Lizet, writing as an adult, explains that the island of Cuba is surrounded by some of the most pristine coral reefs in existence. Industrialization never came to Cuba the way it did to the rest of the world, and so the thing Lizet has spent her entire adult life “studying and working to understand” has been preserved.
Lizet’s career has, against all odds, taken her back to the place her family comes from—she is studying its isolated ecosystem in an unlikely reversal of circumstances.
Lizet knows that the lab she works for will soon require her to take a trip to Cuba; if the reefs were anywhere else in the world other than the island from which her parents fled, the island that is at the root of her family’s biggest heartaches, she would have traveled there much earlier.
Lizet is reluctant to travel to Cuba, despite the marvelous coincidence; she does not want to return to a place that is, in her family’s history and cultural imagination, so fraught.
Leidy and David live in Hialeah now, and Lourdes shares their duplex; Dante and their younger daughter Angelica are both thriving in school, and Omar and his wife are their neighbors. Lizet was not the maid of honor at Leidy’s wedding—Lourdes was. Ricky did not attend the event, and Lizet is not even sure if Leidy invited him, though he sent, through Lizet, an expensive set of copper pots as a wedding present. The event took place the summer before Lizet’s third year at Berkeley, where she “inadvertently” followed Ethan to grad school; he was gone, though, by the time she began her studies. She emailed him when she got in to tell him the news, but the message bounced back, and she later learned he’d left before finishing his program.
As Lizet reveals what happened to her family and friends in the years since her time at Rawlings, it becomes clear that things are better than they once were—though tensions still abound. Lizet’s attempts to make peace with her family and friends have not all been successful—some bridges were forever burned as a result of her actions during that fateful first year.
Lizet attended graduate school for a time but ultimately dropped to take a position at a laboratory. Her parents are proud of her, but she worries that will change if her work takes her to Cuba. She knows how unfair it would look to them for her to travel to a country they cannot enter. More than that, part of Lizet doesn’t want the burden of having them tell her to visit certain sentimental spots or look up family members; she wants to be able to focus on her work without her parents shaming her into familial obligations.
Lizet is still independent as ever. She and her parents are enjoying a relatively peaceful time in the relationship, but Lizet recognizes that she still has the power to undermine that peace by taking actions that would dig up old wounds or remind her parents of past perceived betrayals. She does not want to live her life for her parents, though, and has nursed her sense of autonomy over the years.
Lizet doesn’t know if she would tell her parents if she got the opportunity to go to Cuba; most likely, she writes, she’d just tell them she was traveling, though to keep Cuba from them would make her sad. She would want them to know that she was bringing some part of them back to where they started, and returning some part of them home—even if they wouldn’t see things that way.
Lizet has learned how to create boundaries in her life—boundaries meant to preserve her well-being and independence—and yet she still feels wistful about having to construct these boundaries in the first place. She knows things with her family are complicated, and has had to settle for a complex way of navigating their many issues.
After the summer internship in Santa Barbara, Lizet moved her things into a single dorm and used the days before classes began to write letters to her mother and Leidy—something she’d never done before. She had written an apology to Ethan over the summer, and though his response was short and vague, she felt inspired to try even harder in her apologies to Lourdes and Leidy. A week after Lizet mailed the letters, Leidy called her on the phone to tell her how “weird” it was to send a letter. They talked and caught up as if nothing had happened, discussing the Ariel Hernandez case and their respective summers.
Lizet reveals that her family rather quickly recovered from all the pain and drama that marked the end of her fateful first year—but it is clear that the events of that time have impacted the way they relate to one another through to the present day.
Leidy told Lizet about that a rumor was going around that Al Gore had been the one to order the raid on Ariel’s house; Lizet doubted that it was true. Leidy told Lizet that Lourdes had forgiven her—but Lizet reveals that Lourdes, after all these years, has still never told her so.
The ramifications of that fateful summer are wider in scope that just Lizet and her family—the election that fall, too, would be impacted by the fallout of the Ariel case. Again, Ariel and Lizet are shown as parallels, whose stories reverberate throughout one another.
The November after the Ariel debacle was the first election in which Lizet was old enough to vote. She followed the directions on her absentee ballot, nearly throwing the whole thing out when she grew frustrated. She wished she were in Miami, where she could have simply driven to her polling place and voted in person—to do so would have been so much less of a burden.
Though Lizet fought hard for her independence, as her schooling went on, she still found herself encountering situations in which she was forced to admit that she had, after all, taken the hardest path, just as her father said.
Lizet writes that she is sure, now, that her ballot, so painstakingly filled out, was never even counted. She wishes now that she could have known this as she filled it out, punching holes in the designated places. She wished she’d known, as she made her choice that day, how little it would ultimately matter which side she ended up betraying, and how much it would hurt either way.
The voting scandal that rocked the 2000 election left many ballots uncounted. Lizet doesn’t reveal who she voted for in the election, but implies that voting for either candidate was so painful that the experience mirrored for her the “lesser of two evils” situation of choosing between her family and her own independence.