Jose Benito Menendez Del Valle and Addy Molina met during the mid-60s, but after so many years, memory sometimes fails her.
This is her story: At that time we called José Benito Pepito., Pepito was a good friend of our neighbor, Miguel Gallegos Machado. They both practiced judo and other sports, and they were also a member of the lodge., Pepito on many occasions began to play jacks with us on my house porch, I remember his sweet smile and with some mischief, his honest and friendly look.
On March 7, 1968, when I was 15 years old, one month and 3 days my life was changed forever by a kitchen accident, I burned, my chest, face, and hands, everything happened very quickly and I just remember someone taking me out on the side of the house and the only thing I remember and I remembered for 55 years...
It was Pepito's eyes, a look of confusion, pain but support towards me, the following months were of confusion, physical and mental pain, the recovery was slow and I disconnected from the world, 1969 was my first reconstructive surgery, no I remember (due to my disconnection with the world) many things, in 1969 I remember having several conversations with my friend Pepito about how I felt because of the changes caused by the fire in my body, I don't remember what day or month, I only remember a kiss stolen by Pepito, I was confused after that sweet stolen kiss, it was my first kiss, I don't remember how many more kisses happened after my "first kiss".
For me, Pepito was the first man to kiss me and I always thought that for Pepito it was another kiss and that he just wanted to show me that my disfigurement did not change anything in me as a woman.
Weeks after that first kiss, Pepito was arrested for his first cause of fighting against the Fidel Castro dictatorship.
He was sentenced to 12 years of private liberty. On May 13, 1970, I left Cuba via Varadero with my parents and brother. In the United States, later on, I got married and had two children, I never knew anything about my friend Pepito, I always remembered that look I received from him on the worst day of my life, and I also never forgot our kiss. It was not until March 2002 on a visit to Miami that I learned of the fate of my always remembered friend, Pepe had come to the United States via Mariel in 1980 with his wife and 3 children, in 1994 Pepe already divorced and following his passion to defeat the Castro dictatorship, he returned to Cuba. José Benito Menendez Del Valle was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 16 years of privacy, it made me very sad to learn where my dear friend was.
In 2009 due to unrelated circumstances, I divorced the father of my children. It was in 2010 I began the search for my friend Pepe, using social media and Google, it was a little later I learned that Pepito was free and lived in Havana and that he only had one brother left in Cuba and that his children lived in Miami. . It was not until August 2019 through #FaceBook my friend and I met again, here is the response of my old and dear friend:
Greetings, Ady, and good things to you and your family. Of course, I'm not going to remember you and your family, I wrote to you in the name of Ady Días. but I will overcome it since it is a challenge and a current need. Well, my regards, take care, make an effort, you can always do it when you are aware of what you are worth. Greetings, a hug, and I never forget you and your family. Pepe
My happiness was immense when I met my friend again, days, weeks later I called him and we talked for 20/25 minutes, I remember we talked and we remember our friends from back then.
Our communication continued in writing always with respect, and cordiality but with a lot of sincere friendship, Pepe had a partner at that time.
We never talked about that stolen kiss. It was not until July 1, 2020, that Pepe in one of his writings mentioned that stolen kiss, nothing else was said about it.
Our communications were about the family, matters of my work, and the situation in Cuba.
It was not until December 13, 2021, that we started talking through #WhatsApp, by this time Pepe was living with his friend Geraldo and was no longer with his partner.
Our conversations became more pleasant and more often, they became daily at 7:00 pm PST (10:00 pm Cuban time) I called it "Pepe Time" - Hahaha.
Each day has brought us closer and closer and Pepe writing me poetry that made me tremble with emotion. There came a time when I wrote to Pepe and asked him that I only wanted his friendship, the truth was that I was falling in love and I was very afraid, I was alone for many years and I was afraid to fall in love (I felt it was already too late).
