Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Functionality Issues

So I had a few people let me know my blog wasn't working quite right. I had tried to get fancy and add some html codes. I ignored the warning that they weren't done correctly and all my old posts and info slid right off the page. I learned my lesson and took the code out. Things seem to be back to normal and working fine...I think. Let me if it still seems wonky to you. Thanks!


Monday, July 30, 2012

The Love Bus

The drive from Camaguey to Havana is around 7 to 8 hours. Later, when were neck-deep in paperwork and bureaucracy and running back and forth to Havana constantly, my brother-in-law, our personal driver, would cut the drive down to 6 hours at top-speed. But back then, on our first trip, on the bus, it was a 12 hour trip.

I've taken rickety bus trips through the terraced fields of Southern China fearing for my life at every turn, I've taken the Greyhound all over Canada, once barely surviving a 4-day bus marathon from Montreal to Vancouver Island, I've traveled across the world on planes and trains and ferries and boats and even ended up sitting on a trucker's lap once as he let me, the deeply-stoned hitchhiker, steer his 18-wheeler down the highway towards Calgary. Some of these adventures were terrifying, some boring, some awe-inspiring...none of them came close to the pure bliss I felt curled up against Juan for 12 hours as we traveled halfway across Cuba.

See ya later striped building in Camaguey!!!
The air conditioning was too cold. I didn't care. The music too loud. I didn't care. I was hungry. I didn't care. All I cared about was the man in the seat next to me. We would take shifts, him sitting up with his arms around me, trying to make the small space as warm and comfortable as possible for me so that I could sleep. After an hour or two, I'd sit up and let him rest in my lap, softly rubbing his arms and back, twisting his frizzy hair up into funny shapes and then patting it back down. I'd catalogue every bit of him - here a small scar on his forehead, here the curve of his forearm, here the way his mouth opens slightly to push out breath while he sleeps, here the way he purses his lips to the left when he wants to kiss me, here the way he scrunches up the space under his nose to say 'Que?' (I did not yet know this was a mannerism shared by 11 million other Cubans). I wanted to memorize every part of him, build a sense memory of him that could either help me get through another separation from him or let me keep him with me as I moved on completely.

Yes, even in the midst of these simple, beautiful moments, I was still looking for a way out. I still believed that there was no future for us, that at the end of this trip I'd say goodbye and mean it. Every sweet word he said, every soft touch, every tender moment was tinged with both sadness and intensity....little memento moris peeking up behind everything whispering 'This will end this will end this will end'. I tried to block out their voices, enjoy the moment, not worry about the future but in every pause I'd hear a door slowly creaking shut.
'Alas poor Juan I knew him well'...picture it with orange hair and a sunburn and you've got me 
Around 3am, we pulled into a road-stop with a few fast-food type restaurants selling pizzas, ham and cheese sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs. As it was intended for Cubans they charged in national money (CUP), not the convertible pesos used by tourists (CUC). Juan told me to put away my money and walked off confidently to buy us each a hot dog and a pop with a dancing lime on the side. I was so proud as he reappeared back at my side with the food he'd purchased me. So happy to have our busmates see him paying for this meal. I didn't care that it was just a hot dog and a lukewarm sugary soda, it was him taking care of me, that was what mattered. To this day, it remains the best meal I've ever eaten.

As we finished our food and drinks the driver called out to those of us still lingering around outside the bus. We all hurried back on and found our seats. I don't know what the driver had eaten at that road-stop but his mood was just as good as mine as we drove off. He cranked the reggaeton music as loud as it would go and got on the loud-speaker. Juan interpreted for me but even without knowing Spanish I understood the gist of what he was saying...

'Hey sleepyheads, why aren't you drinking? Why aren't you dancing? We're on the road to Havana...let's have fun!!!'

I decided that bus-driver was right. I pushed my worries down as far as they could go, hugged Juan close and told him that I loved him. Sure everything in the world has to end at some point...but not on that bus and not on that night.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On The Road...Almost

With the coffee drank, the bags in the car, Juan hugged by his mom 1000 times, Juan having agreed he would call twice a day, both of us having promised we would be careful who we talked to and that we'd stick close to Juan's cousins whose house we would be staying at, we were off. We both waved at his mom through the back window until she was out of sight. It was the first time he'd ever gone to Havana and really the first time he'd gone anywhere, other than the army and university, without her. She had laughed when I told her that I'd make sure I returned him to her in one piece but the worry never left her eyes. Her baby boy was going on a road trip to the big city with a strange yuma...this was no laughing matter.

Five minutes into the drive, we were at our first stop - the gas station. As Javier filled the tank, Juan looked at me awkwardly and seemed to be working up the courage to say something. I knew what he was getting at and told him not to worry, I'd pay for the gas. We'd discussed money before I arrived, after I told him that I wanted to travel to Havana. He'd been honest and told me he couldn't afford to go. Though he worked at the resort most days it wasn't actually his real job. He worked for a national sports organization as a baseball coach and umpire and occasional soccer pro which paid about $25 a month. The resort filled up the rest of the time and paid nothing, except for the presents and tips he received from the guests which usually worked out to more than his real salary. All of this combined did not add up to much though. Most of the time he kept a little bit for himself and gave the rest to his mom. No matter which way you sliced it, he was poor. Yet I wanted to go to Havana and I wanted to go with him. I accepted that fact that I would have to pay for the trip and simply asked him to try and help me keep it as cheap as possible.

When we arrived at the Camaguey bus-stop an hour and a half later, a couple tough looking characters in brightly coloured La Puta Madre tanks tops and glittery belt buckles sidled over to our car and started talking to Juan and Javier. The four of them grimaced and glared as the conversation became increasingly louder and more intense. I started to get nervous, thinking something serious was about to go down. I tried to get Juan's attention as quietly and unobtrusively as possible to avoid upsetting the balance even further.

'What's wrong?', I whispered, 'What do they want?'
He looked confused, 'Nothing's wrong. They're just asking if we want a ride to Havana.'
Now it was my turn to be confused, 'Then why are you all so serious and angry?'
'Angry? What? Nobody's angry, we're just talking,' he said and re-joined the negotiations.

After about twenty minutes of this angry-looking non-fight about travel options it was settled...we'd be paying them 50CUC a person (just over $100 total) for a ride to Havana. Or rather I'd be paying. I knew the bus would be cheaper and I didn't want to immediately take up the role of sugar momma but I felt that the comfort of a car would be worth it. I didn't want to splash too much cash around with Juan but I also didn't want to suffer.

We went to grab a quick lunch before hitting the road once again. We also swung by Javier's girlfriend's house to see his baby daughter. I've never been much of a baby person but even ended up holding her for a couple minutes in an attempt to not look like some strange, cold, baby-hating foreigner in front of the extended family. Finally we were back at the bus stop, the tank-topped toughs sidled up to us again and another heated conversation ensued.

After another half hour of intense negotiations, Juan let me in on what was happening. While we'd been away a new group of travelers had arrived at the bus stop looking for an immediate ride to Havana. They, and our ride, were long gone. However, a bus was leaving in ten minutes just down the road and if we hurried, they could get us on the bus.

I wasn't sure why exactly why there needed to be so many people involved in getting us on a bus when we were already at a bus station, not to mention the long, drawn-out discussions about it, but I was eager to get moving and they'd dropped their fee to nearly half of their initial offer. I recognized that I really had no idea what was going on...but also recognized that I really didn't care. Juan and Javier and the two negotiators seemed to have it under control, I told Juan to agree to whatever it took to get us on the road to Havana.

Five minutes later we were waiting on a corner a few blocks down the street from the bus stop. An Astro bus belching out black smoke screeched to a halt beside us, the driver hurried me inside and then went back out to help Juan put our bags under the bus. The bus was almost full but we found two seats together near the back. As I looked around I noticed that I was the only non-Cuban on the bus and, more importantly to my small bladder, that there was no bathroom. This clearly was not a bus intended for foreign tourists. I started to worry that it was possibly illegal for me to be on this bus. But then decided if the folks overcharging me for tickets and the driver getting a cut of it didn't care, I didn't care either.

