For Saeed. Who understands “homesick” … and the trouble with defining “home” when one is in motion.
I am exploring Havana at the pace of three children, and for this, I am very grateful. Left to myself, I would binge and get drunk on this city, make myself sick with too much experience crammed into (always) too little time. The children force me to move slower—to pace myself and so to look carefully, to reflect… to digest.
They also force me to pay attention to the mundane. I could not eat—today, tomorrow—or eat badly. They must be fed and fed well, every day, and so in the act of feeding them, I experience the Havana a Cuban mother would, at least a little. Imperfectly, I know. After all, I can waltz into any of the tiendas panmericanas and buy anything—pay with credit card at Mercado 70—and even as I say, “Holy fuck that’s expensive”—expensive for me does not hold the same meaning as expensive does to the woman who lives next door, the woman who cleans the house where I live or the woman—her face so beautiful and so tired—jostling next to me on the overcrowded bus.
“Are they all yours, all three?” she asks. I nod.
“A big family,” she says. “We don’t have big families here, now.”
I think I understand.
I probably don’t—I can’t, can I? But, on the bus to and from the market, an exhausted six-year-old asleep in my arms, an equally exhausted eleven-year-old who refuses the proffered seat (“I think that old lady needed it more than I did”), and a claustrophobic/probably ochlophobic thirteen-year-old agitating to get off now and walk the rest of the way home, I come closer than I would if I were moving through Havana alone.
What is “home,” when you’re travelling?
Cinder is unhappy, homesick.
I knew, always, this adventure would be most difficult for him. He is, always has been, my most “stay at home” child. His perfect day consists of… nothing much. His familiar routine—what I know is his immensely rich inner life, best experienced in the safety, tranquility, predictability of home.
He and I are both consciously trying to create routine, stability, tranquility here—but Havana exhausts him. And when we are out, not matter how cool the experience, he most looks forward to getting back “home,” to our casa, our home base here—and this eagerness, if anything, is my proof that I’ve done something right, that I’ve managed to create “home” for him here, a little.
Today, mid-day, he crashes hard. We’ve planned to be out—we know we need to be out until 2 p.m. because today’s the mega-cleaning day for Jorge and his housekeeper—and we have been. We’ve taken a new bus, walked a new part of the Malecon, ended up at Coppellia Park for ice cream—and still ended up “home” too early. She wasn’t done—I grabbed towels and swim suits, and shepherded us over to a nearby hotel’s swimming pool.
We planned to do that anyway, later. But in the meantime, Cinder planned to be home—to recharge.
I miss its onset, and only see the result—his siblings jump in the pool and he refuses, goes off into the hotel’s garden courtyard, walks a lap, and when he comes back, it takes me one look to see, feel that he is unwell. Sick? Sunstroke? As I start to form the words, “Are you all right?” he snarls-growls at me and storms off.
I give him a minute or two. Follow.
He evades me in the courtyard, changing directions.
Jane: “Cinder, my love, you don’t have to tell me anything, but I need to hold you and hug you.”
He lets me.
Cinder: “I want to go home, I want to go home.”
We both know he doesn’t mean our casa particular.
Jane: “I know.”
I stand there, holding him, saying nothing.
This is the hardest thing I can do.
I am holding him, loving him, and reminding myself: he does not want to be here. I am not having this experience for him. I am having it for me, and I am dragging him along. When I started planning this trip, his position, from the outset, was that he wanted to stay at home with Sean. (My position, of course, was that thirteen was way too young to spend 10+ hours a day in total solitude while his daddy was at work. Cinder’s position—and my thirteen year old self peeks over my shoulder, empathizes, agrees—was that that would be kind of heaven…)
Holding him, I tell him this—that I know. That I know he doesn’t want to be here, didn’t choose to be here. That I understand, accept his feelings.
Cinder: “I really, really want to go home.”
Jane: “I know.”
