HRD 664: Culture, Tradition and Diversity
November 30, 2004
My name is Judy and I was born in Trinidad in 1954. I have tried to live a full life and have done several things in my life, in work. This story contains two parts, one tells about my childhood and the other about a failed relationship, which to this day I often think of as a great loss. At this age I feel that my stories are interesting because I can now analyze the occurrences, the actions of people, my coping mechanisms among other things. However, there are many things, instances, happening that I am unable to resolve or find a logical explanation. At times, upon reflection, I wonder if I could have handled things better, or if I could have done better in my decision-making process. Could I have made my childhood last longer than it did? Sometimes I like to be mischievous and tell my friends: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”. I say this with “tongue in cheek”. This is not to say that I did not have a happy childhood – to the contrary. Needless to say happiness is a relative term – and probably overrated.
My aunt and uncle adopted me when I was four days old. There is some confusion as to how I began living with my Aunt and Uncle. The first story: When I was born in the hospital in San Fernando. My biological mother presumably was very ill, and had to stay in the hospital for some time. On the fourth day my Aunt, who is my mother’s biological second-eldest sister, came to visit her. And it was decided that my Aunt would take me home until her sister could leave the hospital and was strong enough to take care of me. They agreed. When my birth mother left the hospital she asked for her baby. However my Aunt had already gotten attached to me. So she and her sister agreed that my Aunt would keep me.
The other story is that the two sisters agreed before my birth that she would take the baby as her own after the baby was born. My Aunt told my biological mother that she (biological mother) needed help with the new baby because she had so many children – how was she going to manage with one more? No matter which story is true, I ended with my adopted parents (aunt & uncle). In addition to me, my Aunt and Uncle adopted my eldest biological brother, Chandrabhan. From here on, I will refer to my Aunt and Uncle as Mother and Father or Daddy and Mammy.
I am told that a week or so after my birth my biological father registered my birth. The mother’s name was given but no father’s name was given. In those days the government did not recognize Hindu marriages, so most of my generation have no father listed on their birth certificate. This is true also for my biological siblings. I believe that my father’s name may have been intentionally left out at the request of daddy and mammy; and it just worked out that the father’s name was often left out anyway. I believe my childhood was nice, at least to some extent it was. I believe I was happy. I believe that my parents did everything that they could to raise me as a “good” person. To help me in whatever I had to do. But in some instances it was also difficult growing up in that house.
It was difficult when I got to be around the age of fifteen. The reason it became difficult…I should explain first that no one told me I had other parents other than the ones I was living with. Around the age of fifteen I found out that I had a biological mother and father and they were the people I was calling Aunt and Uncle. This felt a little peculiar, because I really thought that these two people who had adopted me were really my parents.
Part of growing up I said was difficult. Difficult only because I think other people helped to make it difficult. I remember following my mother as a young child wherever she went — I did allow her to go to the bathroom by herself. As I got older, I followed my father wherever he went. I was very attached to them and I think they were attached to me. My father would hug me, pinch me, you know, tickle me. Every time he’d see me or…but, he was a very stern man too, and it was very important that we do exactly as we were told.
My Mother you could get away with things sometimes. Unless she, you know, wanted to create some havoc – then that was a different story. I went to school in Trinidad, up until I was 17 when I graduated from high school – or, sixteen I think I graduated from high school. At 17, 18, 19, I started teaching and it was around this time that things became difficult at home. But first I will explain a few little things growing up as a kid. I had everything I wanted. Wherever I wanted to go, I went. My father I think spoiled me. Uh – although I did have floggings, a few, it was because I was being rude or impertinent, or whatever it was at the time, and that would be my punishment. I didn’t like very much being hit. So I worked very, very, hard not to be naughty. I think my father stopped flogging me I was around 12 or 13 if I remember rightly. My Mother would occasionally throw the pot spoon at me if I did something wrong. But, most of the time she would just scold me, she wouldn’t hit me. But I think she instigated some of my floggings. And for that I will probably never forgive her.
I think I enjoyed living where I was brought up. I am happy that I was brought up there. I wasn’t upset when I found out my parents were not my real parents. In fact, I was extremely happy to know that they wanted me there and they took me out of that miserable house that my siblings grew up in. My biological father was abusive to my biological mother – he was one of the reasons she was in the hospital when I was born and several times thereafter. I am happy that I grew up that house because there was no fighting and no screaming and no shouting. There was discipline…verrry strict discipline at times. Still, I don’t ever regret living in that house. I don’t even regret the floggings, I don’t regret the verbal abuse, I…I —to some extent I may have regretted it, and you know, I may have thought, well, you know, this wasn’t right. But I would not have been able to do all of things that I got to do: to travel; to visit countries that some people still dream of visiting; to have the freedom to go wherever I wanted. The freedom to grow up in a family that was well-respected. And to have the privilege of just, doing anything – or in fact not doing anything. Because I didn’t have to work — my job was to go to school and study. And my job was to make sure that I never disgraced the family, or brought any shame. And shame is a word that Indians (India-descent) use a lot.
Disgrace is another word that they (my parents) would use. So I made it a point to always do the right thing. To follow the principles. Even the unspoken rules – I knew what they were – somehow or another, I knew what they were. Growing up in an Indian family at the time I grew up, most families were very strict, but my father allowed me to do a lot of different things that a normal Indian girl would not have been allowed to do. I think because he trusted me. And he learned early that once I gave my word on something it was a very good thing. That I would always do what I say I would do. So there was no reason to distrust me. I did do some crazy things, made sure he never found out, but, teenagers do things like that, people in their twenties do things like that. But I wasn’t ashamed of anything I’d done.
