My earliest memory of my mother was the day she came to visit my brother and me in Haiti. I was four years old. I don’t know how much of my memory of that day is fact and how much I’ve invented over the years. One thing that I am certain of is that I fell in love with her that day. My mother was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. That’s saying a lot considering my brother and I were living with the Eveillard family, which included two of the most sought after bachelorettes in Petionville, Haiti. Ginou and Maggie were the portraits of Caribbean beauty: garden-fresh, café au lait (plus lait, moin café, s’il vous plait) with an upper class charm that could make a Haitian man resign his supremacy. The Eveillard women were teaching me something important about men. Men know that they have to give up something precious to own beauty. So, he lets her rule the roost.He holds his tongue. Whatever control he gives up will be returned through the admiration of other men.
So, if the price for their beauty was subordination, my mother’s would accept nothing less than a man’s life. She was a novel beauty. Her country roots clashed with city slick– a skyscraper stacked in a field of flowers. What some would find catastrophic in other women, made my mother more appealing. Instead of mourning the crushed flowers, you were comforted in knowing that somewhere in that towering edifice was your home. At five feet nine inches, she reigned in three-inch platforms and crowned herself with a braided bun. She wore burnt orange bell bottoms that hugged those muscular legs that she was generous enough to pass down to me. Thank you mama!
If a man was able to survive her lips and somehow made it out with his life after looking into her eyes, those cheek bones would certainly do him in. They sat high and vain: proof that even God sometimes lacks restraint. He could have saved them for a woman who has less; I was in awe, every inch of her giggled.
I don’t remember how much time had passed between that day and the last time I had seen my mother, but I was determined to make up for lost time. I stayed close. When she sat, I sat. She ate, I ate. And when she moved I grabbed a hold of her bell bottom and tried to keep pace. She wasn’t getting away from me, not again. I know for a fact that she did. I don’t remember her leaving; she must have waited for me to fall asleep. I do remember screaming.
It wasn’t uncommon in the seventies, maybe even today, that Haitian parents lived apart from their children. The children stayed with family in Haiti, while our parents built a better life in the States. We all made sacrifices. It would be years later until I understood that this sacrifice was not mine alone. I tried to fill in the gaps in my memory, once, by asking her, “Mother, why did you leave me?” The tower crumbled. She answered with tears. She had no words. Sometimes the abandoner suffers with the abandoned.
We’ve never talked about it. I prefer the sound of laughter. I prefer my memory. I am satisfied that today we look at each other in awe.
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