After he shows me his home, Lazaro asks me, “Are you homesick? Do you miss your home?” And is shocked when I say, I don’t. Doesn’t believe me. “You must miss home,” he says, and the children pipe up, “We do!” And it’s true. It’s worst for Cinder, but it hits the other two as well. They’re homesick. For their dad, their dog, their friends, their beds and their routines—in roughly that order.
Me? I’ll be happy to get back to toilets that flush and grocery stores stacked to the ceiling with everything I might want and more than anyone should ever need, but right now…
“I’m so interested in, stimulated by everything here,” I try to put it into words for Lazaro. “And I have such a short time here…” And, of course, my children are here with me, and they’re what I would most miss about home, and so…
Do I miss home?
As you’re reading that, are you thinking, “Do you miss me?” Because frankly, love… yes, at those moments at night, and in the morning, sometimes, and every once in a while when I see something beautiful or think something so strange that won’t feel real until I tell you about it—yes, at those moments, I miss you. Madly. But most of the time? Not so much. I’m here, you see, and I know I’ll be back, and I’m here for such a short time, and I need to be here so fucking completely and fully, and I can barely manage it, being here, being present in the intensity of here is exhausting, and it would be so easy to retreat to missing and longing—so no.
I don’t miss home.
I will be glad to be back, of course. And I will be so glad to see you again.
But I am so happy to be here, right now.
When we finally get “home” that day, I make everyone—especially Cinder—comfort food. I fry up the cheese balls we bought from a newly discovered merchant, and make grilled tuna sandwiches. We watch Horrible Histories together, and as I watch Cinder regroup, I change the week’s plans. Tomorrow’s Sunday, and the plan, all week, was to go to Old Havana and into Salvador’s Alley, and listen to music and experience the chaos and intensity of Havana on a Sunday.
Jane: “Stay at home chill day tomorrow, what do you think, dudes?”
The little ones don’t care. Cinder knows this is for him.
Cinder: “But you really want to go to Salvador’s Alley.”
Jane: “We’ll go next week. Tomorrow, we stay home.”
He nods. A few minutes later, hugs me from behind, suddenly. “Thank you, Mom,” he whispers in my ear. I kiss his. “I’d like to wash my clothes tomorrow, too.”
Sounds like a plan.
“You really don’t miss home?” Lazaro asks again, and I’m starting to feel a really defensive. I know my sense of “home” is not… He lives in the house his wife’s great-grandfather built. I had, what, seven, eight different “homes” before I was 10, and then three within the first year of coming to Canada, and then…
“Home” was people, my family.
My kids are here. Their daddy will be here in a few days. Suddenly, I miss him, you, her so badly my belly hurts.
“I miss my people,” I tell Lazaro.
And for a few minutes, I do… And then…
Jane: “What the hell is that?”
I’m looking at something strange-beautiful-amazing, I’m in Havana, at a key historical moment in Cuba’s continuing Revolution-Evolution, and I’m just here, and I’m not thinking about you at all.
But in the evening, at “home,” on the verandah that is my writing room, in the quiet of a noisy Havana night–I’m thinking about you. Yes, now, right now, I’m thinking about you. There are so many things I want to tell you about. I’m worried that when I get back home, though, the intensity of what I thought, felt will be gone, replaced by the record of iPhone photos and a fading memory. Will I be able to really tell you what effect this city, this country had on me?
So. I write it down. Messily. Urgently. Before the intensity of “here, now” is diluted, habituated.
“I am exploring Havana at the pace of three children, and for this, I am very grateful. Left to myself, I would binge and get drunk on this city, make myself sick with too much experience crammed into (always) too little time. The children force me to move more slowly—to pace myself and so to look carefully, to reflect… to digest.”
And then, I go to bed, not with Jose Marti or Carlos Pintado, but with Rumi:
Soul comes wearing a shape,
with the new green,
with a trembling hand,
No, that implies a being apart.
Companion and confessor at once,
red and yellow,
you join me in the gathering,
and you stay away.
You come late.
You are the source of two lovings,
fire one day,
catch up: ANNOTATED table of contents for #postcardsfromcuba project
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LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:
Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.
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