Help I’ve done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And the worst part there is no one else to blame
Be my friend, hold me
Wrap me up, unfold me
I am small, I’m needy
Warm me up and breathe me
Port-au-Prince has changed a great deal since I was here last. The taxi races through the streets and I can still see the marks of devastation which are now punctuated with pockets of development. My first aim is to get to a hotel and then to locate the building team. I would like to freshen up from the charter flight which managed to churn my stomach on top of a relatively sleepless few nights. I am sure that I don’t look too flash even for a cashed up US national.
The pain of our argument hasn’t subsided but I am trying to push it aside for the greater good of being here. I need this, to put someone else’s needs first. To work hard without having to think. To contribute and connect. To forget. Although merely being here will make that impossible. Pretty big talk when you have never felt so small.
The taxi drops me off and I check into the hotel, take a shower and then take my phone out on to the balcony to make a few calls. You would think I would have had enough of the views after the sixteen hours I spent sitting on the balcony in Barbados, thinking about our fight and trying to work out what to do next. I felt I now had a plan, courtesy of the gift that was left on the bed of our room while I was wallowing in sorrow.
He must have gone to rescue my phone from the pool while I was busy running around the streets of Bridgetown like a madwoman searching for him. It would have taken some time, to extract and dry out the SIM card, replace the phone at a local shop and then reload everything. I can only assume that he sneaked in while I was out on the balcony, to leave it on the bed with a note saying to call him when I was ready. I hadn’t felt ready yet.
Thinking had taken up a significant part of my energy in those first few hours, most of that had been about reminding myself to breath in and out. After a while I welcomed the pain, it reminded me that I was still alive. I was waiting for him to walk back in that door and when he didn’t I had to make some decisions or I knew I would never move off that balcony again.
Elliot’s words had challenged as much as they had hurt. He was right about everything. Except perhaps throwing my phone in the pool but he was man enough to right that wrong. I need to grow. I need it for me. I need it for us. I could call him, beg him to come back and he probably would for a while. Or I could break it off permanently and walk away with my pride. The real challenge would be to push pride aside, learn how to be more than just a spectacular lay for him. Step up and have a real adult relationship. A partnership that is based in trust and friendship. Where we make decisions together, support each other and stop using sex as a way to mask our disagreements. But to do that required a face to face conversation because if I couldn’t ask him for that without trying to seduce him then there was no point in holding on to him. We would only keep hurting each other.
So I had not called. Instead I had arranged the charter, tried to call Ana at least half a dozen times with no success and packed my bags to leave. When I checked the phone I saw that he had given me everything that I would need to be able to find him. Numbers for all of the building crew, even numbers for his parents, Mia and Christian. There was no excuse for not calling him but I needed to see him in person to talk. The phone just wasn’t going to do it. So instead of calling him, I dialed James who gave me instructions to get to the orphanage.
His smile is a welcome sight as the car pulls up outside a small church with a larger building site behind it. I can see that the building is well on the way to completion with local workmen moving hither and yon, carting materials, painting and gardening. His arms wrap around me.
“Beautiful Kate, great to see you.” James’ smile is genuine and his skin bronzed from the sun. He is even more gorgeous in the daylight and we fall into easy conversation as he takes me through the features of the site. Finally we stop outside the front of the church. “Does Elliot know you are here?”
“No, I wanted to surprise him. We had a fight.” I can’t quite look James in the eye.
“So you left him in Barbados?” His hands are on my shoulders and he leans down trying to catch my eye. His question makes my snap my head up.
“What do mean? I thought he was here.”
“Why would you think that?”
“He left me. He walked out. I thought he was coming here with you.” Tears are threatening again as I realise my mistake. I should have called him. “I just assumed he would be here.” Oh, God, I have no idea where you are or what to do.
“Kate, Kate, it’s okay. We will look after you. Let’s just call him.” His arms are around me and I shudder into his shoulders as the tears take over. I have no idea how long we stand there, James stroking my back and cooing platitudes to calm me down. He is gentle and strong and only reminds me of Elliot, causing more tears to fall. I barely register the sound of children approaching, their laughter and gentle cadence of French accents floating through the air.
A bell starts to toll from the church steeple and I pull away from James as the children are shepherded past us into the church by the most beautiful looking woman I think I have ever seen, her tanned legs peeking from below the simple white cotton skirt. She is wearing a summery yellow tank top with colorful scarves tied around her face. The colors accentuate her dark skin. Her smooth dark hair is pulled back into a simple ponytail that reminds me of Ana, and her deep brown eyes shine as a broad smile lights up her face. James breaks away from me to take her hand as she approaches, kissing her hand before pulling her in to kiss her face.