We were finally on our way to Havana, that was all that mattered.

For the right price, I'm pretty sure we could have gotten a ride to Havana from one of these guys



Friday, July 27, 2012

Meeting The Family

The next morning I woke up without Juan beside me which already felt unnatural. He had gone home for the night to avoid being caught sneaking into my room by security. I hated the idea of being in Cuba and not with him, even for one night, but I understood the gravity of the situation. I wanted to be selfish. I wanted to ask him to defy authority and responsibility to be with me. But I also recognized that asking him to throw away everything for one night 4 hours of sleep with me was over the top, even for me.

He called around 6am to tell me his brother was on the way to pick me up to bring me back to their house. I hastily threw my messy piles of clothes and shoes and makeup into my suitcase and crawled around on the floor checking under the beds and tables to ensure I hadn't missed anything. As I left the room I encountered my first sunrise of the trip. The vibrant pinks and oranges and purples painted across the sky were like a beautiful omen telling me that things were going to get easier...or at least shinier and more colourful.

After the darkness comes the dawn...and after the resort comes the road trip!

Juan's brother, Javier, arrived in a rented car he'd borrowed from some tourists he was working for. Through Juan's and his work at the resort, he had acquired a network of male tourists who would hire him as a driver and local 'fixer' every time they came to Cuba. There was enough of them making repeat visits throughout the year to ensure he almost always had a car on hand to drive us around with. Especially during the day since his clients/friends rarely rose before dinner-time.

I knew that these guys were coming to Cuba to pay for sex. And Javier, despite just barely scraping 5'2" and 100 pounds, was always surrounded by drop-dead gorgeous women. I figured I knew what was what here. I had tried asking him and Juan, in both subtle and blunt ways, if he was a pimp but they assured me it wasn't like that, he was just a driver...and, despite his small stature, extremely popular with women. I wasn't convinced but decided to drop it for the time being. If my free rides were a result of a bit of pimping, who was I to complain?

Their house was only a five minute drive away from the resort, a real town but, by nature of its proximity, home to many of the employees of the four resorts in the area. I'd passed by it on the bus and with Juan several times before but had never actually been over yet. Javier walked me down the little dirt path and opened the gate for me, pushing away their pitbull Rambo who was trying his best to jump up, over and through my body to lick my face. Despite the two strikes of breed and name he had going against him, this leaping and licking did seem to be generally a friendly, un-menacing affair.

A woman who was hanging laundry beside their house seemed very happy to see me when I finally disentangled myself from Rambo. She told me, in English, that Juan was inside and to head in. She looked vaguely familiar to me, and definitely had a family resemblance to Juan and Javier, but I couldn't place her. I found Juan inside and asked him who she was. He looked surprised by the question.

'What do you mean who is she? She's my mom! Don't you recognize her from the resort?'

I stared at him in shock, my mind attempting to organize several thoughts at once. How old is she?!!!! She looks like she could be your sister!! What do you mean she works at the resort?!! Have I met her?!! What? She's a bartender?!!! Was she working during my first trip? She's been working there for 20 years?!! Does she remember me from December?!!! Oh no oh no oh no, has she seen me drunk?!!! Does she think I'm a stupid drunk slutty tourist?!! Does she think I'm nice?!!! Have I given her good tips?!!!!

I knew that Juan was a momma's boy, he'd already told me many stories about his mom and expressed his deep love and respect for her several times. I had been looking forward, albeit nervously, to meeting her and planned to be on my best behavior for that meeting. I was not happy to learn that that first impression had already come and gone several times over drink orders. I peeked my head out the door again to see if any memories of her would flood back now that I knew who she was. Nothing. She smiled another friendly smile at me though and asked if I wanted a coffee...which seemed positive.

Unless, of course, she was planning on poisoning the coffee before I could steal her baby away to Havana. I decided to take a chance. It was really early, I could possibly survive a poisoning but there was no way I could survive this morning without caffeine.



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sparkly Chancletas

This is not about my shiny flip-flops, just a simple shout-out to the ‘also about falling in love in Cuba’ blog Sparkly Chancletas. Seriously, if you want to laugh your face off go read this. The recent post about Cuba love forums had me laughing so hard I didn’t think I would survive. Thankfully I did survive long enough to tell you about it.
I very much covet these sparkly chancletas!



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Negotiations

By Day 4, I was totally over my love-affair with the resort. The repetition of participating in uninspired activities and drinking weak drinks from small plastic cups and swimming in suspiciously yellow pool water and avoiding patchy sunburns and eating the same lukewarm food over and over and over, all the while holding back from showing any affection towards Juan during his working hours, was mind-numbing. Although it was the same elements that had composed the most amazing trip of my life a mere 4 months before, they didn't fit together in the same way. Now they just jammed up into annoying roadblocks standing in the way of being with Juan.

I told myself that this boredom was a good sign. When I'd returned to Canada after the first trip I had worried that I was just infatuated with my memories of Cuba, that Juan was merely a symbolic body-double for the country itself. I feared that the combination of rum and sun and uninhibited fun had tricked me into thinking I felt more for this man than I really did. But here I was, back in the same place, going through the exact same motions, already losing interest in all of it, except for him. I still wanted him. It was no longer Cuba that had my heart, it was Juan...and I could only sneak it to him in tiny, incremental pieces between heavily monitored split-shifts.

I was not in a good mood for morning activities. My mood fouled even more in the afternoon when I was put in charge of entertaining and translating for Ming, the newly arrived guest from China. Despite the fact that most of the entertainment staff were fluent in about five languages, I was the only person around who could speak Chinese. Ming, who had actually been getting by quite well with her English vocabulary of about 7 and a half words, was overjoyed to discover a white girl speaking Mandarin on a beach in Cuba. I merely resented her for cutting into my Juan-time. But as soon as she recognized me from my glory days of TV-stardom in Beijing, I knew I was screwed; I had a new best friend and my few moments alone with Juan were now group-time.

After a full day of this I was nearing something that was either total heartbreak or breakdown...or possibly both. But I knew there was still the dancing before the show and going out to the club after and then sneaking back to my room and holding each other close all night, so I tried to hang on to my sanity. I got two Spanish coffees from the bar before heading over to the stage, figuring a double dose of caffeine and alcohol might perk me up. Then I sat, on edge, through the kid's show, waiting for the moment when Juan would pluck me out of the crowd and dance with me and make all this stress and anxiety disappear.

As the music piped up and he walked towards me, I started to get to my feet...as he walked right past me and asked some gawky woman in an ugly floral dress to dance. I felt an angry fire rip through me from my toes right up to the top of my head. I started shaking and sweating. I could feel him avoiding my eyes, which was quite difficult considering they were shooting hot beams of hate onto his face. When the song ended he immediately was at my side, pulling me towards the dance-floor.

My body was stiff and non-reactive with rage as he tried to manoeuvre me around to the music. I still hadn't removed my angry-laser-focus from his face and he was starting to look scared.

'What's wrong? Why are you looking me like that?', he asked nervously.

I just huffed and sighed and said nothing, figuring I did not need to explain his obvious crimes to him. When the awkward dance was over, I walked away from him without saying a word and went and sulked on a lawn-chair beside the pool. I committed fully to my anger and stayed there for the entire show, not moving even when the mosquitoes found me and started in on their biting. That's the thing with dramatic sulking, you have to be willing to stick with it til the end or it's not worth it at all.

The general look I was sporting during the evening show
So there I sat until 11, when the show finished and Juan came looking for me. I saw him wandering through the crowd, growing more and more anxious but I wasn't willing to meet him halfway. Finally he located me, came and crouched by my side and whispered to me...

'I'm sorry I've been ignoring you. But the security guards have seen me coming in and out of your room. They told my boss, he says it's ok but I can't do it any more. I can't be with you when you're here. They said if they catch me again, I'll lose my job.'

All the anger slid out of me and was replaced by pain and shock and the distinct feeling that I was going to vomit. I'd come all this way to be with him and after four days it was over. I jumped up and started running to the beach. I heard him call out my name but I just kept running.

He caught up with me on the sand, in the darkness with nobody around he tried to hug me but I just wiggled out of his grasp.

