Remembering Haiti

Years from now, the sad eyed young woman in an orange dress, wrapped up against the Chicago cold in a blue goose down coat steps outside the Haitian Community Center and begins to walk to the water.

Every year the quiet ceremony remembering Earthquake Day, January 12, 2010, seems to get larger. 15,000 Haitians called Chicago home back in 2010. Thousands more do now.

In the Rogers Park neighborhood, where she lives, blocks from the Center, the huddled frozen souls of the day are are just beginning to fill the streets, the rising winter sun laughing at warmth. The woman offers up a tiny smile wondering if the tropical sun of the first 14 years of her life had warmed her bones enough to make it through all the rest of her coming winters.

Somewhere she remembers fragments of that day in 2010. The sweet, acid smell of death in the rubble of the streets. The pleading of the dogs. The piercing eyes of the rats. How she always seemed to be thirsty.

Seeing the giant ships steaming into the harbor. And then the clatter and confusion of all the different languages. Fire trucks that said Fairfax County Virginia, the honey toned drawl of the women and men inside. The sharp staccato voices of search and rescue crews with NEW YORK stenciled on the back of their shirts, a nurse wearing a blue baseball cap with a red C, just like Sammy Sosa, barking out orders in tones as flat as the mid western plains she had ridden through in the bus that brought her to this land of dancing snow.

Truth told, she’d often giggle when the snow came. Something about the snow she just didn’t quite believe,

If you were to ask her right that moment how she got here? How she made it when so many thousands did not? She’d never be able to answer. Because she really didn’t know. So much of the months that followed after the day in 2010 being blank. So much she didn’t know.

As she walked down to the water, the icy steam from the giant Lake Michigan rising on that future January 12, she remembered her Grandmother back in 2010.

First the earth began to tremble, the beams of the old hotel came down crashing, her grandmother trapped, her ancient Caribbean eyes still strong looking head on into the very soul of the little girl gripped in fear and saying to the child: “Always remember child, you were loved. Always remember you were loved.”

Now at the shore of the Lake. Back to her present time. She brushes snow off the bench and sits down. Today she will not be at work. Today her kids will have a substitute teacher.

A teacher. How can a woman with so many holes in her memory be a teacher?

The answer is that the drawings from the kids on her refrigerator at home, the notes from parents, and the smiles on the kids face when they come into her room in the morning, little kid sighs of safety, all of those things tell the story of what kind of teacher she’s become.

Her, a woman who still can’t remember so much.

A blast of icy wind swirls down across the beach from the north, and she digs out of her pocket a journal and a golden pen. She remembers the music played at the ceremony. Strange music. Not Haitian at all. A piece called Cavatina. But something happened when she heard it. Something shifted inside.

She looks at the pen, puts it to paper, remembers the music and begins to write. She begins to tell her story.

“My grandmother’s name was Elizabeth.  

She wore a ring speckled with real gold.

And sometimes after dinner, we’d be sitting out on the porch,

I’d hear the sound of the wind in the palm trees—and she’d let me take a turn

wearing that ring.”


Excerpted from Finding Work When There Are No Jobs 2013. Think Different Press. Chicago, Ill.

6 Responses to “Remembering Haiti”

  1. toritto Says:

    Just beautiful Roger. And a very timely post indeed. Best from Florida.

  2. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Thanks Frank–the week’s news seemed to call for this one.

  3. Tom Dickinson Says:

    Makes me shiver, Roger. Just like the photo at top…beautifully written. Thanks for remembering our brothers and sisters in Haiti. I wish everyone would have a chance to get to know them, there, in their country. You’ve captured a piece of that essential life force.


    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      If I captured something about the people of Haiti, it’s because I have a very good friend who knows the place and was able to paint a picture of the place for me. And the story came from that. This story would simply not exist without that friend. I’m just passing it along!

  4. Tom Cordle Says:

    Beautiful story, beautifully written. Oddly enough, it put me in mind of a ski-trip to Austria many years ago. I lived in Orlando at the time, and I was in charge of 52 people on that trip, some of whom had never seen snow, and several more who’d never been skiing. Just another in the never-ending examples of things we take for granted because they’re part of our own experience, unaware that millions or billions have no such frame of reference.

    On that note, I can’t imagine what it’s like to suffer through a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti or the hurricane in Puerto Rico and the ongoing shameful response. That your friend has survived what she’s survived and come out the other side speaks volumes about who she is.

  5. chicagoguy14 Says:

    The resiliance of the folks from that island just amazes me!

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