My dad gently shook my left shoulder, waking me up from a nice sleep. I was five years old. His face, close to mine.
“Do you want to help me?”
“Yes,” I instantly replied. What could be better? He was my hero. He was the strongest and wisest man in the whole world. When I was five, my father was not afraid of anyone. He could take anyone in a fight and drink with him later. He was always singing and smiling. Everyone I knew wanted to be around him, and everyone respected him. My father had seen the specter of the rivers, the Sihuanaba herself, and survived with his sanity. My father was strong and brave enough to fight a tiger and roll down a ravine in deathly embrace until the cold water of the river below separated them. My father knew the secrets of the world and could speak with God, when I was five.
My father was fun, and I could be anyone with him. I could be Tarzan, Ultraman, and Batman when my father was home. When my dad was around, I was intelligent and fun. I was brave, because there was nothing to fear. The world was an open book to me, because he was the window to history, music, art, philosophy, poetry and religion. Nothing seemed impossible, and everything was good. When I was five, the world and I were good, noble, brave, and true–-like my father was.
To his question my response was unequivocal, a “yes” that emanates from the heart of everything I am. For the first time, my father was not there just to guide me and play with me. Now, I also felt part of his world. I left for a moment my own, and entered this new universe. In this new and bigger world, he was no longer supreme and invulnerable. In his world, he had to hide, stalk, and hold the secrets of the night to protect them from the ravaging forces of the human world outside.
It was 3:00 a.m., and we got up with a huge ream of papers. We got into the car and drove around Santa Elena with the lights off. He gave clear instructions before opening the passenger’s window to let the chill and the silences of the night in. “Count to ten slowly in your mind, and every time you come to ten, throw a small stack of papers outside the car.” There. That was my job. It was simple, and fun. But more than fun, it was serious. It was deadly. It was my first conspiracy. It was the threshold into a larger world of secrets and intrigue. A world that would have the mayor chase my father out of town with a gun; that would send their army to look for secret rooms in my grandma’s house; that would chase two Cubans jumping out of the window while riding a motorcycle, from a house my father was renting to them; that would bring many, many encounters with death for my entire family.
In this bigger world, my father was running for the office of governor for the progressive party, and while seeking that office was perfectly legal, it would get him killed by the ruling party––a party that never lost any elections because they would cut your fingers, rape your wife, or massacre your priest to stay in power. In this world, my father had to hide in order to do what was right. He was part of a vast conspiracy to subvert the power structures of the world. He was working with the guerrillas, the muchachos, to make a just and sane world.
Later, he would tell me about the struggle and the thirst for justice. He would tell me about the injustices of the holders of economic and political power, and the heroes that gave their lives fighting the good fight. Later, I would see him cry while burning the diary of Che Guevara, and I would listen to the secret history of the world. He, my hero, would tell me of his heroes: Camilo Torres, Fidel Castro, and Jesus of Nazareth. I remember worrying that these stories meant that I was supposed to one day also take arms and kill for this utopia. The fear of death and torture would come much later, many times over. But the fear of killing people became present there, and I knew I never wanted to kill, but I wanted to work for this world. This seed of desire became a life-long answer to his question: “do you want to help me?” Because now it is no longer about helping him pass subversive propaganda, but help clarify his vision by discovering it within myself, and work in this vast conspiracy to make of this world the sacred kingdom we secretly know we can make.
The dark world outside the car brought in hints of future chills of death through the open window. It hid like an invisible wall the human world of conspiracies, power struggles, and crimes. But the shadows outside held much more than that. They held, in this larger world where my father was not God but just a man among many, the mysteries of realities beyond conventional reality. These shadows whispered to my unconscious that my father was vulnerable, and later I would come to understand that while he was a good boxer and outstanding arm wrestler, his real opponents were his thoughts; that the tiger he was fighting was his alcoholism and depression; that his heroic adventures were stories to entertain me, but hid in their shadows a soul struggling with insomnia and suicide, guilt and a clamor for freedom.
These struggles I would see him fight, and win as in his stories to his son. I saw him struggle with the demons of thought, jealousy, and belief. I saw him thoroughly defeat the tiger of despair and meaninglessness. In the end, it was the shadows and phantoms of his mind that proved the harder demons to cast out. True to his word, he proved every single story to be true, and every one of my thoughts about him as a five year old, have become justified now that I am a man in his fifties. The other ones, the ones I feared as a child, the brutal soldiers, I saw my father truly dispel them with one word. It was his own mind that brought the real enemy, and my father prevailed.
I was only five, and I had a full life ahead of me, there, in the darkness of a loud silence outside an open window. There, in the night, the shadows were pregnant with secrets. There would be a time for me to face the dark, a time for me to struggle and face. For now, at the age of five, at the threshold of time, all I have to do is breathe calmly, count to ten, and send printed papers out the window for the secret beings hiding in the shadows of the night.