I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that the most persistent recount I have made at my age is of precisely those things I still have left to do.
A friend, psychologist by profession, attributes it to the obsessive features my personality brings but, I tend to disagree a little on the analytic categories so I blame it on the effect of a metaphor I was able to put together myself: At birth, someone (or something) hands us a bag which, in place of coins, carries a finite number of years and when these are over, so is our existence. Before we are thrown into life, that someone or something tells us: “Invest them as best you can. With this same body and this same name, you won’t have a second round.”
Well, there are times when you decide to make check marks next to the achieved. In my case, the panic starts when, during a review, I can’t make check marks next to important points because they’re still pending. Or even worse, because their time expired and it became impossible to make them happen.
Or is it that I’m still in time to spend some money on a Martian gun with red and blue lights and six different ways to shoot? Because, in my catalog of lost dreams, that’s when I should begin paying debts to myself.
There wasn’t a ritual of requests during which, when I was seven years old, I didn’t think about a toy gun just like the one my playmate kept as his most precious possession. It could be a ritual as simple as a shooting star that plowed across the sky, a detached eyelash, or a chicken bone in the shape of a “Y”. That beauty, brought to my friend from the Democratic Republic of Germany by his father, forced me to desecrate the atheism of the home where I was born to implore the baby Jesus to remember my excellent grades and to pass by a certain store from the Socialist Germany. Maybe, when he finally decided to do it, the Wall had fallen and the country was a different one. He never seemed to have made it to the store.
I also ask myself: does it still make sense, if my economy would ever allow me to (with time my dreams increased in monetary value), to manage to acquire a Nintendo in my Cuba of the XXI Century? I am not referring to one of those modern artifacts, very worthy of Ray Bradbury or George Lucas, the ones that vanish today’s kids from reality. No. I mean a cream-colored, rectangular Nintendo, with only one command and one cassette: Super Mario Bros.
Every day, I would go to the house of the only privileged kid in the neighborhood in the hopes that a sudden urge to go pee, or the obligation to have lunch would take the owner off the seat from a Nintendo that, when the Período Especial (Special Period) hit, became more than a game. Not even the pater middle school professor, nor the mater sales clerk of the grocery store could compete with that Nintendo that became a savior, given to a kid by his Cuban-American uncle: at five pesos an hour, Super Mario fed a whole family for a long period of time.
I swear to my mother that thanks to a grapevine that shadowed the roof of my house, I was able to regularly substitute the lack of those five pesos, and manage for the first time, that mustachioed character, universal today, who jumped over turtles and rescued princesses. The country was dying from hunger; my parents, like so many more, suffered the most ugly and insane misery but, at eleven naive years of age, happiness was contained in a Nintendo that, even with my insistent prayers, never reached my home.
If baby Jesus wasn’t able to satisfy some of my requests, he substituted values and in return he sent me adolescence. Luckily, for an adolescent that distilled hormones, a fixed up basketball and any girl with accentuated hips who was willing to insinuate the art of making love, was enough. And that, in my Cuba of the year 2000, was very easy to find. The provider even had a name. His name was High School.
But since happiness is never whole, in high school, aside from bulky girls from Manzanillo, I met, up to this day, what has been my most persistent hobby, and with this one I renewed my dreams with a chronic intensity. It was called Literature. Even though since childhood I had felt the love for books, my adolescence threw me head first into a literary passion which makes me wonder what has offered me more: vocabulary or unredeemed dreams.
Because when I remember that Julio Cortazar died without my having been able to meet him (he died just the year in which I was born), that is when I calm myself faced with the impossible. But when I notice that the American Salinger and the Portuguese Saramago just stopped breathing; when I think about the irreparable mountain of books that in this, my fenced country, I don’t have access to; and when I realize that my paradigm writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, is already in his threatening seventy-fourth year of age without me even having one of his autographed books, the least I can do is become desperate and feel that many of the years carried in my bag are languishing without being able to invest them as I wish.
I must be honest: That I speak in abandonment about these things doesn’t mean it corresponds to what they really mean to me. I think we never speak with a more inconsequential tone as we do about the things that really affect us. For my part, I haven’t been able to give in to the idea of having so many broken dreams pending. They weigh on my shoulders like souls without peace. And more than anything: I haven’t resigned myself to the idea of thinking it impossible what, as for many in half of the globe, are routine or things extremely easy to reach.
In four days I will be turning twenty-six. I still haven’t put a check mark next to small dreams like attending a Metallica concert, getting to know New York’s skyscrapers, crossing at least two (hopefully more than two) words with the Peruvian Vargas Llosa, or enjoying a soccer match with Leo Messi while eating popcorn at Camp Nou. I still haven’t traveled the world, the sole necessity that has sparked in my mind thanks to my books. Small, superficial dreams. I, like troubadour Carlos Varela, know well that those are not big things. But they are some of my dreams. Those dreams that also help me live.
I want to promise the readers of this text that, when I am able to really be the master of my dreams some day, I will not hesitate to start paying off accounts to myself as I righteously pay for the things that (hard to admit) for twenty-six years my Caribbean island has kept me from reaching. Maybe I will start by buying a Martian pistol with six different ways to shoot. Even if its sole purpose is to make a son or a nephew laugh who, astonished will reply to my dare with his super polyphonic laser shotgun, or God know what else.
Translated by: Angelica Betancourt