[Letter to the US Embassy, February 2020]
It was the way that he had looked at me, like he had never seen anything so bright. The night we met it was cold. It was March, when the wind blows up dust tornados from the ground, when the trees sway so hard the birds have nowhere to rest. The Haitians had said it was unusually cold for March. That the winds were sometimes hot, spitting dust into your face, sticking to you. But not this time. The earth was still shaking, then. It would rumble beneath us, and we’d pause, hold our breaths, squeeze our eyes shut and wait for it to pass. We lived in a constant state of fear, of guessing. Will the earth split beneath our bare muddy toes, pull us in as the stars spin above? Or will the aftershocks stop one day, and we’d be forced to go back to normal? You see, we almost preferred the unknown. If you can’t trust the ground beneath your feet, how could you ever trust yourself? On that night in March, we sat at the wooden kitchen table, no flies to circle the bread left out since morning. My sweatshirt was pulled over my head, the hood up. Behind him I could see the sun beginning to set through the metal open windows, orange and crimson red streaks falling deeper into trees. I had lived in Haiti for a little over a year now. We talked then, in my nervous creole, about favorite colors and months and weather and our families. His smile was so bright I had to turn away from it. As the sun disappeared behind him we decided to go up on the roof, hugging our sweatshirts tighter. The stars were so close you could reach out and think maybe you’d catch one. The sky wasn’t completely dark yet, still glowing with some afternoon light. We had been talking for hours, and up there on that roof with him, I wanted to dance. I wanted him to take my hands and spin me around, our music the chickens and donkeys and kids laughing and splashing at the well. Instead I leaned over the rail and watched the another boy drive his motorcycle into the orphanage, scan the grounds and find me on the roof, beside his best friend, the desire to dance wrapped around me like a blanket. Years stretched out like this. Whenever he came around I’d feel a chill, a reminder of the way we met, cold in the middle of the desert. He was there while the boy I loved and me carved our names into a tree at the top of the mountain. He was there when I was dancing around the room and the earth shook again. He grabbed me and we ran, always reaching me in time. He was there all those nights in the river, walking ahead a few steps. There was a night in the middle of July, the heat and mosquitos too much, the stickiness stuck in my throat. I was broken again, so I hitched a ride into the city. I slept in an old cement house on the corner of a road, and woke up to him across the street, sun beating on his bare back, his arms raised high. Here I am, he said. He poured me coffee and found me bread, sat beside me in silence. He tipped my head up with his fingers, so gently beneath my chin, and told me I was beautiful. He asked me then why I loved the man I loved. I had shrugged, embarrassed. I didn’t know then what I know now. Dancing on a feast night in August, slow, rhythmic, laughing. All eyes on us as he twirls me, teaches me. I knew I was safe. I knew I was where I should have been. I belonged in his arms, just below his laugh, his heart beating strong enough my arms could feel it as we moved. When I turned 24 years old I drank too much cinnamon rum. I cried in a tiny shack, begging to feel differently, to go home, to get out of this trap. This man with the bright eyes found me a motorcycle, got me home, dressed, hydrated, into bed. I remember his lips on my forehead. His words as I fell asleep.Why do you love him? Why do you do this to yourself, cherie? There was a week I had friends visiting from the US. He was with us that week. We hiked and prayed and washed clothes in the river together. We drank moonshine at noon when we couldn’t bear the heat anymore. At dinner we’d go over our highs and lows for the day, my friends learning Creole within hours. We’d sit under the stars on the roof and share stories of before. Before the mountains swallowed us. Before the future was just stretched out horizons. He told me he liked me that way. With my friends, myself. Leaving Haiti, a baby as small as a mustard seed tucked away inside my belly. Sweat pooling at my neck as we sit on the side of the road, dust in my eyebrows. He gives me an apple, watches as I chew. He shakes his head, sad. “I don’t want you to leave me,” he whispers. “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me.” And still, he tells me everything will be ok. His confidence gives me hope, as I fly away from Haiti, his eyes in the sky, searching for me. Now, 6 years later, I know what I didn’t know then. That it all comes together, when there’s grace. An unruly patch of wild grace brought me my son, the son only a different boy could give me. So it all makes sense now, that love I couldn’t put out. And my phone in the middle of the night, the light fills the room, the small buzzing vibration. “June,” he says. “When my heart is quiet, it thinks of you. So much time has passed, give me a chance now.” Give him a chance now. I think of him and feel the wind on my neck, at the beginning of an adventure, when I was just a child. I feel the chill in my bones, the only relief from the heat. And I wonder, maybe, just maybe, in the quiet of my heart, I think of him too.
[First step of visa approved. Prayers for the next would be greatly appreciated!]