I spy your humble home
I see the tea towels fly
In a blinding flash
I see the years go by
Memories twisted around
Behind me now
Oh but I still remember
Do you see what I see?
Do you see what I see?
Driving through Port-au-Prince is a truly humbling experience. Less than two years since the earthquake, only a few months since we were here last and progress is slow, much slower than anyone would like. I look at Christian and register that grim fucking demeanor beneath his $300 sunglasses. Yeah, this is what your money is paying for. Another reported cholera epidemic has restricted Ana to the boat but Kate grips my hand while Dad rides up the front with Jason. We’ve kept the entourage down to single figures but the gangs of young men carrying barely concealed weapons has us all on edge. Kate’s other hand grips her hand bag where I know she is carrying her newly acquired weapon of choice. James has made it clear that she will have to leave it in the car when we get to the government compound but if it makes her feel safer right now then I am all for it.
Tent cities are alive and dancing with flapping laundry but the people are in a seemingly endless shuffle competing with the massive slow moving piles of rubble. We don’t have to stop for much in the way of traffic on our way to the government compound but our progress is certainly slow and steady as we negotiate slow moving foot traffic. We pass what might be loosely called a market square and I see a young woman haggling with a boy. She looks out of place, too well dressed for a local. He can’t be more than 16 but he has a weapon slung over his shoulder as he counts the wad of cash that she has just handed him. A young local girl stands nearby. Something about the woman looks familiar but I can’t place it. Something about the scene looks wrong but we can’t afford to get out and issue challenges. Not today, when we have so much at stake.
James meets us at the makeshift government offices that appear to be more permanent than they were ever intended. Security is crawling over the place, protecting God-knows-what or who. Sweating is not an issue in this heat but the effort to move my ass fundamentally unaided from Point A to Point B has me dripping buckets. Kate grips my arm, holding me up with a determined smile. It’s all a game, baby, all a fucking game.
Our meetings with the officials provide some levity to an otherwise tense trip. While we are concerned about how we will be perceived as adoptive parents, they are even more concerned about their ability to bow and scrape to the great Christian Grey and all of his millions. Not to mention the apparent deep respect they have for Casey-Grey Construction for their ongoing building program in the region. Who knew we had somehow been attributed rock star status? Our father is greeted with deference for his role in creating such handsome and successfully philanthropic progeny. Obviously our bloodlines don’t matter here.
James has been trying to grease palms and ensure a smooth path for us but the mere presence of Christian throws the bureaucrats into a spin as they all try to outdo themselves with their efficiency. They all but order Liana to bring Mattie in to have his passport issued on the spot. We are not allowed to see him while this is happening and we are told that a handover will occur at the orphanage in the next two days subject to the paperwork being approved by an official.
Kate and I are put through an interview process that is both rigorous and frivolous. We have to provide details of our assets, the safety of the treehouse, schools and health care. We also have to commit to bringing him back to Haiti at regular intervals. When they decided to hold us up with questions about what we would feed him, we start to hit a brick wall. In the end when Dad as our legal representation and Christian as our sponsor step into the fray, the wheels again turn rapidly and within a few hours, everything is signed off.
We haven’t been able to discuss with them the small ceremony that we have planned as trying to explain the second wedding is likely to raise more questions. Instead, we choose to keep everything very low key. Everyone we want at the ceremony is there except for Mia and Ethan who Christian has been unable to contact. Even Kate and Ana’s friend Jose has managed to fly in from New York to be our official photographer.
Bureaucracy over, we move our little party to the orphanage, eager to see Mattie face to face before we have to board the boat again. As the day has worn on my back as got progressively worse, and with the pain beginning to shoot down the backs of my legs I am almost at the point of asking for the wheelchair we are carrying in the back of the SUV. Only I don’t want Mattie to see me like that. Instead I let Jason know to have it ready and exit the vehicle under my own steam once again.
Liana appears at the door to the school room with a small crowd of dark skinned faces beside her. Looking every inch the fierce earth mother that she is, her face breaks out into a smile as the small figure beside her looks up to ask her a question. She grins and nods her head, a signal for the little man, my boy, my Mattie, to smile and run.
