I’m currently in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago again.
First and foremost- Trinidad and Tobago are below the belt… I think, so I am safe even though this particular hurricane season has been disastrous for so many other Caribbean islands.
I’m here for the reason I thought I was here last year. My cousin Latoya’s wedding. She has been married for one week! But there’s some new and exciting things that happened this year around. I met mi tia y prima from Venezuela! For the very first time! (my grandpa sowed wild oats aplenty in his youth, okay,).
I have also spent time in the house that I used to spend every summer in (my paternal grandparents’ house) for the first time since the both of them have died, and it was a little emotional to see the little changes like room layouts, and I almost cried to see my grandma’s sewing room is still the same, even though no one is a professional seamstress in the family anymore. My cousins are growing, their kids are growing. I am still Aunty Fifi.
But I’m also Fayolita now, and my grandpa is so happy to see his daughters and grand-daughters meet face to face and not speak through a google-translated mess through a screen.
At Latoya’s wedding reception, there were a set of speeches. Ones from the wedding party (Maid of Honour and Best Man) but also from the immediate family (Mother of the Groom, Father of the Bride) before the floor was opened up for guests to give some well wishes. My Aunty Fran said that I should go up… but it was so short notice and I didn’t know what to say, also a bit shy to speak to a room full of people who were now my family that I didn’t know.
All through the night (when I wasn’t dancing), I was thinking about what I’d say, If I’d had the guts to go up to the podium and give a few words. These aren’t those exact words that my brain was working on, but it is the sentiment and all the emotion behind those words.
Despite all the advances in technology that connect us worldwide, sometimes watching someone grow and evolve through a screen- whether a video or phone call, pictures shared on social media and private messaging- made me feel still disconnected. This had a lot to do with time differences, distances in miles and work schedules disrupting what could be daily catch ups. In preparation for Latoya’s wedding, I didn’t feel any of that. I was there with my mum in the wholesale store every weekend looking for that perfect white lace for the wedding gown, I was updated with pictures of the wedding party’s looks evolve from concept to creation.
It was the first time I flew alone to Trinidad. I had always flown with someone, my brother or my parents. In line for customs (with my Trini passport) I see Latoya, on her last day before her holiday for wedding prep waiting for me and the two of us burst into the biggest set of grins and jokes that lasted from the line, to duty free, to KFC (if you haven’t had KFC in Trinidad, you’re missing out) until my Uncle Derrick picked me up. I was so happy to spend this time with her.
For those of you that don’t know, living as far from your family as I do, means that a lot of the time, the reunions are at extremely sad events such as funerals.
In 2014, the year I graduated from MMUC, my family lost three extremely important elders and these were people who have been caring for my mum, and for her children since birth. Aunty Neslin the day after I finished my exams, Aunty Wilagnita three months later and Uncle Raymond two months later, around Christmas. It was a very painful year for us all, as every time we were coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, death visited us again.
The Maid of honour said something extremely beautiful, that years from now the bride and groom would look back at their wedding day as the day that they loved each other the least- meaning that their love would grow stronger everyday. And I feel as though this is something my family is trying to make work for us.
We’ve been visiting each other more frequently since then. No longer are we saying “we have to stop meeting like this” at wakes, because we are. And watching Latoya get married, and seeing everyone so together, for a moment of togetherness of joy rather than grief. I only hope my family gets to enjoy moments like these (weddings, engagements, birth announcements, christenings etc. etc.) more than funerals where our togetherness was bittersweet with the tragedy of death pulling us to each other.