The last few posts have been about island life, and this post is anti-island life. Let me explain. For years, I’ve been a woman unto myself. Don’t get me wrong, the best people have made their way into my life and given me the gift of friendship, but I’ve also always had it simmering in my consciousness that at any time I may lose one of them. It was always necessary for me to be self-reliant and never get too attached to anyone. It was my habit to disconnect or detach myself from anyone who started to get too close… it couldn’t be helped.
When I was nine years old, my parents left Jamaica and moved to New York state to set up a house and a new life for us in Long Island (yet another island in the list of islands that have been home). My story is like that of millions of other immigrants across the globe, and it’s prevalent in Caribbean society. (I don’t pretend to be unique). One or both parents will leave children behind while moving to the “Land of Plenty” to build a new life for their family; they’ll work fourteen-hour days, buy a house in a “nice suburb” or a nice enough neighborhood and then send for their children to join them. I lived with my best friend and her family for a year (it’s called “Boarding”). Her family, naturally, became mine. My best friend’s mother, Aunt S, was a second mother to me and treated me like her very own. She introduced me to everyone as her daughter; however, I knew, as much as we loved each other, I wasn’t her very own and I was essentially alone. My parents were gone; it was my first disconnect. When my friends at school would ask me where my parents were, for the longest time I never told them.
In the year that my parents were setting up life in New York, they visited Kingston often. They would bring gifts, things that were unavailable or extremely expensive in Jamaica at that time: Reeboks, American apples, chocolates, clothes. God, I was so happy to see them… I remember when my father would come how I’d run and jump on him and hang on, and when my mother would visit I’d marvel at her clothes, high boots and thick red sweaters. (How often would we see women in boots in Jamaica? Never, unless they were visiting from “farin”). The moments of joy replaced all the sadness I felt at their absence.
My life was happy in school; like any other child, I’d run at recess, until I was sweaty; jump hopscotch, play Dandy Shandy and eat Chippies banana chips and suck on Kisko pops and red-syrup suck sucks and drink Kola Champagnes and Tings and laugh with my friends, but at night, I was alone. I shared a room with Tan and we’d talk half the night about dancehall songs we loved and shows and the boys that liked her and the one I secretly liked. Even then I was a night owl, and I’d stay up hours after she slept. I remember being afraid to go to sleep, because I feared going blind in the night. Sometimes, education is a bad thing (it was shortly after learning Beethoven went blind that I began to fear losing my sight). I’d face the wall, trying my hardest not to sleep, listening to the dogs outside howl at each other, the moon, the tamarind tree.
It’s funny, but when my parents, my brother and I reunited, we never once spoke of our year’s separation. (This is how my family works anyway, we pretend things never happened). Somehow, I think my parent’s migration to the States made me a stronger person. Stronger, but infinitely more pathetic. It became second nature to cut people out of my life, even people I loved. I refused to form strong attachments. I wouldn’t ask anyone for help. Once when moving, instead of asking for assistance, I moved a couch from the sixteenth floor to the ground floor by myself. I lifted it on one side, shoved it into the hallway, into an elevator and into the garbage room of my building. I thought I was strong, but I see now, that I was pathetic. Why not ask for help? My parents leaving then, meant that I could leave at anytime. It was never hard for me to be thousands of miles away or on any continent, because I knew what it was to face a wall in the dark.
I’m writing this post at 4am, because I see that as much as I tried to deny it, I need people. Last night, I thought I’d had the last straw with my roommate: the noises, the sniffling, the loudness, the temperature controls. I decided that it was time to move out and even sent my rental agency a move-out notice for March. Enough was enough I thought; despite the cheap rent, it was time to get out of a shared space. When I came home tonight, I told my housemates of my plan to leave in a month, and the genuine care, support and suggestions made me see that with a little help from them, I’d be able to continue for a while longer. We’ve been here for just a short time, but there’s an inexplicable feeling of camaraderie in Borderless House Oshiage. Plus, my rent’s crazy cheap, so I’ll continue to take each day as it comes, and when it gets to be too much, there are rooms I’ll sneak into and sleep in. As much as I love and adore Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock,” and thought for years that it pertained to me, I’m so grateful to realize that it doesn’t.
I appreciate that this isn’t me…but love it all the same: