Sometime during the mid-afternoon, Bryn let it slip that it was her birthday. I grabbed Stephanie, Chrystel and Edline (the older girls were finally back from Thomasin, conveniently about 8 hours before my departure) and we arranged with our next door neighborhood for a bunch of pate (fried food) for a party that evening. Stephanie set up the speakers and the sound system while Nikki made a giant card for Bryn that all the kids signed. Many of the girls also made individual cards and gave them to her over the course of the day.
In the early evening, we still had no pate, so I gathered my "army" of Stephanie, Kattia, Chrystel, and Edline, and we headed out to conquer a pate stand. OK, we really just haggled with the lady and ran back to our house to get giant pots to carry it all, haggled some more, did math to prove to the lady that the amount I was giving her in American dollars was more than enough, and then carried our plunder back inside. The older girls really took charge, running the whole party because I was off having emotional moments with certain kids. I love those girls and I really hope that the ones who are not able to leave Haiti through adoption will come work with me when I go back to Haiti long term.
Peterson was the first person who got me crying about leaving. I forget why it came up, but Peterson began to list all the reasons why he was going to be sad when I left. We were sitting in the boys' house on the bench in the courtyard with a dozen boys playing around us, but I got all choked up and had to ask him to stop. It was too early in the day to cry.
Jessica had been loving and sweet to me ever since she decided to be my friend again on Thursday, so I was very disappointed to see her sitting all by herself and moping during Bryn's party. I hugged her and asked if she didn't feel well, or if she was tired but she just shook her head and wouldn't look me in the eye. I was afraid that somehow I had hurt her feelings again, but later in the evening, one of the younger girls brought me a note from Jessica. It said "I am going to miss you so much." I snuck into her room where she was lying on her bed looking miserable. I kissed her on the cheek and whispered, "I'm going to miss you too, but don't be sad now. I'm still here and I want you to come to the airport with me tomorrow. Will you come?" She nodded yes, and then went right back to looking miserable.
Merline Guillaume was another one who fell apart during the party. She had been sitting against the wall, not participating at all, just watching the other girls and looking very lonely. Merline is one of the girls who teased me a lot on my very first stay at the orphanage, and she never makes friends with the Americans, even Nikki and Kim. She was civil and polite to them, but never close. Somehow, I was able to win her trust and her affection. I will never forget the day that I received a note from her saying how much she appreciated me and how she loved the way I am with the kids and that she wanted to be my friend. And when I left in May, she gave me several letters that were heartbreakingly sweet about how I was the only American she had ever loved and she couldn't bear to have me leave. On this trip, she was the only child to give me a Christmas card. So when I had to go upstairs at one point during the party and she followed me at a distance, I stopped to let her catch up. I had bought a little chain with a heart on it to give her as a Christmas gift but I had not yet had a quiet moment to give it to her. Right there on the stairs, I put it around her neck and then hugged her for a long time as she cried.
Every other time I've had to leave Haiti, Bernadin has been strangely quiet on my last day. But this time, he was not. He was being exceptionally goofy and rowdy, biting me, talking really loudly, saying things to me without looking me in the eyes, running on and off the soccer field, taking candy without asking, climbing a tree and then almost falling out of it and breaking his neck...just being weird. I finally asked him, "Bernadin, what is going on? You are being so strange! Is it because the Americans are here or because it's your aunt's birthday?" "Nope." Nikki gave me a funny look, "Is it because Keziah's leaving?" And as he danced around the old tree on the soccer field, he admitted, "Uh-huh. I decided I don't want to be sad today, so I'm being weird."
