Together, Zuli and I spent one hundred and forty days in the hospital this year. The day before I was admitted in the hospital, I spent most of it vomiting and feeling nauseated, lightheaded. It was a cold day in January, and I was scheduled to speak on a panel at the WeWorks in downtown Austin about social media and branding with Planoly. I came close to cancelling it, but I convinced myself I would feel better once I had my headwrap and bright lipstick on. I mustered all the energy I had, got ready, and showed up.
When I started Fanm Djanm, if my goal was to get rich and scam people, I would have quit four years ago. Starting a business from nothing is incredibly hard. Especially if the business involves art and creativity. Especially if the founder is black. And young. And a woman. You will find people laugh at you (at first). They will say "no" before you even get a chance to present your work. Then they will be inspired, and ask you all kinds of questions about your business. Then some will copy.
She was born thirteen minutes after the hour on a Thursday morning. I wish I could say I knew what the sky looked like. And that it was a sunny day with scattered fluffy clouds. That the birds were singing. And beautiful wild flowers danced in vast fluffy, colorful fields with the help of a gentle breeze. And butterflies came to our window to welcome her. That I was surrounded by loved ones. And sweet melodies played in the background as I pushed and pushed and pushed. That I held her immediately afterwards, exhausted, eyes filled with happy tears. But none of that happened. I was unconscious. Something had gone horribly wrong.
Almost three months ago, exactly one week before our eleventh-year anniversary, I married the love of my life. It was truly the most beautiful day of my life. It was everything I needed. It was everything I wouldn’t dare dream of as a child lost in the Haitian clouds. It was magical.
On the day of the wedding, a mesmerizing storm lifted me from my sleep around six in the morning. I looked at the mountains, hidden from the sun, kissed by the dark, grey clouds, and I smiled. My ancestors were with me, celebrating before the festivities even started. I could feel them dancing underneath the deep dark clouds. As I get older, I no longer associate darkness with sadness, and so I knew that the dark morning was everything but somber. My great grandmother was crying, and they were tears of joy. I knew that because that’s what I do, too, when I’m really happy. I cry.
In addition to being a full time student at the university, I served on the board of several on-campus organizations, worked three part-time jobs, and during the holiday season, I'd scour the student center website and craigslist for random gigs. During my freshman year, I found a dish-washing/serving opportunity at a wealthy family's home in a town near my campus on Thanksgiving. It offered $15-$20/hour just to help clear tables, wash dishes, and tidy the kitchen.
I remember that day clearly because I'd never experience anything of the sort. It was my first time ever setting foot in a wealthy American home. It was the kind of home I read about when I was just an awkward, skinny, dreamer-girl in Haiti. The kind of home I thought I'd move into when the US called for me, not the one-bedroom apartment in Newark my parents, little brother, and I found refuge to during my early teenage years. The place that collected most of my tears.
At the table, the calm air danced around us. A cat brushed past Regine's ankles, and she froze. She's terrified of them I learned that day. I dug in my plate of akra (malanga fritters), and waved the server over for more pikliz (a condiment made of picked shredded cabbage and hot peppers that I can't live without.) I had a bottle of cold Prestige just a few inches away from my big plate of Haitian fritay. That afternoon was to be cherished for a long time.
My mother turned 51 this year. As part of her birthday gift, I told her I wanted photograph her. The thought came to me on the bus from Vermont one random morning. I called her immediately with the idea, and I could tell she was just as excited as I was. I wanted to make her feel beautiful and special, and I figured this would be a great way to connect.
We planned to meet one afternoon after I was done at the office. I grabbed my makeup "kit" from the bedroom, set it on the kitchen counter, and went to work. While doing her makeup, I felt this strong connection between us. Like my great grandmother was watching us, smiling.