I am sixty six years old and live a relatively peaceful and "normal" life in a suburb gated community in a small town in Florida. You could say I am happy, but more than anything I am content and feel safe enough to sleep at night. To be able to say these words is a million miles from where I came from and how I got here. The quest for "normality" has been a long and difficult road with sky-high hurdles to jump over just to achieve the most mundane of things. If you read some of my other stories you will find that my family was persecuted by a dictator, that my father was a political prisoner, that my brother was almost kidnapped, and that, in a nutshell, my life revolved around chaos. This was not of my doing but it was brought on by fate and my parents very naive way to live their lives playing with a devil and think they were not going to get burned. Their burns affected us in ways I am still defining.
After all the political strife, hiding, fleeing and returning when it was over, civil wars and chaotic political transitional periods, my father was offered a position in Miami as consul for the Dominican Republic in Miami, Florida. I was 12 when we packed everything and went off on, yet, another adventure. One that would change my life forever in the worse and best ways all at once. The best because I still remember arriving in the US and feeling in every inch of my body that I was finally home. That somehow the stork had dropped me in the wrong country and I had finally rectified her mistake. I learned English. The worse because it would expose me to situations that I would have never been exposed to in the Dominican Republic (DR) and one of which would impact my life forever.
I come from a long line of people with a connection to spirits, or some kind of 6th sense. My maternal grandmother was a shaman in the countryside of the Dominican Republic. It is hard to believe, but she took care of the health and spiritual needs of a whole village outside of Bani. Ever since she was a small child she could talk to spirits. She then went on to be able to use them for healing. My mother and her mother had a connection even though my mother did not grow up with her. I remember countless times when my mother would tell the maids to prepare the guest bedroom because she was feeling her mother closer. And, sure enough, a few hours later she would be walking through the front door. I was used to my grandmother telling us things were going to happen before they happened. She told my future husband had not arrived yet but he had blue eyes and was a foreigner a year before he arrived in the island. He had blue eyes and was a foreigner and we were married 3 years later.
I am a painter. Not completely successful and certainly not a failure. My work is good but I feel I could have gone farther. I am definitely not a writer. I have, at times, flirted with putting a few words together in a sentence, or a paragraph, even a chapter. Once my word-muse gets tired, she leaves and I can’t call her back to help me remain on task. I think it has to do with how I think. It seems as if thoughts are bursts of light, haphazard fireworks with no rhythm or timing. Authors I enjoy have a structured sequence to how they write. It’s as if one thought connects like a daisy chain to the next. I guess there is a linear approach to how the ideas connect. I can’t call what I write a book. Whatever I write, I am going to write as an expressionist painter would paint. I am going to use my words like colors to run down the page. I want to allow the writing to dictate the direction of the work with minimal edits. Words will be colors for me. I want to feel their temperature and texture. I want to go back in time to childhood, when any artistic venture was more a feeling than a thought.
And they crashed together in an orgasmic explosion!
Well, that’s a better start than some, but I gotta be real. I am sure that hundreds of books or stories have started by asking, “Where do I start?” and answering “At the beginning.” However, I’m not sure what this story is yet. If it were an autobiography, would it start with birth? Conception? Maybe it should start with the two forces that came together (and no, this has nothing to do with the first sentence, though that sentence will be uttered by a main character later in this narrative), Mom and Dad. At this point you might say, well this isn’t at all what I thought it would be and put this book down. I am not sure whether my story is very personal or universal. Can your average Joe the Plumber glean anything from it? Maybe this writing is here for me to finally stop asking questions and find answers. As with my Art, I am a painter, I often start painting and hope that, once I get acquainted with my painting, it will speak to me and tell me what it needs, I hope that this writing thing will work the same way. I guess a good question would be “Why?” or more specifically “Why now?” Because there is a story here that will be lost in time? Because I have three beautiful daughters that don’t know where the hell their Dad’s “unique” perspective comes from? I haven’t done well with the dream-chasing thing. Life kept me busy when I should have been leaving a trail of paintings that would speak for me long after I am gone. A recent bout with Melanoma finally forced me to see that I was mortal. Hopefully, I can get this done and it ain’t too late.