'What's wrong? Why are you so upset?', he asked

'What do you mean why am I upset? I came here to be with you, you know that, I didn't come to party at a resort and pretend I don't know you. I thought we were in love or seeing if we were or could be or something. But just never mind, forget it, it's fine, I made a mistake. Just go back to your friends or whatever, I'll leave tomorrow or change hotels or I'll just go to Havana by myself, it's fine.'

I tried walking away from him again, wanting to make a cool exit before I started crying. But he grabbed my arms and wouldn't let me go.

'What are you talking about? That's what I was trying to tell you...I can't be with you here, at work, so that's what I meant, let's go already, let's leave here together. Tomorrow morning, let's just go to Havana.'

I didn't make a cool exit, the tears started flowing, but I wasn't angry anymore and I wasn't sad and when he pulled me towards him this time, I didn't try, not even for one second, to get away.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Forbidden Love

The next few days were...well...heavily scheduled. I knew that Juan would have to work for the first week of my holiday but I hadn't really thought through the implications of that. I had had so much fun the first trip with my co-worker and the other guests we'd become friends with that I didn't consider what it might be like when I was there on my own. Also not taken into consideration was the fact that I can get really awkward in uncertain conditions. I've always felt that I have a lot in common with a goldfish. In my usual waters, I'm a fearless, fast-swimming, leaping, wiggling, air-bubble-making fiend. But put me in a plastic bag and throw me in a new tank full of even newer fish and I will stay in the comfort zone of my bag as long as possible. There is actually a very good chance that I will never come out of that bag.

This is not what I actually look like, just a photo of an over-extended metaphor
As it turned out, the end of April was not exactly a hopping time for travel to Cuba. The resort was half-empty and the half-full part was not filled with very fun people. The tattooed Windsorites provided a little bit of companionship, until they both got food poisoning on the second day and retired indefinitely to their room. I settled for trailing Juan from activity to activity, feeling nothing like the exciting, vivacious woman he'd met in December.

From 9-12:30, I would participate half-heartedly in morning beach activities - stretching, bocce ball, aquacize, merengue...I would do it all, except for beach volleyball...there are some lines I just don't cross. From 12:30-3:00 we would leave the resort for lunch with a side of kissing and hand-holding at the Commercial Centre next door. 3:00-6:00 was pool-side darts, Spanish lessons, salsa, steppercize, ring toss, beer barrel balancing, throwing of balls through holes, throwing of suntanning people into the pool. From 6-6:30 the entertainment staff would have their daily meeting in front of the stage, I'd creep around the area, trying to act like I actually had some purpose in life besides counting the moments between Juan's breaks.

Through all of this Juan would try to throw me what scraps of attention he could - little surreptitious glances, a hand grazed across an arm, a wink, a foot against mine underwater, a quick pat on my head as he walked past my chair. But he was working and there were bosses everywhere. The entertainment boss, the restaurant boss, the head of security, the manager of the resort, they did not approve of inappropriate mingling between guests and entertainers and they were always watching. I tried to reason with Juan, we'd been flirting and touching up a storm on my first trip, why was he so scared to come near me now? He said it was different now, that he couldn't hide the fact that he had real feelings for me, that he couldn't act playful with me without it being obvious that it was not play.

Sometimes he could sneak off with me from 6:30 until 9, which is when the evening show began. Unless during that time he had door-opening duty at the main restaurant, in which case I would eat alone...or sometimes with a table of seniors who felt sorry for me. After the kids' show, and before the cabaret, there was social dancing, Juan's first dance of the night, every night, was with me. Of course the next dance was with a 13 year old girl going through an awkward phase, next up a cougar divorcee wearing her teenaged daughter's clothing, after that an extremely sunburnt woman on her honeymooon...but the first was always mine!

When the show was over and Juan had changed from his actorly clothes into some bedazzled evening wear, we'd sit around by the DJ booth with the other entertainers, all of them speaking rapid, slang-filled Spanish. I suspected even if I hadn't have dropped out of Spanish class after the 5th class, I still would have understood nothing. As it was, I would simply paste a fake smile on my face and try not to look as out of place as I felt.

Finally, just as I would be hitting a wall of exhaustion, the group would all stand up at once and start walking to the resort gates, heading to the one decent club in town. My heart would race in anticipation as we neared the exit, knowing as soon as we turned the corner past the last security guard, Juan would pull me towards him and hug me tight and kiss me and touch my face sweetly and tell me that it wouldn't always be like this between us, that someday it would actually be real.

How To Get More Pool Boy

Sorry ladies (and gentlemen who swing that way) this post is not as titillating as it sounds. It's just about blog updates...

I'm not really sure what following a blog does or how it is useful. I've tried following a few and I have no idea where my alerts go when they update. If you are like me, want to get blog updates but aren't sure how to make that happen, I've got a solution:

I Married The Pool Boy is now on Facebook

Then again, what isn't on Facebook these days right? Well my dad for one isn't but that's a rare anomaly. In any case this blog is now most certainly a social networker. I'll send all the updates over there when I post something new and you can check them out at your leisure. Or you can give me your address and I'll pop by your house to let you know every time there's some action on the blog. It's really up to you!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Making Love and Killing Flowers

When I got back to the lobby, it was chaos. More buses full of tourists were pulling up and cranky, tired guests and their bulging suitcases were everywhere. Trays of Rum Punch were being distributed throughout the crowd to try and keep people happy and Guantanamera was being played over and over by a 3 piece band set up in the corner.

I didn't want to join the disorganized line-up at check-in quite yet knowing that the 2 bored workers behind the desk would need some time to deal with 200 new guests. Instead I chatted with the other entertainers as I stood shyly next to Juan, feeling energy sparks flying between our almost-touching arms. Some of them knew through him that I was coming back, others were happily surprised to see me. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. Juan was working and I didn't want to be jumping all over him, drawing attention to the fact that I was there because of him. But I also wanted him to know that I was, in fact, there because of him. That he wasn't just the cherry-on-top of another vacation...he was the reason I'd returned.

When there was finally a break in the line I darted to the desk to get my room assignment and resort bracelet. Juan made some hand motions that seemed to indicate I should meet him at the Cafe Bar once I had everything sorted. As soon as I got my room key, I turned into a speed demon. Ran to find my room, threw my suitcases into the closet, showered/brushed teeth/got dressed/did hair and makeup almost simultaneously. About a minute and a half after entering my room, I was on my way back out to find Juan.

He was sitting close to the Cafe Bar with some of the other entertainers. They were deciding whether or not to go out to the club. He asked me if I wanted to go out or just go to sleep. I said I was tired...but then regretted it, unsure if he knew that I wanted him to join me in my room. He also looked nervous, asked me if I wanted to be alone or? I told him I definitely didn't want to be alone and he jumped into action, said goodbye to everyone else and led me towards a dark path that meandered just outside of the main resort thoroughfares. He whispered his plan, I would head back to my room, he would take some back routes and meet me there in five minutes, then he looked around to ensure no bosses or security guards were in sight and kissed me quickly.

Back in the room I'd just recently left, I sat nervously on the edge of the bed, trying to massage out the pain that still gripped my head and neck. There was a subtle knock, I answered and found Juan smiling and holding out his arms. I dragged him in for a hug, no longer shy, no longer worried about who was watching us and what they were thinking. We just stood there hugging and hugging, not really saying anything, not really needing to. And then...

Well, you can fill in the blanks on what happened next. Suffice it to say I did end up marrying this guy (we'll get to that eventually!)

Later we lay in bed talking. My head on his chest, his arm around me with his hand in my hair, our feet intertwined (this would come to be our favourite way of being together, the natural way our bodies just fit). He asked me where the flower was.

'What flower?'
'The one I gave you in the lobby.
'Mmmm, don't remember any flower.'
'The one I picked for you...with my own hands! I gave it to you when you got off the bus, before you ran away to the bathroom.'
'Uuuuuuhhhh...'

