DECEMBER 15, 1961
December 15, 1961, seared forever not only in my mind but in every cell of my body, percolating through my bones and my muscles, coming alive like a fast-growing fungus when certain images in the news remind my amygdala to retrieve dark memories I have sunk in the crevices of my soul. The old terror and dread manage to crawl up. So many desperate people rushing to the runway, sitting on a tarmac, begging, crying, wishing to flee their country, hoping to stay alive.
December 15, 1961, the day I left the country of my birth, My parents had to stay behind. Although I was a girl of twelve, I knew I didn’t want to live surrounded by the constant fear created by the cruel government that jailed and killed people who didn’t agree with them.
December 15, 1961, I sat alone in Rancho Boyeros Airport outside of Havana to take a flight to the United States, to live with my aunt and my cousins in California, the home of Disneyland, that magical place I wished to escape to because my world was filled with anxiety, worry, concern, trepidation, apprehension. I know what those people sitting, waiting, praying feel. I know the children won’t ever forget the fear seeping into their bodies, clogging their insides. And when they’re safe, in someplace in the world, they’ll wake up at night screaming, covered in sweat, hidden bad memories swirling and crashing in their head.
December 15, 1961, I remember everything that happened that day even the words that were said. “KLM flight to Miami, Florida, ready to board,” the P.A. blared. The air in the glass-enclosed, waiting room I was in, smelled of rancid sweat, Channel No 5, and hairspray. People sat on the green vinyl stuffed chairs that filled the room. The children in their Sunday best, the men in suit and tie, some of the women in white gloves and a hat. I am in a blue dress, my red-checkered coat on my arm. Soldiers in their olive-green uniforms surrounded the room. They held rifles in their hands, their face grim, some of them not older than fourteen. What if I couldn’t leave? What if I was dragged out of the airplane? What if I never saw my parents again? Doomed to live in constant danger. “Make a straight line,” the voice in the PA said, “unaccompanied minors last.” I stood up and followed the line that would take away from all that I knew.
December 15, 1961, a day engraved in my brain till the day I die. December 15, 1961.