And finally…

 

Saturday, July 26th, 2008.

 

The morning of this day was spent taking all of the stuff in our room and moving it into my uncle’s room. We would be checking out of three out of the four rooms at noon.

 

I ate one last crappy breakfast of fried toast, cereal, plastic eggs, and what I think was milk. It might have been white water though.

 

Then I headed to the pool. Or at least I was heading to the pool. But as I walked along, I saw Valentino at the beach bar from a distance. I recognized him by the yellow and black cap he was wearing. I walked towards the bar and ordered a coke for myself, and asked Valentino where John was. He pointed west(?). Then he headed in the direction that he pointed. But something (St. Michael the Archangel?) told me not to follow him. So instead I said goodbye to Valentino for the fourth time and headed back towards the pool. Or at least I was heading back towards the pool.

 

But then I bumped into Dan. The timing of this was incredible. I won’t go into detail, but the general landscape around where I met Dan was such that had I arrived three seconds earlier or later, I would have missed him entirely. And that would have been a shame.

 

I asked him where he was going.

 

"I am going to get ice cream," he said. In that accent of his. That wonderful, beautiful accent of his.

 

I said that I would go get some ice cream too. A very good decision on my part. I figured that ice cream was the same everywhere in the world. Not even Cubans could fuck up ice cream, right? I asked Dan what flavour he wanted. He said chocolate. I thought about it for a moment and decided that I would get chocolate too.

 

We arrived at the snack place. Dan looked at me expectantly with those eyes. ‘Of course,’ I realised. ‘I’m the old one here. He wants me to order.’ So I placed the order. Two chocolate ice creams. 

 

Alas, the staff members running this place were thoroughly incompetent. We found ourselves waiting. And talking about various things. I hate myself for not remembering more of what we said. I asked him how he had been enjoying his vacation up to that point, when he had arrived, when he was leaving… that sort of thing. He told me that he had arrived a while ago, and was leaving the following day. He also told me that he liked the pool.

 

At some point while we were waiting for the ice cream, my aunt showed up for some reason. I think she wanted some ice cream too, for her two year old daughter. She looked at me quizzically when she saw that I was hanging out with a nine year old.

 

"This is my good friend Dan," I explained to her. She smiled and nodded, but I could tell that she didn’t understand.

 

All told, it took about fifteen minutes for the ice cream to arrive. And it wasn’t even chocolate. It was coffee flavoured, with about a billion fruits thrown in. Stupid Cubans.

 

We took our ice creams over to the theatre area. Dan wanted to play ping pong. But alas! Some wanker had stolen all the ping pong balls from the table.

 

Dan thought that one of the nearby resort workers might be able to give us some ping pong balls. Again, Dan gave me that look. I had to ask her. I did. She explained that a man would come by a little later with some balls, but for the time being, we were out of luck.

 

Did that deter Dan? Of course not. While I cursed our rotten luck, he reached towards a nearby tree and picked up a pine cone.

 

"We will play with this," he declared.

 

I didn’t think that it would work. A pine cone isn’t round like a ping pong ball. It has an irregular surface. The laws of physics state that attempting to play ping pong with a pine cone will not work.

 

But that’s the problem with me. As much as I try to stay young, I slip up occasionally and start thinking like an adult.

 

We put our ice creams down (I made a joke about leaving them for the birds, and Dan laughed). Dan served the pine cone to me, and we played. And you know what? It was the best game of ping pong I’ve ever had. The pine cone was able to bounce, to my surprise, and the unpredictability of it only added to the fun. We didn’t keep score, because winning didn’t really matter.

 

At one point, Dan smashed the pine cone several feet over my head and I ran to get it. When I returned, Dan was in a batter’s stance, holding the ping pong paddle like a baseball bat. Instinctively, I threw the pine cone to him. Underhand, of course. He missed the first time, and laughed. After a few pitches, he made contact and sent the pine cone flying. I let him hit it a few times, and then I had him pitch the ball to me. I’m a decent baseball player, but I’m used to using an actual bat. As such, I looked very silly. Dan laughed as I whiffed again and again, only making slight contact once or twice. Finally, getting slightly frustrated, I picked up the pine cone, tossed it up, and smashed it with the paddle. Dan laughed and went to retrieve it.

 

At that point I noticed that I was breathing heavily. Dan was tiring me out. I didn’t care. I wanted to see what he would think of next.

 

Our next destination was the pool table. We brought the paddles along. Although the game began as a traditional game of pool, it soon turned into a strange hybrid of pool, hockey, and ping pong. What was amazing was that there was never any hesitation in Dan’s actions. He didn’t have to stop to think. He didn’t have to analyze. He just knew what would work and what would be fun. And he was never wrong.