I started to vaguely remember a flower. I tore myself away from him and we both began looking around the room. In the bathroom amongst my toiletries already laying about on the counter, in the pile of dirty airplane clothes I'd left on the floor, amongst the wet towels I'd flung down the hallway. The flower was nowhere to be found, until Juan lifted up the suitcase perched precariously half-in and half-out of the closet and found his Hibiscus, flattened and squished into the corner.

He held up the bruised and battered flower accusingly, 'So this is what you like to do to flowers? Is this your Canadian way?! I gave my mom a flower like this 3 weeks ago and she put it in water and it's still alive. That was a symbol of my feelings for you and you just dropped a suitcase on it!! I will have to remember not to give you any more flowers, EVER!!!'

I was surprised and felt a little guilty but mostly was trying not to laugh. I told him I saw these flowers everywhere in Cuba, that the housekeepers left about 10 of them strewn around my room every day, that they were kind of flat and dead-looking to begin with, I had no idea I was supposed to hold onto them.

He muttered 'Flower Killer' a few more times but finally decided that my willingness to fly back to visit him for 2 weeks was a show of faith that my evil, flower-killing ways could be overcome. He hugged me again and we fell back into bed, knowing that with two weeks of discovery ahead of us...we needed our rest.

I was on flower probation for about a year but I'm happy to say I finally have been forgiven




Diving Back In

If you know me in real-life or have read more than one sentence of this blog, you will have already realized that I put the ART in Worry-Wart with my amazing ability to conjure up mental demons. I have always been this way. As a young child I would give myself stress ulcers by laying in bed at night worrying that my house might burn down while I slept. I chalk it up to having been cursed blessed with an over-active imagination. Unfortunately it has always been a dark imagination, it never imagines sunshine and smiles but instead takes me to straight to the worst possible outcome of any situation. Tell me that the lottery ticket I'm holding is a winning one and, instead of celebrating, I'll wait for a gust of wind to rip it out of my hand and throw it down a sewage drain. I wouldn't say I'm negative exactly, I'm just overly-prepared for disaster.

While this mental set-up might be helpful if I was the Managing Director of the Red Cross...it is not exactly a calm, cool place to reside when you're setting off to further romantically entangle yourself in a foreign country. To say I was stressed by the time I got on the plane is an understatement. My head, neck and shoulders had fused together into a solid block of pain, I couldn't feel my hands, I could over-feel my teeth, I hadn't slept for two nights, I wanted to barf. Oh love, what an amazing feeling!

I ended up sitting next to a young, heavily-tattooed couple from Windsor on the plane and the subsequent hour and half bus ride to the actual resort town. They helped distract me from my nervousness a little bit with their questions about which restaurants to eat at, which excursions to take and which to avoid, the nightlife of the area, the towel policy of this particular establishment - can you get a new one every day? what are towel-returning hours? how much do they charge if you lose it? do you leave it in your room at the end or return it to the Lord of the Towels? This is not a topic you want to tread lightly on, towels are serious business in Cuban resorts.

With all the talk about beach towels we didn't even have time to discuss towel art
 By the time we reached the first resort of the area I was feeling a little more relaxed thanks to the conversation and the Cristals I'd bought at the airport. Peeking through the throbbing pain of my head/neck/shoulders and the sour aching in my stomach was a feeling I hadn't let surface in a while - excitement. After 4 months of spotty communication and misunderstanding, longing mixed with sadness, tenderness mixed with fear, I was about to see Juan again, for real! With that thought, the beer hit my bladder.

We pulled up to our resort around midnight to the sound of bongos and singing. I ran off the bus and straight to Juan. We smiled like idiots at each other for a couple seconds, he handed me a flower and we hugged (chastely as his boss was standing right beside us). Before he could say a word, I blurted out 'I HAVE TO PEE SO BAD!!!' and started running for the lobby bathroom.

And they say romance is dead!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Booked!!!

During these months of confusion and relaxed morals, I didn't know where or who to turn to for advice and understanding. My friends enjoyed hearing my adventures from the United Nations of Dating but grew bored quite quickly when it slipped back into reminiscing and worrying about Juan. The internet terrified me with its tales of romantic terror in Cuba and I did my best to avoid it entirely. I watched movies that I figured might prove educational - Dirty Dancing, Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, How Stella Got Her Groove Back - but ended up no further along in my understanding of what I should do. All that developed there was a creepy crush on Diego Luna playing a teenager...which was no help to me at all!

Diego hard at work as a seductive Cuban sixteen year old




Later on I would join the ranks of People In Relationships With Cubans and learn to share my most intimate secrets with people I knew only by forum usernames like QueRicoMangoCubanitaIslaPinga74. But at the moment, I was alone. I didn't realize that I was holding out longer than most. That it was de rigueur to run back within the first month or two to see your new love again. That most people upon meeting their Cuban lover knew immediately that they never wanted to touch another. That the thought of continuing to date in Canada never crossed their mind. That to marry on your second or third trip was considered a reasonable possibility. I just assumed I should fight these feelings and fight hard. I thought that sooner or later I would reach the point where I had to give him up.

But I also decided I wasn't ready to do that giving up yet. By the beginning of April I was tired. I was tired of dating men that weren't Juan. I was tired of pushing him out of my mind. I was tired of wondering and worrying and questioning and replaying our few small moments together over and over in my mind. I was tired of waiting for emails and a weekly phone call that was never long enough. I was tired of it all.

I told him I wanted to see him soon, that I wanted to come for two weeks and travel with him across Cuba. I was worried that he'd think it was too much, too long, too intense. That, like the men I was used to in Canada, as soon as I told him I wanted to be with him he'd start running. But the only direction he started running in was towards me.

I didn't know exactly how things would work but I decided to stop thinking and make a decision. I found a one week deal to his resort...and added another week to my flight. I told him the dates. He said any time worked for him, he would make it work, he would be with me whenever and wherever I was (in Cuba at least). So I took out my credit card and paid. And immediately headed to the gym. In 3 weeks I would be back on the beach with Juan. I didn't know what shape my heart would be in by then but I could at least control the shape of my abs.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Break In Programming

I just wanted to thank everyone for stopping by! I hit 1500 pageviews today...is that a lot?...probably not, but it feels like a million to me!!!

I was nervous to start this blog, waiting for the haters and naysayers to immediately be jumping down my throat. But I've got nothing but kind words and support from you so far and it's amazing. No pressure...but I'd love to hear from you. I know you're reading but I don't know who you are. I don't know your stories. And I'd love to know what brought you here and what brings you back.

Are you married to a Cuban too? Are you years along, looking back with fondness at the beginning of your relationship too? Or looking back...but in anger? Are you just at the beginning, in a panic, thinking WTF I am doing?!!! Are you just interested in Cuba but not in a romantic way? Are you in a similar situation but with a whole different country and whole different set of circumstances? Please, tell me more!

And with that I head back to the story. But before I go, here's a picture of Fidel Castro watching a dolphin show...

The so-called 'world's best dolphin show' at the Havana Aquarium

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Story About a Story About Love Birds

Through this time, Juan and I were still talking, still emailing. We'd made no promises to each other and simply tried not to ask too many questions about who and what we filled our time with when not sharing our few, brief moments of communication.We talked about our dreams, our passions. With him it was sports. With me it was literature. I told him how I'd always loved to write. He told me he'd never read a whole book in his life but if I wrote something for him, he'd read it over and over and over. I tried to write him something hopeful and encouraging but this was all the hope I could muster...

Love Birds 

I met this flamingo the other day. We were both waiting for our morning coffees. It was a long line. We got to talking.

I told him how surprised I was to see a flamingo in Toronto. Especially in the middle of winter. Turns out he’d fallen for a Canada Goose a while back. She’d gone South for a holiday. Landed in his backyard. And so they met. And so they got to know each other. They’d both agreed from the start they were going to keep it light, have fun and then fly their separate ways. But he couldn’t shake the memory of her. The soft curves of her white and black body. Her graceful power as she spread her wings into flight.

He accepted the fact that he needed to be with her. He accepted that he was built to mate for life. So he grew some down and followed her migratory patterns North.

And sure he misses home. The tropical breezes. The shooting stars. He isn't built for cold weather. The stress of the city. Of course he hates the snow. But he has her. And that’s what makes him.