When I found out about my biological parents, I decided I would visit them. They treated me well, we chatted, we had good fun. But as I got older in my teens, my mother (adopted) probably thought that I was betraying her. That I was visiting these people, that I would not care for her anymore, I wouldn’t love her, I wouldn’t, you know, be the person she knew I was. That I would change somehow. Well I never changed. She still was priority in my life and these were just Aunts and Uncles who all of a sudden became biological parents. It created some problems in my family, I would get into trouble when my mother would find out I was there and she would goad my father into punishing me some way or another, either by taking away something or not letting me go somewhere. But once I was able to drive, no one was going to stop me from going to visit. I had a fairly good relationship with my biological parents – they treated me well at all times. I remember as I got older, my biological father would make it a point to come and talk to me. He wasn’t a very talkative man, but ever he’d see me, he’d come talk to me. He saw me grow up, and when I was a child, often he would pick me up from school. Instead of the chauffer, who normally came to pick me up, he would pick me up. Looking back on it in later years, I thought that was probably his way to be around me because he knew that I was his daughter. But he never said anything to me. Neither did my biological mother until many, many, years later when she did admit she was my mother. I have 8 siblings, 3 sisters and 5 boys.
This may sound peculiar, but many people knew I was adopted and who my biological parents were, even when I didn’t know. Those were very secretive times, and very proud people who did not talk about family secrets. This was a very powerful man (adopted father) and you did exactly as he said. If he said do not tell Judy, you could not tell Judy anything. I believe that a few people lost their jobs because they questioned me or spoke to me about my birth mother. I thought that was very, very, strange. I think my parents were very protective. I remember one teacher who was suspended from school because of what she said to me. I was having problems in math and went up to her to ask her if she would help me. She said that I didn’t need any help because I didn’t have to work and I didn’t have to know anything and with all my father’s money he could take care of me the rest of my life. Well, I was shocked and upset. Later on that evening my father and I were having a conversation about school. I told him I didn’t want to go to school. He wanted to know why and I had to tell him what had happened in school. The next morning I got ready to go to school because I did not get permission to stay at home. I had my uniform on and Daddy said, “Nope, put on regular clothes”. I said “Okay.” He took me to school and after a few minutes in class, the teacher and I were summoned to the principal’s office. Daddy was there with the principal…they had had a conversation and I think he read him the riot act. Daddy didn’t raise his voice, he didn’t use any bad words, he didn’t show any anger but he told the principal he had to do something or he would have her fired. Hm! That was shocking to me. But, that’s what he wanted. I think he always he got what he wanted. I went to another school two days afterwards. It was a very good school. I felt comfortable in the school, I had lots of friends.
I will quickly skip through the education so I get that out of the way. After elementary school I passed an entrance exam to high school (British system). Depending on your grade, depending on your choice, you got to go to particular schools. If you made 90% and over, you would be admitted to the best schools such as the convent. Well, I got to go into the convent school as it is referred to in the US (United States). Teachers were nuns and laypersons. I sat for an exam at the end of five years which earns you a General Certificate of Education which is prepared by a Body and it’s corrected in England. This certificate is the stepping stone to the university. Our universities are free in Trinidad – medical school, law school, engineering school, minimum guild fees and dues etcetera are paid by students. But I went to Canada to study for a little while in Business Administration. In 1983, right after my father died, I quit law school and didn’t go back until 1984 to get my degree. After a law degree (1987), I am in Maine pursuing a master’s in public policy – it’s 2004.
I ventured to go to Canada after the convent because I didn’t want to go to India. My father wanted me to go to India, I wanted to go to England – and my brother (Chandraban – the doctor) didn’t want me to go to England. I’ll explain that the brother that I refer to at all times is the eldest of the nine children. He is the first and I am number seven. We both went to live with our Aunt and Uncle and we both carried Daddy’s last name. However, I am the only one that Mommy and Daddy legally adopted. I suppose as a child I felt we all lived well together. My only responsibility as a kid or even while at the university was to go to school and pass the exams and to live a proper life. I was so cautious I tried to make as few mistakes as possible. Still, I made a few. Some were small, some were huge, some were terrible, but I have no regrets. I’m happy that I made some mistakes because I learned a few things that, ah!, I’m glad I learned while I was growing up and not as an adult. When I left for Canada, my father and I had a conversation. We had several conversations when I was growing up, more so than my mother. My father had a very peculiar outlook on things. Some of his statements were, as a young person, strange, but later on in my life I understood the reasons for them. Probably the most important statement was: always do what is right; treat other people the way you would like to be treated; treat them with respect; do not disrespect someone else’s religion; and, whatever you do in life, always make sure that you never have to look over your shoulder, that you never have to look at the pavement walking down the street. Always keep your head up and never be ashamed of what you’ve done – or, don’t do anything that you would be ashamed of. So we had a conversation – I wanted to go to Canada if I couldn’t go to England or India. And he said okay. It was meant to be a vacation. But I had intentions of staying without telling him. I just had to work this right. I thought when I got there, I’ll tell him and it would make life easier. The morning I was leaving we had breakfast and we chatted, and surprisingly enough he didn’t take me to the airport, the driver took me to the airport. Daddy hugged me before leaving the house and this was the second time I saw my father cry. (The first time is when he beat the heck out of me – my mother sent me to apologize to him for bad behavior. I got the flogging but I got to apologize as well. To this day I laugh about the apology but not the flogging.) Upon leaving I saw him very upset and I thought goodness, what am I doing, shouldn’t I just stay, and just hang on to Daddy. Mammy was in England it was a good time to get away from home, in the sense she would not be around to cause a problem. Little did I know that this is what she wanted me to do – leave home. She wasn’t going to be around to instigate anything. All the way to Canada, to Toronto I was thinking, how could have I disappointed him so badly that he had to cry; and, it bothered me for a while, but, you know I got over it – seeing it as a parents’ duty to miss their children.
