Borikén Birthdays and Betances Part I


My littles and me on that last birthday in NYC, Aug 20, 2013

Saturday, August 20th, 2016 marked my 3rd birthday in Borikén. Yeah I write this in October, two months after that birthday.

Island time is not about clocks. It is about pausing to process everything along the way. It is about pausing to greet passersby, the ones you know and the ones you don’t know. It is about walking past every table at a restaurant and at each one saying “buen provecho.” Or walking into the doctor’s office and greeting everyone at the waiting room “buen día” and not leaving without saying to everyone collectively “que salgan pronto.” Island time is knowing that deadlines are arbitrary –somehow managing to get things done early before the sun gets too hot or the rain comes. It’s accepting that certain things can’t be done when you want and surrendering control because you know there are other forces at work here like hurricanes and floods and winds and subsequent power outages, or maybe just life.

There is no better way to check our clock addiction than awaiting the birth of a child. My Gabriel was approaching two weeks post “due date,” which would have made my homebirth a “liability” in the state of New York. Two times I anticipated his birth laying down to rest with contractions only to wake up to the sunrise shining on my face taunting me as if to say “labor, what labor?” We used all sorts of midwife tricks to jumpstart his arrival but it was simply a process of surrendering to when he was good and ready. I was ready to birth since February (or so I thought). He was “due” in March. He arrived in April.

Gabriel & Betances, San Sebastian, Puerto Rico.

Having given up on the whole clock thing, I didn’t realize that he arrived on the birthday of 19th century Puerto Rican doctor, abolitionist, revolutionary, my hero Ramon Emeterio Betances.   Had I known, he would have been Gabriel Emeterio or something to that effect. But he chose a good day to arrive and came as an oasis amidst the complexities of life. He was named after an uncle lost, celebrated his first birthday just before losing another uncle. As with Betances, who lost his mother as a little boy and his lover just before their wedding, this earth has a way of intersecting life and death, love and loss over and over again.

My birthdays long stopped being about parties, gifts and how many people show up to celebrate. Birthdays are what they are, revolutions around this sun and the stage of development each one catches you in. I remember my last birthday in Brooklyn, my birthplace. My gift that night was a full super moon. My mom, my tia and I had been going through all sorts of transitions in our lives. I suspected I would be leaving New York feeling it was no longer working for my lil family. I knew I needed to be out, just wasn’t sure exactly when or where.

We decided to welcome the moon with a trip to the sea. We drove at night across the Flatbush Bridge to Riis. There above the bridge she was, an arresting, awe-inspiring huge, full moon. We arrived at the lot where there were maybe 2 or 3 other cars. Mami got all nervous. My aunt got all Brooklyn.   Both wanted to keep it real with nature, but started envisioning all those “when keepin’ it real goes wrong” scenarios, us three, at the beach, in the dark. Meanwhile I’m thinking, I’m in the car with two bad-asses, got my back-up right here. I let em go on, then said, if we know spiritually this is something we need to do then how’s about we just trust that we are being guided and all will be well. Truth is I too was shitting bricks but if I had driven from Ozone Park Queens to East New York Brooklyn and out to Riis, I was gonna be seeing some water.

Super moon over Canarsie Pier, Summer 2013

We climbed over or under some fences, stepped out onto the sand glowing blue in the moonlight. The ocean too was lit up. My titi got all soulful ,”woo woooooooooo” she shouted, snapping her fingers, shaking her hair in the wind. Mmmhmmmm. The one who was all reluctant 5 minutes back. After our eyes registered the beauty and majesty of it all, we saw a nude old dude get up and leave. Thankfully he was just a silhouette against the moonlight. Apparently we had crashed his personal party. By that time, it didn’t matter. We owned the beach. Mom got into the water and bathed like a fish, poured salt water buckets over her head. I watched in amazement at the woman who never goes to the beach. There she was frolicking in freezing water. “Ay no, esta buena!” she shouted. By the end of the night she was standing on the sand freely changing out of her wet clothes. Mmmmmhhhmmmmmm. The one who was all nervous and shy about being out at the beach late at night. See the water works some magic on you. She lost all reservations, went fearless as we must be to get through this life.

As I watched them two sistas happily giggling like girls under a super moon spotlight with Yemaya as their backdrop, I thought, this may be my last birthday here with my mother, in the place I was born, here before the other mother that claimed me.

I left that night, an embryo. A fetus in flight, 9 months later on May 15, 2014, I was pushed out of NYC and was reborn on Borikén.

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