“Liana, I want you to meet someone.” His voice seems to have dropped another register to dripping sex and Liana responds to him accordingly. “This is Kate, Elliot’s girlfriend. She has just arrived from Barbados.”
Liana smiles at James and then turns to me. “Kate, it is so delightful to meet you.” She has a lilting French accent that is even softer than the children. Her smile widens further and she leans in to kiss me on both cheeks with a firm but gentle embrace. “Is Elliot not with you?”
“It seems that I have made a mistake. I thought that he was here.” I feel mortified with the embarrassment of having come all this way. I quickly wipe a stray tear from my cheek, hoping that no one has noticed. Elliot, where are you?
“Well, we will just have to make the most of your being here without him then.” There is no judgement, no malice in her voice and I am so grateful I could die. “Children, come and meet Miss Kate.” She issues instructions in French as well as English and the children clamor around, laughing and smiling. They range in age from 14 years down to 3. Their enthusiasm and laughter is contagious and I find myself returning their smiles as they try to shake my hand and say hello in English, calling me Miss Kate as Liana has instructed.
The bell tolls again and it seems it is time to move into the church. I haven’t been into a church since I was a school girl but two little girls grab my hands and usher me through the doors. Before we enter Liana and the girls all pull out scarves to cover their shoulders. She unties a scarf she has tied around her waist and offers it to me. Taking it gratefully I wrap it around my shoulders and then step into the cool dark cavern of the vestibule.
The rituals come back to me quickly as we dip our fingers in holy water and genuflect, crossing ourselves before taking a seat in the pew. James is with us and he seems at home being here with Liana and the children. They give each other a shy smile as they settle down on either side of six of the smallest children. I sit in the pew behind with another half dozen youngsters and almost don’t notice as TJ comes to take a seat at the other end. Will has also entered walking to the front with a young dark skinned priest to pick up the guitar. The church is dotted throughout with a few other locals, mostly women.
The mass begins and I feel it all coming back to me. The prayers and hymns may be in French but the tone is universal as I recognize each marker of the ceremony. For the first time in a long time I clear my mind and really pray, fingering the cross around my neck. Dear Lord, please forgive me and grant me the humility to forgive him. Let him be safe and look after Ana. Don’t let her be too sad. Remind her, please, that I am here. Thoughts of our fight flood back to me, of how much his words hurt, not because he was being mean but because they are true. My sheltered upbringing, my continuing record of high achievement, my status within my family and Seattle society has almost guaranteed that I would become exactly what he accused me of. Exactly what I have always claimed to hate and mistrust.
Taking a deep breath I try to gain some perspective. If I am going to learn anything from this experience then I can’t dwell on my sadness. Perhaps being here now without him is exactly what I need to do. If this is your plan, then I will accept. A small hand creeps into mine and I glance down through my tears at the small round face of the little boy next to me. He must be no more than four years old, with large soulful chocolate brown eyes peering through thick dark eyelashes. He does not smile but strokes my hand softly as if he can feel my sadness. I am humbled by his empathic touch.
The church, the mass, the children are all working their magic and the ache in my heart eases as my breathing evens out enough to actually fill my lungs for the first time in 24 hours. And this little angel next to me keeps touching my hand and bringing me back from the darkness.
After the mass James and the boys go back to the building site promising to meet me afterwards for a dinner at the makeshift buildings that the children are living in. I go with Liana to help her prepare lunch and then take the afternoon lessons. My angel is firmly fixed at my side and sitting in my lap as I read a story before the younger children take an afternoon nap. They don’t mind my rusty French and my need to read in English. Liana has set the older children to a task of weaving baskets while they watch over the young ones and she and I take a cold drink and sit out on the porch.
“I take it that you and Elliot have had a disagreement?” Liana takes a sip of her drink and waits while I compose an answer. She is not prying, just concerned.
“Our whole relationship has been a series of disagreements it seems.”
“But you love him.” A statement, not a question.
“Very much, but we fight all the time. I am not sure if love will ever be enough.” More damn tears.
She is quiet for a long time, letting me cry in silence.
“Will you fight for your love?” Her question calms me. Will I? Will he?
“Yes.” We have a long way to go but yes, I will fight for him. I am fighting for him. I just never thought I would be fighting myself.
“What did you disagree on?”
“Everything, nothing. It is not so much what but why?” She says nothing. Just looks at me. “Our relationship has been very…” I am embarrassed by this as I sit here with this young woman who is so obviously a very spiritual person. I blush.
