I’ve been traveling on ships with my parents since I was nine, so there are few ports of call that I still find to be new and exciting after seven years of cruising. Sometimes, I don’t even bother disembarking, and enjoy being on a virtually empty ship for the day. Cuba is an exception, and both my parents and I like exploring the country. In just about every port we visit, one of the first things on my dad’s to-do list is to locate other magicians to meet, learn about magic in that area, and talk shop with his own kind. He and my mom found some magic friends in Havana who invited us to their home; we were amazed by what wasn’t there. On each trip, my parents smuggle in small loads of basic necessities and appliances for them from the US in exchange for local Cuban crafts we can justify as souvenirs when going through customs.

It may be illegal, but nobody notices the stash of goods my parents bring in because there is usually a flurry of activity in the Havana port. Among the staff, we joke about guessing which officers are actually KGB; I figure they are the ones who don’t seem to have a real job, or someone who got on in Cuba. We assume our cabins could easily be bugged; it is a running joke to talk to the light fixtures in the room when one of us says something questionable, to make sure they heard it clearly. There is nothing we discuss that would be of interest to the KGB. We also play Guess the CIA Operative to pick them out among the passengers. That game is fairly easy when you see guys traveling without family, and seemingly looking around more than lounging on vacation. I imagine every trip has both KGB and CIA snooping around like in that Mad Magazine Spy vs Spy comic.

Just about every trip, I escort an evening tour group to the Tropicana Night Club in Cuba. After all the stage shows ended, my job was to stand at an intersection of paths on the long walkway between the club and the parking lot, to ensure everyone made the correct turn, since you could not see the busses from that spot. When I didn’t see any more people from our ship leaving the club, I headed over to get on the bus myself. But all our busses were gone. It was around midnight, I had no money for a taxi, and no way to get in touch with anyone on the ship, so I went back in the club to see what I could figure out. There was a small tour group of American guys hanging out who said their bus could take me to the ship on the way back to their hotel. In the meantime, we danced, drank Cuba Libres (my usual rum and coke) and had a great time. The next day, I told my parents about it all and, as I figured, they never even knew I was missing. Only Gino noticed I wasn’t back on the ship with the group.

I really thought Gino would have laughed about what happened and been proud of how I handled the situation, which is how my parents reacted. But he was pissed. He was not mad because his girlfriend had been careless or reckless and he had worried about my safety. He was pissed that I hung out with and took the bus with the guys. He wanted to know all the details about who was there, and who I danced with, and did I like them, and did I have sex with any of them and stuff like that. He basically implied I was doing it on the bus with a football team. I didn’t do anything wrong. I just got a ride back and had some fun while waiting to go.

We stood in the stairwell near our cabins where we usually sing and play music, fighting for what seemed like hours of insults and accusations from him, and defensive pleas of innocence from me. I was crying to the point where it was hard to get any air through the dense sobs, and my entire body was shaking uncontrollably. I finally sat down on the bottom step and stopped, peacefully barricading myself into my own cocoon with my head resting on my knees, and my arms wrapped around my shins. I just stopped; stopped crying, stopped arguing, stopped explaining. He finally quieted as well. I eventually lifted my head and plainly told him that I’m not a rubber ball, and I can’t keep bouncing back up every time he throws me down to the ground. At that point, he started crying and asking me to believe how sorry he is. I’m just getting worn out from all the fighting and crying. We sit on that same stair, listening to Al Jarreau sing Could You Believe, making promises, asking me to believe, and to have the courage to carry on. I know Al’s talking about something else, but I’m not so sure I can just believe in Gino much longer.