 

At one point we were joined by another boy, perhaps a year or two older than Dan, named Sam. A French-Canadian boy, this one. But he went largely by the wayside because Dan kept me more than occupied.

 

At some point during our game of pool-hockey-ping pong, a bald man approached us. “That is my father,” Dan said. “He speaks Italian and Czech.”

 

Was it fate, or just some strange coincidence that Dan’s father spoke the language of my heritage? Unfortunately, the Italian blood coursing through my veins has been diluted somewhat by Canada, and so my knowledge of the Italian language isn’t quite up to snuff. Still, I was able to communicate with him. I greeted him and let him know that I could also speak a bit of Italian. We had a short conversation, after which he turned to Dan and switched to Czech. I prayed that he wasn’t going to tell Dan that it was time to leave. He didn’t. He was just checking up on him.

 

Dan was thirsty then, so we went to the bar. He looked up at me and told me that he wanted a Sprite. So, I ordered a Sprite for him and water for myself.

 

We then went to play a game of the unnamed game. We were interrupted by my father, who happened to have his camera with him. I told him to take a picture of me and Dan. Like my aunt before him, my dad seemed confused as to why I was hanging out with a nine year old, but took a picture regardless.

 

I’m not sure what happened, but for whatever reason the image of me in that picture came out completely retarded. I think that I tried to change my facial expression just as the picture was being taken. I look somewhat creepy. Regardless, Dan’s image came out perfect.

 

My dad left, and we finished up our game and our drinks. Dan then suggested that we use our empty glasses to catch some fish from the pond in the reception area. I agreed, even though I didn’t think that we would catch anything. And so we used our glasses as nets and swiped at the water in hopes of catching one of the tiny fish in the pond.

 

After about fifteen minutes, we still had nothing to show for our efforts. Dan went to the washroom then, and instructed me to keep trying. I felt a little foolish then. There I was, a seventeen year old, alone, on my knees, trying to catch fish from a pond using a glass. But I felt better when Dan came back.

 

We continued fishing, and after about five minutes, Dan exclaimed “I have one!” And indeed, there in his glass was a tiny fish. He watched it swim around in the glass for a while. Then he carefully poured the contents of the glass onto some rocks which were right next to the water. The fish flopped around on the rocks before landing back in the pond. Dan laughed. He wasn’t trying to hurt the fish, he just wanted to watch it flop. And once the fish landed back in the pond, he immediately put his glass back into the water in an attempt to catch another one.

 

When he exclaimed “I have one!” a second time, a female security guard was standing right beside him. She gave him a disapproving look. Dan stood up and held the glass behind his back. He smiled innocently at the security guard. Then in one swift motion, he dumped the water (and the fish) from his glass back into the pond, while still maintaining that innocent smile. The security guard’s attempts to maintain her serious expression failed, and she broke into a smile, shook her head, and walked away.

 

This incident really sticks with me. It was another one of those things that I can’t do justice to with my words.  I’m not sure what exactly was going on in Dan’s mind. I think he knew that he was an incredibly cute kid and that no adult would ever do anything bad to him if he just kept smiling. The whole incident reminded me of something out of the Suite Life, only Dan played the part of the mischievous blond boy even better than the Sprouse Bros. And if I’m saying that someone was better than the Sprouse Bros., well…

 

We went back to fishing after the security guard left. Dan caught a few more fish. I caught nothing.

 

Dan wanted to show me something then, so I got up and followed him. He walked into a souvenir shop. I found myself wishing that I had some money. I would have bought him the entire store if he wanted it. But since we were both broke, we just looked at various things. Ceramic dolphins, postcards, wooden sculptures, et cetera. We also discussed chocolate bars. Curse my memory, but I forget which one was his favourite. He might have mentioned Snickers. We left the shop and headed back towards the theatre area.

 

Lo and behold, someone had come by and replenished the stock of ping pong balls!

 

Dan picked up a ball in one hand and a paddle in the other.

 

“We will play a match,” he said. “To ten.”  

 

For some reason, those seven words have found a permanent spot in my memory. He wasn’t asking me to play with him; he was telling me that I would. He was in command. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.

 

We played our match, and although he jumped out to an early lead, I caught up and ended up edging him 11-9. We played a second match, and I won again. Dan then wanted to play with multiple balls at the same time. My instinct told me that this wouldn’t work, but I knew Dan well enough by this point to trust his judgment. And again, he was right. The game naturally evolved from a competitive affair to a cooperative one, wherein we had to keep the all of the balls up and moving at all times. We left the table behind, and the entire theatre area became our playground. Every now and then Dan laugh and shriek out “Change!” and I would pass my ping pong ball to him, and he would send his over to me. The concept was simple, but the game was a tremendous amount of fun. Our game took us all over the theatre area, and even onto the stage itself during one particularly hectic segment.