I stayed for a while in Canada. I called to say I wanted to stay, he was very supportive and agreed to let me stay and agreed to support me financially. I did a four year degree in two and a half years. I told him I could do it in three. The last semester I told him I had to complete a few more courses which was a lie. So, he sent me the money and I went gallivanting all through Canada. Had a wonderful, wonderful time. I think somehow or other he knew, but I’m not sure – eh? But when I came back to Trinidad he wanted to know if I was okay and if I had a good time and I said yes, I had a good time. He, he wasn’t a very demonstrative father. We played tennis, cricket, and soccer together. He built a badminton court on one side of the house, the other side a tennis court — sports were sort of important. He wanted me to learn as much as possible and he didn’t care for us to be on the boat too much, he thought it was dangerous. He would allow me to do a lot of things. Except he wouldn’t let me be an electrical engineer. Because he said I wasn’t very good at math. I still like doing things like that today and it amazes me and it amazes my siblings. But that’s all right I got over it, I decided to put my hook on the legal star, you know, become a lawyer.
I had a good relationship with my parents, I think. I really did like my parents. Even as terrible as things may have been at times, I really liked being around them. At the age of 17, I’d get up and go to my parents’ room and I would lay in bed with them and chat. I had fun just chatting. Sunday morning I would jump in between Mammy and Daddy. And we’d chat and chat. I’d get his opinion on things and then my mother would chime in with her opinion, and then there would be a discussion, even sometimes a little argument. Never heard my parents argue though – never heard them argue. If there was a disagreement, I would know, because they would speak in Hindi so that we kids wouldn’t understand. Interesting! I should have learned Hindi, instead of running away from Hindi school to go to the movies. But even at the age of 28 they’d be resting in bed at lunchtime and you know I was a nosy kid anyway, I had to know exactly what they were talking about. So, I would go lay in the middle of both of them. And I would lie there, fall asleep, talk and chat and I suppose people nowadays would think that’s weird. You know, a 28-year-old woman laying in-between her parents, chatting. Well, it was the kind of relationship we had, there was nothing wrong with it. We didn’t see anything wrong with it. In today’s day and age you know a social worker would show up and say hey, okay what in the hell is going on? Maybe that is my perception.
The Indian culture is a little different, and our family was a little different. Even to this day, when I go to Trinidad and my brother is watching TV in his room, he will call me and say hey, hey, come see this, you know this is a good show. I have a TV in my room too – same cable – all he had to do was say, hey, you know, watch it on your TV. No, he wants me to come in the room and I’ll sit on the bed and we’ll exchange some niceties including damn and hell and you know and we’ll have a good conversation, watch TV or listen to music. It’s a close relationship. My nephew will join us; he’ll be in the middle. Nothing is wrong with that. We are close.
I remember as a kid when we’d go to the beach, my father would you know hold my hand as we walked down the beach, and chitchat with people. My mother never did this very often. Except maybe when I was small, up until 7 or 8. When I got little older she thought it was a little (sigh), too much to hold my hand and walk down the beach. You know I’m thirty years old and my father is still holding my hand. Because he’s afraid that I’ll probably, what?, run away? I don’t know. But no, it was sweet, it was nice. Mammy would say chat with me and she’d ask me questions and investigate my going-ons. The only thing I didn’t like about chatting with her sometimes is that I was never good enough. She said that everybody else’s daughter was doing better than I was, they were married to some- somebody, you know, or they got a scholarship to go somewhere or, who knows what wonderful story she had. Or somebody was pretty you know or whatever. And, I never measured up. I don’t know why. I wasn’t stupid, I wasn’t a dunce, ahm, it bothered me for a very, very long time. And, to some extent I probably developed an inferiority complex for a long time. I felt I was not good enough, even though I would achieve a lot of good stuff, it was never enough. At least that’s how I felt I had to prove over and over and over that I could do the impossible and over the years at work I got the reputation of the person who could do the impossible. Because I had to keep proving to myself over and over that I was good enough, that I was smart enough. I gave up when I was about 35.
Sometime later in life I decided – I was tired. I had to stop overachieving. I had enough. I couldn’t do it anymore. But, to some extent I did do it even up to forty I was doing it I was achieving some things that people who were older than me, practicing for longer than me didn’t achieve. Because I always had to go the extra mile. I just had to work harder than everyone else. In fact I am lazy at times – no drive to do anything at times. And even though my mother was dead, she died in 1990, I still had to prove something now more so to Chandrabhan. I think it’s very damaging to a child, to the child’s ego, to the child’s self-esteem to constantly, constantly, compare her to somebody else. Always disapproving of the child. At least that’s what I remember. Aah, you know, I’m all dressed up to go to a party. Okay, half of the body was outside of the dress, that was the in thing then. My mother would say to me you know this is not respectable; a young lady shouldn’t be wearing things like that… And, you know some of her friend’s daughters were wearing the same types of dresses. And hey, you know I like the boys – you show a little bit of skin – it was, what, it was a “cool” thing in those days. Not in the sense that it’s meant in these days…it was a little…aah, I don’t know, I don’t know how to describe it but it was a different time, and, it was intriguing, it was intriguing. I thought I had to look a little different from everybody because as my mother had said, I didn’t measure up. I wasn’t as pretty as so and so’s daughter and blah, blah, blah.
