December 17th, 2017
People tire me, but I am reminded that I am not the first or alone in my resentment, in my endless exhaustion of this assault on the senses. I have hope again- that misguided, miserable human condition. So terribly optimistic in a world that does not compliment it. I have hope again in humanity, and that perhaps people are actually capable of decency.
When I was in Cuba, two men stole a hundred dollars from me. The island was full of so many good-natured, humble, uninvested people, I over-trusted. It was around 5PM when I realized I’d actually run a bit short on money, and needed to exchange dollars for the local currency. The bank I usually exchanged in closed around 2-3PM. Rather than ask the large fancy hotels lining Parque Central, or taking the time to ask the sweet old grandmother who was renting me a room for two weeks, I took to drinking rum and smoking rolled cigarettes in Pachanka.
Worry is an emotion that comes very difficultly to me. I am quick to take all of life’s calamities with calm acceptance. Anxiety provides no assistance, so if I’m faced with not having money, losing a set of keys, or the great fear of unknowing what’s to come from my actions, I can sigh it away easily. Action is a kind of desperation – I’d rather drink and sleep, spend my days dreaming away my troubles and dreary existence. It’s a quality of myself I appreciate, and one my sisters say is irresponsible and my undoing, albeit with a bit of envy.
The bank was closed, and would likely be closed the following morning as well, because it would be Sunday. With my last ten Cuban pesos I decided to buy a box of Hollywood cigarettes, and spend whatever was left on beer and some shots of rum at Pachanka.
Pachanka was a bar in Old Havana, my favorite for so many reasons. The walls were lined with tourist graffiti, names and declarations of love. A giant mural of a ship hung above the bar, painted with pirates and hooligans drinking and looking merry, some hanging drunk off the bow and sails. A band would occasionally play lazy, melodious salsa music, and the staff took a strange liking to me. They had an ashtray I took a liking to, a worn little clay looking oval embroidered with cuban flags, and they were kind enough to give it to me on my last day. I still have it, and as I write this now, I see it on my dresser and it fills me with a warm longing to go back again.
Another reason I loved Pachanka was Dianysia, but she is such a marvel and colossal subject of her own, I’ll leave her to this diary another day.
As I spent the afternoon in a cool and medium buzz of beer and company, two locals decided to join me. One thin with a pretty, boyish face and his hair in a pony tail. The other a bit stout with a cab drivers face. It could be hindsight, but I remember that initially that I was wary of them. They were as kind as any other Cuban, but had a habit of over-complimenting and offered insights to things I repeatedly told them I wasn’t in need of. Specifically clubs and women who would love to meet me. But I’m either a fool or my mothers son, loving people I shouldn’t. So I offered them seats beside me and bought each of them a beer.
“There’s another bar down the road we think you’d love. So many girls to talk and dance with. Wouldn’t you like to drink and smoke with a pretty woman at your side?”
“I already am,” I said, and I shot a big smile and nod towards Dianysia behind the bar. She laughed and shook her head, her curly locks falling like curtains around her face, causing my heart to sigh.
Alcohol brings out the worst in me – a kindness to every stranger and the assumption that we are all brothers. The initial hesitance faded, and before long I was laughing with Cab Driver and Pony Tail as if we were old friends. It’s because deep down I have always felt myself alone with humanity, and while I could accept that solitude in somber sobriety, being drunk made me homesick for something I will probably never know: a sense of belonging to somewhere, to something.
The night had settled in and I was feeling giddy and drunk. I stepped outside to smoke and the cars looked smaller than they should be, and the drizzling rain was singing silently to the bands salsa music inside and the old street lights flickering were like morse code reminding me my rent was due and insurance is bullshit because I was going to die one day and should enjoy it but my thoughts kept running away from me like sentences. Old Havana, small as it is, felt so endless. Stretching west and east and in every direction. I looked up and saw the moon and I had that young, fragile urge again to woo at the stars. I thought:
“You have grown old, Noel, and closed your heart to so many possibilities. Anything could happen if you would just let it.”
The joy and wonder erupting in my chest so momentarily,,,I knew it was diminishing. But that made it all the more beautiful, and my wanting to seize it before it vanished again forever.
Cab Driver and Pony Tail joined me, carting behind them a beautiful woman with large, searching eyes and her chest thrown upright. One of their friends from down the road, who I’m sure they called over to sway me.
“You’re the American who didn’t want to come meet me?” She said.
“I’m shy,” I lied, covering my face to exaggerate. And she laughed, falsely, throwing her shoulders back in a sort of exaggeration herself.
“So you’re afraid of women?”
“Only of the very beautiful ones.”
Her large eyes examined me in a way that made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t the way people looked at each other. I felt she was assessing me, weighing the quality of my face and character the way butchers check chickens in the meat market. And I did the same. She was gorgeous, skin like caramel and small framed. A shape that curved in ways pleasing to the eyes and primal urges. My eyes must have betrayed me, because in her glass reflection I saw a spark. Some silent affirmation that decided – “Yes, this one will do.”
