Out of the File Drawer and Onto the Page

 didn’t set out to write a memoir, or a book, or even a story. The scraps of memory that eventually became Waking in Havana began to surface as I sat at my small formica kitchen table, placed a cassette in the ancient tape recorder I had unearthed from a jumble of give-away items in the basement, and pressed “play.”

The voices I heard, scratchy and distant, were those of Cubans living with HIV/AIDS who had, over the six months in 1996 I had worked with them, become dear friends. The stories I wanted to tell were theirs. My role, I thought at the time, was simply to be a trustworthy narrator.

I did not think of myself as a writer, though I had written poems and short reflections since I could remember—first handwritten in childish script, later typed on an old Smith-Corona with an “i” that did not strike properly, leaving a pattern of absence on the page. They were tucked away in a drawer in the scarred wooden desk, carved with initials of old boyfriends, that I still carted from home to home.

 

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