I wanted to tell him that humans could be just as beautiful. That, sure, we’re not always faithful. But we can be true. But how could I? When ‘I’ll see you again soon’ so easily turns into ‘I’ll never be back.’ And ‘I miss you so much’ can mean ‘I’ve already started to replace you.’ When ‘I love you’ so often becomes ‘Goodbye.’

How do you start a story at its ending?

Instead I told him not to worry. That summer would be here soon. That warmer days were just around the corner. He touched his pink wing to my arm, softly.

‘Yes dear. Indeed they are. For all of us’

He said and then he walked away, shivering, to be with his bird.

And I didn’t move. I didn’t do anything. Not anything at all.


The Best Way to Get Over a Man

...is to get under another. That's how the saying goes right? Well, that's what I decided I had to do. With a vengeance.

Yes, I had told Juan I loved him. Yes, I meant it...sort of. When I talked to him, when I thought about him, when I read his messages, I felt this pure love and happiness flowing through me. Unlike me who could find 7,549,832,021 different worst case scenarios and caveats and difficulties and questions and 'what ifs' for every moment in life, he just seemed so simple and uncomplicated. If he liked something, he liked it. If he didn't want to do something, he didn't. Happy, smile. Tired, sleep. Hungry, eat. There was no overanalyzing, there was no overthinking. He'd decided he loved me and that was that, for him there was nothing further to contemplate. But simple has never been easy for me.

At the time, I found his attitude refreshing and inspiring but I was arrogant enough to believe that my way made me the more complex person. I assumed if I tried to make a real relationship out of this love, I would quickly grow bored and move on to more intellectual pastures. I decided I should put my love for him in a box, separate from my day-to-day life. It was precious to me but I assumed it was fragile and easily destroyed. I thought that this was the only way to keep it alive.

With my feelings for him neatly compartmentalized into the 'beautiful fantasy' area of my mind, I got down to the serious work of dating. I went at it with a scorched earth policy, weaving a drunken path of destruction through a multicultural cross-section of Toronto's love-life.

I finally gave in to my Iranian hipster co-worker who'd been hunting me with his translucent green eyes and over-confident swagger since the day I'd started. From the moment we'd met, the only thing stronger than our attraction to each other was our hatred. Our interactions usually consisted of either polite work-related topics barely concealing our disgust/desire for one another or full-out, no-holds-barred verbal takedowns. The end result of both always seemed to be us frantically searching for a room with a lock on the door. It was a to-the-death kind of sensuality, both of us hoping that the other would not survive the encounter.

I enjoyed telling him about the other men I was seeing. Not that he was jealous. But even the possibility of slightly injuring his inflated ego left me giddy.

I told him about the Ecuadorian DJ I'd gone home with. I left out the part where after he'd kissed me I went to the bathroom and cried, my attempt to simply swap Latino for Latino an obvious failure. I didn't tell him how the DJ had called me a cab while I dried my eyes. How he looked scared every time he saw me after that. That I had obviously been 'that crazy girl'.

I told him about the rich German I'd let walk me home from a financial district bar. How I'd let him hold my hand but insisted he go no further until he took me out on a real date, possibly even bring me flowers. I told him how the German had taken me out to a fancy, romantic restaurant.  But didn't mention how he ended the night by telling me that there would not be a second date because I clearly wanted something more serious than him. I glared at his annoyingly chiseled head and perfectly coordinated outfit and assured him I could never want anything as serious as him.

I ran into the enemy at a party I attended with my Grenadan boyfriend of 1 week. He was surprised, as I'd just left his apartment hours before. But he took it in stride, enjoying my discomfort as the three of us sat on a couch, one of them on either side of me. He listened with faked interest to the Grenadan as he told him how we'd met, how my dancing had caught his eye, how my intense stare had given him the courage to come talk to me, how he had theories about us being soulmates. I headed outside for a bit of fresh air, my co-worker caught up to me halfway down the stairs and led me out into the dark. The Grenadan soulmate got left behind.

The one man I didn't want to use in my war against Iran was Juan. I didn't want to taint Juan's beauty like that. It was my way of being faithful. But he found out. Called me a dirty sex tourist. Called me a fool. He told me he'd had a sexy little chica in Cuba too. That she'd begged him to return but he knew better. He knew the government paid them to stay in touch with people like us. That the phone calls and emails to tourists were part of their job description. That their rations were doubled if we returned.

I laughed, he'd gone too far. I waved my white flag. The war was over. I was tired of fighting these useless battles for causes that meant nothing to me. If I was going to fight, I wanted to fight for someone worth winning.

What an average night out looked like for me around that time


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dia de San Valentin

After the great, cold, emotional breakdown in Montreal, I decided it was time to start knitting my life back together. We were gearing up for a few festivals at work which was keeping me occupied and the fact that I appeared slightly less Cuba-obsessed was conducive to a more active social life. My friends were circling cautiously, when I didn't show any signs of proposing further salsa outings they let me back into their lives.

I'd even gone on a couple dates with a shy poet I'd known as an acquaintance for awhile but had never actually hung out with before. After a few drinks he loosened up a bit and even turned out to be quite funny. Despite the fact that our similar British backgrounds made me nervous that if you climbed our family trees you might eventually end up on a shared branch, I still took him home for a bit of a make-out. He wasn't perfect for me but he was available and living in Toronto, sometimes you have to get creative with the tools on hand.

I was hoping I could manage to keep the poet around to distract me during my Juan-Recovery-Phase but 3 days after our 2nd date I received an email from him 'So I don't know how to say this but I think you gave me...' I gasped and closed my eyes. I'd never received a message like this in my life, what was I about to be accused of?!!

I partially opened one eye and peeked at my computer 'bed bugs'. What?! I opened both eyes to clarify. Yes, he was definitely accusing me of infesting him. Jeeeez, what was this city coming to? I had done no such thing. I informed him I was 100% bed bug free but that if he found any dead rodents in his shoes or pockets, they were mine and I wanted them back. Then I got back to my regular programming of thinking about Juan.
 The unspoken danger of hooking up in Toronto in 2010
I hadn't heard from Juan since the angry email but was still holding out hope that I would at least get one more chance to speak to him. One chance to tell him how truly sorry I was. I'd sent him a couple friendly texts, testing the waters but got nothing in return.

I barely noticed when Valentine's Day rolled around. It wasn't a big deal to me at the best of times and this was not even close to the best of times. At least it wasn't until my phone rang and I saw his name on the call display. Times instantly improved. I leapt through the air towards it and unsuccessfully tried to act cool as I answered in an excited, breathless 'Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!'

He apologized for disappearing for the past 3 weeks. He explained that he'd been kicked and stepped on in a particularly rambunctious soccer game. Several people had got their cleats into his legs, he couldn't walk, he'd been lying immobile on the couch, that's why he hadn't emailed me again. But he'd missed me. And he wasn't mad at me. And he needed to talk to me on this special day, this Dia de San Valentin because he wanted me to be his, um, his, uh...

'Your valentine?' I asked (ignoring the fact that most people generally give up the tradition of having 'a valentine' in elementary school)

'Yes, I want you to be my valentine!' he answered confidently.

I considered punching holes in his story. Asking why he couldn't have answered my phone calls while lying on the couch. Why he couldn't have sent a text in return. Why I already had a vague memory of hearing about this injurious soccer game before our little fight had happened. But I fought the urge. I could see that he'd needed time to think. And I could see that he'd forgiven me. He clearly wanted to let it go...but not let me go. And that was all I wanted too. I decided it was time to stop dancing around my feelings, to trust that I had no idea what this meant but that in this moment, it was the only thing that felt right.

'Of course, I'll be your valentine!' I told him, 'I have to be your valentine because, well, because I love you!'


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

La Belle Province

By the end of January, I needed a break. All I could think about was jumping on a plane and heading back to Cuba - to apologize, to grovel, to bask in the sun and forget all the nonsense of a month trapped alone in my mind. But neither work nor finances would permit another week in paradise...so I settled for a weekend in Montreal.

