By Blake Tan
They kept seeing each other, even after Luis was sternly reprimanded by his mother when she had intercepted a telephone call between them. “She is not sangre puro, not one of us, hijo,” Doña Villabuena told him. “You will not see her again.” But Luis had always been a rebellious child who did as he pleased regardless of parental orders; they resorted to secret liaisons at her Santa Clara dormitory, until the sisters found out and forbade him from returning on pain of court martial.
Then, the first shots of the revolution were fired when the president was assassinated by an embittered college student with ties to the radical Libertad Party. Luis’ regiment was called up and deployed to the rebel strongholds in the northern provinces. They kept in touch via letters; he would send her photographs of him alongside other soldiers from his company and she would write how her studies were going. Two months into the war, Luis came home after being granted leave and they had spent the whole weekend at his family’s beach house in Bella Rosa and got married in secret. When they said their goodbyes at the train station in Municipal Park, she didn’t know about Carlos yet.
The war carried on. Santa Clara’s sister school, the San Marco College, closed temporarily after its entire student body signed up for two years’ service. Every night, Rita clutched Luis’ letters when she slept. Her brothers were also away, fighting Libertad forces in San Fernando and La Nostra. She spent almost every night in the chapel, lighting candles and praying for Juan, for Marco, for Julio, and, most fervently, for her beloved Luis. Each new letter was like an answer to her prayers, as if God was telling her that Luis was okay.
But, in November, Luis’ letters stopped coming. Rita dropped the rest of the mail searching for his letter. Maybe the postman had lost it; maybe it was with the stacks of dead letters in the post office. The next day, when it still hadn’t arrived, Rita collapsed in front of her dormitory mail office. She woke up in the hospital, where the doctor informed her that she was four-months pregnant.
Her parents confined her at home, withdrawing her from Santa Clara, while her little sisters waited on her. They brought her a copy of The Pasaquinas Post every day and each day it reported disastrous losses for gobierno forces all across the island. The government was in a state of chaos, martial law instituted in every municipality, and the old men whispered that the Americans might intervene, depending on how sweet Generalissimo Muñez made the deal. Nobody wanted to tell Rita, but she knew, with every grim photo of slain soldiers reaffirming any hopeful doubt, that Luis was dead.
She gave birth to Carlos on the eve of what would become known as Revolutionary Day, El Día de La Revolución. The doctor was the picture of calm, despite the rumbling of mortar fire that rocked the whole hospital, and, with nineteen-year-old Eva clutching her hand, Rita pushed and pushed. Thus, Carlos was born.
He grew up during the early days of the new regime, called La Juventud for the young people who had carried the fire of revolution and forever changed the status quo. Rita got a job as a secretary for the Juventud party chairman, which paid enough for her to get an apartment in Metro Pasaquinas for her and her son. She read about the riots in east Pasaquinas, the principalia being dragged out of their mansions by the mob and strung up while the Juventud appropriated and redistributed their property. When Carlos was eighteen he joined his local Juventud chapter, rejecting his own principalia heritage and embracing the new ideals of the Revolution.
His mother died of a heart attack in 1974, when he was twenty-two. Carlos was in the capital when it happened, working as an aide for a Juventud councilman. At her funeral, he noticed a nurse he didn’t recognize. When he confronted her, she apologized profusely, turning tomato-red with embarrassment. “One of my patients saw it in the obituary,” she confessed. “I couldn’t bring him, so I came by myself – for him.” Carlos asked what hospital she worked at. “Santo Domingo,” she said. From his work with the councilman, he knew the Juventud had finally released the last of its political prisoners from the Revolution. Most of them were old men who had to be checked into a hospital anyway, and Santo Domingo was willing to take them in.
The next day, Carlos called in sick and got on a train to La Nostra, took a taxi to Santo Domingo Hospital, climbed the weathered, gray limestone stairwell, and met the same nurse. “He’s been waiting for you,” she said, hugging him. Carlos gulped, his hands shaking. He turned the doorknob and stepped into the room. “Papá?”