I don’t know if it is blind stupidity or paternal instinct but I see him start to move and I immediately drop down to my knees and open my arms and something totally unpredictable happens, like a fucking miracle from the angels. The sudden movement lifts whatever, cock-sucking vertebra has been locked shut on the nerves in my back. Jason and Kate both instinctively reach for me, obviously thinking that I am going to fall. Instead, I am perfectly in control as this little body hurtles itself into my arms.
“Papa! Papa!” Mattie throws his arms around my neck, almost taking the wind out of me. I squeeze my eyes shut trying to hold the emotion from erupting out of me. His little head buried in my neck, the moisture of his tears is enough to have every man surrounding me shuffling and coughing.
Jason and Christian look ready to haul me upright but I look up at them shaking my head. I can’t explain it to them right now but it feels like someone just pulled the knife out of my back and the surge of power in my legs is unreal. I’m not sure how long this effect will last but right now, in this moment, I’m taking full fucking advantage. I turn my attention back to my boy, who pulls back and grips my face between his little hands, peering into my eyes.
“Papa, have you come to take me home?” He asks in his perfectly accented English.
“Yes. Yes, baby boy, I’ve come to take you home.” I rest my lips on his forehead and feel Kate’s hand on my shoulder. Christian and Jason step in, placing a hand underneath each elbow to help me back up but I keep Mattie firmly in my grasp keeping him level with my face as I rise. Kate is crying for real as she strokes the back of his head and leans in to kiss him on the cheek. I don’t know if she is crying for Mattie or me, probably both knowing my wife. Mattie’s hand reaches out to her and brushes away the tears.
“Maman, ne pleure pas. Ne sois pas triste.” She smiles as she turns his little palm over and plants a kiss there.
“No, baby, Mama’s not sad. Mama’s crying because she’s happy. Maman pleure parce qu’elle est heureuse.” Mattie leans over so that Kate can take him into her arms and I am almost reluctant to let him go. Only that sexy as fuck French accent of hers convinces me that she’ll reward me later if I let her hold her son, now.
“Mattie, this is your grand-père.” Kate speaks softly and Mattie leans his little face around hers to take a peek at Dad.
“Bonjour, Mattieu.” Dad is so formal as he holds out his hand to Mattie. There is a moment of hesitation when Mattie looks at me with uncertainty. I nod at him and he reaches out and slaps Dad’s hand instead of shaking it before ducking back into his mother’s shoulder. Dad fakes an injury and Mattie peers out again, looking a little frightened before my father starts to chuckle. Soon Mattie giggles and reaches out to take the injured hand to place a kiss in his palm just as Kate had done earlier. “Thank you, Mattie.”
“And this is your Uncle Christian and my friend Jason.”
“Allo, Mattie. Comment ca va?” For once my brother wipes that supercilious dom face off and actually attempts to look human.
“Ca va bien, Oncle Christian.” Christian holds his hand out for Mattie to high five. Once more he checks with me if it is okay and I nod. I love this. I knew I wanted to be a father but I never thought it would feel so great, so soon. Mattie slaps his hand against Christian. Then he holds his hand out to Jason, unprompted, who steps in and connects with him with a laugh. “Allo, Monsieur Jason.”
“Hello Mattie, I’ve heard a lot about you. It’s nice to finally meet you.” Mattie immediately wriggles to get down and Kate lowers him to the ground. It seems that he has taken an immediate liking to Jason and he reaches for his hand and mine. Christian wraps an arm around Kate and Dad moves in to support me as we move out of the hot afternoon sun.
While we settle in for cool tea on the balcony an official arrives at the orphanage bearing Mattie’s newly minted passport and all our documents signed and approved. I look at Christian with some surprise. Somehow I think this personal attention has something to do with the little conversation he had with one of the many diplomatic attaches at the consulate.
“What did you promise them?” I can’t bring myself to sit down while I have this new-old mobility so I lean against the balustrade as we soak of the afternoon rays.
“What do you mean?” The prick doesn’t bat an eyelid. I share a look with James. We’ve paid for enough problems to go away here. Nothing that we couldn’t afford but enough to make the wheels turn a little more freely. The problem is that corruption breeds corruption and what was affordable a few months ago will have become subject to local island inflation. I want to know how many inches my brother dropped his trousers by.
“This process should have taken at least a week. What did you promise them to make sure that we could walk out of the country tonight if we wanted to?”
