Embrace in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine

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Embrace

by Flose Boursiquot

Mwen pa renmen jan li ap pede gade mwen.

Mama never bothers to ask the young girl why she looks at her so much. All she knows is that those wondering brown eyes against that dark skin make her uncomfortable. It’s not the first time her family has taken in a restavek. Her parents are most often who families come to when their children become a burden. In her 10 years of life she’s seen six children trot through the front gate with a bundled plastic bag extending from their bellies. The conversations are always the same.

Madame Bougiyon, mwen pa ka pran swen l ankò.

Twelve years ago, when Madame Bougiyon turned over in bed restlessly, her husband knew something was plaguing. It had been almost five months since they’d stop trying to have a baby; ten years since they’d started.

Cheri, kisa w genyen?

He nudged closer to her, embracing her round body.

An nou adopte yon timoun.
 
She had been rehearsing an elegant line to bring her husband across the finish line to adoption, but at this late hour, negotiation felt forced.

Si se sa ki ap fè kè ou kontan.

Many in the neighborhood often laugh at Monsieur Bougiyon. It seems he always lets his wife have her way. Tonight he felt her breath release upon agreeing to adopt a child. From the time he was a young man, Monsieur Bougiyon had a different understanding of love than the young men who ran through his front yard.

Madame Bougiyon is not an easy woman to love, she wasn’t the first day they met at the lunch counter. Monsieur Bougiyon had just finished his morning shift at the hospital. It was around noon. In those days he was training as a nurse and only worked the first few hours after dawn. Madame Bougiyon worked as a teacher at the all girls school across from Papa Gil’s, the most popular lunch counter in all of La Vallee, Jacmel.

Anvan yè ti bòl diri sa te senk dola. Kounye a li sèt dolla. Sa pa moral, Filip.
 
Monsieur Bougiyon looked around the room, wondered if he should walk the five miles home and eat there, but he decided to do something no man had ever mustered the courage to try.

See Madame Bougiyon was quite a beauty. By far the best dressed of the new teachers at the school. Her breasts, like her attitude, stood firm, like melons underneath her carefully ironed dress suits. Although it was only her fourth year teaching, her students always scored the highest. Nuns would peek into her classroom with their wandering gaze. It is said they whispered that Madame Bougiyon was what they prayed for in silence. Others say, the devil sent her to play a sick joke on the catholic church. After-all, she was not a docile woman. Rumor has it that she once told the head priest to stick his cross in a place where the Holy Trinity does not belong. Oh no, don’t get the wrong impression. Madame Bougiyon is quite the religious woman; she’s first to get to church on Sunday and the most beautiful voice in the choir.

Standing in the doorway, Monsieur Bougiyon thought to do something no man had ever mustered the courage to try.

Filip, madmwazèl la gen yon rezon. Anvan yè m peye senk dola pou ti bòl an diri sa.
 
Madame Bougiyon stopped. Her eyebrows moved further apart and her fierce red lips stopped their wrinkle. Filip looked around his father’s restaurant in disbelief. Well, yes of course, the price for a bowl of cooked rice was merely five dollars yesterday. He upped the price, he’s allowed to do that, it’s his father’s restaurant. But see, Filip was not the kind of man who got so riled up on a Monday. He smiled at the woman in the gray dress suit and gave his soccer buddy a menacing look — what some friends will do for ass. His menaced look soon smirked, he wondered if Monsieur Bougiyon knew better than to seduce Madame Bougiyon. No man had ever mustered the courage to try.

Madame Bougiyon was still stopped. Monsieur Bougiyon offered to buy her lunch, she nodded, but she was still stopped. No man had stood up for her before, she simply never needed it. As a young girl, she was known to drag young boys from the waterfall and back to their mother’s wombs for no-good behavior. Rumor has it that she came out of her mother already a sturdy woman. She just sort of crawled her way out of the woman then scolded her father for not cutting the umbilical chord properly.

Monsieur Bougiyon fell in love with her in that way. She never hid any part of herself. Madame Bougiyon simply couldn’t hide much of who she was. Monsieur Bougiyon fell in love with her in that way. And as the story tells it, she fell in love with him too. He was the only one who could ever settle her down until she got soft enough to understand. Outsiders struggled to see her, but he got her soft enough to understand.

That night, when they agreed to adopt, she cried in his arms. Legend tells it that Madame Bougiyon did not cry when she was born. But that night she cried in her husband’s arms. The tears were of joy. Many thought she was too hard to be a mother, but not her Filip.

A flower never grows in hard soil, the neighborhood women would whisper. A flower never grows in hard soil, her doctor thought after the seventh miscarriage. A flower never grows in hard soil, Madame Bougiyon was beginning to think.