I was thinking it was a chance to see my best friend who'd been living there for years working on the longest BFA known to mankind. I also wanted to visit Maria, a girl I'd met on the beach in Cuba. We'd spent day in and day out talking about our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our anxieties, our emotional baggage, I was certain we were destined to be friends forever (and did not realize yet how quickly most vacation-based friendships fade in the light of coming home). I also needed to pick up a bag of stuff at my ex-boyfriend's house and finally, 6 months after the break-up, close that account forever.

What I was not thinking was, that despite the fact that I hate being cold, I was going to Montreal at the end of January. As it turned out, I happened to plan my weekend getaway for not only the coldest weekend of the year but the coldest weekend of all known and recorded history.

Things started well enough, Friday afternoon I jumped on a VIA train with a friend who wanted to visit her brother. We brought snacks and books and music, as well as plenty of witty banter. We even snuck a bottle of some strange Finnish booze into the mix and arrived in Montreal in both literal and figurative good spirits.

But as soon as we hit the street and the cold air hit us, my mood started to sour. By the time we'd tracked down Maria in the noisy techno club where she worked I was completely regretting my decision. The free beer she was handing me went straight to the stomach-ache-and-cold-wet-feet-noticing area of my body instead of the forgetting-all-my-troubles-and-flirting-with-Frenchmen zone.

I did not want to visit with my new friend Maria. I did not want to meet my friend's brother and marvel at how the two of them were oh-my-god so similar. I just wanted my best friend. I wanted to crawl into her arms and tell her that I'd destroyed the best experience of my life with doubt and first-world arrogance and to somehow have her heal me and make me laugh. I had not accounted for the possibility that since I'd last seen her she'd fallen head over heels in love.

We met up at a coffee shop and I knew immediately that something was different. She'd just got back from a few months in Berlin. I thought maybe her Swiss-German roots had been lit up over there and that's what the change was about. But nope, it was love. Her normally cautious and particular nature was being thrown right out the window of this cafe, she was ready to go wherever he wanted her to go, do anything to be with him. She had never felt this sure of anything in her life. She just KNEW! I was so happy for her, honestly I was, and yet I also wanted to crawl under the table, curl up in the fetal position and not ever move again. She was the one person I expected to bring logic to my problems and here she was, a heart-shaped puff of her former self, waxing poetic about the power of international love.

When it was my turn to talk, I didn't know what to say. I had grown tired of telling the week-in-Cuba story as a joke, with Juan the big, sexy punchline. But I didn't know if there was another way to tell it. I just started telling her everything at once. How I knew this guy wasn't my future but yet, how awful I felt about what I'd said to him. Here I was, pining away for everything he had, wanting to live in Cuba, to experience his life and yet I was the one accusing him of trying to use me. I'd made him a caricature in a vacation story told over and over to all my friends. For fear of being laughed at or called a fool, I'd removed all meaning and depth from the experience, made him the exotic little island boy in my neo-colonial travel narrative. I'd been lying about my feelings for him to everyone, pretending he was nothing to me, pretending I didn't care at all. And yet he was the one who was being called a fraud?!!

I pulled out a book I'd been reading, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, opened it to a passage that I couldn't get out of my head and read it to her...

         Go get another bottle boys. It won't be the same as this one but it will still be good. Isn't it too  
        bad that they don't make Los Suicidas mezcal anymore? Isn't it too bad that we have to grow 
        old and die and that everything good goes galloping away from us.

And then, in the middle of that trendy little Montreal cafe, I started crying and crying and crying. My heart-shaped best-friend looked at me so sweetly, floated on her love-cloud to my side and hugged me tight.

'Oh buddess,' she said, 'I've never seen you so beautiful and so raw.'

I don't really remember how I got home.


Admittedly, despite not wanting to, I did do a touch of sightseeing

Monday, July 16, 2012

Me or My Passport

Despite all my best intentions, it was clear that I was not going to just forget my way out of this situation. I was taking Spanish classes, I was salsa dancing, I was over-pronouncing mojito and Cooooooooba, I was living on pause between one misspelled, unpunctuated, lower-case email and the next. I was falling for this guy - a 25-year old Cuban resort entertainer. 25. Cuban. Resort. Entertainer. I repeated these words over and over to myself, trying to find the sense in them. It didn't help.

I decided there was no harm in having a glance on the internet for advice on the whole situation. Maybe I could visit him a couple times and then he could visit me. Surely that was reasonable. Surely that was possible. I'm not sure what I typed in, probably something about Canada Cuba love visit visa...whatever it was, it seemed to instantly set off a deafening alarm in the world of the cautious, angry, bitter and defrauded. I'm surprised a Just Say No to Cubans intervention vehicle didn't roll up outside my apartment seconds later to drag me off for reprogramming. Even without it, I felt like I'd been doused in a bucket of ice water. Website after website came back screaming Noooooooooo! Cuuuuuubaaaaans Eviiiiiiiillll!!!!! Ruuuuuuuuuuun!!!!!!!!!!

CUBA: A paradise of sexual tourism  
Have you ever fallen in love in Havana? Avoid the scams and pitfalls 

Cuban Love or Fraud .
Cubans don't know how to truly love anyone. ... I do believe that everything was a scam from the start.

Cuba Confidential
More than half of all couples divorce, many never marry and infidelity is the national sport.


Cuba FAQ's
I'm a woman traveling alone. Is Cuba a safe place to travel for me? Yes! No problem ... but don't fall in love :) 

Marrying a Cuban!!@*%@#$!!??
Beware of the scams, there's a lot of marriage fraud among Cubans. Know that 70% of all Cuban marriages end in divorce. (official statistics) 

After hours of reading about the devilish, heartless, money-hungry, scheming, jineteroish, passport-hunting, marriage-frauding, evil Cubans, I was crushed and angry. Who was Juan? What did he want from me? Was I a joke to him? A stupid tourist willing to throw my life away for a few rum-n-reggaeton fueled romps and some scraps of emailed romance. He'd called me once, ONCE! Did he really think I was that stupid? That I'd roll out the welcome mat to Canada for one phone call?!!!

I grabbed my phone, texted him furiously 'If you are doing this just to get to Canada, tell me now. Don't tell me you love me if all you want is a free ride out of Cuba. I would rather just give you my passport than give you my heart!'

It didn't take him long to respond, there was obviously anger there but nothing intense, he just seemed disappointed and hurt...
               i'll tell you something if you think i tell you ''i love you'' is couse i want to move to canada you better forget me couse i'm not that  kind of people bot we can be friends and i never ever do that couse i don't need to live in canada for to be happy couse i have everything i need right here so write me back if you want and i now i write to you in espanish... 

The same message twice. Once in English, once in Spanish. Both saying the same thing. Both telling me I was wrong. That I didn't know him. That I'd crossed a line. I didn't know what to believe, him...or the millions of voices on the internet telling me that this too was a lie. Just another move in his elaborate game.

Either way I felt awful. I wrote him to apologize. He didn't answer. I called him. Again and again. He didn't pick up. Despite his assertion that we could be friends, I knew I'd gone too far. I knew that in my attempt to save myself, I had lost him.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Te Amo Bomb

My vacation was over, the holidays were over, my birthday was over and a long, dark, cold winter was in full-swing. The January-February slump is never an easy one but this one was proving particularly difficult. I was constantly restless and unsatisfied. I blamed Canada, it was too boring, too rule-bound, too uptight, too cold...too white. I decided I needed to go live abroad again. After scouring the internet for jobs, volunteer positions, aid missions to Cuba and coming up with nothing, I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be moving to Cuba. This did not slow me down though. I looked further afield to Latin and South America. I considered Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina. I joined Interpals.com and started chatting with Spanish men and women from all over the South. I felt that if I took my feelings for Cuba and my feelings for him and spread them around to new countries and new people, I'd soften them somehow, keep the passion but lose the pain.

Despite the fact that I had about 100 new Spanish pen-pals and was taking weekly Spanish lessons, with a couple other newly-converted Cubaphiles I'd met at the resort, language acquisition was moving at a snail's pace. And my attachment to Juan was not weakening. With each new lesson, I'd send him an email or a text, testing out my latest turns of phrase in the style of The One Semester of Spanish Spanish Love Song...


