December 7, 1990 was an ordinary Friday in New York City. Nothing unusual changed the rhythm of life flowing in the Big Apple. In his apartment crowded with books, the writer Reinaldo Arenas prepared to put an end to his life. Sick with AIDS, he’d concentrated his energies on finishing his novel, The Color of Summer, and his autobiography. Now that they are done, he hurries to stick out his tongue one last time at the bald woman, laughing to himself. Giving proof of a bravery that many who boast of their manhood would like to have, imposing his own conditions on life and death, until the end.
Eighteen years later, reading his novel has made me feel his greatness. Dispersed fragments of his personal history, anecdotes told and transformed, the ebb and flow of subterranean currents contribute to the weaving of his legend. With more doubts than certainties, knowing that his work is an unresolved subject for many of us, today I want to remember the great Cuban that is Reinaldo Arenas. And for this I am going to borrow the words of another great Cuban, a writer like him, who dedicated these words a year ago. Words to which I subscribe, except for the reference to landing in New York, for obvious reasons.
When Arenas finally managed to escape from Cuba, in the 1980 exodus, I was only seven and had never heard his name. When I landed for the first time in New York, many years later, he had already committed suicide. I never got to meet him in person. Maybe that’s why I don’t give a hill of beans for the insults and other ad hominem attacks with which his detractors, even after his death, attempt to silence him. It’s clear he was no saint. Simply a writer with an enormous talent for frankness who defended, come hell or high water and against all odds, his right to express himself with complete freedom. One who yielded nothing on the battlefield where so many, even today, are dragged down.
The thrill and the laughter
Ena Lucia Portela
28 April 2007