My wife makes nourishing soil, Monsieur Bougiyon knew. So that night he agreed to take in other people’s children.

The next morning, with half of his stethoscope hanging from each side of his neck, he kissed her goodbye while she finished her espageti ak aransol. Madame Bougiyon started to eat it for breakfast every morning after her second miscarriage.

Ti bebe bezwen yon manman ki fò, cheri, mange sa pou mwen.

Madame Bougiyon, Monsieur Bougiyon’s mother, patted Madame Bougiyon’s forehead. Her dotted white hand caressed the woman’s brown forehead. Madame Bougiyon was too weak to feed herself. This miscarriage had taken so much out of her. The baby had become so much of a baby that the doctor had her push it out. That thought kept her awake at night.

But the baby had become so much of a baby that I bought a crib.

But the baby had become so much of a baby that I sang sweet songs to it.

But that baby had become so much of a baby that I made it a jumper for its first night home.
 
Cheri, pa kriye. Oh, cheri, pa kriye.
 
Madame Bougiyon moved closer to Madame Bougiyon and held her close. She never had a daughter. Four sons is what she had. Two of her babies miscarried so she might have had a daughter, but she never had a daughter.

Cheri, pa kriye. Oh, cheri, pa kriye.
 
Madame Bougiyon held her daughter-in-law with softness. Madame Bougiyon was too hard for her to love when Monsieur Bougiyon brought her and Monsieur Bougiyon to the madmwazèl’s family home up where red earth covers everything. She was too hard to love for many years. Monsieur Bougiyon once heard his parents whispering about how the woman before Madame Bougiyon should have been their daughter. She was too hard to love for many years. Then one day the wise roots realized that hard soil is best for keeping weeds away.

Cheri, pa kriye. Oh, cheri, pa kriye.

Two years shy of Madame Bougiyon asking her husband to take in other people’s children, she became pregnant. It is true they were not trying this time. It is also true that she often became pregnant. There were no celebrations. It is said that Madame Bougiyon simply cried when she found out. It is said she was known to be the woman with the most miscarriages in La Vallee, Jacmel.

This one carried itself the whole way. Madame Bougiyon would not let Monsieur Bougiyon convince her to go see Ti Jean, the medicine man. This one carried itself the whole way.

It came out covered in blood and howling at the moon. Monsieur Bougiyon knew it would come with a vagina, but Madame Bougiyon refused to name it. This went on for three months. Madame Bougiyon, the child’s grandmother, would walk the eight miles to see it everyday. When it was time to leave she would look at Madame Bougiyon in despair and ask her to name her grandchild.

Bay ti bebe a yon non, cheri. Ba li yon non.
 
Madame Bougiyon had grown to love the aging root, but she shook her head in disagreement. She also hadn’t gone to church since the child was born. It is said that the church lost members in those three months, some even became protestants. What is a catholic church without beautiful singing and what is a choir without its leader. The nuns at the all girls school would run across the yard in a frenzy. The head priest of all the head priests was on his way in a couple of weeks and their best was nowhere in sight.

Monsieur Bougiyon had a different idea about these things, but he let Madame Bougiyon be. Then one morning with the child suckling on her breast she said, Mama.
 
Mama.

Monsieur Bougiyon repeated the name until it became Mama. It was always meant to be a Mama he thought. Mama.

The first time Madame Bougiyon left the house with Mama in her arms she did so with a firm step. No lougarou dared to come near the child. Not even when Monsieur Bougiyon left medicine and went into politics. Legend has it that the child was born covered in blood and howling at the moon so no lougarou dared to come near what already claimed its place in the universe.

Even with her own, Madame Bougiyon, never stopped taking in other people’s children. She, Monsieur Bougiyon and Mama had plenty, and so she never stopped taking in other people’s children.

Link: http://www.foliateoak.com/flose-boursiquot.html

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If

If I had you as my own, I’d love you like
the moon kisses the sun day after day
I’d sprinkle compliments on your pillow
and drown your bath water in beauty

If I had you as my own, every song on
the radio would be your favorite and I’d
know just what to play when your face
creases in that way I don’t like and I’d
know the right beats to match your
Saturday night hip

If I had you as my own, I’d love you
honestly—without chains and
these daydreams would end in late
night kisses by your side.

Written by: Flose Marie Yardley Boursiquot

Men become what we socialize boys to be…

“When I was eight I made a pie from scratch, with fruit from our backyard, for my grandfather, my father’s father, and we took it to my granddad, my dad drove me there. My grandfather he took it, and was very quiet for a second, smelled it, said it smelled really good but he said ‘thank you sweetie.’ He was trying to be supportive but that was never language he used with my male cousins, that’s how he spoke to my female cousins… it was very indirect, but that’s when I began to understand there were male and female roles.

