Meditations on Exile and Home   /   Fall 2005   /    Articles


“My home was stolen from me and now this unfamiliar woman lives in it.”

Carlos Eire

Havana Club rum distillery on the coast in Santa Cruz del Norte, northern Cuba. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m always there. Wait, no, it’s the other way around. There is always here, with me, wherever I am, wherever here is. It could be Reykjavík; it could be Cuernavaca. Or Hohokus, or Oconomowoc, or Cucamonga. It doesn’t matter; I bring there with me, in my marrow, in the core of my soul. With my third eye I see something that looks like the Holy of Holies, dimly. I see angels shrouding their faces with their huge wings.

I’m home.

I carry home within me, imperfectly imagined, but intact. And the angels brandish flaming swords, to guard it, and to rebuke me. 

I’m in exile.

And I’ve been in exile for a long time: 79.45455 % of my whole life, as of today, to be precise. I’m always counting, keeping track of the days, months, and years since I left Cuba. Not because I want to go back, mind you, but simply for the hell of it. Literally. Reckoning the distance you’ve put between yourself and hell is one of life’s sweetest pleasures. 

I don’t ever want to go back to that home. Not now, not ever. Per omnium saecula saeculorum

Never again.

Besides, there’s no there there anymore, just as there’s no then in the here and now. I’ve seen recent photos of my neighborhood, my street, and my house. I’ve stared for hours at those crumbling, abscessed homes; those eerie empty spaces where trees once stood; those billowing clouds far above—untouched by decay—and that ghostly stranger sweeping my porch, whose image was surreptitiously captured by another exile who had returned for a brief visit, a fellow expatriate armed with a digital camera, who now lives in Stockholm, of all places. 

Seeing those photos on my computer screen was a lot like looking in the mirror and finding someone else’s face staring back at me. I suppose this is what can happen when you lose your home suddenly and unjustly.

My home was stolen from me and now this unfamiliar woman lives in it. It’s her house now and she cares for her front porch, very much, the porch that is my earliest memory of all, the one spot on earth where I first awoke to my existence, the porch that is the quintessence of me. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t give a damn about the house. It’s not the loss of property that pains me, but the fact that the whole stinking deal was cloaked as a just and righteous thing, and all the world swallowed the lie and cheered for the thief, and that I and all others who fled are taken for selfish troglodytes who didn’t want to share our belongings with the poor. 

Our very exile is denied to us, constantly. “You didn’t have to leave,” I’ve been told thousands of times, here in exile. “You left because you didn’t want to share your wealth with the people you exploited.” 

What many people fail to realize is that we who left Cuba did so because Fidel’s so-called Revolution was a monstrous, soul-stealing entity. It wasn’t just that the Revolution sought to possess our houses and belongings, but that it ached to own our minds and souls and our very selves, and to be worshiped and obeyed unconditionally. I don’t begrudge that woman her new house, nor would I reclaim it, if given the chance. It may have been my house once, and may remain ensconced in my memory as home, but it’s not really home. Not at all. Neither is that whole city, Havana, nor that whole long and narrow island. 

I have my reasons for loving and hating that home all at once, for cherishing my memories and for wishing that the whole place would sink into the sea and vanish from the face of the earth. 

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