I am fourteen. In Grenada. Up in St. Patrick County. Visiting from my home of Trinidad for a week. Visiting my mother who, for a year, I have not seen.
I am fourteen, visiting my mother’s birth country. Where she has planned a festive reunion. A week’s holiday together for all her left-behind children.
I am fourteen, permitted this trip. After my father pounded the centre-table he then flipped. Permitted after my father slammed down the phone on my mother’s long-distance call. Permitted, after my father yanked the cord out the wall. Permitted after my father threatened his daughters with his fists. And warned we not going nowhere at all.
I am permitted this trip after my over six foot tall, construction foreman, girlfriend-spending-all-his-salary father relent. Permitted to see my mother after my father curse his children and yuh-fucking-modda vent.
I am permitted, finally, to see my mother again after my foaming-mouth father examines my two younger sisters and my tickets for the plane. Examines the stapled papers for terrorising hours and days. Upside, downside, in every single way. To make sure they contain no secret keys. No discrete visas allowing us to exit the Caribbean bowl. Making sure we stay under his empty-cupboard roof’s control.
My father making sure we cannot board an international Liat or BWIA flight. My father making sure we cannot go to Brooklyn where Smiley, my mother, now resides.
My father making sure that we cannot go to New York City, unbeheld. To that cold country my mother lives in now after she secretly fled.
After my mother secretly told a thirteen-year-old girl she’d be alone in this world. To lovingly make me prepared. So she said. After my mother left her three daughters in Trinidad with the man who she feared would take her life. After my mother left me at 13 to mother an 11-year-old and an eight-year-old near catatonic child.
Now, I am here in Grenada. Here in the isle where my mother left her first child. Here in the country where my mother abandoned her first baby. Here, visiting the village in which this first child still lives. The parish where she, with an aunt, resides. Here, meeting an unknown older sister for the first time.
Here we are, all five. Each pregnancy with which my mother was fertilised. Including the baby aborted just in time. Another daughter conceived in this isle. All five. Together in the place that sprouted such a mother we have to survive.
And I – while the first priorly-unknown daughter is being maligned, while my new older sister is being deemed evil, bitter, and full of spite – drift over to the hill to take in one of Grenada’s most famous sights.
From this distance, I cannot hear the last daughter’s whine. The last daughter regressing to babyhood with the mother for whom she pines.
With my back turned to the rest of the excursion, I cannot see the third daughter’s anxious, flitting smiles. Wanting to be mummy’s favourite, while Smiley ignores her first unloved, silenced child.
While Smiley cuddles the last. And gossips with the third who is eager to agree with everything her mother asks. Lest they, too, be forced into the iron mask. Of unfavoured daughter.
All while the unborn foetus, dealt the earliest desertion from our mother, is tasked with having no face, no name, no claim to a future. Bound only to her mother’s past.
And I – dressed in all denim my mother shipped to her barrel children, bounding care in a cask – step away from the jovial family group. The family troupe who boarded Cousin Ashley’s bus early this morning for his escorting of all of us. Up, round, and through Grenada’s must-see destinations. Sites of familiarity, nostalgia, newness, and recognition for my mother and all her visiting cousins. Play cousins from their shared childhood my mother returned home to see.
The real reason for my mother’s trip from Brooklyn happening to be not wanting to miss out on the gathering of her England, Canada, U.S. scattered family. Bringing her children together an added amendment after a cousin inquired, and what bout yuh pickney, Smiley. As this cousin laughingly tells me in our holiday verandah filled with family. Generations renting vacation houses on a hill whose name issues this collective’s command, Happy.
And the noise and the rum punch jokes and the cigarette smoke of my mother’s cousins is getting to me. So, I step away. To examine the hill my textbooks say is called Carib’s Leap. The hill my soul remembers in agitation, anger, and sorrow deep. The hill over which my remembering spirit shudders, dreams, and weeps.
Finally in Grenada for myself to see. I stand on the hill that witnessed jumpers leap into the open-armed sea. The hill that saw jumpers fly over its steep 340 years before I appear at its ledge. In this town of Sauteurs. Named by the plundering French who made them flee. Named jumpers for these indigenous people who came before me.
I stand on this inherited shelf, peering into the wealth of blue who received undeafeated troops. And families. My Kalinago ancestry. On Carib’s Leap. The hill that keeps hold of their screams, their flails, their dives, their lives. Their dignity.
I am fourteen, here to stand on the cliffside hill from whence Carib Kalinago arms flailed. Here in the town of Sauteurs to see where my mother was born and raised. And all the mothers who before her came. And the first mother, who before me comes. Today.
The first mother watching eyes pressed right up in my space. In my taken aback face. In my who-is-this-looking-directly-into-and-at-me line of sight. In my field of vision where she is so close to me I can see the whites surrounding her jet-black pupils intently, silently focused.
And the locus of any control I wield slips. And in my swift horizontal tilt, I realise it is bogus to believe it is only me who longed to see. Only my desire that drew me. To Carib’s Leap. From whose rocky, beach-washed feet, she rise.
This mother mother mother mother. The first. And extends her hand to right my gravitational confusion. Extends her come-with-me head inclination. To invite, to guide, to walk astride. To provide me with sight. And answers to my questions. Into what my spirit feels. But my witnessing must now for itself see.
As I turn now to walk, and follow upon the first daughter-deserting mother heels.
Camille U. Adams
Camille U. Adams is a multi-Best of the Net nominated writer from Trinidad and Tobago. And she’s, quite proudly, a current finalist in the Restless Books Prize For New Immigrant Writing 2023. Camille earned her MFA in Poetry from CUNY and is a current Ph.D. Candidate in Creative Nonfiction at FSU where she has been awarded a McKnight Doctoral Fellowship and nominated for a teaching award. Camille is a 2022 Tin House alum, a 2023 Tin House summer workshop reader, and an inaugural 2023-24 Tin House Reading Fellow. Camille was also awarded an inaugural fellowship from Granta Magazine for the 2023 Nature Workshop. Additionally, Camille is a Kenyon Writers Workshop alum and has received scholarships for attendance from Roots Wounds Words, Community of Writers, Kweli Literary Festival, Grubstreet, VONA, etc. Her writing has been longlisted in the Graywolf Creative Nonfiction Prize 2022 and selected as a finalist for The 2021 Orison Anthology Award in Nonfiction. Camille’s memoir writing is featured in Passages North, Citron Review, Hippocampus Magazine, XRAY Literary Magazine, Variant Literature, The Forge Literary Magazine, Kweli Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, and elsewhere. Camille is also an associate managing nonfiction editor at Variant Literature, the assistant nonfiction editor at The Account Magazine, a prose reader at Abode Press, and a memoir reader for Split Lip Magazine. When she isn’t writing and teaching, Camille can be found on Twitter at @Camille_U_Adams where she spends way too much time.