There are some things that you can escape and overcome, and living through them makes you a better and stronger person. As I get off the plane in Miami, I'm trying to decide if this is true for me. I've spent so much of my life trying to forget the things that happened to me during my adolescence that I've never had a chance to really deal with them. I can't avoid them any longer. My past is somehow seeping into my present—forcing me to deal with issues I’d considered long dead. Unfortunately, they are very much alive and kicking. The Other has made me more than aware of that. I'm hoping that Noor is right. I'm hoping that if I can confront my past head-on, the confusion in my present will disappear.
I haven't been back to Miami in the three years since I moved to New York. I only talk to my mother occasionally and when I do, it feels uncomfortable. When she heard about Lisette and the shooting, our relationship became strained and then just disappeared all together. We really don't know what to say to each other. She was totally oblivious to what was going on between Lisette and I. I guess when she finally had a grasp on what took place and how long it had really been going on, she felt that she had failed me somehow. I don't know if that is true or not, but I don't blame her.
My mother is waiting for me when I arrive. She seems tiny. I don't know if that is because I have grown taller in my absence or if she is smaller.
"My baby." She smiles a sad smile, looking into my eyes and brushing my hair away from my face. She’s beautiful, but much older than I remembered. Her long brown hair is peppered with gray and she has lines and around her mouth and eyes when she smiles. Seeing her this way is a bit of a surprise. In my mind, my mother will always be 35 years old with her long, curly hair free and soft hanging around her shoulders. I feel ashamed that I have stayed away for so long.
It’s unmercifully hot in Miami. I’d forgotten how the humidity immediately dampens your clothes and makes them stick to you. The heat feels solid and oppressive and I wonder how long it will take me to get used to it again.
"So how are things in New York?" my mother asks.
I don't want to lie to her. “Not so great, Mama," I confess, giving her an answer that is as close as I want to get to the truth at the moment.
She glances over at me, a frown crinkling her brow. "What is it, hijo?"
"I'll tell you about it later, Ma. I don't want to get into it just yet."
She nods and lets the matter drop. "Well, how long will you be staying?"
This surprises her but in a good way. And she immediately sets to making me feel as if I’ve never left. She dotes on me. Pets and coddles me like I’m still a boy. She makes me a dinner of all my favorite Cuban dishes—arroz con frijoles negroes, vaca frita, ensalada de aguacate. I eat until I feel like I will split.
After dinner, we sit on the back porch, drinking iced tea and swinging in the old porch swing. It’s quiet and comfortable, like old times. After sitting for a while and enjoying the evening breeze, she finally breaks the silence.
"I think I know why you are here," she says softly. She looks at me, her eyes have a sad twinkle. "This is about Lisette, isn't it?"
I nod slowly. She reaches over and runs her fingers through my hair, smiling just a little. "With your hair this long you look just like you did when you were a little boy." She runs her fingers through my hair over and over, it’s soothing in its repetition and I close my eyes. "I thought I was doing what was best for you. If I had known—if I had any idea—”
"Mama, don't blame yourself." I take her hand in mine and kiss it. "I know you did your best. None of this was your fault."
"But it was my job to protect you—”
"And you did. There was no way you could've known what was going on. I was just as instrumental in keeping the secret as she was."
"Did she hurt you?"
"No, Mama, it wasn't like that."
I’d Noor the same thing, but now I not so sure if it is true. Had she hurt me? She never caused me any physical pain but some emotional and psychological scarring had definitely taken place. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here now trying to relinquish whatever hold she has on me.
"So, what is it that you are looking for, Joaquin? When I look in your eyes I can see that you are confused and hurting. What is happening to you? What has you so scared?"
Hesitantly, I begin to tell her about the things that have taken place over the past few months. I tell her about the other Joaquin and all the women and the confusion and Noor.
"Oh, Joaquin," she cries sadly and embraces me.
"I need to find her, Mama. I don't know what I'm supposed to get from her but, I have to stop this. It has to end. Somehow me and the other Joaquin have to come together before I lose myself forever."