By Carlos Alberto Montaner
Confused and crying, his soul friend and partner, Alfredo Crespo, told me, “He’s dead, damn it, he’s dead.” He was talking about our brother Robert Alexis. Alfredo had been accompanying him for 20 years. Robert was interned at the Coral Gables Hospital. He was a doctor. A good doctor. He was suffering from Covid 19. Allow me to use my weekly column to write about a personal topic. It is a farewell.
The night before, Robert had told me on the phone that he was recovering. He would be leaving the Intensive Care Unit very soon and he hoped to be out on the street again, seeing his patients. However, he told me that he would prepare for his retirement as soon as possible. He planned to retire in northern Florida, close to his daughter Marie, a nurse, his son-in-law Manuel, and his beautiful grandson Dylan.
An hour before he died, he spoke to Marie and told her again about his plans. He adored his children, especially his daughter and grandson. His son Thane has been teaching Philosophy for years in Chicago.
He was happy and euphoric, even though that morning he had felt very tired. That was the only symptom he felt. He died of a massive heart attack. At least he didn’t suffer at all.
His four ventricles were destroyed simultaneously. They tried to revive him for an hour and 45 minutes. “More than double the time recommended by the protocols,” Fernando Velez, a nurse who was his friend, told me, deeply moved. Perhaps his age, the diabetes he suffered since childhood, or being overweight, contributed to his death, but the direct culprit was Covid-19.
My brother Robert was born in Havana on September 12, 1950. The Korean War had only recently started. I know because I wrote a hideous poem relating the two events. When he died, he was about to turn seventy years old. My older brother is almost 10 years older, and I almost eight. He was the son of the reconciliation of our parents Ernesto and Manola. It’s something that happens frequently.
Indeed, Dad was such a womanizer and seductive man that he won back our mother, his ex-wife. He wrote poems to her. He harassed her. Our parents had divorced a few years before, but my brother Ernesto, and I, two especially stubborn and irritating kids, insisted so much, that our parents remarried, determined to start over again. It was useless. Years later they were divorced for the same reasons, but in the meantime Robert A was born.
It was a blessing in every sense. He was a very handsome boy. My mother, who was smelled something, perhaps because Fidel Castro visited us in Havana and she knew him closely, enrolled him in the Cima School, which was totally bilingual, so that when the Communist debacle came and we all emigrated, Robert spoke English so well that a few days after he arrived at his new homeland, he won a spelling contest in South Florida for 10-year-old kids.
In fact, he was the most studious and intelligent of the three of us. He had a great memory. He learned French without an accent at the West Palm Beach high school where he was sent. He knew a lot about classical music, but also about zarzuelas and other popular genres in Spanish and English. Our mother, Manola, was married in exile, in the early 1960s, to Davis Wyville, an American with a slight resemblance to Errol Flynn, who lived in that city where everyone was reasonably happy.
Robert inherited the musical ear from our parents. He could sing, something that was completely forbidden to Ernesto, our older brother, and to me -- although I was the worst. I always like to tell the story that when I sang the national anthem – a plagiarism of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro”– at school someone invariably wanted to accuse me of treason and proposed to shoot me at dawn.
In school, Robert learned many things related to history. He loved Egyptology, although that passion only lasted as long as his adolescence. Later his passion moved toward other episodes related to history and intensified, precisely, with the history of our family. He was passionate about genealogy.
It all started in the Dominican Republic, where he had gone to study medicine with Jill, his wife at the time. He got into an elevator and found his doppelgänger. “And who are you?” they asked in unison with some nervousness. Both had little to do with the Caribbean population. They were blond, tall, green-eyed, and square-faced. They looked like Germans, Poles, or Russians. “I am Landestoy de Baní,” said the other.
My brother recalled that among the surnames he had heard our grandmother Maricusa Lavastida mention was that “Landestoy”. They were some Germans lost in the Caribbean. So it didn’t take long for him to find out that our grandmother and her older sister, Graciella (Chicha), were born in Baní, Dominican Republic, and emigrated to Cuba very young after the founding of the Republic in 1902. As was typical of the time, they registered as born in the Cuban province of Matanzas, in a town whose court had been conveniently burned.
I remember his excited voice when he proudly assured me that our Dominican ancestors had arrived in Hispaniola on Columbus’s second voyage and had stayed there for 400 years. “You have the passion to write,” he told me, “because, through our grandmother, you have the direct genes of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, the first chronicler of the Indies, who married, by the way, the daughter of Rodrigo Bastida, the island’s governor.”
Robert’s passion was traveling. He had been to China and, lately, to Cuba. He visited (perhaps he had a premonition) the family pantheon, cleaned it up, and told Alfredo that he would like his ashes to rest there permanently. I hope Marie fulfills your wishes, dear brother. We all miss you so much. ©Firmas PressCarlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is Sin ir más lejos (Memories), published by Debate, a label of Penguin-Random House.