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Leonid Lopez: My parents named me Leonid because I was born in Cuba on the same day that Leonid Brezhnev, the ex-Soviet president, arrived in Havana. Today it’s a name that is no longer fashionable. I lived in Cuba for 34 years and have now been in Japan for five months. Some of my ideas have changed but I continue believing in two: I believe in the importance of being able to choose, but also that happiness is the responsibility of each person, and nobody can grant it or deny it. Cuba seemed like a good place to grow up, later it began to be like a mother that devours her children. There are those who believe in the homeland; I believe in goodness. Wherever that exists I can have my nest. Now it’s here with my wife, tomorrow, I don’t know.

This Trail Begins in the Shade and Ends in the Shadow

January 9, 2013 | Print Print |

My journey with a lantern

Leonid Lopez

HAVANA TIMES — I was born in Cuba, and from when I was very young, I felt like I was blind. My childhood wasn’t particularly unhappy, but I felt lost. I wanted something that wasn’t in front of me, yet it seemed like the horizon was too imposing to believe something was behind it.

I dabbled in religion, art, literature and philosophy, but after a while I felt alone, inside and everywhere else – and even more so when I was with company. This was why it was difficult to believe that I would have strong ties with anything.

That was until I found a friend, and then a group of friends. I was in my 30s, and at the beginning we were rebuilding the world together. Then the world began to turn solid.

It had smells, tastes, ideas but we needed to touch it. We believed it was there and that it was huge.

But we couldn’t expand the world anymore; our bodies themselves felt too small and awkward to deal with that. At that time I don’t think we thought like that. We had stopped rummaging through ideas. One can stay alive with disparate parts.

The role of unity was overestimated. Now, each member of the group of friends lives in a different land.

I had come to see light, to construct a lamp out of words, acts of love and searching. But at that moment, when I had just found someone I could share this light with, the flame began to flicker.

Then I met the person who’s now my wife. She had been my girlfriend for five days, but when saying goodbye to her at the airport, I told her that for me it hadn’t been a vacation relationship, so we began writing each other.

An acquaintance set up an email account for me, and another one let me use her account from her job so that I could communicate with by girlfriend. Still another friend let me use his phone so I could talk to her. I remember having to stick my arm out of my bedroom window to be able to pick up a signal.

Hanging out the window, I would yell into the cellphone, which at times lost the signal. I would then stop being able to hear her, as if she had disappeared into the bottom of a hole. That was the first time I had a cell phone in my hand, and this made me the whole thing even more absurd.

And so I told her that I loved her, and she cried. I came to Japan, where she was born, and we’ve been living here together for four years.

Yesterday I was thinking about when I came to Japan. For the first time I had crossed the magic line that separates the world of Cubans from that unattainable life abroad. I can remember very well that I didn’t feel anything special.

I walked as if I were asleep. It’s difficult for the body and mind to adapt to an experience for which one was never prepared and was unfamiliar, given such vague information on hand. I simply did what I had to do.

I presented my papers and responded to their questions; then I boarded the plane. I was going to Holland en route to Japan. The trip was long but I don’t have much of a recollection of it. I guess time went by in a strange kind of way. We all know that time is only linear when studied.

What was definitely linear was my vantage point. I didn’t know how to behave. The flight attendants spoke English, so I was afraid I wouldn’t understand the lunch menu they gave me. At that time I still didn’t know aircraft menus don’t vary a whole lot, usually the choices are between pasta and chicken.

I didn’t go to the bathroom even once because I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to open the door. How is it possible that such experiences become so huge?

A year ago a Cuban friend who lived near our home here told me that he had lost all respect for traveling, and I know just what he meant.

These days it seems so natural to travel by plane, to go from one country to another, to walk past those posters that advertise the same brands you see in the movies. On those trips we all see other people telling their stories with clear independence and even indifference to one another. But at that moment I was falling into a void in which appeared hands that pulled me in as I fell.

After six months in Japan, I realized I wasn’t just passing through. I don’t know how I found no other choice but to take a lantern to see if I could find the bottom. Right now I only see my feet, the steps I take every day.

The horizon is blurred, some days nearer and other days farther. Nothing I’ve learned serves me in any obvious manner. Nothing of what’s new offers me a clear alternative. I’m learning the names of things again, their sizes and weights, which means everything in my life’s path.

Once again, without any close friends nearby, I’ve started questioning myself, forming ideas. The bag out of which words come is once again a cesspool, but I feel that the words coming out have weight, certainty.

The spectacle still makes no more sense than the mechanical motion that leads the hand to delve into the bottom. Nevertheless I’m less concerned about naming this darkness of the senses.

I suppose that I should call it just that: darkness.


What's your opinion?

  • JennyC

    Thank you for sharing your story, Leonid. I hope you will write more. I think your perspective is unique and interesting, and I agree with your philosophy: “I believe in the importance of being able to choose, but also that happiness is the responsibility of each person, and nobody can grant it or deny it.”
    ~ Jenny