Maryse Noël Roumain: Remembering Kate

Some twenty years since my mother left Brooklyn and moved to Queens, but I never met Kate in the building.

And yet, she had been living there with her mother for many years prior to renting her own studio at wealthier Jamaica Estates.

I met Kate’s mother first—we shared an interest in Haiti’s political drama—and later she introduced me to her daughter.

We became instant friends, Kate and I, sharing the love for good food, exotic music and endless conversations. She took me to restaurants and movie theaters, and I took her to jazz concerts at the College nearby. Listening to Michael Bubblé on the car radio, we often traveled through East Village, stopping at a Thai restaurant to degust Thai beers. Michael Bubblé… Good stuff. Kate has refined musical taste.

On the 4th of July last year, after the fireworks display in Astoria, by the Hudson River, we went for a long ride in her car on the highways of Long Island, listening to Brazilian jazz, flamenco and afro-Cuban compositions. No fixed destination. We ended up on Jones Beach, where we ordered grilled tuna, sautéed vegetables, and some bass at a small restaurant. While the local rock group played noisy and ragged music, I had a glass of wine, she had a beer.  As usual, she paid the bill.

I could never afford to pay my friend Kate a meal, a movie ticket or a jazz concert. Those were economically-challenged times for me—no money for leisure activities.

I promised her a dinner at my house.

“What do you say? A tasty paella with lots of shrimps and mussels, an avocado salad, a mango for dessert…”

“And Sangria!” she exclaimed.

“Don’t forget the Sangria.”

“We’ll listen to Alicia Keys on my small stereo.”

On Jones Beach that night, we talked about Saving Face, a movie adaptation of a novel by a Chinese woman who happened to live in Flushing, Queens. Kate said she knew about the movie; the plot revolved around a Flushing family facing a double taboo:  the mother pregnant outside of marriage, the daughter a lesbian. A shadow passed over Kate as she spoke, and I wondered for a second whether Alice Wu, the Chinese woman author and movie director, knew Kate and her mother.

For this was their story.

After dinner, Kate gave me a book titled “Small Miracles of Love and Friendship.” She’d marked her favorite passage: Like magnets we are drawn to people and places that will complete us in some special way.  And this was true for Kate and me.

I asked her when I would see her again.

Tu as tes démons et moi les miens,” she answered. You have your demons and I have mine.

She was right, I guess. Despite all that we shared—our interest in good music as well as movies and food…, our desire for endless, aimless rides, as well as conversations about Haiti (our native country) and the United States (our adopted country)—we each had preoccupations and needs that separated us irreparably. I didn’t know of her battles. She didn’t know of mine.

Kate is gone now; gone from my life.

Her mother says Kate is angry at me. Is it because I didn’t visit her after the minor car accident? Have I e-mailed her the wrong lesbian joke?  I don’t know.

For weeks now, I’ve been trying to make amends for an unknown fault, leaving messages on her answering machine.

Kate might be gone forever, and I have no other friend but her.

Kate, je me souviens.

New York, September 15, 2010

*   *   *

Maryse Noël Roumain est née aux Cayes, Haïti, en 1949.  Elle laissa sa ville natale à l’âge de 16 ans pour poursuivre ses études secondaires à Port-au-Prince puis rejoignit ses parents à New York à l’âge de 19 ans.

Ayant étudié à la Sorbonne à Paris puis à l’Université Columbia à New York et à l’Université de la Ville de New York, Maryse Noël Roumain détient un doctorat en Psychologie.  Sa spécialité, c’est le développement de l’intelligence et du langage chez l’enfant.

Maryse Noël Roumain est l’épouse du politique Claude Roumain et elle est la mère de Régine Roumain et de Christian Roumain.

De son parcours d’écrivain, elle dit ceci:

“J’ai commencé par publier trois études dans ma spécialité.  Le texte qui s’intitule L’Enfant Haïtien et le Bilinguisme a paru chez Cidhica et Deschamps.  Je suis venue à l’écriture à proprement parler en 2004 quand j’entrepris d’écrire des lettres à mon frère.  Il s’agissait de passer mon temps à faire quelque chose, à communiquer, à créer, et même à s’insurger contre le réel.  Le but, en écrivant ces lettres, n’était pas de s’enquérir de l’autre mais de faire de lui un prétexte, une raison, une motivation à l’activité d’écriture.  Car je vivais des moments difficiles et l’écriture, c’était mon moyen de dépasser l’angoisse et la solitude…

Puis vint le moment où je me mis à écrire pour la revue Reflets, basée à New York, un peu pour me consacrer à la pratique d’écrire.  Là, on peut retrouver quelques 20 à 25 articles que j’ai rédigés sur des sujets variés qui concernent la communauté haïtienne.

Dans un troisième temps, je vins à tenir un journal d’où provient mon livre : Life goes on, a Reflective Diary, publié en 2009.

Depuis, j’ai plusieurs projets en train dont le texte intitulé Chronique d’une Démocratie Dévoyée, actuellement sous presse et une série de récits autobiographiques.

Mes textes ne relèvent pas de la fiction mais du genre autobiographique, de la recherche et de l’analyse politique.  Comme j’ai eu à l’exprimer sur mon « blog » : ma vie est mon inspiration.  J’ajouterais: et Haïti, ma passion.”

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