Este cronograma fué creado por mi mama, Isabel Dalmau Viuda Arvelo.
El Contralmirante Rafael Alberto Arvelo González fue el hijo más pequeño del matrimonio de Wenceslao Arvelo García, Capitán de Navío de la Marina de Guerra y la Sra. Manuela Gonzalez Rey.
Desde muy pequeño demostró su amor por el mar y por éste motivo su padre, que fue comandante de varios buques, se lo llevaba a navegar con él y le empezó a enseñar el arte de la navegación.
Pero cuando tuvo edad para ingresar a la marina, su padre se opuso, diciéndole que aquí lo que había era una policía del mar.
Quizo entonces entrar a la marina Americana, tenía que renunciar a su nacionalidad Dominicana y se negó a ello.
Por fín el diez de Octubre de 1941 entra a la Marina de Guerra con el rango de Primer teniente.
En 1942 fue comandante de los guardacostas G C-1 y G C-4.
In the 1980's, Connie, my mother-in-law, lived on Lake Gertrude, a beautiful lake in Mount Dora, Florida. In the early 80's Mount Dora was a sleepy little town, mainly a retirement community. For the most part, if you saw anyone younger than 60 walking the streets you stopped and talked to them to find out who they were visiting. The majority of the people that lived around the lake were too old to use it. Only on weekends and holidays would you have grandchildren visiting and frolicking in the lake. The rest of the time, we could be out there for hours on end and never see anyone else. This made Lake Gertrude our private heaven. We all spent most of the time in the water, skiing, sailing, windsurfing, tubing, diving, floating, canoeing, etc. There was nothing that we didn't do on that lake. It was an integral part of our lives. My daughter learned to stand up in that lake holding on to a beach chair in the water. She later learned to swim there too.
In 1985 I was the founding director for the Mount Dora Center for the Arts. In those days, the Mount Dora Art Festival was 14 years old and was being managed by a group of volunteers who called themselves the Cultural Council. In 1984 I volunteered to be their art consultant with the goal of better marketing the festival and get more people to attend, as well as tips on how to best deal with the artists, prices, jurying, etc. The Cultural Council would meet in the Lamp Post (a great restaurant in downtown MD) to jury the entries. Other than myself there was one more artist in the group. The rest were all merchants, lawyers, etc. which made for a not so great choice of artists. In those days, the artists in town would measure how bad the festival was by the amount of duck and geese paintings they allowed in. We rated it as 1-10 fowl. Innovative and modern work need not apply. If they got in it was because one of the merchants pushed for a niece or friend to get in. The old timers still use that term.
By the time I turned three, my family had gone from a normal family living in the outskirts of Santo Domingo dealing with "normal" day-to-day issues, to having my father jailed as a political prisoner, my mother harassed daily, renting out our family home and moving to a small house in the city near my grandfather's, and keeping a very low profile.
Living under a dictatorship, in the Trujillo era, in the Dominican Republic, if your family got in trouble with the regime, anyone helping you or fraternizing with you risked the government’s wrath against them. So people like us, found that friends and family stayed away out of fear. I know that it was a lot to lose and they were desperate times, but my mother has always gauged people according to whether they talked to her when we were untouchables or they chose not to. Those who chose not to, she has never forgiven. I guess that, because I was young, I have never had such a black and white approach to the situation. Therefore, I have been able to forgive. I can't blame her for not letting go, but ire consumes you and it has consumed her.
When I was 3 years old, my father was finally freed after 14 months in La Victoria jail as a political prisoner. We moved back to our house in the country, and resumed our lives under some semblance of normality.
As soon as my parents got together again, my mother became pregnant. It seems every time they got back together, there was a new baby. My mother was about 5 months pregnant when she and my father went out for a drive. My father didn’t see a speed bump (in the DR they call them sleeping policemen. If they are very high, they are sleeping generals – This was one of those). The car went up and came down really hard. When it did, my mother felt a terrible pain. By the next day, she noticed that she had not felt the baby. The next day she had a miscarriage… She mentioned that the doctor my grandfather called was Julia Alvarez’ father who had not left the island yet. My father was in Plymouth England at the time, so my grandfather took care of everything.
