You, my dear, are a party pooper.
You’re the one who doesn’t drink the offered glass of Pinot Noir because you’ve recognized in your own drunken eyes your father’s propensity for yelling and hitting. You’re the one who refuses to puff the joint because Daddy says drugs are bad for you; besides, you heard marijuana makes one sleepy and you really want to read a few chapters of Zola’s The Human Beast before going to bed. Weeds make you hungry too, they say, and you want to finally fit in these bell bottom jeans that are so in vogue in Port-au-Prince. Party pooper! You won’t dance too close to Ben under the flashing lights because that might give him ideas and you’re only 15 and you don’t want to get sidetracked when such a bright future awaits you. On a large piece of cardboard on your bedroom wall, you’ve written down your life goals: finish high school, finish med school, open a clinic downtown, buy a house in the mountains of Kenscoff. You’re boring, you know. But keeping focused allows you to forget the insomnia, the dark thoughts, the darker impulses, your fear, your cynicism. Eyes on the prize, and you’re the perfect follower of rules—the perfect Catholic teenager, a candidate for salvation.
You’re a party pooper even at your own party. It’s okay since the popular guys crash the pot lucks and get-togethers you throw by-invitation only, because there’s always alcohol a gogo, even though you’re still only a teenager and no one but your mother will be chaperoning the thrill-craving crowd. You’ve become an A-list socialite; people assume that you’re not dull because you’re you. But you are not that interesting, my dear. No one wants to listen to your take on the Machiavelli book you read last week at the school library. Who cares that an earthworm has five hearts or that a deer sleeps for only five minutes a day? Who cares about your sleepless nights, your mother’s black eye, your dreams of dying in a room cold and sterile? The New Kids on the Block are rockin’ the party. Don’t you know that they just released a Christmas album? No? Everybody knows that! In the garden, the lizards lurk, waiting, tongue-quick, for flies.
There’s so much people want to listen to. A friend who’s down in the dumps is too time-consuming. You’ll page at 10 o’clock at night, when the best Mexican soap opera is on Univision. You’ll go blah-blah-blah on the telephone, blabbering about your parents’ latest fight, keeping the line busy, around the time Mr. Right might be calling with an invitation to a party where beer and rum and vodka will be available at the bar. A glum friend doesn’t get better just because someone might will her to. There’s just no time in anyone’s agenda for a party pooper with baggage full of dysfunctional family stories, nightmares and violent thoughts.
You’re sitting in the school chapel one day, by the sunken, slighlty hunched Christmas tree, when the landscapers behind the window begin to sing, picking up songs and tunes from one another, their song rhythmic and hypnotic, like a mantra. It speaks of death and suffering. It suddenly occurs to you that there is someone willing to listen, willing to become a hero.
Father Israel doesn’t hide behind a wooden confessional; he sits on a sofa at his private home, a few blocks away from your own house. Next to a kneeler, he listens passively as you pour out your heart. When you digress, citing passages of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, you can tell that he’s confused. “Are you trying to tell me you might hurt someone?” he asks. He doesn’t rush you; a man of God cannot send you away. You tell him about Becoming Abby, a book by some obscure writer whose name you can’t remember. You want to be wild, surrender your Catholic chains, break a few hearts. Bad girls don’t feel sadness or loneliness. Not Abby, anyway. She is funny, unrestrained. She’s liberated. Unlike you, so plain, so unimpressive. “I want to stop feeling so much,” you say. Father Israel’s eyes burn with a kind of fascination; he wants to save you from yourself. He believes in God too much. He doesn’t understand that Jesus sometimes takes extended vacations, long enough to allow your father to get in a rage and throw your mother against a wall, leaving you with tears stinging behind your eyelids and a hard painful lump in the back of your throat.
You’re not sure Father Israel is Catholic; he’s the uncle of a friend of a friend and does his magic trick of pulling forgiveness out of thin air, a hand placed on your bowed head. You bless yourself, roll your eyes heavenward, push your face into a look of penitence and, you hope, contrition, or what you imagine contrition looks like.
You find yourself in Father Israel’s living room quite often. A cigar is often burning in the ashtray and the maid, Rosita, is always in the kitchen next door, making chicken stew or seasoning goat meat. Father Israel says he needs a smoke, offers you one of his Cuban cigars. After an hour, he asks if you are planning to stay for lunch. “Nah, I’ll pass. But I won’t resist some of that Pinot Noir, though.” Father Israel asks Rosita for a clean glass and he listens for another hour. Because of you current bouts of insomnia, you fall asleep before the act of contrition. When you wake up, it is still light out and the birds are singing spring. You find the priest in his backyard, smile at him, make a little moue as a form of apology. “Father, I’ve sinned,” you say. He shrugs and winks, confesses you under the banyan tree.
Father Israel is handsome. He sits sprawled on the grass; immobilized by boredom and heat. You think about sex education; how it does not exist in the schools, nor do you have it at home. Sensations are puzzled over. Father Israel is the only one who told you what it is to love someone, what it is to make love to someone, and what it takes to make someone. “Sometimes,” he said, “all three don’t happen at once.” You expected to feel uncomfortable, the way secondhand shoes are at first comfortless. But no—Father Israel makes everything so simple.
He catches your eyes as they scan his broad body, which you imagine holding through the night, pursuing its sweep, swimming out to meet the curving, lolling wave of his embrace. The thought first shocks you, then makes you smile because it’s so unlike you, so nouveau, so liberating. It offers possibilities, twists, thrill. You’ve never considered something so forbidden before. Maybe there’s hope. Maybe Abby one day might just come out. You’re human, after all—mutable. Nothing in the world is ever otherwise.
You see yourself the way Father Israel must see you—your full breasts, your curvy limbs. You let your mind go there. Father Israel fidgets uncomfortably under the stare; he clears his throat. “I’m listening, Jessica,” he says, maybe growing angry or impatient. He stresses your name, sounding it out like a foreign word that is unpleasant on the tongue.
You stand up, clean up your bell-bottom jeans of grass and mud.
You thank him again for the wine and walk home, thinking about the next party, the next slow dance you will care to accept. Maybe you’ll let a boy get close. Maybe you won’t talk about Voltaire or Sartre or Shakespeare. The New Kids on the Block are no longer in vogue. But maybe you’ll put down the piece of cardboard that reads, “Finish med school,” and replace it with a poster of that new singer you heard about. He sings “What a piece of body girl, tell me where you get it from.” Buju Banton, you think. Yeah, that’s his name. Buju Banton.