–Mark Freeman—

Seven months ago, I moved into a new space. This space came with a gorgeous black lab and two men in their thirties. Upon discussing my new living arrangements with people, they often had a head-tilt reaction. What could a 23-year old woman possibly be doing living with two men.

In a world where parents have to hear stories about their daughters being cat-called on the street and are left having to compare a woman’s virginity to some treasure chest that needs to be buried deep, I understand the rationalization behind the concerned head movements.

However, I can’t help but wonder why men think certain behaviors are okay and why is it that when a young woman outlines her non-traditional living situation she is met with concern for safety, thoughts about whether sex will become an issue, and that infamous head-tilt that begs for answers to questions that might be rude to ask.

My take is that men are not born men. Like everyone else, they were once little infants ready to absorb ideals, morals, lessons, and whatever else life has to offer. As they grow into manhood, boys receive messages, and before we know it they become versions of what society (family, friends, classmates, media) tells them they should be.

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Meet Tony Morales, Sally, and Mark Freeman, my roommates. They aren’t normally this geeked out, we recently had a Back to the Future themed party to celebrate Tony’s birthday (actually, that is pretty geeky). Let’s take a look at what kind of men they were socialized to be as boys…

Being a man 

Tony: Being a man is an extension of a being a good person. I was always taught that as a man you have to be the head of the family, respect your partner, be a provider, and a good example for those around you. 

Mark: To me, it’s very individual, but there are some social pressures and social values on what it is to be a man. The social pressures of what are considered typical male traits, values, abilities–it’s still socialized that men win the resources, men go out and get the better paying jobs, men support their family. 

It seems that though Tony grew up in Jinotepe, Nicaragua, where family values are more traditional, and Mark in South East Portland, Oregon, where his parents followed a hybrid family model, they both have grown up to understand that men should be the primary bread-winner and head of the family.

Tony’s boyhood shoes 

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Unlike Mark, who grew up with both his mother and father present in the home, Tony did not.

Tony: My mom and my sisters were great examples, my dad passed when I was 12. I grew up with my three sisters, mom, and grandma in Nicaragua which is a family oriented society. I think all of that is a unique way to grow up. 

However, Tony did not spend his entire childhood in Nicaragua. His family emigrated to the United States early in his life because of the revolution. Before Tony’s father passed, he spent a lot of time at work. Although he was away from his wife and children, Mr. Morales always made sure they knew how much he loved them.

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Tony: Last time I was in Nicaragua for Christmas, my mom pulled out some letters. When my dad was traveling outside for work, he took the time to write to her and tell her how much he missed her and the kids. He had to make the sacrifice to be away from us, but he took the time to let us know he wished he could be with us. 

Mr. Morales had a masters in chemical engineering, but in times of war and economic hardship, those things cease to matter. Despite the sacrifices he had to make to keep his family safe, he left a lasting impression on young Tony. Mr. Morales showed Tony what it means to be a man, to love one’s family, and how to be a good person. What is most striking about the relationship Tony had with his father is how young he was when Mr. Morales was killed in their home during an invasion, but also how much of him Tony still holds on to. Although, Mr. Morales wasn’t there to have father-son conversations with Tony when he began to wonder about the opposite sex, Tony’s memories of his father were a reference and remain so.

Tony: My parents had the philosophy to not go to bed angry, to always communicate if they were fighting and try to end up laughing instead.

When I continued to probe about where else he looked for inspiration when he felt an attraction to the opposite sex, Tony referenced media.

Tony: That was tough, I mostly kept it all internal. I tried talking to my friends but found that they were a bit more macho. My best friend between the ages of 12 and 18, who most people would confide these things in, was female. I also relied on the example of my mom and dad, and romantic comedies. 

He laughed, commenting on how sad it was that he turned to romantic comedies for love advice, but that virtual realm affirmed Tony’s respect for women.

Tony: When I was in that stage of development and thinking of women [as potential partners], my example was my mom who was pretty much a single mother raising four kids, going to work full-time, taking care of the house, taking care of us, putting my family through college and school and everything. I always saw a great amount of strength in her, so growing up, I was always attracted to strong women. 

Tony never saw a women as something to be conquered.

Tony: I wouldn’t say conquer though I like strong women, so I like a challenge. I like the chase, it’s not a conquering–it’s more like this person is worth the effort.

Mark’s boyhood shoes 

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Mark: I grew up in a household where both of my parents were working and contributing in very equal but also very different ways. The household chores were still primarily done by my mother, but my dad would cook and that was a rarity amongst our friends. 

In his Oregon town it was not uncommon for Mark to be around other young boys who engaged in fights, hunting, and playing in the mud.

