labay

Diaries of love won, lost & won again: A countdown to Valentine’s Day. No. 1

In Haiti, Personal, Relationships on January 21, 2009 at 5:27 pm

 

Gregory, my first boyfriend

I never talk about Gregory.  Until now, he’s been a part of my private self. I have a lot of things tucked away in that innermost part of me. I imagine the good and bad memories kept to myself are disorderly stacked on one another – a heap of confusion buried deep inside that only I can decipher. But memories of Gregory, I’d like to think, are neatly folded in a special corner in my heart underneath a soft stream of warm sun rays. I’d have it no other way. 

I was 10 when I met Gregory. He was in my sixth-grade class at a public school in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. He was Haitian American just like me. He loved to smile just like me. He had lots of jokes just like me. Gregory was zany and zealous with an infectious laugh. His dark brown eyes sparkled when he smiled and dimples simultaneously sank into his creamed-colored skin.

Made. Me. Melt.

He was cuteeeee, cool; not arrogant, and he wanted to be my boyfriend. 

At the tender age of 10, I wasn’t allowed to date or even posses innocent feelings of love. My elders would reluctantly lift that ban when I turned 18. But until then, I was to ogle only my books or face the possibility of being sent to live under the tutelage of some no-nonsense relative in Haiti.

It was the first time that I outright defied my parents thou-shall-not-look-at-boys rule. I’m glad I did. Gregory and I spent a total of one school day as a couple. That spring day, during recess, we hung out close to the school’s fenced perimeter, taking in the view of its massive concrete courtyard. We could see our classmates chasing one another, playing double-dutch, and hear faint prattles in between gurgles of laughter.

We were shy about our relationship. Gregory played with my fingertips with one hand and bounced a blue handball with the other. I just smiled at him and sometimes clumsily threw my girly come hither look in the opposite direction at no one or nothing in particular. I was a shy kid brand spanking new to the concept of having a boyfriend.

Several days later, I was to become acquainted to the reality of death. Gregory’s death.

As many deaths are, it was sudden; and as all deaths are, tragic.

That warm day before Gregory died, I distinctly recall the nervous laughs we shared in the courtyard followed by love notes exchanged during class. He kissed me on the cheek when school dismissed. His kiss was soft, gentle. He walked toward the B12 bus stop looking confident. His dirty navy blue backpack bobbing to the movement of his bouncy steps.

My heart, virtually in unison to Gregory’s fading footsteps, went pitter-patter; my stomach felt slightly queasy from the realization that we were an item.  My first boyfriend. 

I promised to call him that evening but dozed off earlier than my usual 8:30 curfew. I learned the next day that at about the time I had gone to bed, Gregory’s younger brother had set fire to the apartment where he and three brothers lived. His mother had been doing a night shift at work and the babysitter supervising in her absent was paying the next door neighbor a quick visit when the tragedy unfolded.

The apartment quickly filled with smoke, suffocating one of Gregory’s three brothers. He, my first boyfriend, my childhood sweetheart, endured third degree burns to 70 percent of his body. 

I have a scar on my right hand from a first-degree burn received when I was four. My brothers had also been playing with fire. At 10, I was able to compute that a third degree burn to 70 percent of ones body equaled a slim chance of survival. 

Gregory lived for two days after the calamitous incident. His mother loss three of her four sons. The surviving sibling would receive a series of skin grafts.

The news rocked my school where they all attended. 

I was devastated. Crushed. My 10-year-old heart forever altered, irreparable. 

The evening after the school principal broke the news to my sixth-grade class, I sobbed in my room for what felt like hours. The world felt so bleak and I thought how unfair it was that God could allow me to feel happy one day and empty the next. 

I never forgot Gregory. I learned a lot from his death, the most important being that life is short and love is sweet. It’s best to always cherish every minute spent with that special person because at any given moment, it’ll be your last moment together. Make it memorable.- MJ

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