“First of all, I promised that we wouldn’t just walk out of the country. They want to talk about more work training programs through my investment and your business. Nothing that we wouldn’t have given them already.”
“But they knew that. So what else was put on the table?”
“Luxury hotels. Two. And a boat building yard.” He drinks down as I whistle.
“You okay with that?” The money is a drop in the ocean but hours have been spent talking through the issues with knowing where the money is going in a country that is still basically unstable.
“For Mattie? For you and Kate? No question. But if we want to ensure that this goes where it needs to then you might need to seriously think about setting up a proper satellite branch of Casey-Grey. The whole point is that any building program creates jobs and has a structured skills training program attached to it.” This is Christian’s way of asking if we can handle it. I look at James who shrugs.
“That won’t be an issue. Liana and I are here for the long term now. Will and TJ have stepped up into operational and project management roles. They can keep things ticking over Stateside. I’ve got a good core team here to handle the training and we can continue to rotate our crews through. We know that we have a largely female workforce to train up. Our guys are getting better at earning their trust and Liana has a good team that work with her now to support the female crews.” James has been here longer and more often than I have. I trust him to know what’s what. I also know that my chances of getting him back to Seattle for any long-term future diminish daily.
“So what are the issues?” Christian looks out at the group of children playing basketball as the afternoon sun starts to descend. James takes a moment to reply.
“Corruption, violence, muggings, abductions.”
“Well, there’s a shopping list of activity worth avoiding.” I stretch my legs out and pace down the length of the balcony. My need to keep moving is overriding my need to have this conversation. Any talk of abduction has me looking for Kate and Mattie who are down in the garden with my father and Liana.
“Keeping the kids safe is becoming a problem. Sex slavery is on the increase and the police are either powerless, turning a blind eye or worse, on the take.” James and Christian are eyeballing each other as if there is some solution the other can offer. Jason catches my eye and moves off down to the garden to the rest of the family. The conversation has us all on edge. “The aid agencies try to place the older kids that come in with good families but there are no guarantees. Those who are isolated are always at risk. These employment programs are sorely needed. Anything that will give them the ability to gain some independence. But they need the protection of a bigger family. We need to give these young people somewhere safe to fall.”
“Then I’ll fund whatever they need. If we have to build more secure shelters then tell me what you need to make that happen.”
“We can’t save everyone, Christian.” It would be typical of him to want to save the world. Sometimes he needs a reality check.
“No, but we can look after our own and once these projects kick off our family here in Haiti will be expanding. We’ll do what we can.”
The next day we arrive back at the small church. Christian has relaxed enough to allow Ana to attend for the few hours of the ceremony and we try to keep our presence as low key as possible, even with the cast of thousands that make up additional security team. We ask everyone to wait in the church for us. There are no attendants, no processionals, none of the normal ceremony. Instead, we walk across to the church hand in hand with Mattie between us and quietly join our families.
Will, James, TJ and Christian sing a very simple rendition of Can’t Help Falling In love With You as we walk up the aisle. Ana videos the proceedings, while Jose takes photos and our little family is joined in the eyes of God, our family and friends in this very humble space. When I look at Kate, her eyes are shining with tears. Being here and finally having Mattie is the icing on our perfect cake. The pain in my body has come and gone over the past twenty-four hours but my mobility has stayed. It feels so good to stand tall beside her, like the true beginning that was stolen from us by the bomb. When it comes to the vows, we have decided to speak freely and surprise each other. Kate begins;
Elliot, you came into my life when my future seemed so carefully planned and you up-ended my world. You know that I had my reservations about love, that it took some convincing on your part to make me see the love in your heart. There were times when you should have given up on me but I am so grateful that you didn’t. You have a heart the size of the Grand Canyon and you give so much to the people you love. What’s more, you have taken my tendency to flights of fancy and you have grounded me completely. I feel like we have lived a lifetime together already, so much has happened in such a short time, good and bad. But all through that time, you continue to show me that your love is real, unwavering and permanent. I thank God and your brother for bringing you into my life. You and Mattie. I promise to love you and stand beside you always. My love won’t waiver, no matter what life brings. You have taken ownership of my heart and I have no desire to have it back. Thank you, thank you for sharing this life and love with me. Thank you for teaching me to dream and for making my dreams come true.