Rafael Alberto Arvelo Gonzalez and Ysabel María Irene Dalmau Pichardo
My mother was the daughter of Alfredo Dalmau Rijo and Diana Pichardo Martinez. My mother’s father was a tycoon, who, among other things, represented and distributed Sinclair Oil Company in the Dominican Republic through his company, The Dalmau CxA. My grandmother was a seamstress among other things, later on becoming a healer in the countryside of the DR.
My father was the son of Wenceslao Arvelo Garcia, an exceptional sea captain and his wife Manuela Gonzalez Rey. Both were from Canarian families. Wenceslao was a very well known Sea dog for 50 years, who, after retiring, wrote the daily tide and weather report in the local newspaper.
My mother was born in San Pedro de Macorís on October 20, 1926. San Pedro de Macorís, a city now known for producing baseball players, was, in 1926, the leading economic boom city of the island, and was going through what was called “The Dance of the Millions” era. The main export of the DR was sugar and 9 of the largest sugar cane mills in the island were in San Pedro. This city was also the cultural center of the island, boasting an opera house, theater, symphonic orchestra, movie theater, and shops with the latest European fashions money could buy. The international airport, main post office, and main shipping port were also there, as well as most of the Dominican government offices. My grandfather, Aldredo Dalmau Rijo, (Fello), was a self-made millionaire. Losing his father at age 12, my grandfather became the head of the family, supporting his mother and most of the family until his death in 1973. At the time he met my grandmother, Diana Pichardo Martinez, he was the port director for San Pedro, owned a finance company, and a ferry boat that traveled between several cities on the southern coast of the DR, carrying passengers and goods. In those days, it was very dangerous to travel inland which was laden with robbers and very bad roads, so people traveled by water.
I was born in the Dominican Republic (D.R.) during the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, fact that would define my life. Whether directly or indirectly, my family was affected by chaos during my formative years. The political unrest created an environment full of insecurity, persecution and total instability.
My father traveled most of the time. He was the commander of a ship which sailed all over the world as an ambassador, representing the D.R. in presidential inaugurations, and other political celebrations. My father spoke three languages, was very well versed in Naval etiquette, and was a hell of a sailor so he was very useful to the Navy. It was very common to host cocktail parties in the ship to wine and dine important dignitaries of the government they were visiting. My father represented the D.R. in the inaugurations of many dignitaries and in 1953 my father led the Dominican delegation to Queen Elizabeth’s crowning.
When I was born, there was a problem with my mother’s milk and I wasn’t breast-fed. I had to go on formula. Unfortunately, no matter what anyone tried to feed me, I didn’t like it. My mother says I scrunched up my whole face and spit it out. Not having enough food, I just cried continuously. My mother was going crazy because they just couldn’t find anything that I liked. She was also exhausted. So, at the suggestion of her doctor, she hired a nurse to help take care of me. This nurse was Lupe Anglada. She immediately figured out a formula I liked. This was great news. My mother and Lupe became very good friends and she was part of my family until she passed away in the 1990’s.
Growing up in the outskirts of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, with very limited TV and no technology, meant that us children spent most of our time outside, communing with nature in a world full of daily discovery and adventure. We learned from an early age survival skills like which bugs bite, which plants sting, and which trees bear the best fruit. You learned that you don’t mess with large tarantulas but you can always play with their babies. Dominican snakes are not poisonous but they all bite. And that most hedges have hidden wasps’ nests and one pays dearly if they are disturbed. You watch out for red ants and it is always fun to watch lizards mate.
