As the plane touched down, I couldn’t help thinking, “How in the world did a cousin of mine end up here?”
Not that “here” was such a bad destination: I had just landed in Albuquerque, and was excited about my first visit to New Mexico. But having traveled the hundreds of miles from Pennsylvania, with a brief detour to Phoenix to visit a friend, I was struck by just how far from home my cousin Germaine really was.
She, like me, had grown up in St. Lucia. Unlike me, who moved to the states with my family when I was 10, she’d been there most of her life until a decision to go to college in Canada uprooted her from the sweet and warm familiar. She didn’t intend to make her departure a permanent exodus, especially given how close she is to her family. But life had other plans.
At the University of Western Ontario, from which she received her bachelor’s degree, she met the man who would become her husband in the graduate biology program. Quentin was originally from Kansas but had lived a bit of a peripatetic existence with stints in Montana, New Zealand, Jamaica and now Canada.
Suddenly, as friendship turned to romance and then deepened into a more enduring connection, Germaine’s post-college dreams fluttered on new wings, and the road she may have traveled, perhaps leading back home, veered toward a life of rippling unknowns. As she and Quentin, a wildlife biologist whom she married in 2008, began to plot the map of their togetherness, their first steps led them to Maine, and then the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M.
While she is happy to be away from Maine’s brutal winters, there are times my cousin longs for home, or at least a greater proximity to it. Last summer, when she visited me in Philadelphia, she even admitted to indulging in the occasional fantasy of one day returning to St. Lucia, as if her life in the states is a pit stop on a journey winding its way there, though she knows career opportunities would be scarce and admits to envisioning an ideal that would surely clash with the reality.
Ruidoso just didn’t feel like the place where she was meant to put down lasting roots, she said.
But now she is going to have a baby there and planning to stay a while. I’d arrived in New Mexico for her shower, which I was co-hosting with her older sister, Janelle, who had flown in from St. Lucia with their mom. At such a momentous time in Germaine’s life, when the distance from family chafed more than usual, we wanted to usher her into this new phase assured of our support. Two other friends flew in, from Ohio and Florida, with everyone else in attendance from the Ruidoso area.
I was happy to be there simply to connect with family, as I hadn’t seen my Aunt Myrna or Janelle since my last visit to St. Lucia in 2009.
But the long weekend was a boon to my spirits in more ways than I imagined. Besides being awed by the rugged expanses of desert, the red-rock plateaus, snow-capped mountains and the lush alpine forests, I was thrilled to get a glimpse into the life Germaine and Quentin had built: to meet some of their friends, to hear stories from the Carrizozo schools where she taught science, to stroll picturesque downtown Ruidoso … I especially loved seeing Germaine dote on their two Catahoula dogs — in reality, her first two children — considering she’d never been much of a dog person growing up but now snuggled up against Jimmy and Billie as they lolled on her sofa, cautioning us to keep our doors closed at night lest they decide we needed some cuddling.
At the shower itself, I was surprised when tears welled in my eyes during a blessing ritual I’d created to be part of the celebration. My happiness for Germaine was pierced by the awareness that life, in all its accidental and whimsical turns, and with whatever was even now imperfect, had brought her to a largesse. Yes, it would be nice if her family were closer, but she and Quentin were forging family ties in the community where they lived. She wasn’t sure a career in education would fulfill her long-term, but she would foster a positive and enthusiastic learning experience for as long as that was her charge. And perhaps she would never come to revel in winter, but at least there would be no walloping snowstorms in Ruidoso, whose ample rustic charms she’d since come to appreciate.
Germaine had done, in some ways, what I’d always yearned to do. She had left the cocoon of all she had known and held dear, and met life with wide open arms, with curiosity and flexibility and a faith in what would unfold. The road has at times been scary and overwhelming, but exhilarating and gratifying, too, and I was so proud of her for making that leap.
I, on the other hand, have remained in the Philadelphia area ever since my family moved here. Though I lived on campus, I went to college less than two hours away and despite my talk of taking off for warmer climes over the years and chasing new experiences, I have only sunk my roots deeper into the familiar. When I think about leaving now, I cannot imagine being away from my family and the friends who have become my circle of support, though I know I would adapt, make new friends, likely even thrive in finding my way.
That was part of the beauty of Germaine and Quentin’s love story. As I shed happy tears for the baby they would soon be welcoming, I cried, too, for all they were creating and all they had seized. Who knows where my cousin would be now had she not met Quentin? But love had made her courageous, emboldened her to choose a path — though some may say she had no choice once she’d surrendered her heart — of joy and risk, both imagined and unknown.
Love can surprise us that way, inspire us to dream beyond what we’ve dared, paint a life bigger than what we thought we’d pursue.
In the eyes of our beloved, we become stronger, brighter, more capable versions of ourselves, which is sometimes frightening to see but liberating, too.
Clasping the hand before us — or in other cases, the opportunity or the dream — does not have to mean abandoning our roots, for all that has nurtured us will always be the wind at our back, a retrievable familiar in the weaving of all that is new.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times