Yesterday, I went to the Freedom Tower for a literary social called First Draft. It is put on by The Center of literature and theatre at Miami Dade College.
The Freedom Tower is Miami’s Ellis Island for the Cuban’s fleeing the island in the 60s. I see the tower almost everyday but I had not been in its doors in several years. I am always struck by the 1920s architecture and design.
But what struck me even more was the Pedro Pan exhibit that is on the first floor and free to the public. I am Cuban on my father’s side. He was not part of the child exodus of 61 & 62 that is called Pedro Pan. He left Cuba with his parents a little before that panicked exodus to send unaccompanied children to freedom in the United States. Even though I am not directly connected to Pedro Pan the exhibit spoke to me. It filled my eyes with tears and my throat with sobs. It spoke to me as a child of exile in a way I was not expecting.
There was a guest book near the poster pictured above. It was for families of Pedro Pan. It asked when they left Cuba, what US camp they came to for processing, and if they were ever reunited with their loved ones. After I choked my tears back for all those left sin pan “without bread” and all those never reunited I left the exhibit and headed to the literary social.
The event hadn’t set-up fully yet and so I took a walk around the graduate and alumni art show that was on the second floor gallery. It gave me a moment to center myself and abandon the emotion of the other exhibit. Once First Draft was ready to begin I too was ready and re-focused. Our MDC facilitator was Nick Garnett. After brief introductions by the mixed group of novices and professionals attending, he gave us a writing prompt and a theme, Endless Summer. There were three 15 minute writing sessions. After each we had the opportunity to read our work out loud if we desired. We, also, got to the social part of the event which was to pour a glass of wine, have some nosh and converse with our table mates. Nick gave the group leads and insights as to how to improve what we’d written —- such as “circle all the adjectives and adverbs” , “show don’t tell”, and “use a sense you have yet to explore”. He had prompted us to begin with a personal recollection of an Endless Summer.
After the first round of writing, I abandoned the non-fiction for fiction. Here is what I wrote:
Mildred loved the sun and she hated her name. “Mildred is a name form 1940 not 2014.” She preferred to be called Milly or better yet, Red. When Mildred found the flyer for a summer biology internship in Florida she decided to go and go as Red.
The flight from Oregon took forever. The Miami landing was at night and it was magical. The approach over the black, flat ocean was like a science fiction movie opener. It was dark, bleak, and then the sparkle of lights. The city twinkled underneath the wings of the giant bird coming for the season.
The sun drummed on her neck — drummed like a jackhammer, loud, relentless, muscle pulverizing. And the mosquitoes — like popcorn when it got going, oil sizzling out and scalding the skin, bites blistering — so many the pot over flowed to the point that one stopped trying to contain it’s flying zings.
Why had she signed up for a summer internship in Florida? It was not the ocean and sand she had expected. It was not the ride on a speed boat to a coral reef to snorkel over manta rays. It was razor grass swamp, alligator ambush, loud airboats, and wading through silt and frogs and fish to take ph samples.
Her sweat no longer had salt. Her tongue could no longer lick her lips to taste the waterfall of perspiration. The sun had cracked all parts of her. The edge between lip and skin was swollen like a cut that had had lemon squirted into it. She had become her new name. She was burnt red and saw no end in sight.
First Draft was a fun exercise. I don’t think I will pursue my Endless Summer story but I enjoyed being back in the creative writing classroom. This classroom was much more fun than the ones I had in college. I don’t ever remember being encouraged to have a glass of wine by my UNM profs. Thanks, Nick!