And then there was Emmanuel. We had experienced a few good moments that made me remember why it was that I love this boy so much and have claimed his as my unofficial son, but he had also ticked me off several times by just being difficult, asking me for things that he knows I won't give him, complaining about the things that I have given him, and frequently ignoring me when I come to talk to him by pretending to be asleep or having a headache. We sat down together in my room during the party and I asked him to please tell me, honestly, how he was doing. And finally, for the first time since I left in May, Emmanuel let me past the wall of cool-ness that he shows everyone else and into the secret heart of the hurting little boy that I call my son: "I'm not doing well, Keziah." We talked for over an hour and it basically came down to this. Emmanuel purposely acts rebellious and disobedient as a way to find people who will really love him for who he is. I was shocked when he first said it but as I thought more, I realized how perfectly it had worked on me. I did grow to love him because he was a challenge and I loved him despite how obnoxious he can be. "So Emmanuel, all those times that you act difficult, or you seem to not care that I just walked into the room - you did that on purpose?" "Yes." "Oh Emmanuel, no wonder you feel like the staff here doesn't love you. Because I never realized you were doing that on purpose. I thought that you really felt that way and it hurt my feelings. It hurt a lot. I kept loving you though, because you're my Emmanuel, even though it hurt, even though it was hard to love you. But if you do that to everyone, people are not going to love you. If even I, who love you so much, didn't understand why you were being difficult, how do you expect anyone else to figure it out?" I tried to convince him to act differently, because that's what is going to make him feel more at home at HFC and because that's how God wants us to live. He has to start being compliant and obedient or it is going to develop to a point where he is not going to be allowed to stay in the pension.
"Emmanuel, do you understand why I'm asking you to change?" "Yes, I do, but I've tried and it's too hard. Besides, it's worked in the past. It worked with Evelyn, a former nanny, and with Tati Guirlaine, and with you." "But Emmanuel, Evelyn is not here anymore, neither am I, and Tati is leaving soon. What will you do if you never find another person who understands you and loves you?" I wanted him to say that he would start to behave, to do as people asked, but instead he whispered, "I'll just go wherever you are."
I argued with him more and persuaded him to give it a month-long trial, to try doing what people want him to do, what will make other people happy, for one month and to see how it goes. After that, what else could I say? I held him and he rested his head on my shoulder and whispered just as he had before my departure in May, "Why do the only people who really understand me always leave?" I wanted to cry. And more than that, I wanted to rip my plane ticket in two and stay right there with him. It was like someone had just handed me a dictionary and I suddenly understood everything. His attitude, his aloofness, it was all an act to make me love him more. And I had missed it completely. Back in August and September when I left thinking that Emmanuel didn't want me to love him anymore, I was so wrong. He had actually been saying over and over again, "Keziah, do you really love me?"
Now, as we sat on my bed, I shared with Emmanuel dreams that I have for his future, dreams of him becoming an artist and making a living from his own hands, dreams of him having a family and teaching his children to play basketball, dreams of him being happy without restraint. I also told him my nightmare for him, that he will get kicked out of the pension for being rebellious and disobedient, that he will not go back to school, get depressed and spend his days lying on his bed staring at the ceiling, feeling hungry and unloved. And most of all, that I will never be able to see him again. That is my nightmare for Emmanuel. I told him, "Emmanuel, I'm asking you to behave and to live up to Dr Bernard's expectations, and so far you've done it because you love me. But what if one day, you don't love me anymore and -" I didn't get any further because Emmanuel had jerked back and was looking at me with disbelief in his eyes. "Do you really think that I'll ever stop loving you, Keziah?!" What do you say to that? "No, Emmanuel, I know you'll always love me and I hope you know that I will always love you."
I honestly do not know if I made any headway in that conversation; I don't know if Emmanuel grasped any of my arguments for why he should start acting better. I don't know if I will always be able to see through his facade and find the little boy underneath. I don't know if he will stay motivated to pass in school without any assistance as he did this December or whether he will find help in Bryn or in someone else. I don't know what the future holds for him. What I do know is that Emmanuel loves me just as much as he did last spring because when I hugged him after our talk, he clung to me just as long and just as hard as he did the day before I left in May. Oh, my child, my dear dear child.