Thursday, September 1, 2011

haitian men.

Mildred went to Florida and came back pregnant.

She always spoke of Michael, the man who brought her to America; her hand in his and their future in the other. Between Mildred’s departure from Haiti and becoming my babysitter, Michael became a passerby. After he left her, to fend for herself in this faraway land, she only remembered her beloved homeland in pain and pieces. I’d listen to these stories while she churned, on the stove, a delicacy I couldn’t pronounce. When she finally told me about the man that had broken her heart, we made the pact that we’d never speak his name again.

Six months later, after a vacation in the south, I’d asked Mildred about the bump that began to grow underneath her apron.

“Who’s the father?”

Mildred turned to my chubby nine year old body perched on a kitchen school and hissed, “That is none of your business child. Eh eh! Well, if you must know, it belongs to Michael.”

She couldn’t help but share her secrets with me, but this was a secret I would not have minded her hiding.

“Why Mildred? Didn’t he hurt you?”

She laughed and churned some more, “Haitian men are the womanizers of all womanizers. You can’t help but be drawn to their spells. They always come back though. He’s back and he will be back again.”

He never came for her. In fact, as Mildred’s stomach began to sprout her sadness grew deeper. She’d sweep about the house, turning one glistening eye to a corner she thought I couldn’t see. My heart sunk, because Mildred was great at the one thing I could never seem to do for her: Make her feel better.

I was the queen of stomachaches. After grasping my ear and calling me a baby, Mildred would concoct a special remedy for my ailment. My eyes flew open wide as she dropped lettuce into boiling water and sugar, calling it a tea. She was good for using clear glasses instead of mugs. The iceberg leaves would flutter about, becoming slimy, while I made a gruesome face at them. We’d sit on the steps and wait for her ride home as she would make sure I devoured the icky tea that I secretly enjoyed. About three months into her pregnancy she grew too weary to take the bus to work. This is when I met Jean.

Jean, her best friend since childhood, drove a rumbling 85’ Toyota and wore the most handsome smile I’d ever seen on an older man. He was a deep brown covered in mustache hair, always wore the same black Members Only look-a-like jacket and wore his compassion for Mildred on his sleeve.

I asked her once if she could ever love Jean. She shook her head no and went about her work.

At such a young age, I’d begun to understand the complexities of love. Much like vegetables and hard work, we (humans) aren't amicable with things that are good for us even in matters of the heart.

Jean was a good man. His cologne seeped from the front of the car as he spoke from a tongue I barely knew. He’d quote his philosophy often, which I wouldn’t understand till almost a decade later, “Males look for opportunity, men look for permanence.”

By the way he placed his hand on Mildred’s round protruding stomach and laughed heartily at her horrible jokes, I knew his words were coated with adoration. He took us to diners on Fridays, comforted in his new paycheck, he’d tell me I could pick anything I’d like. I dipped my spoon into a mile of sundaes before Mildred realized the sparkle in Jean’s eye.

One day everything came to a halt.

There was a heavy knock on my door, like a collector coming for his rent. Mildred answered the door, now eight months pregnant, facing an indignant and smug Michael on our doorstep. He placed his hand on her shoulder and looked towards her stomach.

“What do you want?,” she asked.

Michael sneered, “You and my baby of course. I’ve come into some money and I’ve come to take you both to where you belong.”

“And where is that Michael?”

“Florida of course.” He rubbed her cheek and leaned in closer. “Mildred you know mwen renmen ou. (I love you.) It doesn’t matter where I’ve been. I’m here now.”

Mildred breathed a loud sigh. Her shoulders suddenly resigned all her might and she almost pulled him into a hug, as the sound of a car horn broke their momentum.

It was Jean. He sat atop the hood of his rumbling Toyota, his members only jacket suddenly seeming like superhero spandex.

He walked towards the three of us, “Let’s go Mildred. You are no child and you will not be told what to do. “

I watched intently as I sipped my icky tea, nervous of Mildred’s answer. My parents pulled into the driveway with concerned faces. Everyone was at a standstill.

Everyone, except for Jean.

His eyes turned into slits as he peered at Michael, daring him to say he was anything more than half of a gentleman. Michael, a coward in his own right, said quickly and quietly, “I don’t have time for this.”

Mildred finally responded, “When did you ever?” She grimaced at the sight of his back leaving once more.

Mildred soon left our home and took a leave to take care of her new child.

As a teen, I’d witness a grayer Jean and happier Mildred window shopping at the mall; a little bouncing girl singing French nearby. It’s within this perfect picture, that I understood Jean's reference of the difference between a male and a man. A male chances opportunity, a man delves in permanence.

As I watched Jean grab Mildred’s hand and pull her to the next store, I heard the little female with pigtails call him “daddy.”

Jean was no missed opportunity and no fleeing hero. He was a fixture.

As every real man should be.

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