Cab Driver and Pony Tail played the master of ceremonies, hyping her qualities and whispering to me in the sidelines of all the dark things I should do. We sang and danced in Pachanka, took breaks from loaded undertones and sexual tensions with relaxed conversations, joked pleasantly about how bad my Spanish was. Every so often she would casually press her side against my body, run a hand along my chest or neck. Staring into my eyes with an odd look of surrender, of offering. As if saying yes to a question I wasn’t asking.
“I could never take you home,” I said to her very frankly at one point.
“So you think I’m ugly,” She replied playfully with a shove.
“The opposite. You are one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen. If I shared a bed or afternoon with you, it would be like something out of a dream. I’d never stop showing pictures of you to people, saying- ‘Look, see here, isn’t she the loveliest person you’ve ever seen? And can you believe she’s interested in a guy like me?’ But I get the impression you want something. The way look at me, it makes me doubtful. I could never trust your affections, unless you told me what you were after, what you need. I’d gladly give it to you, honestly. If I can. If you would tell me. After that, I would be sure. It would show in your eyes and I would know if you really desired me, then maybe I could desire you as well.”
The confession, playful as I meant it, made an impression I did not expect. The spark in her eyes faded, and for a moment was replaced by something bordering on human. A sort of softness settled into the edges of her corneas, as if I tumbled onto a core and center too sentimental for such a jest. And admittedly, in reflection, perhaps my remarks were cruel in their truthful. She laughed at my statement, a sound that came from somewhere much deeper than what she falsetto’d before, and tilted her head at me with a sort of pity.
“Eres noble,” She said, in a tone that may have been a compliment, but rang more of disappointment.
“Noble?” I asked.
“It means you have a good heart.”
She left to go to the bathroom while Cab Driver ordered us more beers, and as I watched her sway into the back rooms of Pachanka, I never saw her again.
A few more hours passed and I decided to bring the play to an end.
“It’s time for me to go home,” I said eventually. Exhausted of strength, and more importantly, my money.
“Let’s get him a cab,” offered Pony Tail.
“No,” I said. And should have left it at that. But I was drunk and made the terrible mistake of the following. “I’m walking, I’ve spent all my money and need to change some in the morning.”
“We know a place,” Cab Driver chimed. “It’s late and not legal, but we can take you now. So you don’t have to walk to your hotel.”
I should have known better, but I didn’t, so you can guess how the remainder goes. We left the bosom girl at Pachanka and went down the road. There was no violence, only an exchange of a hundred dollars and my abandonment on a corner, with a promise of returning shortly as they disappeared into a building. I waited for an hour, foolishly. Smoking my last four cigarettes and sighing at my own stupidity. Slowly, a rage building inside of me.
I wasn’t angry at Pony Tail or Cab Driver. I understood them, little that I knew about them. They were just like everyone else- needing, and doing what they needed to survive. No, my anger had a much larger and disastrous scope. I could feel it congealing, spreading around a cold and calloused heart. People were monsters – the site of blood excites them. Vultures – scavenging for a buck and feeling. My trust and accepting of them, wanting to be their friend and brother, my lack of worry was indeed my undoing.
I thought – if they can not accept me, if people were so unable to love me righteously, I would make myself unlovable. I would let the sober distance between us grow and take refuge on a high mountain of myself. I would stare down at their rotting cities and states of being, laughing. I would drink my rum and smoke my cigarettes, sing my songs and dance with a dark enjoyment of all their misfortunes. And should one of them be dumb enough to climb my barrier against humanity- for help, escape, or friendship, I would throw them off the mountain, or climb another one much higher. A skewed logic, but one I held all the same. Below the Cuban moon I was transforming, becoming something dark and terrible in this silent sidewalk.
In the darkness a man crept by and joined me on the sidewalk. I can’t recall his face, his name, or to be frank, if he were real or a hallucination of my sudden mania. I remember him recommending that I go home, and I responded that I would, once I was ready. He asked what I was doing alone, and I casually told him the story of the evening as best as I could remember it. Politely, but reserved; all the while climbing up my newly decided isolation. He must have sensed this, because he didn’t say anything for some time. But just sat with me and sighed occasionally at the moon.
“You don’t seem to care very much about yourself,” He finally said. “Which is a good thing. I imagine it’s why you find yourself above most people and situations. There is a strength in that. But if you choose to live in such a way, without regard to everything and everyone, you will never know joy. You will never truly know yourself completely.”
“Knowing the depths of your own soul is rare and beautiful, but some reflection must come from the outside. Some battle, some conflict must come to test what you believe yourself to be. How can you be sure you’re brave if you have never braved the world? How can you know you’re good if you do not do good for others? Until you can abandon yourself, in a friend, or a woman, to see life and other people through their eyes, you will never be alive. You will be a child: alone and content, but only from not knowing better.”
“Life was made for the living. To only stand for something is insufficient. A man must decide whether he will be another cog in this chaos of life, the oil which helps it turn, or the hammer that shatters before building anew.”
“So tell me…have you decided?” He asked.
“Decided what?” I responded.
“Will you fight, or will you perish like a dog?”
People tire me, but I am reminded of the necessity in this assault on the senses. I have hope again- that misguided, miserable human condition. I have hope again in humanity, and that perhaps people are actually capable of decency.
I am ready to fight again.