IN THOSE days, I was
pursued by nostalgia. I always had been, and I didn't know
how to free myself so I could live in peace.
I still haven't learned. And I suspect I never
will. But at least I do know something worthwhile now: it's
impossible to free myself from nostalgia because it's impossible
to be freed from memory. It's impossible to be freed from
what you have loved.
All of that will always be a part of you.
The yearning to relive the good will always be just as strong
as the yearning to forget and destroy memories of the bad,
erase the evil you've done, obliterate the memory of people
who've harmed you, eliminate your disappointments and your
times of unhappiness.
It's entirely human, then, to be engulfed
in nostalgia and the only solution is to learn to live with
it. Maybe, if we're lucky, nostalgia can be transformed from
something sad and depressing into a little spark that sends
us on to something new, into the arms of a new lover, a new
city, a new era, which, no matter whether it's better or worse,
will be different. And that's all we ask each day: not to
squander our lives in loneliness, to find someone, to lose
ourselves a little, to escape routine, to enjoy our piece
of the party.
That's where I was, still. Coming to all
those conclusions. Madness lurked, and I eluded its grasp.
Too much had happened in too short a time for one person to
handle, and I left Havana for a few months. I lived in another
city, making some deals, selling a used refrigerator and a
few other things, staying with a crazy girl - crazy in the
purest sense, unspoiled - who had been in prison many times
and was covered in tattoos. The one I liked best was the one
she had on the inside of her left thigh. It was an arrow pointing
to her sex and lettering that read simply: EAT AND ENJOY.
One buttock read: PROPERTY OF FELIPE, and the other: NANCY
I LOVE YOU. JESUS was inscribed in big letters on her left
arm. And on her knuckles there were hearts enclosing the initials
of some of her lovers.
Olga was barely twenty-three, but she had
led a wild life: lots of grass, drinking, and every kind of
sex. She had syphilis once, but she got over it. My stay with
her lasted a month; it was fun. Living in Olga's squalid room
was like living in the middle of an X-rated film. And I learned.
I learned so much in that month that maybe someday I'll write
a Guide to Perversion. I went back to Havana with enough money
not to have to work for a good long time, but when I got to
Miriam's, she was terrified, "Get away from here! He
knows everything and he's going to kill you!" She was
bruised all over and she had a cut above her left eyebrow.
Her husband was released after three years in prison. He didn't
serve out his ten-year sentence. And as soon as he got to
the building, his friends told him about Miriam and me. He
practically beat her to death. Then he found a butcher's knife
and swore not to rest until he had slit my throat.
The man was dangerous, so I thought I had
better steer clear of Colón until he calmed down. But
I had nowhere to go. I went to Ana María's place. I
told her my story, and she let me sleep there, on her floor,
for a few nights, but the truth was, I was disrupting her
romance with Beatriz. I could hear them making love in the
dark, Beatriz playing the man's role, and all of that really
turned me on. I jerked off until one night I couldn't stand
it anymore, and then I went over to their bed with my dick
erect and superhard, turned on the light, and said, "Up
and at 'em! Let's all three of us get it on now!"
Beatriz was prepared for my attack. She
stuck her hand under the bed and pulled out a thick length
of electrical cord, the kind with a lead lining, and she threw
herself at me like a wild animal. "This is my girlfriend,
you faggot, go fuck yourself in your mother's cunt!"
I didn't know a woman could be so strong. She hit me savagely.
She battered my lips and teeth, she split my nose, and she
beat me to the ground, where I lay stunned by the blows of
the cable raining on my head. Half-unconscious, I could hear
Ana María shouting, begging her to leave me alone.
Then they tossed a little cold water in my face and dragged
me out into the corridor of the building. They dumped me there
and closed the door. Beatriz kept repeating, "Bastard,
ungrateful son of a bitch. You can't trust any one, Ana María,
I was sprawled there for a long time. I
didn't have the strength to get up, and my ribs and back hurt.
At last I made an effort and managed to get to my feet. If
Beatriz happened to come to the door and see I was still there,
she would lay into me again, mercilessly. She was stronger
and tougher than a trucker. I walked for a while around Industria,
and I stretched out on a bench in Parque La Fraternidad. People
thought I was a drunk, and they went through my pockets, looking
for something to steal. Every half hour, someone patted me
down, but I had hidden my money in a book at Ana Maria's place.
