The earliest sound I can remember is the sound of the wind stirring through my grandmother’s house in St. Marc, Haiti. It would wend its way over the mango tree just outside her bedroom window, up and around the tin roof–making a strangely comforting rustle as it went–before landing gently on my nose bearing the smell of sea salt and endless fields of sugar cane.
In Haiti, the wind takes on almost human form: Often, it comes ashore as a soothing, cooling breeze just off the Caribbean Sea. But sometimes, it morphs into a lwa and bears down on the island with the wrath of the gods–forcing humans and animals alike to take cover.
When I was a child, I thought I controlled the wind. It came and went at my call, just like any well-trained pet. It loved and soothed me when I needed it, and it served as intermediary to the unseen elements that were a natural part of my life. I heard and felt it everywhere I went.
But on the morning of the day I left Haiti, the wind was nearly silent. I stood on the tarmac feeling the heat rise up to push me away, and I was just as eager to go. The journey before us promised so much more than my six year old mind could imagine, but even I knew something exciting was about to happen: We were moving to New York.
“You’re going to be a good girl for your mother and father, you understand?” My grandmother said. “You’re going to show them I raised you well while they were gone.”
I nodded politely, just as I always did when my grandmother told me to do something. But my attention was not on her words. I was awestruck by the giant white beast in front of me. Its engines roared with power as they sucked in air and spat out the wind with a wheezing, metal-infused groan that both frightened and thrilled me. I imagined myself being pulled by the wind slowly, inexorably, into the big spinning blades.
“S’il vous plait!” a flight attendant shouted as she attempted to marshal passengers up the ramp into the dark, gaping mouth of the waiting airplane. “It is time for people with tickets to come take their seats. Everyone else must go.”
No one listened. It seemed all of St. Marc had come to the airport to see us off, and each person would have his turn. Our friends and family chatted and laughed and recounted when-you-were-young stories that always ended badly for me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my brother running around and around the crowd with his friends, generally making a pest of himself. My two oldest sisters were getting words of advice from an elderly neighbor, while the three younger ones looked on with boredom.
We were ready for the journey to begin.
Finally, my grandmother straightened the ribbons in my hair one last time and tugged unnecessarily at my navy-blue pleated skirt. Then, she let me go. I practically skipped across the tarmac buoyed by the weight of the wind at my back as it pushed, teased and prodded me forward.
I looked back at my grandmother just once and saw her tears. In a culture that looks to its young to care for the old, she was to be left all alone. First, the wind had swept her daughter and son-in-law away. Later her son.
And now, her grandchildren.