyes with matching thick eyebrows and straight blond hair. She had the height of her father couple with the slim and curvy build of her mother. I worshipped her beauty, along with everyone else who met her.
"Honey," Cathy's dad said with his Cuban accent, "Raul is going to be here for awhile. We need to help him, just like people helped me. He needs to learn English. Can you help him? And be nice, he is really afraid."
Cathy's dad left. "What is Raul afraid of Cathy?" I asked.
"What do you think? " Cathy said, "Of being sent back to Cuba." She giggled with an awkwardness. "Of Castro." She rolled her eyes.
Our high school was a mix of blacks, whites, jews, Colombians, Haitians, and a big dose of Cubans. Half of the Cuban kids had been born in Cuba and the other half had been born right after their parents fled to the US in the mid 60s. Their parents were well educated and were highly successful in Ft Lauderdale.
But the second wave was now arriving and they were either poor or they were criminals that Castro had released from the jails. Cathy's dad had sailed to Cuba and helped Raul along with a host of other Cubans escape. Cathy's dad wasn't the only one I knew who had helped Cubans escape.
While Cathy kept sleeping, I wandered out to the dining room. Raul was now dressed in a tshirt and jeans, clean but ragged. He was no bigger than a jockey. With his large hands grasping a tiny spoon, he rescued soggy Froot Loops that were floating in milk in a large plastic bowl.
I smiled. He said, "H -- ello....". I grabbed a bowl out of the cupboard. I poured in Froot Loops then poured in milk. The cereal turned the milk pink and green.
I knew Cathy wouldn't be up for hours and her parents were already gone so I was stuck with Raul.
Raul smiled, exposing big teeth for such a small mouth. I grinned back and thought, "your father is a monkey who lives with the donkey." I giggled. Then I wondered how I could have thought donkey and monkey rhymed; they went perfectly together the night before.
I finished the cereal. Then I stirred the pink and green colors together, noticing how they still stayed pink and green. I would have thought I could have stirred them into gray.
Castro's death has me thinking about that night. About Cathy, her parents, and Raul.
I know Cathy's life ended in tragedy. She dropped out of college, had two kids by age 20, and then died at age 35 from alcoholism.
Cathy's parents? They have probably spent hours drifting on the ocean in search for what they did wrong with Cathy; how could she have died from drinking? They probably blame themselves and blame each other.
But what happened to Raul?
I wish I could have that breakfast over. I would first apologize for making fun of him, for saying his father is a monkey who lives with a donkey. Then I would ask him a million questions, questions that I could proudly now ask in Spanish: Why did you leave Cuba? What do you hope to do in the US? Do you have a wife? A family? What really happened with Castro? What do you miss about Cuba? What surprises you most about coming to the US? What happens if the INS catches you and sends you back? How do you communicate with friends back home? Do you know lots of the Cubans here in the US?
And of course, the most important question: have you ever eaten anything more scary than Froot Loops that turn the milk pink and green?