Though my skills were limited he seemed to appreciate my attempts and always told me how impressed he was. He even started writing bits and pieces of his emails to me in Spanish (which with the help of translation software I understood). He signed off one of these messages with Te Amo. It slipped past me at first. I was still on greetings in Spanish class. But after I'd already written back it hit me...I LOVE YOU!

I wrote back again, a rambling message about how I'd been hurt too many times to trust and love quickly. How I'd given my whole heart to my last boyfriend only to discover he was already harbouring a girlfriend of 6 years in Montreal. How my relationship before that had also ended due to the discovery of cheating. How I now felt that people who jumped too quickly into love jumped out of it (or into other, simultaneous, loves) just as quickly. How I liked him but didn't know where this was going or if it could go anywhere. How I understood that resort life was different than my life, that lovers and relationships came and went quickly, that it didn't necessarily mean anything. How I wanted to keep going but I wanted to go slow. How the word love made me question his sincerity. How I wanted us to really know each other before we jumped in to saying things we couldn't take back. I ran it through Google Translate to get my point across in Spanish too. I hit send.

He was having none of my overthinking nonsense and replied simply, 'Don't worry, honey. I am waiting for you. I ---- you so much!'

I felt a wall crumble as I wrote back, 'I ---- you too!'



Saturday, July 14, 2012

But Maybe...

I've never been good at hiding my feelings or keeping secrets. I figure my personal life is everyone's business...whether they want it or not. Occasionally I suffer over-share regret but mostly I find it keeps me relaxed. I figure if I tell everybody everything, I never have to stress about remembering which version of myself I have to be with different people. I am just openly, honestly me with everyone I know.

This strategy had always worked well, until Juan. When I'd first told my friends about my Cuban adventures and his starring role in them, they'd been amused and impressed. Many had shared their similar travel tales. I marveled again at my naivete. How had I gotten through life this far without knowing about all these Canadians having vacation romances with Cubans? How did everyone else already know that the entertainment staff at the resorts were really the  'wink wink nudge nudge' entertainment staff. Hearing about the highways of Jorges and Pedros and Julios and Maykels that had been well-traveled by all those who had gone before me started to chip away at my happy memories with Juan. And seeing as I can't hide anything, my sadness showed.

'You're not actually thinking of going back are you?!'
'You know it was all an act right? It was his job to seduce you!'
'There's a new planeload of tourists arriving every day, trust me, he's already moved on!'
'Don't fall for it, he is just trying to scam you!'
'How could he have feelings for you? He doesn't even know you!'
'He's just trying to get to Canada, you need to cut off contact!'

The tough-love advice flowed fast and free from concerned friends and family once they realized that my carefree island love affair was lingering a bit too long. I reassured them that I knew they were right. I told myself I knew it too. Yet we all saw the way I lit up every time a message from him appeared in my inbox. We all heard the way I added a wistful 'but maybe...' to the end of all the realistic warnings.

I knew my friends were right. I knew there was no way this relationship could work. I knew this fantasy had to come to an end before I let myself get scammed out of something more serious than a few beers and some loving. But maybe...

I knew I had to start hiding.




New Year, New Life

Around the first week of January I had had enough of my illness, sadness and overthinking. My 32nd birthday was days away and I refused to start a new year of life in such an inauspicious manner. I called, emailed, texted everyone I knew and arranged a party for myself. I went with the usual casual dinner/drinks at a cheap and cheerful pub to ease people into the night. But I tacked on an invitation to go salsa dancing at the end.

People knew I'd been to Cuba, they'd seen the facebook photos, they knew I'd had a great time, they knew about 'the fling'. But still the salsa dancing threw them for a loop. I've always been a bit of a malcontent and surround myself with like-minded folks. We pride ourselves on our uniqueness and individuality but one look at us, with our heavy bangs and skinny jeans, and you can pinpont what we're into - indie rock with a touch of conscious hip-hop, dive bars. themed dance nights, subtitled film, art openings, local cuisine, charity events. To cut straight to it, we're hipsters.

Don't get me wrong, the 'creative class' loves to dance. We flock to Yacht Rock nights dressed like sailors and Fake Prom events looking like the cast of an 80s flick, we get excited about experimental DJs who over one night play a song from every year from the 50s through to the present in chronological order, we still go crazy for Brit pop and rock out to hair metal and sometimes even switch it up with a little top-40 irony. Occasionally we stretch our cultural boundaries to include tropical beats...if and only if it's underground or rare vinyl from the past. But there's on thing we never do and that's dance salsa.

I don't know if it's the earnest 'get fit, have fun, make friends' vibe of the salsa community, the fact that there are rules governing your steps, too many white pants and sparkly dresses or just generally too happy of a scene but it's an unspoken understanding amongst hipsters that the word salsa does not come into play when talking about entertainment options.

This is not an ironic t-shirt 
But here I was, the all-powerful birthday girl, going against the code of my people and attempting to drag 15-20 of my skinniest-jeaned friends out to a salsa club. I knew it was a bold move but I was excited. Had I discovered the newest ironic pasttime? Would I be singlehandely responsible for the creation of a salsipster sub-culture?!!

My grandiose hopes proved false. It didn't work. People were happy to hear funny stories about a great vacation but that was the limit. After the pre-drinks at a trendy Queen West bar one by one my friends excused themselves until it was just me and my Cuba-trip colleague heading out to salsa the night away. Following close behind us was also a realization, it was a stranger then but would eventually become full-time company 'You CAN have an experience that will alter your path and dramatically change your life...but your friends won't change with you. Some of these gains will result in losses. Change is good but change is lonely. '

Quite surprisingly, this is not an ironic shirt either!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Christmas Miracle and Then Nothing

After the first back and forth emails, there was a gap of about 4 days before Juan emailed me again. I noticed that those days when I was waiting to see if he'd write again matched up perfectly with the most extreme moments of my illness but decided it was just a coincidence. Surely I wasn't turning a simple cold into a deadly disease just because I was sad!

However, when an email arrived Christmas day I certainly did feel that there might be the possibility of a full recovery in my future. When my phone rang later that evening and I picked up only to hear Juan on the other end of the line, I felt so good I considered going outside (I didn't actually leave the apartment for another 3 days...but I did consider it)

It was a bad connection, we didn't know what to say to each other really - Happy holidays, Same to you, I miss you, Me too, I'm sick, I'm sorry to hear that, I want to come back, I want you to come back etc etc. It won't go down in the history books as the most romantic phone call of the ages. I've probably had deeper phone calls with telemarketers and taxi dispatchers. Yet it lit me up like a Christmas tree.

And that's how things worked for the next couple weeks. If I heard from him I was happy. If I didn't, I was sick and depressed. With it being the holidays there weren't many people around but even if there had been, I doubt I would have wanted to talk to anyone. I was so caught up in my thoughts and emotions. I was mad at myself for thinking so much about Juan and mad at him for tying my head up in knots. I didn't want to drag anyone else into the emotional mess in my brain.

At the same time I was also quite certain that this wasn't about him. I had fallen for the Cuban experience and he was part of it. I'd fallen for the version of myself I'd been on holiday - bold, carefree, fun, friendly, adventurous, open. I'd fallen for the climate and the lifestyle of Cuba (at least the lifestyle that I'd lived at the resort). I wanted to hang onto that and avoid slipping back into the serious, responsible day-to-day of my life in Canada. I wasn't sure how he fit into the whole thing, what he was or what he represented to me. I assumed he had a new tourist girl (or 2 or 3) every week and didn't know why he was even bothering to maintain contact with me. I assumed that he'd move on soon enough and so would I; I'd realize a one-week trip can't change anything and the entertainers are only  on the resort to entertain you and life would go back to being exactly the same as it was before and so would I. I was already mourning for what I knew I would lose.