By the time she finishes I’m wiping tears from my eyes like the girl that I am. Luckily the hormones have Ana sobbing so she’s covering my sniffing. I take up Kate’s hand.
Katie, I can’t begin to explain what happened to me the day I first saw you. I knew, without any shadow of doubt that my heart would begin and end with you. The rest was all about getting you here. You taught me the value of persistence, but you know, I would have waited forever for you to come around to my way of thinking. I love your beauty and intelligence, your caring and your compassion because they shine from that place deep inside, that you only share with the people closest to you. I love your fierce loyalty and yes, your tenacity. You have taught me to believe; to believe in myself, to believe in us. I love that you continue to hold a mirror up to the world and make people see. You’ve helped me to see my own potential. Every quality that I love about you will make you an amazing mother and partner for life. Thank you, Kate. I am grateful for the gift of you every day and I promise you that I will care for, cherish, honor and respect you and your heart. I love you; from the moment I first saw you until my last breath, I will always love you.
When I glance at the gathered crowd I see a few others wiping their eye. I drop Kate’s hand and walk over to my mother. Taking her hand I pull her to her feet. She reaches around and takes my father’s hand. Meanwhile, Kate has moved to her parents and guides them to the alter. When we are all together we take each others hands forming a circle with Mattie. Once the circle is closed Kate turns to Mattie and translates my next words.
“Mattieu, we would like to welcome you to our family. We wanted to ask Father Armand to join us before God. Are you happy to do that?”
Mattie looks at us all with his serious brown eyes and nods. When I look at Kate I am glad that we took the time to explain to Mattie what was going to happen today because I am not sure he would understand any of this, otherwise.
The priest asks God to bless and unite our family in a few short words and once more I find myself a little grateful for Kate’s faith. Somehow, this ceremony makes it more official than any government-endorsed documentation. When it’s all over Mattie is more than happy to be totally spoiled by his new grandparents. The day would have been perfect if Mia and Ethan and my grandparents could have been present but Christian has not been able to contact Mia and Grandma is recovering from a dose of the flu. Much to his disgust, Christian has had to leave them heavily guarded back in Seattle.
Later that afternoon, after a celebration lunch at the orphanage, we move the party back to the boat. Mattie has been settled into a room adjoining our stateroom and he is more than happy to curl up with a story and a cuddle from his mom and dad. After he is asleep, we join the others in the upper lounge for drinks. The party is in full swing with Kate’s dad regaling the room with his war stories so I take the opportunity to test my legs again and head out to the deck for a breath of fresh air. The sun has dropped and the stars start to appear in the clear sky. Soon the other boats around us will be nothing more than shadows. There are a few fishing boats heading home beyond where we are moored, which is about 200 feet from another luxury yacht. The inhabitants of the other boat seem to be keeping largely to themselves although once or twice we have seen some couples out on the deck taking in the sun. Right now, they seem to be having a party of their own, judging from the loud music, but yet again, no one is moving out on the deck.
“You happy?” Her hand brushes my shoulder lightly before she slips into the lea of my body.
“Delirious. You?” Wrapping my arms around my wife, I nuzzle her hair, inhale her perfume and count my blessings.
She raises her hand in front of her body and twists it from side to side. “Eh, so so.” She giggles as she turns to face me, her body leaning back against the railing.
“You’ve made a happy man very old, Minx.”
“Oh, you were old before you met me, babe.” She reaches up to kiss me. “How is your back?”
“For an old man.”
“Yeah, for your old man.” I lean in to give her another kiss when movement catches my eye from across the bay. I see a trio move out onto the deck of the other boat. Their movements seem quiet and furtive for party goers. I continue to kiss Kate but watch over her shoulder as they move to the edge of the deck. The position of their bodies indicate that they might be indulging themselves in a similar activity to ours. As they do, the boat’s engine starts and I pull away from Kate’s mouth. She smiles up at me and I am momentarily distracted when a gun shot rings out. I look back up and see two figures fall off the back of the boat as it pulls out of the bay.
“Fuck!” I can’t move quickly but Kate runs up on to the bridge to alert our captain. I turn to call Jason and Luke. “Guys, hurry up. I think I just witnessed a murder.”