When I was very young, my dad bought me a red dress with black polka dots and a pair of shiny red shoes. I adored that dress. I’ve often said that it might have been what made me fall in love with black and red, still my favorite colors today.
I wore the dress every day. I took it off in between, washed it in the river, waited for it to dry while in my underwear, and put it back on. Then there was a death in town, and if you’ve ever lived in a small village, you already know that everybody goes to every funeral. If you know anything about Caribbean Catholicism, you also understand that the colors of mourning for young children are black and white, and grey. My mom spent a few days trying to get me to change into something more conventional for the occasion. I said no. She yelled that I must. I screamed that I wouldn’t. She got a hold of my dad, and told him that I needed to wear black and white.
My dad and I spoke. He said that it would be best if I changed dresses. I told him that I didn’t want to. I was sad because a friend had died, and I was sure that red would make him happy. My dad explained that people would talk. They might even be mean to me. I said that I didn’t care. I wanted to wear my black and red dress. My dad told me that if I thought it was the right thing to do, and I was willing to deal with the consequences, then I should wear my red and black dress. I loved my dad more than ever.
Three days ago, my dad and I discussed my leaving the Midwest. “I’m on my way home to New York,” I told him. “Things didn’t work out, but I’m in peace.”
“I didn’t think they were going to,” he said. “Not after I talked to you in December. You sounded sad. And Jacob’s name didn’t sound happy in your voice.”
“Why didn’t you tell me,” I wanted to know.
“Because I know mi Tesoro (my Treasure),” he chuckled, “No one can tell you what to do. You might do the opposite just to show them.”
I laughed my agreement. “I would, wouldn’t I?”
“Yes,” my dad said. “Are you going to tell everyone [meaning our extended family]? They might not be gentle. They will talk.”
“I don’t hide from anyone,” I said, perhaps a bit too harshly. “Those who matter already know. And if they think less of me for leaving a life that didn’t make me happy, then I don’t need them.”
My dad roared with laughter. “That’s my little girl!” he shouted. “I’m right behind you in anything you choose to do. I love all of you. I’m proud of your decisions, of how much you value your independence. I love you because you are exactly who you want to be. I hope you know that.”
“I do, Papi. And I love you, too.” As we ended the conversation, I thought, yep, that’s my dad almighty, and I loved him even more.
Some of you might think, Well, that is what parents are supposed to do, isn’t it? A few of you, who haven’t delighted in the joys of ever-loving parents, might think, You’re lucky. But if you come from a culture that doesn’t think much of parents who are openly loving with their children, and who expect a father to force his will on his daughter, then you understand that I am a blessed witchy woman, and the most fortunate of all daughters ;-)
“Reach for the Stars” by Jen Norton