My Mother also created some psychological problems which I came to realize when I was in my thirties. I think it affected how I did things in my relationships with the opposite sex. I didn’t realize this until I had met someone who asked me very nicely if I would speak to someone about some of my behavior. Ahm, I just thought my behavior was normal. My mother behaved like this – it was very bad behavior. It was controlling, it was insulting at times, which I really didn’t mean to be, but I think it came out that way. And I was going to do everything in my power to change that, to fix it. Not so much for me at times but for the person. I think I also realized it was for me also, I had a lot to get over. Especially after my father died. She (mammy) said that I wanted to take things away from her, that I wanted money, that I wanted this and that and the other. But I really didn’t want the material thing. I just wanted my mother’s approval. Which I suppose I never got. And, (sigh) a couple of months before she died she kept asking for me, even after the falling out.
That falling out occurred after my father’s funeral. She blamed me for his death in front of some 200 people as loud as she could be she just said it in front of everybody that I was to blame for his death. That he always worried about me, that he always had to support me, and always had to make sure I was okay. Well, he did look after me. My life became a little difficult after he died, in the sense, I had to fend for myself; I had to do a lot of things for myself. Chandrabhan was always there and he did the best he could. He could not be Daddy, as he would say times. He could not tell me things in the sweet voice that Daddy had when he spoke to me. Chandrabhan seemed judgmental at times just like Mammy. Because everything had to be done his way. He was always right, and maybe he is always right. But my mother and I…didn’t see eye-to-eye after Daddy died, even before he died, our relationship became strained.
The day Daddy died I was flying back to the United States because he wanted me to be here, and his exact words to me were, “I want you to go back to the United States, that is where your home is going to be. I do not want you to live here, because it is going to be a very difficult life for you. You are not going to be happy here, and there’d be no one to look after you here.” And those were kind of, sad words. At the same time I felt he was trying to get rid of me. I didn’t know he was dying, he probably knew he was dying. And he made all the arrangements to get the ticket and everything for me to leave within a day. Daddy died sometime that morning I left. I didn’t know that until I got to Atlanta, Georgia. I left the next morning to go back to Trinidad.
With my mother blaming me for my father’s death, I decided hmmm, I want nothing to do with her. How could she blame me? She accused me of not caring and so forth – that was enough for me. She had a stroke two or three days after the funeral; after Daddy was cremated. I left Trinidad and came back to the United States, because I just couldn’t take the guilt, I couldn’t, I couldn’t handle it, this was before the stroke. I thought about the events, geez, you know I probably really did kill him because the poor man he looked after me he made sure I was okay, made sure I had money, made sure, every…you know, god, what a useless child. But I knew I wasn’t. Even up to the age of 32 he was still supporting me, well, I was working but he was still supporting me. I couldn’t have gone around the world, and couldn’t have seen all the things on the money I made, so he paid for everything. And he never once complained. Except one day, this was right after I came back from Canada, where I had been gallivanting for a few months, he did say to me, “You know child, you have to go to work!” I said, “All right, Daddy, if you find me a job, I will go to work.” And he did. And that’s how I ended up in Atlanta.
I went to see my Mammy because Chandrabhan called me. And he said, it is only right that you come home. I had five different people call me, my sister in laws called me several times, my cousins called me. A nephew called me. One of my biological brothers called me. And I said no, I was not going. There was no point in it because she gave up on me. She thought I was after something that she knew in her heart and soul wasn’t so. I couldn’t, couldn’t forgive her for mistreating me. Chandrabhan said, the doctor said I had to come home. And he wasn’t forceful or anything he just said Judy, it’s the right thing to do. She isn’t going to last much longer and she is asking for you. And I said, “Okay, tell her I’m coming”.
I am told by my brother, my sister in laws, once she heard that I was coming, there was a light in her eyes, she was extremely happy, for they said she was miserable, for months she was so sick she could hardly move by herself, for at least two or three months she kept asking for me. And even Chandrabhan saw a difference in her when she was told I’d be home in so many days. He said she had this big smile on her face, she was happy. She had a stroke, so you know she had problems walking, but they said she had a little lighter step and you know she was excited and she wanted everyone to clean the house and she wanted to hire another maid so things would get cleaned and done faster. But she knew I wouldn’t stay in that house, the house I grew up in. It wasn’t a very happy house for me anymore and didn’t want to stay. So I get there and I go to see her the next day. She was happy to see me – smiling, a little tear in her eyes. She said she was dying. There wasn’t anything I could do. So I get there – you know. I was angry with her for 4-5 days after Daddy’s death. I got rid of the anger when I saw because it wasn’t fair to her. She is my mother, and despite the hardships, hurt, betrayal, I could not show a bad heart, no matter what I loved – liked her. And she was sick, she was dying, and I thought it wasn’t fair. I thought it was childish. And, I had to behave myself. I was brought up to be a certain way, to act a certain way, and to carry myself with a certain amount of decorum. It was very sad when I saw her. We chatted we talked we laughed it was as though nothing ever was wrong.
I went a couple times to see her after that. She, she’s so funny. She said “Oh! You know the maid cooked food for you, your favorite!” And I thought how the hell does this woman remember what I like to eat, you know? I was sure she hated me. The maids did all the cooking. Mammy didn’t do too much you know she made bread and cakes and stuff, yeah, right. That day the maid did cook my favorite food. (Laughs) Kenneth’s (adopted mother’s son) wife Pamela would say to me “Oh, mammy has been up waiting for you, you know”. And I say, well, you know I don’t get up before nine o’clock (laughs). She said oh, she’s so excited that you’re going to have tea with her. I said, yeah, we’ll have tea. Okay…
So, we’ll have the tea brought up in the nice little tea pot with the nice English tea cups and saucers and little cloth napkins ironed very precisely and folded just the way she likes them and then have biscuits and tea. And we’ll chat — but I didn’t stay very long. I said, you know mammy, glad to see you and glad that you’re doing well and don’t worry, you’ll do well, you’ll be fine. And she said to me, “Girl, I think it’s time you know I have to go.” I didn’t say anything to her. I left, and it was approximately eleven days after that she died. My understanding is that they were frantically looking for me to tell me about the funeral. I would not have gone to the funeral. But that’s another story.
