Today, I have a sad story to tell.
A sad and long story that my family has been dreading for years; a story that I've come to know in details a few days ago.
(Go and grab some Kleenex, I have mine next to the keyboard)
It all began in the past week, while doing my daily blogs round. I found an article in the blog Medicina Cubana titled "Le deben alguna hipófisis", posted by Patrio in the forum Secretos de Cuba.
I even went to the forum and checked the additional comments and stories posted there, all about the practices of some pathologists in Cuba, including details that sound like a horror movie.
And having in the family more than one professional of the medicine, I knew from the very begining that the stories no eran del todo falsas. There is, evidently, a lot of truth on it.
I felt so appalled by what I've read, that I even linked it to the "Cuba: Orwellian stories" segment of my blog. Since it is written in Spanish, I sent it to my Mom, so she could read it, and when I got home, we started talking about it.
And right there, we started a trip back to past of my Mom's family that I was not aware of.
Mami and her family are from Guane, Pinar del Río. They were four siblings: tía Mercy, Gangui (Yolanda), Mami and tío Roberto. (Only Mami and Gangui are alive). Abuela Paula and Abuelo Oscar were their parents.
Abuelo Oscar used to work as cook in the town's police headquarters (before castro). Abuela Paula stayed at home doing laundry (mostly for the American pilots stationed in la Base de San Julián) and used to work seasonally in las escogidas. Later on, at some point in time that I've lost --but, obviously, also before castro-- they open a small bodega with a fondita in the front of the house.
This was the family where tía Mercy --Mercedes Inocencia-- was born in. The oldest. Una mulata color café con leche, de ojos verdes... go figure!. And yes, she was Inocencia because she was born el Día de los Inocentes.
I still remember her from my five years old memories; she passed away when I was around five or six. She was still living in Guane with Abuela Paula; we were leaving in Camaguey.
In my mind, I have her image so clear!, seated in the dining table, in those black and white taburetes, straightening her hair, doing her manicure or writing. Mami and Gangui both say she was the smartest of the four. She always carried or had a Bible next to her; always on her sight.
Tía Mercy was born with epilepsy. A real bad one in those years where the disease was nowhere near to be controlled. Her life, when she was with the crisis, was miserable.
Abuela and mami said there were days that she would have more than 30 seizures, she would woke up completeley disoriented, no remembering what have happened.
There were days that they would lied to her, telling her he passed out unexpectedly, without letting her know her body had been shaking for almost half an hour. They had to lied to her; their hearts were broken when she would woke up crying, asking if she had another crisis.
Tía Mercy never got married, never had children. In her late 30's, her epilepsy almost dissapeared, but then, she started suffering from asthma. The bad one; the one that gives you respiratory arrests frequently.
With all this in mind we started talking about the article --Mami, MDH and I.
All of the sudden, in a real out of the blue burst, Mami said: "Eso no es nada nuevo para mí. A Mercedita le sacaron los ojos cuando le hicieron la autopsia en Mazorra". (That's not news for me; Mercedita's eyes were taken away when they did the autopsy on her, in Mazorra).
I felt the pain in my Mom's words. I was speechless; I didn't even knew what would be appropiate to tell her; I was frozen. I wanted to cry, I wanted to hug her, I was infuriated, I don't know how may things I felt in a matter of seconds.
It was the first time that Mami have talked about it.
And it was the first time that I asked for all the details.
Around 1979 or 1980, tía Mercy was hospitalized in Mazorra. Not because she was crazy; mami said they reluctantly agreed to do it because there was this doctor that have succesfully treated her before, and the man was working there.
She was having a really bad asthma crisis and she needed medication to control it. (And you how things are in Cuba, in hospital issues, you've to go where you have a friend that can watch over you).
I was surprised when mami told me that relatives were not allowed to stay we her in the hospital. Abuela was in Guane, with tío Roberto. Gangui, Tiototo and my cousins were in Isla de Pinos. We were in Camaguey. And Mami still carries the guilt of not being by her side there when tía Mercy passed away.
They were told she died during a respiratory arrest, they couldn't bring her out of it. And now more than ever I have so many doubts about what really happened to her.
Despite having all the phone numbers of the family in Camaguey and Isla de Pinos (a real luxury in Cuba), they didn't received the news until 24 hours after the death. When they finally arrived to the hospital, the autpsy was already done. No family consent, no nothing. Así de crudo.
Arrangements to take the body to Guane were done. El velorio was held in abuela Paula's house, with all the ceremonies of the Evangelical church they belong to. And only when they were preparing the body for it, they knew about the horror.
A family friend who was a nurse volunteered to bathe the body and dress her. But since she saw her for the first time, she suspected that something was wrong and asked to be left alone.
When she finished, she call Mami and Gangui apart and told them that tía Mercy's eyes have been removed during the autopsy and that her eye sockets were stuffed with cotton.
For Christ's sake, with cotton!
She suspected that more things were wrong, but she had not means to check the entire body; only the eyes were the most evident. She asked them not to tell abuela; she could die if she knew. The funeral was over, and she was buried in the local cemetery.
And, apparently, the family life went back to "normal". Now, I know it wasn't.
Mami says that after abuelo Oscar passed away (way before Tía Mercy) abuela Paula was left devastated. Later she endured the expropiation of the bodega and la fonda. She faced tío Roberto's divorce and ended up raising his children.
I remember her hands, deformed by arthitis, always in movement, always doing something in the house. But we all know that after tía Mercy death, she was never the same.
I remember abuela saying she always loved Tía Mercy with a profound pain, because of her disease. After everything she endured in life, I've always considered that abuela Paula was a real Mariana; she was thin and tiny, but she was tought. But knowing what happened to tía Mercy would have killed her. Literally.
God listened to her prayers, though.
She asked for enough life to see tía Mercy's death and not the ohter way; she felt deeply responsible and didn't want to leave first, leaving tía Mercy dealing with her disease.
She asked to meet and enjoy all her grandchildren, and she did. (I am the youngest and she passed away when I was 14).
She asked God to die a quick death in her house, she prayed for not being left disabled; she didn't want it to be a burden on anybody's live.
And God also gave her that grace.
We are so lucky to have her genes!; everybody says that we, the women on my Mom's side family, are "paulitas". And, indeed, we are a lot of women.
Letters to Ordaz were written by my Mom, my aunt and some friends, asking why they weren't called on time when she died and questioning the autopsy. They never received an answer.
I can't help to wonder what happened to those lovely green eyes. I can't help the knot in my throat when I think about it. Dios mío, those green eyes were taken away from us, violently, ruthless, painfully. Now that pain have moved from my Mom's shoulders to mine, and I still don't know how to handle it.