Take five

Today is the fifth anniversary of Relativity. Before I pat myself in places, I just want to take a moment to reflect on the past year…

Cheers to another year.

La familia

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.

We're not yelling...We're Cuban.
We’re not yelling, we just don’t know how to take off the caps lock.

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.

Bedtime story

Once upon a time there was a woman with two arms. She used these arms to hug, carry and lift. Until one day, one of her arms went missing. Where did her arm go, you ask? Who cares. Nobody knows. What’s important is that although she missed her arm very much she learned to just use one. And she lived happily ever after. The end.

If I had kids, that’s the story I would tell them when they would inevitably ask about my great-aunt’s missing arm. Unless they’re older. At which point I would say:

You want to know how Tia lost her arm? She got a paper cut and was too busy playing on her PS2 to wash her hands and disinfect the cut. So, she got gangrene all up her arm and the doctors had no other choice, but to cut. What’s gangrene? Look it up.

Eventually, when they’re older, they will ask again. And that’s when I’ll say:

It’s a sad story that you should never talk about or mention in front of her. Why? Because she’s traumatized! She was separated from my grandmother because the communist Cuban government would not let her leave the country. So, she had no other choice but to make a raft out of household items and paddle her way to Miami Beach. Half way across the gulf she was surrounded by a pack of sharks. What? Yes, a pack of sharks. Gulf sharks travel in packs. Do you want to hear this story or not? Where was I? Right. One of the sharks bit down on her oar and yanked it under water. Instinctively she stuck her hand in the water to get it back, but the shark chomped down on her arm. Luckily, a platoon of dolphins were nearby and shooed the sharks away, not before recovering her arm and returning it to her so she could use it to paddle her way to shore.

Years later, I will hear them repeat this atrocity to someone at a family gathering and call them out on it. “That’s not funny,” I’d say. “Don’t make fun of my great aunt. She’s missing an arm!”

Seriously now. My grandmother’s sister arrived from Cuba without an arm. I was young. Young enough to stand under her and look up her half sleeve to see the nub. Young enough to wonder what happened to her arm, but not ask. And when I thought about it again, I was old enough not to care. I guess because she was still able to do everything. Everything. Peel potatoes, put on a bra, swim, annoy the crap out of everyone, be mean. Everything.

Except play guitar. It has always been her dream to join a rock band and wail on a Fender under a bright spotlight.