When my father had to jump ship in Puerto Rico to save his life, in 1959, he sent my mother a telegram that said “I Love You Always”. This was their code for something had happened but he was OK. The next day it was in the news: Alberto Arvelo traitor and deserter. It didn’t take long for my mother to realize that we were in a heap of trouble. My father was safe, but we were not. We packed everything we owned in a few hours, sent it all to my grandfather’s warehouses, then went to stay at my uncle’s house in the country. A couple of days later the secret police – Servicio de Inteligencia Militar (SIM)– killed our dogs and a few days later the house was taken over. The future head of the SIM, Candido Torrez, one of the people responsible for the murder of the Mirabal sisters just a few months later, (In the Time of the Butterflies), took over our house. He had to do a lot of renovation to it since my mother almost destroyed it so they wouldn’t find it as nice as she had had it. She and the workers that helped her pack and dismantle everything went through the house with picks breaking everything they could. They destroyed all the light fixtures, bathroom fixtures, and poked holes in the walls throughout. Our house was mostly made out of wood so that was easy to do.
December of 1978, my husband Tom and I headed down to the DR for Christmas vacation. We were both attending Tyler School of art in Philadelphia.The journey to the DR every vacation started with a train ride to New York City. Then a shuttle ride to the airport, finishing with a plane ride from New York that might or might not take you since the airline overbooked by hundreds of people. Riots would break out in the airport with a few arrests every year. The pilgrimage to the homeland brings every Dominican, no matter how far they live, back to the homeland for the holidays. It is like lemmings to the sea.
On September 5th, 1979, I gave birth to my daughter Avaryl Jayne Buzbee Arvelo. It didn’t realize it at the moment, but it was one of those moments in life when you thought you were going in a direction and then there is this major change of plans. Although the circumstances around us the day she was born also made it something to remember, I remember more because how this little child changed my life and gave me a reason for living.
Hurricane David hit the Dominican Republic 5 days before I gave birth. It was an absolute mess. With winds of 156 mph, the island had been ravaged. There were a lot of deaths, millions of dollars in damage, food shortages, no electricity, no gas, no telephones, total chaos. The government had declared a state of emergency and instituted a curfew. Not the best of circumstances for someone as big as a hippo and ready to pop. My mother spent the hurricane with me in case I went into labor. We had been moving to a new house got caught with some of the stuff in one house and some in the other. Then the water became contaminated–one more problem.
I write this in the hope that it can help anyone young or old going through the same situation that I found myself in as a teenager and later as an adult.
FACT: No, you are not weird. No, you are not alone. You are beautiful. You are you and that is special. We are who we are and must celebrate our idiosyncrasies–the peculiar things that we do that make us who we are.
Have you thought of how unique humans are? You hear a you favorite singer on the radio. You recognize that voice from among 8 billion other people on earth. And yet, we actually idolize pop stars' uniqueness. They are so unique that you recognize them as soon as their song starts playing on the radio.
One of the most important facts that I realized, as I got older, is that all the other kids in high school were no better off than I was. They were just as confused, scared, and totally overwhelmed as I was. The only difference was that they were much better at acting like everything was fine. What is normality anyways? An illusion? An act? Years later I found out that the people I had wished I could be like, were actually going through their own hell, some much worse than mine: physical abuse, neglect, alcoholic parents, etc. My life was just chaotic, at best and yet, I wanted to be them.
On June 13th, 1961, thirteen days after the death of Trujillo, the despot that had ruled the Dominican Republic for 32 years, we left for San Juan Puerto Rico. For 10 years, my family had been on the enemy-of-the-state list. My father had spent 14 months in jail, part of that in solitary confinement. He was let out only if to command the Moineau, a large yacht owned by Trujillo’s business partner, Benitez Rexach, named after his wife, a retired french dancer. Don Felix had come to the DR to build the port of Santo Domingo which is one of the most important constructions sites in the history of the island. After, he stayed, became very good friend and business partner with Trujillo, and worked on countless projects for the Dominican Government, becoming a very rich man. He had long hair that was usually dirty, always wore a hat that had seen better days, khaki pants, and an ascot. It was the first time I saw someone wear one. I saw him a few times, but never saw Moineau Rexach. By the time I was old enough to know better, she spent most of her time in their mansion in Cannes.
