And then something happens, independent of the divorce, that reconnects you with those one time family members, and you take up once again, in some new form, the ties that once bound and then came unbound, and rebind them.
I have written about this before, when I found myself reconnecting with my first mother-in-law and a former sister-in-law. Through the wonders of Facebook, I had already created some electronic ties with members of Ben and Sam's paternal family. I see the photos of their children, stay in remote touch with a "like" here or a brief comment there. I have sent presents to Eric's baby girl. These are small ties that would not have been possible in the past: the remote but personal connection.
These past two weeks, I have been in close contact with nieces and nephews, cousins of Ben and Sam, with whom I have not spoken in a decade or more.
Marisa contacted me first. She had some questions she wanted to bounce off of me—a request I could and did not deny, unusual only in that it has been so long since we talked. Her voice spilled through the phone—the same vibrant, rich, upbeat voice I had known so long ago. We talked, I listened, I commented, and when in passing she mentioned one of her cousins and a family health crisis, I sent off a FB message to that former nephew and got a quick response.
And then Waldo died. Waldito, my former brother-in-law.
By the time I got through absorbing that news, I had more messages. What was my phone number?Waldo Enrique (the oldest son) wanted to call me. Would that be okay? And when my cell lit up later than evening with a number I did not recognize, I was pretty sure who it was.
Waldo may have been the first I met of the eleven nephews and nieces that were part of my husband's family. I don't remember. Waldo was always good-natured and sweet-voiced. And here he was again, only now he is 48 instead of 16. Now he is the father of a 15 year old, instead of the teen himself. And now, as he reminded me laughing, "we are getting old, April."
He called because I had posted my thoughts about his father's death on Facebook. I wrote:
I just received word this morning that my former brother-in-law, Waldo De Castroverde, died yesterday. I am filled with memories of many, many occasions spent with him and Vivian, his wife, and their children, Waldo Enrique, Ana, Alex, and Orly (now Orlando).
This is a picture of Waldo and Sam playing chess at our house in 1996. He and Vivian were in the Midwest to watch their son Orly wrestle and drove over from somewhere (Iowa, I believe) to visit. Sam was not quite six and lost the match. Ben, who was 10, ended up beating Tio Waldo and that was the end of the chess for the night!
Waldo grew up in Cuba and was committed to seeing Cuba becoming a true democracy, first by opposing the dictator Batista and then by opposing the dictator Fidel Castro. Waldo was one of 1400 Cuban exiles who made up the military force that took part on the Bay of Pigs fiasco. As a prisoner, Waldo was part of a group of captured soldiers selected by Fidel to go to the U.S. to negotiate a ransom agreement with the Kennedy administration to free all of the captured soldiers. When negotiations failed, Waldo was sentenced to a 30-year prison term, of which he served 20 months before being released in late December 1962. While in prison, Waldo debated Fidel about democracy, communism, and freedom. He loved to recount that story.
Waldo never gave up his dream of a free Cuba, and had the Castro regime fallen, Waldo would have returned to his beloved homeland to help rebuild the country. One of his nicknames was “El Presidente” and there is no doubt in my mind that he would have run successfully for high office.
I was fortunate enough to know Waldo and to join his family on many occasions for holidays, debates, meals (Waldo could outcook anyone and his paella Cubana was the best in the world), and special occasions. He loved his family, he loved intellectual discourse, he loved to read, he loved the United States, and he loved Cuba—what it was and what it had the potential to become. Waldo loved to debate anyone on any topic, and as the debate gained momentum, he would suddenly switch from English to Spanish, which served to increase both the volume and speed of the debate. When he was in his 40s, he fulfilled a lifetime dream of becoming a lawyer, and practiced for the next several decades first alone and then with his two younger sons. I have to imagine he was a whale of a lawyer and I would to have loved to have seen him give closing argument.
Waldo and I talked for several minutes about his father, about his parents, about his siblings, about all the things you talk about when there is a hole in the family fabric, even though I cut my own hole in that family when I divorced Waldo's uncle. It didn't make a difference.
Ties that bind, ties that are unbound, and family that picks up those ties and ties them anew.