Tubing at the beach! My family and I were taking a vacation in Haiti vacation that summer, visiting all of the family my sister and I had never met. It was going to be the perfect day. I was five and had no idea what tubing was, but my sister was excited about it and I worshiped her, so I was wired too! We drove to Port-Salut in a rusty red Cadillac with the top down. It felt like heaven, surrounded by exotic languages, Haitian sun warming my face, warm air carrying the scent of spicy conch meat and grilled corn, drinking icy water from plastic pouches and my sister and me singing at the top of our lungs with the radio:
“And I said HEEEEEEEYYYY!!!! HEEEEEEEEYYY! I said HEY! What's goin' on?!”
When we got to the beach we quickly found a spot, settled in, and worked our way toward the tubing shack. As my Father finished paying for the rentals, my sister and I raced for the water, eager to play with these bouncy new toys.
After a while of playing with my sister I was exhausted, so I leaned my drowsy head back against the tube and flowed with the current. Somehow I got separated from my family.
As I’d soaked in the sun, listening to music playing on the sand, my tube had carried me away from them. I looked out into the distance anxiously and breathed a sigh of relief when I spotted my father. There were three beautiful Haitian women in bikinis talking to him and my heart skipped a beat when I saw him laugh. The only thought racing through my mind was “He's ours. He's mine.” I knew that I had to get them away from him. So paddled my way over to him and the whores; when I was close enough for him to hear my voice I started yelling “Daddy! Daddy!” ready to turn the cuteness factor up to 11. The women were startled but they still didn't get the
hint, so I decided to make it clear for them. I paddled circles around my father, trying to make a gap between the thirsty women and him, bruising their thighs with my tiny adorable feet beneath the surface. I made sure to apologize every time I hit them, acting as if my five-year-old brain hadn't been able to grasp the concept of balance yet. I yelled dull things about my time in the ocean incessantly at the top of my lungs, which I thought were believable for a five-year-old to marvel at.
“Daddy!” I said, “Look what I found!” as I held up a piece of coral. “What's it called? Sowwy!
Daddy—sowwy!—I think I saw a fish in the wata!
Daddy! Can you teach me how to swim?—Sowwy!
Daddy! Are we going to a westawant after this?—Sowwy!
Daddy! I love you so so so much! Thank you for—sowwy!—bringing us here!
Daddy! Aw we going to see gwandma tomowoah?—Sowwy!”
Tired from paddling and seeing that the women weren't getting the hint, I looked at them all directly with my big, brown, innocent eyes and asked my father (without losing eye contact), “Papa! Mwen pa konne medam sa yo. Ki moun yo ye? Yo zanmi ou?” Finally, they got the hint and waded away from the both of us in awkward fashion. I turned my tube to face my father. His eyes were stern. I stared back. My father was the glue of the family, the only beacon I could look to for reason and honesty. He and my mother fought all the time though; she had a fierce and erratic temper. They'd lock themselves in the basement at night and scream at the top of their lungs. My biggest reason for learning Creole was in the hopes of breaking the code they spoke in, to learn what could cause all that turmoil. I was not going to let him leave us if I could help it. I was not going to let him escape.
My heart pressed against my chest as I waited for his reaction. I knew that if he yelled, that meant that he wanted those women more than us. If he yelled it would be foreshadowing of a shitstorm brewing, one that would leave my mother, my sister, and me slowly drifting away from sanity. With him, we all had a chance for happiness. Without him, the three of us would be cursed, as all the women in our family seemed to be when it comes to forming relationships. After a few moments, I guess he read my fear, and his eyes softened and he looked off into the distance. He gave a nod and said, “Let's go see what mommy and Cassandre are doing.”
The rest of the day went perfectly, if a bit cliché. We all stayed together, we splashed at one another, and we looked into the ocean with my father's goggles to see if we could catch any wildlife. My sister and I took turns sitting in my father's lap as he paddled around. If a bomb went off at that moment, I don't think I would've cared. He felt like the world as I listened to the rhythm of his heart.
That fall, in the middle of the night, I heard noises from my room. I stumbled out and down the stairs to find my father with a suitcase, fumbling with the front door. I panicked and ran to him, tying his legs together with my arms as I had when I realized he couldn't stay with me on the first day of pre-school. He pried my arms from his body and swung open the door, revealing a stormy night above us.
“Daddy!” I whispered at the top of my lungs “Where are you going?”
“I'm sorry, I'm going to Boston. Whatever happens, don't tell your mother.”
Trying to hug him into submission, I replied “Please, please, don't go!”
Prying me off of his body again, he said “Stop! I have to go! Do not tell your mother.”
My heart fell out from under me as he pulled out of the driveway and disappeared. I watched it beat pathetically on our brick porch for a moment before it came to a stop. Then, wanting to erase any evidence of what had happened; I picked it up, held my nose, and swallowed it whole.
I wondered if I would ever see him again. I made my way up the steps toward my room like the living dead. I couldn't find any tears for him. I was too shocked. I never thought he would actually leave us.
The next morning, my mother came in from her night shift at the hospital. She found an empty bed and a missing suitcase. She sat me and my sister down in the kitchen and asked us if we knew where he was. I kept my head down as she burned holes into my bones with her stare.
“Do you know where he is?”
“He told me not to tell you.”
Her voice turned into a hiss and her eyes narrowed as she said “Si ou pa di m, map fout ou un calot! Ki kote li ye?”
“He went to Boston!” I quickly divulged. I felt guilty for not keeping his secret like he'd wished; blurting it out like a coward at the faint threat of a beating.
She immediately went to find him, after leaving our great aunt, Sѐ Odahlia, with instructions on how to get to school and when to pick us up. When she returned that night, he wasn't with her.
My heart began to harden a bit more when I realized I was like all the other kids in my school. I wasn't special, this happened every day. I wasn't in kindergarten anymore; it was time to grow the fuck up.
He came back after two weeks of being gone, but it was too late. My sister and I had already started building up intricate barriers to protect whatever parts of our hearts were still warm. I felt less safe in his arms. He wasn't a hero anymore. He was a normal man with normal flaws and normal weaknesses. Even so, every now and then I couldn't help but think back to our perfect moment at Port-Salut as we slowly swam and drifted lazily about the Caribbean Sea.