Jaifa (pronounced Haifa, like the city in Israel) and I lived catty corner from each other. We took piano lessons together and made our First Communion at the same time. In this picture, we were performing a dance number for a Spring program that our church had organized (Jaifa is the one of the left).
We saw each other almost every day since, in Cuba, the hours after dinner were spent chatting with neighbors in their porches. I was the one that went to her house always, because she was not allowed to come to mine. I left Cuba before I was old enough to realize that she was growing up in a very unhappy home.
I had consigned Jaifa to the sweet memories of my childhood, but she re-emerged in my 30's when she came from Cuba and ended up married to my cousin. They lived in Florida, and soon gave birth to a beautiful little boy, whom they named Carlos. I saw her a couple of times during visits and came to the realization that we would never again be close. We had grown up and had become very different people. The innocence of childhood was gone. I did not approve of her, and found it very difficult to be around her so I kept my distance.
Then, in 1992, on a sad October day, after Hurricane Andrew had ravaged the city of Miami, I received a phone call from my family telling me that Jaifa had committed suicide. She drove her car into a canal and drowned herself. Her little boy was asleep in the back seat. He never woke up. The newspapers called her a victim of the stress induced by the hurricane. My relatives never believed it. Perhaps the hurricane was the straw that broke the camel's back, but Jaifa was troubled; it was only a matter of time before she did something outrageous, only no one imagined she would take her own life and that of the son she adored.
The family drama was worthy of a book. Who knows, maybe some day I'll write it. Still, after all the years that have passed since her death, my capricious mind refuses to forget even the tiniest detail of our pre-adolescent relationship. Today would have been her 51st birthday and I wish she was around. I mourn for her. Wherever you are, Jaifa, I wish you peace. Happy birthday.