Credit cards are bullshit in Cuba. Phones. Just leave them at home.
I sit in the bulkhead. Neither of the hostesses does anything except stand next to me in the doorway, shifting with the turbulence and gossiping. Maybe about me. They withhold peanuts. The markings on the plane are Cyrillic.
At José Martí International, I am queasy from the heat and the absence my solitary piece of mondo-luggage from the torn rubber conveyor. Skid-wrapped crockpots, televisions, and floor lamps spin around for seventy-five minutes before my bag gets puked up.
I find a tourist taxi. Do not put anything in the trunk. The driver scolds me for closing the door too hard. In my hotel, I take the gated Otis lift to the third floor and my room. After undressing, I roll on the tile floor.
I want to like it, I do. I want to like the grime. But I just don’t.
What’s okay in Cuba is cash. A lot of cash. Smiles are not currency. Even their currency is barely currency.
Everyone is offended by my money. Everyone wants to touch my money.
I do not go out of my way to see any grandpa cars. I think I am too cool for tourism. (I’d rather eat fatty pork on the street. Who wouldn’t.)
I bribe an official in a floral print. It is the only way to marry on that day. Nothing in Cuba gets done that day. I am called comrade in the ceremony. My comrade thinks I am fat—I am—and I think he is, well, just fucking awful.
I came here to marry an asshole. I mean, I think he’s an asshole. I suspect it. I’m still doing it because I want to tell people that I went to Cuba to marry the biggest asshole in the world. I want to tell people I was burning myself with cigarettes and I got bored of that so, what the fuck, go to Cuba and marry an asshole.
After the bribery and legal ceremony, I still have a couple of weeks to kill alongside a person I don’t like. I make the most of it, as one would do, but I pray nightly over my return ticket, for the departure date to change.
I didn’t bring enough cash to bribe anyone to leave early. And if I did, the process by which it would take to get that shit done would get me home after the current return date. Everyone here seems slow on purpose. The world blames the heat. I’m telling you, it’s not the fucking heat.
At the time of booking, two weeks seemed like a sensible commitment, perhaps even a week shy of a fun time. My bowels mock that miscalculation at least four times a day. A personal roll of toilet paper is always at my hip. Public drip-dry is a thing here. I step in shit, piss, and mud.
In a bathroom near the Malecon, I stand up to my ankles in piss.
Only the National Hotel tries to soothe an American. It does not work. I pay too much. I refuse—refuse—to find anything charming or old world or rough-around-the-edges. I refuse to believe that the only true travel is the travel of either repulsive luxury or complete filth.
Vacations can be in your bedroom.
Okay, I go to a jazz club.
When the tequila eats a hole in my stomach, I drink one of the two brands of beer on offer. The brat in me sneers at the mouse poop on the lip of the cans.
For $22, I buy eight tampons to plug up my unexpected period. Keeping schtum when I chip a molar while chomping down on a pebble in my rice is less about sucking it up than it is avoiding the grind of primitive, unsterilized dental tools.
Doubly awful: Guilt makes me tip like my pockets can’t stand the heft of the coins.
Twice, semen dries on the back of my skirt. Men do that on the bus. The asshole I married said he used to do that on the bus.
I reason with myself over my ketchup and processed-cheese pizza: Jizzing on ladies on the bus might be as good as it gets here. I have other skirts back home.
I go to the beach. It gets better. The stink of Havana, the sneers, the incompetence, the world of sloth disappears. I breathe out.
I go to a casa particular. The host family’s open arms make me suck back a sob. The man of the house presents a needlepoint coaster he made for me. At its center is a pink heart with my name inside.
I forgot how I could feel nice about things like that. I was chasing down the asshole for so long, trying not to burn myself or spread my legs for strangers or pull out my hair.
Extraditing an asshole is the ultimate compulsion. Fight with the government over immigration. Anger will cleanse you of boredom and anxiety.
At night, while my asshole comrade watches the Olympics—only the Cuban games are shown—I sit on the patio with Princesa, the long-haired chihuahua whose underbite makes it seem like she just feels bad about the choices that brought us both together.
We share coffee, condensed milk, and unripe pineapple. The family peeks out the door every few hours. She’s still out there. At midnight, the youngest son calls the dog to sleep.
I have to go back to Havana. The airport is in Havana. (I will leave the asshole in Havana for another three years until the US government approves his appeal. I think it’s the grandest time the US government has let me down.)
Before I go, the gentle, fat-fingered man of the house produces another coaster. I hold it loosely, practicing my expression for when I look up. He touches my shoulder and then kisses my cheek. We both roll our eyes at the asshole who’s smoking on the street, trying to look indifferent.
The heart in the coaster is light blue. Princesa is stitched in the center.
Good things about Cuba: 1) Princesa 2) Fat-fingered man 3) Coffee 4) Being alone on the beach 5) Flight 884