And so she died and I’m sorry that she had an unhappy life after my father died. Pamela took good care of her. I’m sorry that she was lonely. I’m sorry she had a stroke. I’m sorry that our relationship deteriorated, and I never made the effort to fix it.
I want to describe our strained relationship a bit. And I’m so sorry that she isn’t around – I miss having a mother. A true mother. I see other people’s mothers, the way they treat them, and I, I know that I’ve missed out on a lot. But, my friends’ mothers more than make up for it you know they all treat me at times just royally. But my mother was a funny woman. Sometimes when we sit and talk and we would be having a cup of tea with a spot of milk with our cloth napkins and our watercress sandwiches and biscuits and just chat about all sorts of things. One thing that she insisted on – to read one book a week. And my father would say to me, you choose your friends carefully, if you think those are your friends you better think twice because they may not really be your friends, and you know you should be in good company and blah, blah, blah, and…. And my mother would say the same thing. But she would have a different way of saying it. I think they both wanted to be careful, to be safe, and not to be disappointed in people who wanted to be my friend for selfish reasons.
Daddy was a very wealthy man. People used to say he owned a quarter of Trinidad, which, probably was a half truth, but, I knew later on, he was very rich. I always thought rich people were obnoxious in Trinidad. My mother would say, “Well, you know, at least they have a little bit of class.” You know. I said yes, Mammy the money is buying them the class, right? Yeah. And she said, Well, you know, let me tell you, we say to choose your friends wisely because it is like, trying to take the pig out of the gutter and you put him into a nice mansion and you dress him up nicely and you bathe him in perfume and then ten minutes afterward the pig back in the gutter.”
And I said “Mammy, what kind of a story is that?” I look back on it now and I want to laugh, but I can’t laugh and talk to you at the same time, but it’s funny. She always had some saying for a situation. Looking back it was funny. The lady was funny. Sometimes she would say to me “Oh, well you just can’t teach a cow how to play the piano!” What the heck does that mean? Mammy, what are you thinking when you say these things to me? And she’d explain, she’d say, “You know you really can’t teach a cow to play the piano.” Which could mean several things (laughs). That if you don’t belong to a certain bracket, you can’t learn to become a part of the group, that, ahm, you can’t become one of the rich. But I didn’t think I was one of them. Ahm, I’d rather stick with the not-so-rich people, and the poor people – I had more fun with them. But she would come up with these little quotes. That, it just…amazes me. Who would think of telling their child you can’t teach a cow to play the piano? When she had a glass of champagne, she’d giggle and giggle and giggle, that was funny. Then, she used to – by the second glass of champagne, she would tell my father — she had a nickname for him called Yank. I don’t know if it was short for Yankee, but she would say, “In my next life I am going to marry a man who can at least play a musical instrument. And at least a good-looking man.” Of course, my father was a very good-looking man.
We would go to the beach, we’d have fun. At Christmastime we’d have lots and lots of fun. And I think that’s because my father was brought up Catholic and we’d have the most spectacular time. But, I think the best time I had was the Hindu festival Diwali, festival of lights, and the ceremonies that were part of it. In a lot of ways Hinduism framed a lot of my thoughts. I don’t think my mother and father gave me a lot of it. They encouraged my desire to learn the culture, etc. I studied, I read, I listened. They were the guiding force at times, but they were always told me to appreciate other people’s religion, to respect it. And, growing up in Trinidad we were no racial people as such. We tend to be a little prejudiced, a little biased, but, we weren’t racist. And everybody celebrated everybody’s festivities. The Hindus celebrated Christmas, and, the Christians celebrated Divaali which is a Hindu festival coming up November 12th. The Negroes celebrated Divaali, celebrated Ed, is for the Muslims, so we, we sort of saw ourselves as Trinidadian first, and, we love a party. The Trinidadians love to drink and party and talk to each other and visit.
And, they (Trinidadians) are never rushed when they are around people. If a friend comes over, they drop everything and just hang out and party and drink or eat. Once that happens, it means that you are accepted in a circle. And it is very easy to be accepted in a Trinidadian community. In any part of the world that you go to. I know Trinidadians in England, in Canada, in the United States, I’ve met them in the Bahamas, I’ve even met them in Thailand. We are a rather interesting group of people.
A lot of what we learned growing up had a lot of bearing on who we became and how we behaved. For me, I have a feeling that I did a lot of my own mending, learning, and building. Because I wanted a certain life – I wanted to live a certain way – I wanted to be a certain person. I’m still working on it and striving to become that type of a person who some day will be a realized soul. (Sighs) I do believe that some of the things I try so hard not to be, I am. I didn’t want to be like my mother – yet, in some ways I turned out like her. I didn’t want to think like my father. And you know what? I think like him on some level. And, I use some of their principles, and I use some of his thoughts in my every day living and I’m intrigued every time it steps into my thought process.