 

At some point I saw that some other children had found luggage carts somewhere and were using them as transport. I regret not pausing the game for a moment and taking Dan for a spin on one of those. He would have loved it.

 

Anyhow, our game of ping pong keep-ups continued for heaven knows how long. And then I looked outside and saw the saddest sight that I’ve ever seen.

 

Have you ever looked at the sky at around 5 o’clock on a summer day? That’s the point where the sun hasn’t started to set yet, but the whole sky takes on a golden appearance. I’ve always hated that time of day because it serves as a reminder to me that the day is almost over. But I felt saddest of all on this particular day because that golden sky meant that Dan would be leaving soon.

 

I looked upwards and cursed that golden sky. I damned it to hell. I willed time to go backwards. But I knew that it was futile.

 

I palmed one of the ping pong balls and went to the washroom. If I couldn’t buy Dan a souvenir, I would make one for him instead. I tried to write “Mike” on the ping pong ball, but failed. For whatever reason, the pen died on me after “M”. In my frustration, I pushed too hard and ended up making a hole in the ball where the “i” should have gone. Deciding to roll with it, I made a hole to the left of the “M” as well. I returned, and Dan wasted no time in getting me to play another round of the unnamed game.

 

But we were interrupted by Dan’s mother. She said something to her son, and then he said to me “I have to go.”

 

His mother spoke English, fortunately, and so Dan introduced us. She asked me where I was from. I told her. She then thanked me for spending time with her son. “Was he okay?” she asked. “Did he cause you any trouble?”

 

This caught me way off guard. How was I supposed to respond to that? ‘Was he okay?!?’  I thought that she was joking for a second.

 

‘Your son,’ I wanted to say. ‘is perhaps the greatest human being that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I would like to thank you on behalf of the entire planet for giving birth to him.’

 

Instead I just said “No, no trouble at all. He was great.”

 

Never in my entire life have I made an understatement of that magnitude, and I doubt that I ever will again.

 

I gave Dan the ping pong ball, and he was happy to receive it. I took for myself the bashed up pine cone that we had been playing with.

 

I watched Dan walk away then, and I felt a mix of emotion. I felt joy for having known this boy, but at the same time, utter despair. I caught a glimpse of him a few minutes later, swimming in the pool. He was smiling. After that, I never saw him again.

 

I returned to the room then. My family wondered where I had been. “With Dan,” I told them. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t possibly have understood. They asked me to head over to the pizza place and pick up seven pizzas so that everyone could have something to eat before we left.

 

I opened the mini fridge in the room in search of water, and instead found a solitary can of Tucola. I opened it up and immediately thought of John. I drank, thinking about all of the good times that I’d had with John, and with everyone I’d met in Cuba.

 

Then it was time to go. We headed towards the front entrance, where the buses would come and pick us up in a few minutes.  Since the buses hadn’t yet arrived, I went to the theatre area one last time. And, as I should have guessed, John was there with Valentino. I greeted them. Because we were short on time, we skipped over the “two cokes” tradition. John invited me to play one final game of the unnamed game. I said sure.

 

But then my father said that the bus had arrived and that we had to go. John invited me to play an abbreviated version of the game. My father said that we had to go immediately. So, very sadly, I shook their hands one last time and bid them a final (for real this time) goodbye. Then I headed to the bus.

 

But it wasn’t even our bus! My dad had made a mistake. But I wasn’t allowed to return to the theatre area because my dad didn’t want to have to come and call me. So I waited there for ten minutes before our bus arrived. I cursed my dad silently. Ten minutes would have been plenty of time to play an unnamed game. Such is life. The bus pulled out of the resort, and my vacation to Cuba came to an end.

 

And that’s all, really. After that everything functioned fairly typically, and life returned to normal. Sort of.

 

I say sort of, because “normal” for me has taken on a whole new meaning in the post-Cuba era. The people I met and the things I experienced in Cuba changed me forever.

 

So, by way of an epilogue…

 

I still speak to Johnny every now and then on Facebook and whatnot. We don’t talk to each other every day, or even every month, but it makes me feel good to know that I can talk to him whenever I want, and that I have a friend in London if ever I happen to be in the area. He’s gone off to pilot school there, and I’m sure that he’s doing well for himself.

 

If not for Johnny and his family, I wouldn’t have met any of the other people on this vacation, and so I owe them a great debt.

 

I think of John frequently, and every once in a while I’ll open a Coka-Cola and drink to his memory (cheesy, I know). It’s not quite the same, but it’s the best I can do. The idealist in me still hopes that maybe we’ll see each other again at some point.

 

John taught me that we all have something in common: We’re human. In Canada, I highly doubt that I would have paid much thought to this sixteen year old Argentinean body-surfing smoker who spoke with an accent. We just wouldn’t have anything in common.