Pepe with his charisma, his honesty, and that memory of that stolen kiss… he conquered me day by day more and more to the point of committing the greatest madness of my entire life…. I began planning a trip to Cuba after 52 years, I had never been before, 2009 I tried to go with the father of my children and the Cuban Government denied me entry for being born in Cuba and traveling with an American passport.
I wanted, I needed to look at myself again in those eyes that through so many years (more than half a century) never forget, I also had the need, yes why not... to feel that stolen kiss again.
To travel to Cuba with an American passport, you needed a HE-11 visa. I started the required procedures for the visa on April 13, 2022, with a cost of $285, the process takes 6 to 8 weeks, and my visa took 10 weeks later.
My enthusiasm and happiness were so great that I made reservations before having the visa in my hands and risked losing the ticket.
On June 24, 2022, they told me that my visa had been approved and that I would arrive on Monday or Wednesday (June 27 / June 29, 2022) I made a reservation to fly on Wednesday, June 29 at 11:30 pm to arrive in Cuba on Thursday, June 30 at 10:30 a.m.
Luckily the Visa arrived on Monday, June 27, 2022, I ran to look for it and I did not believe that the visa was in my hands.
Only 3 days to pack, buy some items to go (coffee, spices, medicine, and some other items).
After packing 3 or 4 times, I was ready to meet again who was my friend, my first kiss, my therapist, and now, yes now the love of my life, although I feared that my wrinkles, extra weight, and changes caused by my aging could make Pepe regret loving me.
I realized this meeting was necessary, something strange… I was never afraid, and if at any time I felt afraid it was that they did not allow me to reach those arms and kisses that awaited me in Cuba the land where I was born and from where I received my Caribbean culture and flavors, and Cuban music is in my blood.
At the end of the odyssey... On June 29, 2022, upon arrival at the Los Angeles airport, when they look at my passport and visa, everyone was unaware of this documentation with an American passport, finally, everyone clears it up and they inform me that I have to fill out some customs papers for Cuba and that the process it was online.
Arriving at the Miami airport and locating where the plane left for Havana, my nerves were about to explode with the concern that they would not let me reach the arms that were already waiting for me at the José Marti Airport.
At Miami International Airport a voice calls me over the loudspeakers, I introduce myself, and they ask me for the ticket and passport, when I give them what was requested, they ask me if I did not have a Cuban passport, I told them that was why I had a HE-11 visa, the employee looked at me and turned to the companion and asked her, I told them about the visa and of course they asked me to wait. I was almost sure that they were not going to allow me to get on the plane, maybe it was 5 minutes but it seemed like an eternity to me, they returned my documents and wished me a good trip. I am now heading to Cuba, happy, nervous, so many emotions, 52 years without seeing my country and 53 years without seeing Pepito, the man who gave me my first kiss.
Arriving in Cuba, now customs first and then immigration, on the plane they gave us some forms to complete (the same ones I filled out from Los Angeles) I filled them out to be sure, already in the final stretch I did not want anything to fail, upon arrival to customs, with paper in hand, they asked me if I had completed it online and I said yes, they sent me to another line, I already left customs and now immigration, they took photos of me, inspected my passport and visa.
They looked me over, then at the computer, and then repeat it 5 or 6 times (I began to worry whether it was possible for them to send the back? It wasn't until the other immigration agent spoke with the young man who had my documents.
I was allowed to pass, and now to the inspection of the backpack and handbag, through the camera they saw what they thought was a memory stick, it was my electric coils.
My friend had told me that he was waiting for me at gate number 8, I asked the employees and no one could tell me where and how I could get to gate number 8.
Going out the door and taking a few steps immediately my eyes met those eyes that I could never forget and that smile that gave me support and above all such tender love.
It was 5 days and 4 nights, to once again rekindle our relationship, identify ourselves and confirm our feelings, now the days are getting longer and the wait to unite our lives, we talk to each other many times a day and when we talk for hours, we don't get bored, there is always a theme and a dream to achieve. And so it goes.
By: Addy Molina