I am very happy that I left Trinidad when I did. Happy in the sense that I got an opportunity to do things, to learn. In a way, I wanted to get away from a situation I had little hope for, because it was becoming very difficult to live in a house (sighs) where your mother was constantly finding fault, where you felt that you weren’t welcome anymore. Although I would go home regularly, it probably wasn’t constant. Maybe I am so taken up with hurts that I feel the bad covers up all the good that happened. I am so grateful for every thing and still am. Be reminded that I am relaying this story as a child remembering. The adult parts are easy to differentiate. As I said I think she had a plan to make me leave the house. So that she secured her two sons. She was married under Hindu rights before she married my father — before she married Daddy. She had two sons Byron, sorry, Kenneth and Byron – Kenneth is the oldest, so, ah, Byron is the second. And they are about two years apart. So Byron is 68 or 69 and Kenneth is 70.
Our relationship – the relationship between my mother and myself – deteriorated in my teenage years and it got worse in my twenties. Because she saw that Daddy was getting closer and closer to me and she was afraid that he would give me more than everyone else, that he would give (leave) too much to me. She was very worried about it, she was a very selfish woman, she was vindictive, she was conniving. She sought the best for her children. Nevertheless, she was my mother. And there were a lot of things, and probably (and I will use the term, I don’t think it’s correct) there are a lot things for which I couldn’t forgive her. I realize as time went on that I have to forgive somebody some day. Maybe I’ll start with me. Um, but it really wasn’t my job as a child to tell the mother how to think nor to be judgmental of her. So, in that regard I was wrong. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that she connived and she deceived me, she manipulated Daddy to make sure that I was out of the picture completely. So that her sons, would be around to collect whatever there was. Little did she know that the second son would mistreat her, would make her sign over everything to him right after she got the stroke so that she didn’t know what she was signing or what she was doing. He abused her verbally, I was present, when she asked what she had signed. He did not tell her what she that she was signing but did say we needed some money. We didn’t need the money. We really didn’t need the money. We had enough money left for me, my children and my grandchildren to live off of, if I had children and grandchildren, at least 3-4 generations – enough money to survive, even more than to survive.
So she signed away everything (real estate, etcetera) to him. And he got control of everything, and we got nothing. The original will said we were to receive a portion after Mammy died. However, that never happened. He got everything and we know that we will never get anything. I have resolved this issue over the years, I have gotten over my anger, and I am quite comfortable with how I have resolved issues. I am a happier person for it. I am less angry. But it still didn’t take away the anger I feel from my mother thinking that I wanted to take away that money from her children. As I said these have gone or have been resolved. It so happens now that Kenneth is suing Byron for his share of the estate. Because Kenneth was supposed to have shared in it as well. Kenneth will get something eventually. And we hope that Byron doesn’t kill him before it happens. Because Byron has already pointed a gun to his face telling him that he will kill him if he pursues it. The violence is there.
I met Kenneth and Byron’s father, biological father. And he was a very sweet man, very, very nice man. Very good-looking man. Kenneth looks exactly like his father, same charming smile, same charming personality. So I could never understand how Byron became who he became. For years, he was stealing money and Daddy knew it and he just couldn’t do anything about it. And, that was one of the reasons I left the business. I saw the stealing, and I thought it was unfair to my father. He took care of us, and this was not the way to repay him. But I’ll get back to me now.
These two boys grew up with my biological mother. She stayed home from school; she was in elementary school, while Mammy was working at the hospital in another town. And Mammy would see the boys maybe once every two or three months. When we started living with Daddy, probably a year afterward, the boys came to live with them. And I think Mammy and Daddy got married a few years later on. Chandraban came to live with them when he was 9, and then, and I came in 1954, the 23rd of January.
We all grew up together as brothers and sisters. Kenneth was the only one (not Byron) who treated me as a sister. And even to this day he sends me emails saying hey, sister, how are you, you know. And he’ll sign it Big Brother. When I went to Trinidad he went out of his way to take me sightseeing to see cousins, just whatever I wanted to do, if I wanted to go to the pool to swim, he always considered me a sister, always looked after me in that way. His children call me Auntie Judy. Byron’s children on the other hand, do not call me anything. Because they no longer speak to me. And it’s been 23 years that I haven’t seen them. And that’s fine with me. Byron was a very abusive person to me. When I was 15 he gave me a beating that was so severe that I still have problems from it today. He did it again in my 30’s because he felt that I was a threat to his newfound richness, and he threatened my life and I was really afraid. For years I didn’t go back to Trinidad. Maybe to some extent I was afraid of him, maybe I was angry, and I don’t think it was right that, we all knew he didn’t work for any of the money and yet he was squandering it and his children were squandering it. I went back to Trinidad last year and surprisingly enough he was at Chandrabhan’s birthday party. Byron had previously asked for me to come see him. I didn’t want to go see him. I didn’t care, and, I was the guest, I was visiting, he should come see me. He was at the party and I didn’t know he was going to be there. And he didn’t know who I was until ten or fifteen minutes after I was there.
When he did find out I was Judy, he was screaming at the top of his voice, “How come you didn’t tell me that you were Judy?” And Kenneth said to him that he was (I won’t repeat the word), “How could you not know that’s your sister?” The rest of the evening or the night, he sang, he hugged me, he danced with me, he offered me a drink – we had fun. And I was my usual charming self. Suffice it to say that my family was shocked. What were they expecting? For me to behave like an idiot? Probably. But what were they expecting? For me to fall apart? Accuse him of things? I think it would have been very unbecoming of me and it would have been a disgrace to my character to allow that to happen. I was smiling, I was enjoying myself, the pictures show it. There are several pictures of me smiling and us hugging, and just having a good time, and I wasn’t going to spoil that because it was Chandraban’s birthday and it was very important that things went well. It was not the opportune time to have anything but a celebration. Byron wanted me to visit him before he left, and I said yes but I never did visit him. I felt that would be hypocrisy.