 

But this sixteen year old Argentinean body-surfing smoker who spoke with an accent ended up being a great person. And its made me think about all the people in my life who I’ve ignored because I thought that we didn’t have enough in common. I wonder how many of those people were good people on the inside. I wonder how many potential great friends I’ve lost by not learning enough about them.

 

I really wish that I’d managed to get a picture with John. The human mind can only hold onto memories for so long before they begin to fade and blur.

 

But the most profound effects of all stem from Dan, the golden-haired boy from the Czech Republic.

 

He was a boy who defied logic in so many different ways. So many things that he did couldn’t possibly have worked. So many things that he did made no sense and perfect sense at the same time.

 

Even his existence went against everything I’ve ever learned.

 

I spent a good amount of time over the last year or two exploring the concept of perfection, and whether or not it exists. I wanted perfection to exist. I really did. But I could find little evidence for it, and a ton against it. I dismissed perfection as imaginary, but I always kept that little hope alive in my head.

 

I guess you could say that I had been waiting for many years to meet a person like Dan. He was completely flawless; pure Innocence. And that’s impossible, right? I know that’s impossible. But there he was. A perfectly uncorrupted human being.

 

And then he left. After just two days.

 

Do you have any idea what that’s done to me? 

 

Not a day has passed where he hasn’t been in my thoughts. I keep his picture in my room at all times. Every now and then I look at it, to make sure that I don’t forget him.

 

Meeting him has changed me. In some ways, it’s been a positive thing.

 

In addition to all of the memories that he’s left me with, Dan has reignited my belief in perfection. After all, if one perfect person can exist, it’s certainly possible that there are others out there. Maybe I’ll get to meet one someday. And knowing that Dan is somewhere out there, happy, brings an unimaginable joy to me.

 

And yet… Dan’s departure has really hit me hard. There’s a hole in me now that nothing seems to fill, and it’s slowly eating away at me from the inside. It’s killed a lot of my motivation and inflicted me with a terrible inferiority complex. I don’t feel like doing things anymore because I know that no matter what I do, I’ll never be as good as Dan. So, why bother trying? It’s for this reason that my production of Cody H. has ground to a near standstill recently. Did you notice that I completely stopped writing blogs where I speak directly to Cody? I just haven’t been able to work up the necessary drive to do that sort of thing.

 

And as I mentioned before, the fact that I only had two afternoons with him really weighs heavily on me. After having waited in excess of two years to meet someone like him, having him ripped away from me after only two days was cruel.

 

What hurts most of all is the fact that I’ll never see him again, or hear his laugh again. I can look at old photos, and remember… but I’ll never get a chance to live that experience again.

 

On some days, I can’t handle that fact. And on those days I find that my life is intrinsically tied to Dan’s. I look out my window and know that he’s out there. Then, two possibilities emerge. ‘He’s happy’, I assure myself. And then the world becomes this bright, beautiful place that just makes sense. And I’m happy again, because he’s happy.

 

But on the worst days, I think ‘Anything could have happened between then and now! What if something terrible has befallen him…?’

 

And then my world collapses around me. Nothing makes sense. Justice disappears. I hate everyone and everything. I want nothing to do with this planet.

 

You know, I sometimes wonder whether I would be better off if I had never met Dan. Whether being ignorant of his existence would be better for me. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this is for the best. I wouldn’t trade what I learned from Dan for the world. And maybe it’s best that he left after two days, too. This way, he is eternally nine years old in my mind. 

 

I could write an entire novel about Dan, and maybe one day I will. But there isn’t much point in continuing on here. Trying to explain what I feel for him is an exercise in futility, and one which will only end up defaming my character in the end. Just as my family didn’t understand, I don’t expect any of you to.

 

But before I conclude this blog entry, I charge you with one favour as my friends:

 

If, at some point in your travels, you encounter a golden-haired boy, and if he has a beautiful smile, and if his laughter is music, and if he understands life better than you do and is incapable of error and is perfect in every imaginable way… then please, please, I beg you… tell me that he’s returned, and I’ll come running from wherever I am. Just… don’t let me go on feeling this way.

 

And there you have it. Seven days and seven nights of my life. You may not see it, but that seemingly insignificant amount of time has altered my life in a very significant way. I answered some questions about myself during that week. I discovered a little bit more about who I am. But I left Cuba with more questions than I entered with. Questions like “Why was being normal such an abnormal experience for myself?” “Why am I completely incapable of befriending the same sort of people in Canada?”, and most importantly, “How is it possible for a single nine year old boy living 6500 kilometres away to have such a incredible lasting effect on my day-to-day life?”

 

Difficult questions. Questions which I ponder every day of my life.

 

Questions which, seven months later, I still have no answers for.

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