Unlike Tony, Mark was fortunate to have his father around. Mark describes Mr. Freeman as a masculine man who hunts, got into fights in his prime, and was the main breadwinner, although his mother also worked. Mark also remembers his father cooking delicious meals in the kitchen and lending a hand when he could. However, Mark learned a pivotal lesson about masculinity from his grandfather.

Mark: When I was eight I made a pie from scratch, with fruit from our backyard, for my grandfather, my father’s father, and we took it to my granddad, my dad drove me there. My grandfather he took it, and was very quiet for a second, smelled it, said it smelled really good but he said ‘thank you sweetie.’ He was trying to be supportive but that was never language he used with my male cousins, that’s how he spoke to my female cousins… it was very indirect, but that’s when I began to understand there were male and female roles.

That exchange with his grandfather has stayed with Mark, because it was the point in his formative years when he learned that there were things that boys do and things that girls do. Fortunately, Mark excelled at what he was supposed to do as a boy; “playing sports and doing all those gross things like playing in mud,” so he didn’t remain too occupied with the thought. However, there is one formative experience that Mark held onto for many years. At age 14, a girl asked him out…

Mark: My response to her in that exact moment was ‘maybe, let me talk to my mom,’ that’s not a classic male response.  

When Mark went on to ask his mother, she said that he was not ready to date. There was no further discussion or talk. Mark struggled with that for awhile especially because his friends were exploring with dating.

Mark: I was a really emotional kid and it was good for my mom to at that point say, ‘I don’t think you’re ready,’ but it really hurt to hear that even though I understood. 

Who were Mark and Tony socialized to be

From the stories shared, it’s understood that Mark and Tony were both socialized to be the kind of man who knows his role in the home, provides for his family, listens, sees more in a woman than a sexual body, and is open to respectfully exploring the boundaries of normalcy.

It is important to point out that both Mark and Tony had strong women who contributed to their growth as men. Their model of what a man is supposed to be was influenced by their fathers, but when it came to getting answers to questions about how to treat a woman, the women in their lives held the chalk to the board.

As I rounded up my conversations with both men, I asked them what came to mind when they thought of the phrase, Men become what we socialize boys to be, and this is what they shared…

Tony: I do agree, not just boys or men, but people in general absorb a lot of what society puts in front of them when they’re growing up. You absorb so much information and that’s why good role models, I think, are very important… It’s sad to see that there are not many good role models and that kinda also inspired me to join the Big Brother Big Sister Club so I can be there for anyone who doesn’t have someone to look up to as a male figure.

Mark: That’s heavy man, I like that. I have thought a lot about part of this. That is, I recognized in my dad a conflict where he very much is masculine in those traditional senses and very much can be macho and very patriarchal in some negative ways, but also in some positive ways. He always seemed to be frustrated that he had to take on certain roles. I was always aware of his disappointment in having to make certain decisions, quote-on-quote as a man should, versus being able to allow his partner be able to handle certain responsibilities and still maintain his manhood.

As I grew up and became whatever a man is, I started to say ‘hey, you know what, there is more fluidity to this than people think there is,’ and my dad was confused and frustrated about the lack of power he felt to flex whatever his manhood was. Maybe I have the freedom to explore what being a man means for me, and I am bumping to a lot of men this way and a lot of women this way.

Tony: The fact that I grew up surrounded by women, I understand that I might be on the edges of what is normal. There has to be a balance, I’m a little bit toward the sensitive side.

Living with Mark and Tony these last seven months, I have learned a great deal about being kind, listening, and living in community with men. It is important that I point out that they are two pretty awesome human beings, and represent a small sample size. I do believe that they have both grown to be respectful men because of how they were brought up, so that proves my reflection to be correct in this scenario. However, I have not spoken to enough men from varied backgrounds about their boyhood experiences to draw a conclusion that it is correct that all Men become what we socialize boys to be.

It would also be unfair to say that those who do the head-tilt have unfounded concerns. After all, we do live in a society where women are sexualized and abused, but it is important to recognize that all men weren’t socialized the same way as boys.

As a woman with men in her life who I admire and love, I hope to socialize them to understand that it is normal to be sensitive and kind, and that it is normal to have a woman walk into your life and want to offer her a relationship or connection that doesn’t include sex though it may. The fact that I feel the need to write that sentence shows that our society is speaking loud messages to young boys and men that lead them to believe otherwise. If someday, I am blessed with young boys, I hope to raise them with the same level of respect and fluidity that I have found in Tony and Mark.

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Author’s Note: This post raises a lot of complex questions that I could not possibly answer in one blog. It honors two men who respect women and understand that we have more to offer than our bodies. There are still important questions left to answer about why men over-step their bounds and cat-call or do far worse.