“You have a very strong physical attraction to Elliot.” Head down, I nod. “This is not surprising, Elliot is a virile man. But you are a good match for him I think.”
“How do you know?” I am trying not to be worried by her comments. Is she yet another woman who has slept with Elliot? I look at her and as if reading my mind she shakes her head.
“No, it is not like that. I can see the love in your eyes, you are resigned to it but there is also a fire. Love does not have to defeat you, Katherine. You are a strong woman. You can use this to your advantage, I think.”
“I don’t want an advantage. All of my life has been advantage.”
“Ah, I see, so you have learned not to trust. Yet, to love someone completely trust is essential. So you don’t trust your physical attraction?”
I shake my head sadly. “No.”
“I think that together you burn too hot, no?”
“Yes.” I seem to have been reduced to whispered monosyllabic responses.
“The strength of any relationship is a connection of the mind when you can see the world through each others eyes, even if you are not always in perfect agreement. Perhaps you need time to focus less on the heart and more on the soul and the mind. To build a strong friendship together.”
Her wisdom both startles and warms me. Elliot and I fell into each others arms almost straight away. He knew this was going to be a problem and he tried several times to slow us down. In my youthful arrogance I disregarded his doubts and drove us to this. We don’t know how to be friends, all we have is this hot and heavy fire that is destroying us. Has it already destroyed us?
“Does he know you are here?” A good question, given I thought he had left Haiti.
“I don’t know. I left a message for my parents before I left. He has my phone number. I guess if he cared he would have called by now.”
“Then we must assume that he is on his way here. If not then you will stay anyway and let Haiti work its magic.”
“I don’t know where he went after he left me. If he didn’t come to Port-au-Prince then I don’t know…”
A shadow falls across us and I look up. He is here and the breath leaves my body for a moment. Liana stands and offers her cheek to his kiss.
“Liana, how are you?” Oh, how I missed the warmth of his smile, the depth of his voice.
“Elliot, it is delightful to see you, but we will catch up later at dinner, no? Right now I think that you need to speak to your Katherine.” She places a hand on my shoulder. “Be gentle with your heart, Katherine. A fine wine needs a gentle but firm hand and time to age naturally.”
Her white skirt sways gently as she moves back inside the building leaving us alone. I cannot stand, I know that my legs will give way. He is here, he is here.
Elliot sits down next to me and takes my hand and the tension leaves my body. I can’t look at him.
“Katie, I’m sorry, I …” Stop!
“No,” I cut him off. “Don’t you dare apologize, Elliot. Please don’t.” His mouth shuts and he sits back in his chair. The look on his face is defeat and I want to take that away but I need to compose myself. Taking a deep breath I begin to speak. “I don’t want your apology because I don’t deserve it. You were right, about Ana, about me. I needed to hear it, even though it hurt. I need to step back from this, from us.”
Horror has spread across his face. “Kate, no. Babe, I was just so scared that you would say enough to Ana to ensure that Gail and Jason would both lose their jobs and that Christian would never forgive me. I never meant to hurt you. I’m so sorry.”
“Elliot, stop. For all of those reasons, and so much more you were right. I have a lot of growing up to do. And I want us to work, more than anything in the world. But our physical relationship is getting in the way and not every problem should be solved with sex, no matter how good it is. I just hope that you will give me another chance. That we can learn how to be friends first.”
His hand is in his hair before I finish my last sentence. I don’t mean to frustrate and confuse him. I just want to do the right thing. I watch him anxiously.
“You completely blow my mind, Katie. I don’t know if I can be near you and not want to lose myself inside you. But babe, I will do anything to make sure this works. If this is what you need then…”
“Elliot, don’t we both need this? You tried to make me slow down and I didn’t listen to you. Well, you were right. I want to be with you forever, and I want you to like me.”
“Honey, I do like you. Don’t think that I don’t.”
“No, I know that you love me, but I am not sure that you like me. I am not sure that I like myself. And I want to.”
Just then I catch a movement from the corner of my eye. My little angel has woken up and is staring at Elliot like he is an intruder. We have been holding hands, Elliot stroking mine in much the same way that my little friend did in the church and it seems that he is fixated on this movement. I pull my hand away from Elliot and reach out to the little boy who runs to me and climbs on my lap, snuggling in with his arms wrapped firmly around my waist. Elliot and I stare at each other over his head both shocked by this display of affection. Then we both laugh as I hold this little urchin close.
Liana emerges from the school room to announce that it is time to prepare for dinner. Elliot stands up and takes my hand to lift me up. I keep my little friend in my arms and the three of us move, hand in hand, inside to help.