When morning came, I went to the emergency
hospital. They fixed me up a little. I didn't have a penny,
and it was too soon to try to get my money from Ana María's
place. It seemed best to wait a few days.
By now I was battered, dirty, in need of
a shave, and desperate enough to beg. I went to the church
of La Caridad, in Salud y Campanano, sat on the steps by the
door looking hungry and for~rn, and stretched out my hand.
Little good it did me. All the money was going to an old woman
who was there already. She had a picture of San Lázaro
and a small cardboard box printed with the message that she
was fulfilling a vow. When the church was locked that night,
I had just a few coins and I was desperately hungry. It had
been more than twenty four hours since I had anything to eat.
I begged at a few houses for food but starvation
was fierce everywhere. Everybody was hungry in Havana in 1994.
An old black woman gave me a few pieces of cassava and when
she looked me in the eye, she said, "What are you doing
like this? You're a son of Changó."
"And of Ochún too.
"Yes, but Changó is your father
and Ochún your mother. Pray to them, son, and ask for
help. They won't let you down."
"Thank you, mother."
That was how I spent the next few
days, until my aches and pains were gone. Then I picked up
an iron rod in the street, hid it in my pants, under my shirt,
and headed for Ana María's place. It was mid-morning,
and I calculated that Beatriz would be at work.
I knocked, and Ana María opened the
door. She tried to shut it again in my face, but I blocked
it with my iron rod. Pushing my way in, I swept her to one
side, and she screamed and went running to get a knife out
of the sink.
"Ana María, calm down. I'm not
going to do anything. I'm going to pick up something I left
here, and then I'll go."
"You didn't leave anything here. Get
out! Get out! All men are the same, bullies! If Beatriz were
here, she'd smash your head in, you bastard. Get out!"
By then I had the book in my hand, I opened
it, and there was my money, shining up at me. I put it in
my pocket and left. She quieted down all of a sudden, and
I tried to disappear as fast as I could. If she thought to
scream for someone to stop me, saying I had robbed her, then
I'd be screwed.
The first thing I did was buy a bottle of
rum. It had been a long time since I'd had a drink. I went
to an acquaintance's house and bought it from him. It was
black-market rum, expensive but good. I opened the bottle,
and we had a few drinks. He asked me why I was so fucked up,
and I told him part of the story. Not much of it.
"Why don't you find yourself some old
guy to take care of? Around the corner there's a sick old
man who lives alone. He's close to eighty years old and he's
a bastard, but if you're patient, you could make him behave.
His wife died a few months ago, and he's about to die himself
of starvation and filth. Get yourself in his good graces,
move in with him, take care of him, clean him up, bring him
a little food, and when he dies, you can have the house. You'd
be better off there than on the street."
We finished the bottle. I bought another
one, and I went to see the old man. He was a tough old guy.
A very old black man. Ravaged but not completely destroyed.
He lived at 558 San Lázaro, and he spent every day
sitting silently in his wheelchair in the doorway, watching
the traffic, breathing in gasoline fumes, and selling boxes
of cigarettes slightly cheaper than in the stores. I bought
a pack from him, opened it, and offered it to him, but he
refused. I offered him rum, but he wouldn't take that either.
I was in a good mood. Now that I had a little money in my
pocket, a bottle of rum, and a pack of cigarettes, I was beginning
to see the world in a new light. I told the old man that,
and we talked for a while. I had half a bottle of rum in me,
and that made me chatty and entertaining. An hour and a few
drinks later (finally he agreed to have a drink with me),
the old man gave me an in: he used to work in the theater.
"Where? At the Martí?"
"No. At the Shanghai."
"Ah. And what did you do there? I've
heard it was a strip joint. Is it true that they shut it down
as soon as the Revolution began?"
"Yes, bqt I hadn't been working there
long. I was Superman. There was always a poster just for me:
'The one and only Superman, exclusive engagement at this theater.'
Do you know how long my prick was when it was fully erect?
Twelve inches. I was a freak. That's how they advertised me:
'A freak of nature . . . Superman...twelve inches - thirty
centimetres - one foot of Superprick . . . appearing now.
. . Superman!'"
"Was it just you on stage?"
