Eugenio Gonzalez wishes to forget many things: the heartbreak that ended his first marriage five decades ago, the daughter he has not seen in more than 40 years, the death of his second wife last December, all the things that cause his 108-pound frame to shiver in anxiety.
At 86, Gonzalez doesn’t quite know how to be alone, yet does not wish to have company. He subsists on $850 a month. One charity delivers low-cost, frozen meals each week to his humble West Palm Beach home. He microwaves them and eats what he can. With a steady diet of Cuban coffee and Marlboros – his two vices – he often suffers from indigestion.
But then again, that could be caused by his “bad nerves,” a depression/anxiety cycle that has plagued him for decades. He worked for years as a beef slaughterhouse supervisor in his native Marianao, Cuba, a ham packaging factory employee in Miami and a golf course maintenance man in West Palm Beach. Hard physical work and a mind filled with book smarts powered him through the valleys.
He continues to be limber, body-wise – without medication or a cane. But he is crippled by emotion. Now that he is alone, memories surface, uninvited. Adela, the daughter he shares with his first wife, has never left Cuba. While they communicate by the rare phone call, Gonzalez hasn’t seen her since the 1970s.
Punctuating the flashbacks is the constant drip of a leaky shower, the creep of mold in the kitchen and the silence of a broken air conditioner. Home improvements would boost his quality of life. Help with unresolved probate and car insurance issues would help clear his mind.
And counseling might help soothe his emotional pain. His lifeline is neighbor Rafael Lopez, a kind man who helps Gonzalez with groceries, bills and urgent repairs. Lopez checks on his elderly neighbor often, and he marvels at Gonzalez’s mind.
Tucked in with the pain are snippets of splendor, culled from books. Gonzalez may have not traveled much in life, but through books he has traced the migratory path of a certain shorebird from Patagonia to Canada. He can tell you the Nile is the world’s longest river and the Amazon is the largest by water flow. He can recite the bold verses of the late Cuban poet Jose Marti.
The memories drift about the small home he shared with his late wife, Frances. One frame contains mementos from charities to which they donated. Carefully clustered figurines are frozen in time beneath a veil of dust.
Gonzalez’s love of flight is reflected in dusty model airplanes that hang from his porch ceiling. As a young amateur pilot, he often rented a single-engine Cessna 140 for flights across Cuba. The landscapes he saw from the sky are now displayed on a photo tribute wall in his home.
As much as he loved Cuba, he fled in the late 1970s, escaping Communist rule. Freedom, he says, is his most treasured possession. On most mornings, it is what nudges him out of bed to seek his place, much like the shorebird that seeks warmth many miles from home.
At 86, Eugenio Gonzalez lives his days in a cycle of anxiety of depression, having lost his wife in December. The wiry, physically fit man is crippled by his emotions. The house he shared with his late wife crumbles around him. Home improvements – a new bathroom, kitchen and air-conditioner – would greatly improve his quality of life. Help with unresolved probate and insurance issues would help clear his mind. Counseling might help ease away his chronic depression. He also would benefit from Publix gift cards for his grocery needs. He now relies on a low-cost frozen meal delivery agency to bring meals once a week, but he could use fresh items to supplement those microwave dinners.
Photography by Greg Lovett / Staff
Nominated by 211 Palm Beach / Treasure Coast