I believe Byron wants to make amends. He’s getting old, he’s sick, he has diabetes. And, he knows he’s dying. And he’s been reaching out to a lot of people. A lot of people that he has hurt over the years. Maybe in his own way he’s trying to apologize. Maybe he wants me to visit him and in his mind he’d say “Ah! See, she came to see me, she doesn’t hate me.” That’s what I think. I don’t know if I’m right, I don’t if I’m…making it up. But maybe that’s how he does feel. And maybe yes, he is getting old and he has seen a lot of his family die. And maybe he realizes he needs to do something to correct the wrong. But I know there’s a part of me that says no, he does not realize, and that he’s still mean, that he’s still nasty-minded, that he’s still vindictive. That people don’t change overnight.
And that is what my dilemma is. So I’ve decided, it will no longer be a dilemma; it will just be – pah! – an incident in my life. Because I believe that if you give negative things too much energy, it creates a life of its own and you can’t get out of it and it engulfs you. It becomes part of you, it’s in your skin, it’s in your blood, and it takes too much work and too much energy to get rid of that thought, to get rid of that energy. And, my energy is best suited on myself, on creating the kind of life I have. I like my life. It’s still frustrating sometimes, but I like my life. It’s sad sometimes when I look back on my childhood and I see what a very, very, nice time we’ve all had. Everybody at the beach house for a month. Daddy would close the business for a month – now how many people can do that? We’d go to the beach and we’d have a splendid time. And everyone was laughing, and everything was…maybe I remember it wrong. I don’t know. But I remember that there were good times, and I can balance the good with the bad. And the not-so-good. It wasn’t terribly bad.
I think sometimes that my Daddy did some terrible things. He created this havoc. He didn’t plan this damn business properly, he didn’t plan the property division – he could have done the legal work better. He didn’t do what was right. And I am angry for that. Not angry so much for the money, but he put me in a very, very, precarious situation. All right: he gave me tons of money to come to the United States. Okay, yeah, I lived on it for six or seven years. But he created something that he never should have created. But then again, did he know that he was creating it? Maybe not. Maybe he thought he would trust everybody. But he should have known better because he never trusted anybody. But, he, he probably trusted me. I think – I still believe that to this day.
According to Chandraban, Daddy messed up my life. And sometimes I laugh, and sometimes I take him seriously, and sometimes I don’t know how to handle that statement. Maybe he’s right. There are a lot of things that yes, he messed up. But you know what? Why am I giving him any thought? Why am I giving this man who messed up my life any thought at all? Well because, he’s still my father. And Daddy still screwed up and he still made life difficult, and I still went through hell for a lot of years and mammy didn’t do any better. And Chandraban is upset because of that too. I cannot do this any more. It’s time to let it go and live in the now; let the past take care of itself.
When he (Chandraban) has had two or three beers, he will say that how Mammy messed up my life, and he is very angry about that. She caused you grief, and that’s why you screwed up so many times. He probably saw things I couldn’t see. He understood some things better than me. Unlike me he does not wear rose colored glasses. And with his, I don’t know, intelligence, and with his…the way that he see things, and he really does see a lot of good things and he really does see things sometimes the way they are. But, I can’t blame Mammy a hundred percent, and I can’t blame my Daddy a hundred percent. I give them both 50 percent each.
After Canada, I worked for Pepsi-Cola, the first woman to manage a bottling plant, I was twenty-five years old. Exciting job, first job I ever had. After that, I got a job in Atlanta as a diplomatic aid that lasted one month. They didn’t have anything for me to do, so I called my father and I said hey, tell your minister friend that I really want a real job, I want to be able to go to work, not sit in the office and do nothing. So, they changed my title to Procurement Manager. I didn’t have an idea what a Procurement Manager was, I winged it.
After the government changed hands, it meant that my father didn’t have as much power, because some of the old guys had left, and so it was kind of hard finding more jobs outside of the United States. So, they offered me a job in Trinidad and I said no. I called my father and said I’m coming home to visit little bit and he said okay, come on down. And we chatted I said I think I want to go to law school. And he said okay. I needed money to go to law school and living expenses. My father said to me “Well, how much money do you…but child, how much money do you want to spend on education? You have to work sometime.” I said, “Yes, Daddy I know that, but you know I’ve always wanted to do law, and I just want to go to law school.” “Okay, fine,” he said, “but law school is so expensive in the ‘States.”
I knew he wouldn’t allow me to work and go to school at the same time. He said “Okay.” Poor man! So I had enough money to carry me through for the three years and some extra, so it was really like six years. Which meant I spent six months in Europe, I spent six months in Asia while I was in law school, another six months in South America, Trinidad, Canada…so I, I had a ball. I didn’t realize you know I should have saved some of this money for later on when I got older. Ah, it’s only money. So no retirement no nothing you know and I thought ah, the money will always come you know.
I went down and visited while I was in law school and, we (me and Daddy) had a chat and I said I really wanted to come back home and settle down and stuff like that. He said well, I could open a business for you, we could have a second hardware, I could open a hardware for you. Well, my mother put a little spoke in that wheel. And she included Byron and Daddy was just bombarded. That Judy’s such a flake, Judy cannot run anything, Judy’s never worked in her life. Judy isn’t this and that and the other. So my father’s just so disappointed, he said to me he can’t do it anymore. We had a very bad disagreement. He said if you want to go back to the ‘States, you know you have everything you need to go back, blah, blah, blah. And…fine.