"Yes, just me. I would come out wrapped
in a red and blue velvet cape. In the middle of the stage,
I'd stop in front of the audience, fling open the cape, and
there I'd be, naked, with my prick limp. I would sit in a
chair, and it would seem I was looking at the audience. What
I was really looking at was a white girl with blond hair who
was sitting in the wings, on a bed. That woman made me crazy.
She would masturbate and when she was hot, a white man would
join her and she'd do everything. Everything. It was amazing.
But no one saw them. It was just for me. Watching that, my
prick would swell to the bursting point, and without ever
touching it, I would come. I was in my early twenties, and
I shot out such powerful jets of come that they reached the
first row of the audience and showered all those bastards."
"And you did that every night?"
"Every night. Without missing a one.
I made good money, and when I came in those long spurts and
groaned with my mouth open, my eyes rolled back in my head,
and got up out of the chair dazed like I was stoned, the bastards
fought over the right to frolic in the showers of my sperm
like carnival streamers, and then they would toss money onto
the stage and stamp their feet and shout, 'Bravo, bravo, Superman!'
They were my fans and I was their favorite performer. On Saturdays
and Sundays, I earned more because the theater filled up.
I became so famous that tourists from all over the world came
to see me."
"And why did you give it up?"
"Because that's life. Sometimes you're
up and sometimes you're down. By the time I was thirty-two
or so, the jets of come weren't as strong and then there were
times when I lost concentration and sometimes my prick would
droop a little and straighten up again. Lots of nights, I
couldn't come at all. By then I was half-crazy, because I
had spent so many years straining my brain. I took Spanish
fly, ginseng; in the Chinese pharmacy on Zanja, they made
me a tonic that helped, but it made me jittery. No one could
understand the toll my career was taking on me. I had a wife.
We were together for our whole lives, more or less, from the
time I came to Havana until she died a few months ago. Well,
during all of that time, I was never able to come with her.
We never had children. My wife didn't see my jism in twelve
years. She was a saint. She knew that if we fucked as God
willed and I came, then at night I wouldn't be able to do
my number at the Shanghai. I had to save up my jism for twenty-four
hours to do the Superman show."
"It was either control myself or die
of hunger. It wasn't easy to make money in those days."
"It's still hard."
"Yes. The poor are born to be shit
"And what happened then?"
"Nothing. I stayed at the theater for
a while longer, doing filler; I put together a little skit
with the blond girl, and people liked it. They advertised
us as 'Superprick and the Golden Blonde, the horniest couple
in the world.' But it wasn't the same. I earned very little.
Then I joined a circus. I was a clown, I took care of the
lions, I was a base-man for the balancing acts. A little bit
of everything. My wife was a seamstress, and she cooked. For
years, that's what we did. In the end, life is crazy. It takes
many unexpected turns."
We had another drink from the bottle. He let me stay there
that night, and the next day I got him some porn magazines.
Superman was a professional Peeping Tom. The only guy in the
world who had made a living watching other people fuck. We
had really hit it off, and I thought I'd give him a thrill
with those magazines. He leafed through them.
"These have been outlawed for thirty-five
years. In this country a person is practically forbidden to
laugh. I used to like these. And my wife did too. We liked
to jerk off together looking at the white girls."
"Was she black?"
"Yes, but she was very refined. She
knew how to sew and embroider, and she worked as a cook for
some rich people. She wasn't just any old black girl. But
she followed my lead. In bed she was as crazy as I was."
"And don't you like these magazines
anymore, Superman? Keep them, they're a gift."
"No, son, no. What good will they do
me now? Look."
He lifted up the small blanket that covered
his stumps. He no longer had prick or balls. Everything had
been amputated along with his lower limbs. It was all chopped
off, all the way up to his hip bones. There was nothing left.
A little rubber hose came out of the spot where his prick
used to be and let fall a steady drip of urine into a plastic
bag he carried tied at his waist.
"What happened to you?"
"High blood sugar. The gangrene crept
up my legs. And little by little, they were amputated. They
even took my balls. Now I really don't have any balls! Ha
ha ha. I used to be ballsy. The Superman of the Shanghai!
Now I'm fucked, but no one can take away what I've had."
And he laughed heartily. Not even a hint
of irony. I got along well with that tough old man, who knew
how to laugh at himself. That's what I'd like: to learn to
laugh at myself. Always, even if they cut off my balls.
©Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
Buried in shit
appears in Dirty
Havana Trilogy, published in United Kingdom and United States.