The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 09-JAN 10

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DEC 09-JAN 10 Issue


Chay pa janm twop pou met li -
(The load is never too much for its owner)

The moment I realized a human being was growing inside of me the future became my greatest enemy. I feared for everything. I feared for my unborn child, I feared for Christian, and I feared for myself.

A Haitian boy stands in a hut with new concrete flooring, laid by missionary workers. Photo by Kaitlin Failing.
A Haitian boy stands in a hut with new concrete flooring, laid by missionary workers. Photo by Kaitlin Failing.

Was I prepared to raise a child? Was I prepared to raise a child alone? How would I pay for school? How would I pay for college? What about Christian? How would this affect his future? How would this affect our future? I wondered if there was a decision to be made without consulting him. Until I could answer the last question Christian would have to remain in the dark.

Each day was a blur. I followed my normal routine but was never fully aware of what was going on around me. It was like a hazy dream. I was a zombie spiritlessly walking among the living. And as the weeks progressed I felt more pressure to take action. I was, however, fortunate enough not to have morning sickness.

One night I lay in bed, my spirit conflicted by my condition. On average I was only sleeping three to four hours each night. With a weary spirit and a body exhausted by pregnancy and stress, my eyelids grew heavy. Suddenly, Christian appeared. He stood silently at my bedroom door. The room was dark, so I could not see his face clearly. Stunned and unsure if he was really there, I did not know if I was dreaming or simply hallucinating. I placed my right hand on my stomach protecting our unborn child and waited for him to speak.

“Nadja, what’s wrong?” I could hear his voice, but I still could not see him clearly. I tried to focus on him. Unsuccessful, I squinted to see if his mouth was moving but could see nothing. I came out from under the sheets and sat upright in the bed. I wondered why he had not entered the room. Then I wondered if it was him at all or a spirit that looked like him. I remained silent.

“Nadja, the load is never too much for its owner.” He had not budged. It was dark. I could not see him but I knew it was him. It was his voice. It was his body.

 I rubbed my eyes hoping that when I opened them I would see him clearly, but when I opened them he was gone. Frightened, I placed my left hand over my right hand, further protecting the baby. The next morning I woke up and realized it was a dream.

I was no longer frightened because as Haitians we learn from an early age that there is the mortal world and the spirit world. We are taught that our ancestors come to us in the form of spirits to guide us through life. When we comply with the spirit world we are blessed with peace and prosperity, but when we defy them there is disharmony.

The spirit world was communicating with me to help me with my dilemma. But I was afraid. And, guided by my fears I could not accept what the spirit world was telling me.

That morning my mother came to my door. She looked at me and said, “What’s wrong with you? You have been quite strange the past few weeks.”

I looked for a response that excluded the truth but was not a blatant lie, “I have been thinking a lot about Christian.”

My mother looked at me as if not completely convinced. Then her expression changed to one of acceptance. As she walked away she said mockingly, “I told you, with love comes suffering.”

I was relieved that she did not suspect anything. But it was only a matter of time before she would. Haitians are very observant. Life’s challenges have transformed us into psychologists, physicians, and psychics. This morning was my mother’s failed attempt at psychology. But what she failed to recognize through psychology she would surely figure out through biology. Haitians are notorious for identifying changes in your body. When you gain weight your husband must be making you happy. Your breasts are bigger therefore you must be menstruating. My mother could look at a woman’s neck and determine if she was pregnant; I never understood that. And when psychology and biology failed, there entered the spirits.

As I looked at my bedroom door I was again haunted by the spirit that visited me that night. I was worried. I wondered if it would return. What if my mother had received a visit from the spirit world? Perhaps that is why she came to my room this morning. Haitians are a superstitious people. We receive signs, messages, and warnings all the time. An itchy palm means you will soon receive money. When your ears ring someone is talking about you. It was only a matter of time before my mother, or someone in our circle, dreamed of fish. Dreaming of fish meant someone was pregnant.

Once again, I was filled with anxiety.

That night I received another visit from the spirit. Christian appeared in my room. He stood at the door which was ajar. Just as the first time, I could not see him clearly but could hear him say, “The load is never too much for its owner.” He disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.

As I approached eight weeks, I knew I had to make a decision. The spirit had not visited me in a few weeks. Time was working against me. I grew resentful of my condition. My belly was now just my belly. I now regarded the life inside me as an invasion by a foreign entity. I had decided to terminate the pregnancy.

The night before the termination Christian appeared once again. This time I could see him clearly. He smiled and said, “The load is never too much for its owner.”

I summoned the courage to respond, “I can’t Christian. I am doing this for all of us. Life in Haiti is too difficult. I cannot place this burden on my mother and I won’t burden you. You are destined for great things. Now is not the time for us to have a child. I know God will forgive me.”

Christian smiled. His smile was warm. It was as if he had not heard my response. Or perhaps he chose not to acknowledge it. “Nadja, fear is what prevents us from receiving what we truly deserve, from being who we really are and from having what God has planned for us.” He disappeared.

I woke up the next morning with my right hand on my belly. Once I realized that my hand was protecting my unborn child I immediately removed it. My mind was made up.

I stood next to the bed trying to decide what I should wear. Suddenly, I felt my body thrust forward as if a hand had shoved me from behind. My mouth watering at each corner, I began vomiting all over the bed and parts of the floor. Panicked, I looked at the door for my mother. There was no sign of her. Relieved, I inspected the room to survey the damage. Before I could decide how I would get rid of the evidence, the urge to vomit took hold of me once again. I rushed to the bathroom and kneeled beside the toilet bowl as if in prayer. I thrust my head into the toilet and all the food and drink in my system started to come up. Tears rolled down my face as my stomach muscles tensed to launch all its contents through my throat and out of my mouth. I felt like my body was turning against itself. My muscles ached. There was a burning sensation in my throat from the acidity. My mouth was sour. The vomiting was followed by several seconds of convulsions but there was nothing left in my system. Suddenly, I began coughing up the residue that was trapped in my throat. When it was finally over I mustered up the strength to take a deep breath. Newly alert, my eyes bloodshot red and watery, tears streaming down my face and my body drenched in sweat, I raised my head and turned to the door to check for my mother. There she stood, hand on her hip.

Calmly shaking her head she said, “With love comes suffering. When are you going to tell Christian?”

Filled with shame, I lowered my head, faced the toilet, and began surveying its contents to avoid my mother’s judgment. There is a saying, “If you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans.” It was then that I realized the spirit world had its own plans for me. 


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 09-JAN 10

All Issues