Today I would like to share with you a story from my past that I hope speaks to many of you. It’s about loss, love, and kindness. They are memories that will stay with me forever.
For seven years of my life I lived in Bronx, NY until I left at the age of 10. In my last year of being in the City, I was in the 5th grade at an elementary school that was literally one block from my home. That was where I met Philippe Gaton. Philippe was a Puerto Rican boy with the kindest heart of anyone that I had known. Never had I met someone so pure and so mature. I was a bit of a troublemaker in that I loved wrestling on the playground and playing jokes on my classmates. And when someone took a joke too seriously or if I got myself into trouble with my classmates, Philippe would stand up for me and at times would actually stand between me and the aggressor. There was a time when I had bumped into this grown man causing him to become verbally hostile. Being a terrified 10 year-old, all I could do was apologize over and over, but it was to no avail. Philippe came out of nowhere and stood between me and this adult man and proceeded to deescalate the situation by talking to the man as if he were an adult himself. He then gently took my arm and steered me out of danger.
Naturally, of course, I developed strong feelings for Philippe. And naturally, I picked on him the most and made fun of him more than anyone. I often chuckle when I think back to our dreams at that point in our lives. I wanted to be a scientist and Philippe wanted to be a professional wrestler (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was big at the time). Being the person that I am and was, I never gathered the courage to tell Philippe how I really felt, but there was an unspoken understanding that we both felt the same way about each other. The word that I can best use to describe him was “good.” His soul, his character, his looks, and his heart were all good.
I passed the 5th grade with the expectation and assurance that Philippe and I would be together the next school year. As classmates and perhaps, even as a couple. That summer my brother and I went away for camp for two weeks. On the day of our return, my mother left her job to pick us up and drop us off to our father who was home as he always was. The cab was late and in a rush, my mother dropped us off at the door and hurriedly got in the cab and back off to work. To this this day, I do not understand the rage and fury that my father had when I told him that my mother was not with us because she had to hurry back to work. He destroyed the apartment and nearly broke everything in sight. He was so anxious for my mother to get home that he waited on the corner block before hauling her off. That night they had the worst fight I ever remember them having. I think it was then that my heart severed ties with the man that was my father. And when he exhausted himself and left to the streets, I went up to mother and declared “I don’t want to live here anymore.”
A week later, my mother sent my brother and I to stay with my aunt in South Carolina for the summer. In that time, my mother took what she could and left the Bronx. My brother and I returned to New York but it was to Binghamton where I would be for seven years. And my father knew nothing of it. Moving to Binghamton was a relief because of what I was leaving behind and because of the promise of the better life I was looking forward to. Though we looked over our shoulders often, I didn’t care about what my father thought and how he felt. I only cared that we were free and safe. At the same time, I was sad because I was not able to say goodbye to Philippe. I knew that he would understand what I was going through, and it broke my heart that I disappeared without warning.
Two whole years passed before I saw him again. Although we had left the Bronx, we would visit on a regular basis to see my other Aunt and go school shopping. On this one particular summer day in the city, my mother was craving beef patties. We decided to go to a Caribbean bakery that I had visited all too often when we lived there. For some reason, I decided to wait for my mother in the car. And as I sat listening to my Aunt and cousin talk, I saw Philippe. With a small plastic bag in his hand, he looked like he had just stopped at the corner store and was heading home. Like a dream, I saw him walking slowly towards the car, asking myself if it really was him. And when he came close enough, I threw the car door open and shouted his name.
Philippe stopped abruptly and looked at me. He then said something that astounds me to this day. He had simply said my name. After all those years of wanting to see him, after all the praying and wishing that he would not forget me, that I still meant something to him, he said my name.
Philippe approached the car slowly, respectfully acknowledging my cousin and aunt and turning his attention back to me. The look of shock on his face reflected my own. I don’t remember who reached out first, but I remember grasping his hand. Despite everything I felt and was feeling, all I could say was “I moved.” He asked me where. I told him. He asked me when. I told him. He confirmed that I just finished the 7th grade. And then we didn’t know what to say because all that was needed and wanted to be said couldn’t have possibly been done in the short amount of time we had. So we said goodbye. I slowly closed the car door and out of the back window I watched Philippe sulk slowly through the crowd and up the hill that I had walked up and down so many times. Just like a dream once again, the world seemed to have been fast-forwarded as he alone moved in slow motion. I watched him walk away from me until I could see him no longer, and still I looked.
“Who was that?” my cousin asked.
All I could choke out was “someone I knew” before I turned around cried with all the strength that was in me. It had seemed that all the pain I had been through, the love, the loss, the unspoken words, and the unrecognizable feelings I had since knowing Philippe came out at that very moment. I had never cried that hard before then.
One night I had a dream. Philippe and I were in the 5th grade again and we were on the swings at our school talking while the stars above us shone brightly. We laughed about the old times we had on the playground and in the classroom, and I told him why I moved away. I told him I was sorry that he never knew. I told him that I liked him a whole lot. And then I told him goodbye.
These days, I dream about Philippe once in a blue moon, but we have not reconnected. Like the young 7th grader, I don’t believe he will remember me. But perhaps, as it was before, I may be surprised at hearing him say my name once more. Philippe is not a professional wrestler, but from I gather, he is an aspiring actor. He goes by Philip Gaston now. He has and will always have a special place in my heart.
Peace and Love,