Some twenty years since my mother left Brooklyn and moved to Queens, but I never met Kate in the building.
And yet, she had been living there with her mother for many years prior to renting her own studio at wealthier Jamaica Estates.
I met Kate’s mother first—we shared an interest in Haiti’s political drama—and later she introduced me to her daughter.
We became instant friends, Kate and I, sharing the love for good food, exotic music and endless conversations. She took me to restaurants and movie theaters, and I took her to jazz concerts at the College nearby. Listening to Michael Bubblé on the car radio, we often traveled through East Village, stopping at a Thai restaurant to degust Thai beers. Michael Bubblé… Good stuff. Kate has refined musical taste.
On the 4th of July last year, after the fireworks display in Astoria, by the Hudson River, we went for a long ride in her car on the highways of Long Island, listening to Brazilian jazz, flamenco and afro-Cuban compositions. No fixed destination. We ended up on Jones Beach, where we ordered grilled tuna, sautéed vegetables, and some bass at a small restaurant. While the local rock group played noisy and ragged music, I had a glass of wine, she had a beer. As usual, she paid the bill.
I could never afford to pay my friend Kate a meal, a movie ticket or a jazz concert. Those were economically-challenged times for me—no money for leisure activities.
I promised her a dinner at my house.
“What do you say? A tasty paella with lots of shrimps and mussels, an avocado salad, a mango for dessert…”
“And Sangria!” she exclaimed.
“Don’t forget the Sangria.”
“We’ll listen to Alicia Keys on my small stereo.”
On Jones Beach that night, we talked about Saving Face, a movie adaptation of a novel by a Chinese woman who happened to live in Flushing, Queens. Kate said she knew about the movie; the plot revolved around a Flushing family facing a double taboo: the mother pregnant outside of marriage, the daughter a lesbian. A shadow passed over Kate as she spoke, and I wondered for a second whether Alice Wu, the Chinese woman author and movie director, knew Kate and her mother.
For this was their story.
After dinner, Kate gave me a book titled “Small Miracles of Love and Friendship.” She’d marked her favorite passage: Like magnets we are drawn to people and places that will complete us in some special way. And this was true for Kate and me.
I asked her when I would see her again.
“Tu as tes démons et moi les miens,” she answered. You have your demons and I have mine.
She was right, I guess. Despite all that we shared—our interest in good music as well as movies and food…, our desire for endless, aimless rides, as well as conversations about Haiti (our native country) and the United States (our adopted country)—we each had preoccupations and needs that separated us irreparably. I didn’t know of her battles. She didn’t know of mine.
Kate is gone now; gone from my life.
Her mother says Kate is angry at me. Is it because I didn’t visit her after the minor car accident? Have I e-mailed her the wrong lesbian joke? I don’t know.
For weeks now, I’ve been trying to make amends for an unknown fault, leaving messages on her answering machine.
Kate might be gone forever, and I have no other friend but her.
Kate, je me souviens.
New York, September 15, 2010
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Born in southern Haiti, in the province of Les Cayes, Maryse Noël Roumain immigrated to the United States at the age of 19. She studied Psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris, at Columbia University (Teachers College), and at the University of New York (Graduate Center), where she obtained a Doctorate in Developmental Psychology.
Maryse has worked for the New York City Board of Education and the New York State Education Department and subsequently, in Haiti, for education projects sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development and the Inter-American Development Bank. She’s also served as a Counselor to the Pre-school Department at the Ministry of Education in Port-au-Prince.
She’s been dedicated to a “better Haiti” from the age of 20, in Paris, New York and Haiti. Maryse is deeply involved in transformational politics to make the world a better place. She became a non-fiction writer to reach out to people all over. A published author, Maryse blogs at www.maryseroumain7.wordpress.com where she shares short autobiographical stories, biographies and political commentaries. Her longer works include L’Enfant haïtien et le bilinguisme, Evocations of My Past: Sketches of a Haitian Woman’s life (Evocations de mon Passé), Anacaona: Ayiti’s Taino Queen, and Haïti: Une Transition Bloquée.
She is on Facebook.