The Haitian

by whatsthatyousaymrsrobinson

I’ve been fooling around with this story for a couple of days now. Not sure how to frame it. Not sure how to write it.

 So I’m going to start with the Haitian. Although it’s not really about him, not at all.

I have a big soft spot for Haiti. I regard it as a gigantic privilege that I was able to visit in the course of my work a few years back. In 2009, before the earthquake. 

There’s a technical term for Haiti that people who work in my field have.

We call them shitholes.

Haiti is a shithole. Haiti has been so repeatedly, relentlessly, fucked for so long by so many people. Its history is tragic in the grand, classical Greek scale of things. The first black republic. An epic, historic, rebellion that lead to shit. You feel it when you’re there. You feel the desperation and the bravery and the terrible irony of it all. It’s bred into the bones of every citizen. It’s their birthright. They did the best they could with what they had. They were conspired against. Again and again and again.

It’s so bad that when I was there, my Haitian colleagues were looking back fondly on the regime of Baby Doc Duvalier. Yes, he was a murderous corrupt shit, they said. But at least the building codes were adhered to. That’s how low things had sunk.

In Haiti they don’t collect the trash. It piles up on the streets and then at night it’s set on fire. I remember standing outside this bar in Gonaives drinking beer and watching the trash light on fire.

If you’re staying in a cheap hotel they turn off the electricity at night. It doesn’t come on till six in the morning so if you want to get up before six and have light or hot water, you’re out of luck.

The slums in Port-au-Prince? I went there one day and there was a dead body. Lying on a pile of trash. It had been there for days. Nobody had come to collect it.

There are no trees. This is not an exaggeration. There are no trees. Almost every single one has been cut down to make charcoal, the only source of fuel for most people. 

I’m not from Haiti. I grew up in a nation with trees and electricity and somebody came to collect the trash. Yet I felt weirdly at home. Because the flip side of Haiti is that it’s a marvelous, vibrant, wonderful place. You never forget Haiti, once you’ve been there. It’s seared into your brain. The music. The art. The food. Somehow, they have managed to craft an excellent life, despite everything that conspires against them. I like places like that.

Which doesn’t really bring me to my office Christmas party, but I’m going there anyway. I work for a fairly buttoned-up organization that manages to have the craziest Christmas parties. They push the boat out in splendid ways—Bollywood dancing? Jamaican DJs? Why the hell not? We’ll go there, drink and dance like crazy and all agree not to mention it the next day.

The Haitian I’ve known for a few years now. We work in the same building so I occasionally run into him and I try out my amateur French and we talk about Haiti. I think he has noticed that I no longer wear a wedding ring, because I’m getting a little different vibe from him of late. It’s the how-about-it kind of vibe. At the Christmas party, several wines in, I invited him to have a drink with me. He said no. He had to work.

A week later, I run into him again. And he asked me how the party panned out, while he was working. I said fine. Fun. And then he said some words to me that I didn’t really understand. The Haitian’s English is good, but it’s his third language, and the question that he was asking me, his English fell into a hole. And I didn’t want to embarrass him by asking him to clarify, so I laughed and said fine, whatever. Happy holidays and all that and toddled off.

So now I’m going to stop talking about the Haitian for a bit—although I will get back to him—and talk about Christmas.

“The first year is the worst,” said a friend who’s been through a similar experience. “All those anniversaries.”

And for those of you who have been paying attention, this will be my first Christmas alone. Now I don’t necessarily attach much importance to Christmas, but my ex-husband and I had some quirky little rituals. On Christmas Eve, and because Jesus Christ was Middle Eastern, we would meander down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, where lots of Middle Eastern stores are. My ex would buy halva and eat it. On Christmas Day we’d walk into Chinatown and have cheap Shanghainese food and drink expensive Champagne. It wasn’t much, but we built up some traction, over the years.

Society expects single people to feel lonely around this time of year. And because I’m gullible, I’ve been waiting for that feeling to arrive. But it hasn’t. I should be thinking about my ex-husband and his girlfriend, the one he left me for, but honestly I can’t muster up enough energy to care what they’re doing. I should feel alone and sad. That’s the messaging, but I’m not feeling it. Just aren’t.

Yesterday, a friend, the mother of the Ethiopian, wrote me a lovely card, which read, “you’ve come a long way in the past year.” It’s true. Looking back on my year, looking back on my past Christmases I realize, emphatically, that I will choose the thrill of uncertainty over predictable comfort every single time.

Which brings me back to the Haitian.

I got back to my desk and realized what he’d been trying to say. He’d asked me out. The first man in decades to stand face to face to me and ask me out. For a drink. That’s what he was saying, but he flubbed it, and I misunderstood and blew him off.

Which is kind of funny, when you think about it. Because I don’t really care, either, that I blew the chance to go out with a cute Haitian. To go out on a date. To say yes to the first man who has asked me out.

In years.

It’s progress, no?