It was a beautiful summer night, there was a full moon and thousands of stars in the dark blue sky. The wind blew gently and made me shiver a little, but unexpectedly it was comforting and welcoming. Perched on the roof of our orange home, I wanted to remember the evening meals, the kompa dances, the advice of my aunt, my mother’s hugs, my fights with my cousins, our gales of laughter, the pain and the tears we shared. At that moment I remembered the Haitian saying my grandma used to tell me, that in a lifetime a woman would face “Set doulè nan sèt konba,” seven pains through seven fights. I was 15 and I had already faced all the pain of the world. I was 15 and I was already tired with life and wanted to end it.
Growing in my huge family along uncles, aunts and cousins, I was an outgoing and confident kid; the youngest girl in my home, I was the spoiled one, but yet, with all the love and support that my family gave me, deep in my soul I always felt like I was missing something, that I was not enough. Maybe it was because how constantly my family would remind me that I was born only to replace my sister that my mom lost 2 years before my birth. Maybe it was because how constantly teachers would remind me that living with a single mother meant I didn’t really belong to a family, since families are formed with a mother, a father and their kids and not with a mother, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Or maybe it was because how constantly my “friends” would remind me that I would be better off dead because of all the damage that I had already lived through.
It always seemed to me that my story started when I was ten, and Haiti’s earthquake shook the orange house. The earthquake ended within seconds but led to never ending consequences. It wasn’t only our house that was fissured but our family too, since my mom died as a result. Her death left an empty space in my life and our home. Suddenly I was different. I was an orphan, the girl with PTSD, the girl who couldn’t stay in class because of a panic attack, as if all my high honors never existed, as if in the previous term I was never nominated best student in my class. Suddenly everyone knew me, and instantly I found myself having to be aware of my tiniest move. I understood that to fit in I needed to be someone else. I needed to hide everything I was feeling, so I started to turn inward.
After my mother’s death, my aunt, a strong woman who made enormous sacrifices in order to take care of me, sent her son away to his father in order to take care of me and her brother’s daughter. If I never knew what selfless meant before, I learned it from her, when tired after a long day of work she would come home to make dinner, help with homework, and hang out with us, as if she were the real life wonder woman. She taught me to be responsible and independent because, as she liked to say, “The only person who will always have my back is myself.”
Five years later in the backyard of our empty house, I was waiting for my uncle to revise the speech that I wrote for my aunt’s funeral, “Now that she left me all alone in this world, I will never forget that she died because she chose to pay my school tuition instead of going to the hospital using the money,” I wrote. My uncle looked at me to tell me that I must remember the sacrifices they made for me and that I will never be left all alone.
My uncle went from being a free single man to a father of an insecure, troubled teenage girl. Like the orange house, I was losing my light and warmth, but even in the darkest and toughest moments my uncle always made sure that I was standing on my feet and ready to go forward. The morning following the funeral he made sure that I woke up and went to school to take my exams. When I arrived home after my curfew, he would stand on our porch waiting for me, so I learned to respect deadlines. He always made sure that I was following the rules and meeting all my expectations, and even going beyond them, because we are never too broken to surpass ourselves. When I wanted to surrender and fly to the unknown, he helped me stay grounded.
Maybe because I was raised by different people, I always think of myself as separate pieces, never whole. I never knew if I should be reckless or reserved, pace myself or surpass myself. If I should trust and rely on people or if I should be self-sufficient. Because either way I would contradict my own self. The way I was raised made me who I am, but I feel like I never had the time to focus on one thing, or be just one person, as if I were a puzzle. Pains can tear us apart and leave us with scars, but they also teach us lessons. As I am healing from mine, I am looking forward to a day where I won’t be afraid to be reckless nor reserved, a day where I will finally find myself.