Updated: Mar 20, 2021
I was afraid it would all be foreign to me again. That the heat, the language, the smells, the food, that it’d roll around inside me, unfamiliar, detached. That my place in this tiny country nestled between mountains wouldn’t belong to me at all anymore. That too much time had passed, I’d have been forgotten. And even worse, I’d have forgotten.
But the moment I stepped off the plane, and the heat encircled me, I wasn’t suffocating, like I had imagined, but rather, I could breathe again. I took my time finding my bag, walked slowly out into the bright sunshine. There was no fear, this time, like I anticipated, but rather, peace.
The trip was short, days were fast. Most of the time we were in traffic, music blasting, sounds of Haitian markets and horns rising up around us. Or we were sitting on roofs, catching up with old friends until early hours of the morning. We dipped into the ocean twice, as I tried to memorize the clear blue water, the mountains in the distance, guarding, reminding me how far from home I really was. I laughed at them, how they trapped me once, my soul drowning, the mountains mocking my inability to break free. And now, just beyond those mountains, is my family, my son. I was never out of reach, I was simply lost.
It’s funny what time can heal. How perceptions can change, how impressionable we are when we are young, how we feel so much like it’s us against the world. I was never alone. I was never too far gone. I was just young. And for lack of a better word, stupid. Selfish.
That is what hits me most when we enter the orphanage, late at night, in the darkness. The kids, who are not kids anymore, run over to me, surround me with hugs and kisses. Some hold on tight, some peck my cheek and rush away. Some are shy in their remembering of me, some are welcoming me home, like I never left. But one, Kendy, he stays in the shadows. I fight the urge to cry, to look him in the eye and own up to all I’ve done. How he believed me to be his mother, and then I left, without enough warning, without a good explanation, to be another boys mother. I want to tear my own heart out, stomp on it, tell him I’ve repented too many times, I’ve looked my sins and my selfishness in the face and tried to pluck it out of me, piece by piece. But it doesn’t matter, none of it would. Because there he was, in the shadows, watching my every move. I had already broken him, his wound is already there, gaping. I could not turn away from it, all I could do was face it. I looked him in the eye, told him I love him. Told him again, I am sorry. He followed me around the remaining time I was there, never too close, but always there, watching me.
It was alarming to feel at home inside those walls. I had caused such a mess, left in such haste. The walls echoed with the sound of my heartbeat, memories of my first love were everywhere. And yet, it all felt right. Somehow, it felt like I had never left. That I just stepped back into the time I was there, the Creole easy, the memories bright. The kids, so old and mature, breathed life back into me. Their forgiveness of me, that is made of God’s mercy. Mercy and grace; it could be woven from nothing else.
I slept alone, in a dark room. I woke up early and walked straight to the roof. I stood there in the early morning rising, the new dawn, pink and tangerine splashed across the sky, greeting me. The roof, under which I gave my heart away. The roof, where all the laughter always began. The roof, under those stars we sat before the earthquake, and then after, trying to put ourselves back together.
I stayed in the outside kitchen with the kids for the morning, then we had to leave, before I couldn’t ever tear myself away from them again, this life I had walked away from. My tears were hot, mixed with sweat, as I turned my back on what had been so important to me. I used to define my life by my time in Haiti. But then I spent years in sorrow, trying to navigate motherhood and singleness and shame, and yet embrace the glory that is my own son, God’s gift in all the mess. And the mission I left; big and beautiful and growing, holy.
As the plane took off, and the mountains became smaller and smaller, my heart twisted inside of me. I thought I was ok, I thought it was all behind me. But it felt like a ripping, like a new and raw and vulnerable heart lay just beneath the surface, waiting, pumping.
But there was peace. Because maybe now, maybe, I could bring Levi back into this world, show him what was, and walk into what could be, together.