Altos de Chavón was an artist village located on the edge of the Chavón River in La Romana, Dominican Republic. I say "was" because it is not longer an artist village. When the Fanjul Corp bought it from Gulf & Western, they discontinued all art in the village that wasn't associated with the Art & Design school and the education trust. Apparently, art is not one of their things. So sad. The village is now a silly tourist villa. Although there is still some art because of the Art school, it is nothing like the cultural and social center that it was in the early 80s! Those were the days...concerts, gallery openings, fairs, a discotheque, celebrities, and the beautiful people.
A couple of years ago my mother gave me a huge scrapbook that she had put together about my father. Among other things, there are invitations to most of the receptions that he attended around the world, to things like presidential inaugurals and Queen Elizabeth's coronation which my father, not only attended, but led the Dominican delegation to. The book also contained newspaper clippings from when my father defected to Puerto Rico in 1960 and asked for political asylum. I had never read all of them before and, on further inspection of the articles, I had the AHA! moment. I never realized the historical importance of what my father did, at the time that he did it. Ironically, I don't think my father did either... and if Trujillo had known the avalanche he was starting, I am sure he would have changed things.
In 1957 my parents were enjoying some semblance of normality and peace after the tumultuous years or phony trials, persecution, and jailing of my father. Out on "loan" to Benitez Rexach my father was the captain of the Moineau Yacht part of the year, and of a merchant ship the rest. The arrangement between Trujillo and Rexach stated that my father worked for Rexach in whatever capacity he demanded or my father went back to jail. My father had been out of jail now for about 2 years. My mother was busy with the birth of her third child, Ivan 10 months prior and my oldest brother Pico and I. Life was somewhat normal: My father went to work, my mother took us to school and ran their home and surrounding properties in Arroyo Hondo with the help of a few maids and gardeners. Nothing too out of the ordinary and no threats.
My grandfather was a savvy and successful business man who, among other things, was the distributor for Sinclair Oil Company in the Dominican Republic. In 1957 he sold the company for a few million dollars and had all the money deposited outside of the country. He pretended to travel for business, did the transaction, and stayed in Europe and the US until the death of the dictator in 1961. It is the sale of the company that is the crucial detail for what happened next. Every crime is based on love, money, revenge or jealousy. This one was definitely, based on money and maybe, revenge.
In 1962 The investigations into political crimes committed by the Trujillo regime was under way. My father was called to testify about the disappearance of the Britos.– On July 20, 1951 the Quetzal, commanded by Alfredo Brito, was delivering cargo to Cuba and was 50 to 60 miles off its coast when it was intercepted by a Dominican Navy ship. The crew was arrested and brought to the Dominican Republic. Cuba denounced the Dominican Government since they felt that the act had happened in Cuban waters and Trujillo had violated their territory. A few days after the arrest, Alfredo Brito had a press conference dressed in his Naval uniform to say that he had been working as a spy for Trujillo and everything was just fine. But the word was that he had been tortured and threatened to say this. He and his cousin, Nelson, were taken to the Navy Base and my father and the rest of the commanding officers were told to take care of them. The Britos were given every comfort that a high ranking officer of the navy would have been given, since the Navy didn’t have jails and wasn’t prepared to keep prisoners and Alfredo Brito was a respected Navigator. The Navy refused to jail the Britos and later dispose of them. This refusal to deal with the Britos was ultimately what made Trujillo arrest the high command of the Dominican Navy and replace them with more trust worthy men who would be more inclined to carry out orders. That was how my father ended up as a political prisoner for 22 months.
One of the earliest memories I have is of going to see my father in the La Victoria jail in Santo Domingo. My father was a political prisoner and had been arrested several months prior. The Dictator Trujillo had been feeling that my father wasn’t totally dedicated to the dictatorship and could not be trusted. There had recently been an incident in which the navy had declined to participate in gruesome atrocities. So, the heads of the navy had to be replaced with people that the regime could trust to carry out its sinister crimes. My father along with the rest of the high command of the Navy was accused of stealing. Phony trials followed and my father was sentenced to 10 year in prison for supposedly stealing from the navy. He spent the next 14 months in solitary confinement, but was in jail a total of 22 months.
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