Last week I received an email with a suspicious subject heading from an addressee I did not recognize.
So, I opened it.
The email was entirely in Spanish and every single word was CAPITALIZED. After reading the first two lines, I realized it was from my half-aunt with two arms who currently resides in Cuba.
I continued reading with incredible curiosity. Would there be a hidden message? Some sort of code I would have to crack to figure out if she needed me to send her freeze-dried rice and beans or to get the exact coordinates of her possible raft landing on the sands of Key Biscayne.
Unfortunately, there was none of that. It was the most mundane email ever written, with bits and pieces about her family and her thwarted efforts to come to Miami for a visit.
For being the first time you talk to someone, it was awfully familial. I almost became indignant about the whole thing until I remembered that this is just the way it is. When your mother is an only child from a divorced marriage, you get weird hyphens and halves for family members: a step-grandfather, a half-aunt, a great-aunt with one arm, a fourth-cousin, a guy you have to call your uncle even though he is not. And when your mother is from Cuba, all of these hyphens and halves get the right to become intimately involved in your life – if you let them.
Which is why I keep them all at arms length. They’ve struggled against communism for 50 + years. I’ve struggled against their meddling for 35 years.
Fight as I may, I always end up losing. All of the halves and hyphens I’ve met, and continue to meet, have this intense instinct to connect with relatives – no matter how distant in blood line. They don’t hesitate in calling me family and immediately asking me why I’m so fat.
They don’t care that I’m clearly different in so very many ways. They can care less about what I do for a living or my opinions on the Pope or socialism. They don’t want to get to know me, because knowing that we carry similar DNA is enough.
So, here I am, replying to an email from a stranger and contemplating whether or not to make a joke about my period being late this month and not having to worry about the possibility of her becoming a half-great-aunt with two arms.