Nickole Brown

JT Torres Writes About His Cuban Grandmother

My grandmother remembers her family’s flight from Cuba as betrayal.  She never wanted to leave the island.  She felt as though her soul were somehow connected to it.  As a child, she wondered whether all souls were eternally anchored to their places of birth and whether heaven was simply a return to the motherland.  When she recounted the events leading to her becoming an American, she claimed to have been visited by the spirits of generals who fought for Cuba’s independence from Spain.  These spirits, according to her, would sometimes speak to her, but as soon as her family procured the proper paperwork to depart Cuba and become expatriates, the spirits stopped speaking.  She felt a deep shame in their demeanor’s change, as though she had let them down.

When she first arrived in Columbus, Georgia—the first American city in which she lived—she became terrified of being alone, haunted not by ghosts but by the threat of abandonment.  She once said there were no ghosts in America and how that realization was much more frightening than living in a place populated by ghosts. In another story, one that purports to explain how she inherited the burden of betrayal, she tells how her great-grandfather fled Spain, where he had been an attorney, to settle in Cuba.  Around the time that he was in Spain, a notorious mobster had been arrested. According to my grandmother’s legend, the two previous prosecutors were mysteriously killed despite the mobster being held in custody.  No attorney in the country wanted to take the case, except for her great-grandfather, who had his eyes set on the hefty reward. So he successfully prosecuted the dangerous mobster and immediately left Spain with the droves of Spanish heading for new life in Cuba.  With the fortune earned in the trial, he bought land, built a mansion, and hired servants for his wife and children.  Not once, my grandmother assures whoever hears her tell this story, did her great-grandfather consider the repercussions of abandoning one’s motherland.  He didn’t live in Cuba for five years before his wife came home to find him brutally murdered in the mansion.  Having visited the estate, my grandmother can not only recall the physical details of the mansion with startling clarity—the metal spiraling handrail on the stairs, the chipped white gable facing the street—but she can also recall the suffocating fear she felt the instant she stepped foot inside.  Documents do exist to evince that her great-grandfather was indeed an attorney, that he was indeed the man responsible for establishing the Badias in Cuba, but only my grandmother’s story exists to report how it all