But I kept checking my email and I kept writing back. Even though I was certain it had to stop, I just wasn't ready to say goodbye to him or to let go of the person I'd been with him.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Hanging On By A Thread

At that point, things admittedly got a little dark. Not so much because I was depressed but because I was SICK! My Cuban vacation had been great for my heart and mind but my body hadn't fared so well. I fought and denied the encroaching illnesses for a couple days to attend a few Christmas parties and enlighten (aka annoy) my friends with all my newfound wisdom about the superiority of everything Cuban to everything Canadian. The parties and the Christmas cheer turned out to be exactly the opposite of the medicine I needed, three days after my return to Toronto, I crashed hard. I was coughing, sneezing and barfing up parts of myself that I didn't know existed, my head ached so bad I was left crawling around my house in an attempt to have the least amount of gravity possible pressing down on it, my mouth got so sore and cracked that I could barely even open it.

My parents (who lived 3 hours away at the best of times) had left the country weeks before to spend Christmas with my expat sister and her family. Most of my close friends had also already fled the city for their various homes and vacation destinations. My cousins invited me to come for Christmas and to recuperate with them...but then changed their minds when they realized the newborn baby in their midst should probably not be exposed to whatever this mystery illness was that was eating me alive. At the beginning of my descent into illness, a co-worker had brought by a care package of soup, crackers, ginger ale and other assorted get-well goodies. But soon I passed the point of being able to get those into my mouth. That was when I realized, I was most likely going to die! Alone!! On Christmas!!! Knowing that the end was near if i didn't get some nutrients into my body, I dropped all pretense of pride and sent out a desperate facebook plea, begging for someone to take pity on me and bring me a straw

About an hour later, a new(ish) friend of mine showed up on my doorstep with a bag of pre-bottled health smoothies and a box of straws. We'd met a few months before at a poetry event and bonded over grammar and inappropriate jokes and had been hanging out off and on since then. We had the same taste in books, the same taste in music, we ran with the same crowds, worked in a similar industry. He had a cool rockabilly style combined with a stable, well-paying day job and, beyond that, he sent me constant, funny emails and made me great mixed cds. Since we'd met I'd been looking for the spark that would convince me he was the perfect guy for me to live happily ever after with.

When I answered the door wearing a set of flannel penguin/polar-bear print pyjamas and a hospital mask, he greeted me with the sweetest smile of affection and sympathy...and I felt nothing. Well, admittedly I was overjoyed to see the straws because I was knew I would die without them, but in the feelings-for-him department I was out of luck. I thanked him for saving my life, warned him not to risk infection by coming too close, said goodbye and slowly crawled back up the stairs to my apartment where I wrapped myself in blankets, self-pity and the thought that there was one man out there, on a beach in Cuba, who could somehow make me feel better.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Decompression

My co-worker and I, along with a couple new friends we'd made on the trip, had not wanted to let the trip end. On the bus, in the airport, on the plane, we kept the party going with Cristal (the Cuban beer...not the champagne), Bucanero and Pina Colada juice-boxes. The rest of the plane didn't seem quite as impressed with us as we were with ourselves but our transformative week in Cuba had taught us not to worry about the judgment of others (or had taught us to be oblivious, drunk tourists...the jury is still out on that one). But when we touched down in Toronto at 2am, tired, sunburnt, hung-over and cold, we had to admit the party was over.

When I rolled into my apartment, I was hit with a feeling of total emptiness (and not just because my roommate had already gone home to Calgary for the holidays). This was an emptiness that was new to me at the time but that would become an all-too-familiar post-Cuba-feeling over the years. It felt like somebody had simultaneously hit me in the stomach with a wrecking ball, turned my skin inside out and filled me up with a frozen yet completely effective painkiller. I assumed this strange combination of extreme pain and total numbness was just a symptom of exhaustion and flopped into my bed. But every time I closed my eyes, Juan's cheshire-cat grin floated up out of the darkness. I cursed his 200 glowing teeth and waited for them to fade away so I could fade into sleep. Sleep eventually did arrive (and lasted well into the afternoon of the following day) but the visions of that ridiculously charming smile of his were not going to be wiped away so easily.

At about 3am, the smile-visions transform from happy memories to toothy hauntings
The following day was a back-and-forth mess of emotions. I played my resort cd on repeat at full-volume, hopelessly trying to remember all the dance moves I'd learned. I posted all my photos on facebook and looked at them over and over and over. I thought about Juan, I told myself to stop thinking about him, I thought about him some more, I told myself to pull myself together and remember that he works at a resort, my 'most amazing week ever' was his week after week after week, a little part of my brain piped up with 'maybe this was different, maybe I was special', my brain's steering committee not only shot down that idea, they shot the little part that dared to think it. I emptied the sand out of my suitcase and a small thistle stuck to my hand, this made me think about when I accidentally got stuck in a patch of beach thistles and he was laughing too hard to help me. I wondered if I should keep this thistle as a souvenir of that time. My brain actually slapped itself at that point.

After a few hours of this I decided I might as well try emailing him, just to say hi, tell him that our time together honestly meant something to me, that I seriously wanted to come back. I knew that he didn't really have much access to email, just a very occasional visit to the 6CUC an hour computer at the resort. I reminded myself that he only made a few CUCs a day, that a lack of response wasn't a sign of anything other than the reality of his financial situation. That I shouldn't be surprised or hurt if I never heard from him again. That I should just enjoy the memory of him and not ruin it by hanging on.That I should...

He interrupted my thoughts with an email. A run-on sentence clearly written at top, limited-internet-access speed. He told me he'd be waiting for me, that he'd make my next trip even more perfect, that he missed me.

I jumped up happily and ran to retrieve the beach thistle from the garbage. At that point I had no idea what I should be clinging to... I just knew I wasn't ready to throw anything away.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Vacationship

After two and a half years, I have a hard time expressing how exactly this relationship happened. Not because I've forgotten but because I've learned to downplay it. One thing you learn very early on when you're involved with a Cuban is that no matter how special you think your relationship is, no matter how unique and real and storybook-romance perfect it feels, nobody will believe in it. You learn to either preface it with apologies and admissions of all the possible worst-case scenarios or not talk about it all. No matter how love-struck you feel, if you want to avoid people giving you 'just trying to help' advice, you learn to appear logical and detached. The strange thing is, for me, in the beginning I didn't think I was particularly love-struck. 

I have always been the type to fall madly in love at first sight. I go crashing in and out of relationships with equal speed and intensity (and in both cases, usually while drunk). But with Juan (in no way his real name) it was different, I liked him...that we had established. And after we'd established that, we'd found a few more things we liked about each other in my hotel room. By the end of the trip, we had taken a scooter out to tour the area and search for flamingos, we'd joked around and made fun of each other a lot, we'd drank and danced and danced and drank, fallen asleep while cuddling, gone out to a paladar and eaten a meal of something, to this day, I can only describe as disconcertingly-creamy-ham. But the sum total of all this, in my mind, did not in any way equal love.

The remainders of the creamed ham meal
As we ate our final meal together, the aforementioned creamed-meat, watching the clock to make sure I got back in time for my airport bus, we talked about how we both wanted to see each other again. I told him I wanted to see Havana, that I wanted to see it with him. He said he'd go wherever I wanted to go as long as he got to be with me. I told him I didn't want us to make stupid promises, that I wanted us to be friends because I knew that lovers must come and go quickly for him but that friendship could last. He agreed that we should be friends, good friends, best friends even. I got him to write his email address and phone number down and gave him mine. I laughed at myself as I did and said to him 'You'll never call me will you?' He just smiled and grabbed my notebook again, wrote something inside and told me not to read it until I was on the plane.

Back at the resort, I hurried around saying goodbye to the bartenders, the wait-staff, my housekeeper, the gardeners, the life-guards, the band, the DJ, the dancers, the entertainment crew, telling everyone how much I'd miss them and how I'd be back soon. I saved my final goodbye for Juan (I repeat, not his real name in any way). We ducked behind a tree to hug, he reached down beside a flower bush and plucked, not a flower but, a dirty, dried-up weed from underneath it to tuck behind my ear...I cracked up and told him, with real confidence, that I'd be back soon. Then I got on the bus.

As soon as I got to my seat, I opened the notebook to see what he'd written. Just one, simple, misspelled sentence "I can't tell you 'I love you' bot I'll mess you". I immediately started crying as realized, just a little bit, that he may have already messed me.

The most romantic 'I don't love you' letter I've ever received