So I took a semester off. After my father’s funeral I went to law school I really didn’t care. I did what I was supposed to do. I thought I was a mediocre student. I had three C’s, oh, sorry, one C+, and two C’s and the rest were A’s and B’s. But yet, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t, it wasn’t good enough. My brother came to the graduation and he sort of insisted that I invite my biological mother. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want her to embarrass me. She had embarrassed me before and, I didn’t think I wanted to be embarrassed in front of my professors. But, it turned out okay. And, my brother found out from my professors that I was a lazy student. That I would prepare my cases in class, and I was very smart and I would make a very good trial attorney. I think that shocked my brother — to some extent it did. But then, he said he expected that from me, I was smart and lazy. So you know he says contradictory things to me. And to this day he still says the same thing. He says one thing one way and then he says the same thing another way another time. So I’m confused how I’m supposed to be.
So I took about a year and a half off after law school and just sort of hung out, to relax, enjoy life. You know the condo was paid for and everything – nothing to worry about. So, during my years in law school I met someone just by accident. I was at a bar picking up my food because I had just finished class and this gentleman was sitting at the end of the bar and just happened to mention that he liked my accent. Oh, well, you know, okay, fine. So there was this sort of huge man with a beard and bald – very big man. And I thought hmm, okay, fine, thank you. So we chatted for two or three minutes. And, we, exchanged phone numbers and I don’t know how that happened because I don’t normally do things like that. And we became very good friends, planned to get married, knew each other for six-seven years. But a dreadful thing happened. I ended up getting sick, life-threatening, I ended up having emergency surgery stayed in the ICU for a while – couple days. I stayed in the hospital for seven days. When I came out, he had told me he called Chandrabhan and that he would be coming up to Atlanta to visit.
Apparently Chandrabhan had also explained to him how dangerous the surgery was, and that you know I should have somebody with me at all times, shouldn’t go to the bathroom by myself and stuff. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t do anything for myself, I had to have somebody in the bathroom or in the shower, I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t stand. And I had to be in bed for at least two-three months. The condo was upstairs and downstairs and my bedroom was upstairs and it was very difficult to go down and cook, so I stayed upstairs. Greg would bring up a crockpot of soup for the day and I would munch and eat a little of this and that and the other he’d put some snacks, and make me breakfast before he left, and make sure I had a shower and everything before he left to go to work. Friends would come during the day. Everybody had a key, and they would check me out, make sure I was okay and there were emergency numbers to call.
He looked after me even as though…even Mammy never took care of me that way. I had typhoid one time and she said oh, you could fend for yourself. I was twenty-three, I fended for myself. Thank god the maid was a kind woman, she made sure that I ate. But, Greg did this for two months, looked after me. It was hard for him to be running a business and looking after me, and making sure I was okay, and…there wasn’t anything that he wouldn’t do for me. He always put me first. He always made sure that I was well taken care of. My friends would drop food off every night. They all took turns. So one person one week and the other person the other week, and, sometimes they’d bring frozen stuff and we’d heat it up, or we’d buy food. Sigh.
I would not have been able to survive without him. I felt very bad for him, but I knew that I could rely on him. I knew that I could depend on him. If I wasn’t feeling well, he would stay up with me. I had to force him to go to bed sometimes. Sometimes I’d tell him just stay at work and work, you know, don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay somebody will come over and see me. I’ll call the ambulance if something happens. Which I had to do one night, um, because my incision just opened up and I was bleeding and I had to call somebody. So I called a friend and I called the ambulance as well so I got to the hospital in time. Greg never worked late after that.
I think we had a very good relationship. He taught me a lot of things I didn’t know you could feel, you could experience, that you could be happy and feel joy. He was a good teacher. He was a patient person. And, I wish – the only wish I had, that I had met this type of a person early in my life so I would have learned all of these things and I would have been able to handle a lot of things better. But I suspect that there’s a time and a place for everything and god just sends people to you when the time is right.
After my surgery, a few months afterwards, my personality changed. I became a totally different person. I would take out my frustration, my anger, on Greg. Needless to say, a terrible thing happened one night. I ended up in a psychiatric ward. I was in so much pain, and I was being treated for chronic pain. And they could not control the pain and I was taking more and more anesthetic and more and more anti-depressant and we were having an argument one night, and I have no idea what we were arguing about. He wasn’t a violent man, he wasn’t an argumentative man, he was not a mean person. He wouldn’t even raise his voice, well, he did raise his voice sometimes. e HeHe he he he he he He But he never raised his voice to me. If he was getting angry, he would say he was getting angry and he’d like to step away for a minute and he’d stand up, walk around, and sit back down and say, okay, continue with your conversation. So he was…he knew how to behave and he knew how to act and (sigh). Well, finally after three hours of argument I said I’m going to go to bed. He said okay, I’m going to do the same – calm down, everything is okay.
But my friend called, and I had taken several of the sleeping tablets which I didn’t remember because I was so angry and I couldn’t, I couldn’t fall asleep and I couldn’t control the pain, and it was getting worse and worse and I forgot how much I’d taken. So I was talking to my friend on the phone and I was sounding as though I was drunk and she got scared and she called 9-1-1. She said you know something’s wrong with my friend she’s having an argument with her fiancé – I don’t know what she told them. 9-1-1 shows up, they knock the door down -the back door. They came in and picked me up (I don’t even remember any of this, this is what Greg told me). The ambulance took me to the hospital, gave me chalk. Sigh. When they read the prescription they found out that I could never hurt myself with it. Chandrabhan had prescribed the tablets for sleep because they weren’t addictive and it wouldn’t cause any harm, and if I took more than a dose I’d feel as though I was drunk. The hospital did figure out that the drug was not harmful.
Greg was very upset with me. And he didn’t come to the psychiatric ward to see me. It was a state psychiatric and the problem is, I had to report this to the bar. Which was probably the most embarrassing thing in my life.
I called my therapist…I called my therapist and she got me into Emory, the medical psychiatric. Because, according to Georgia state law I had to be there for 72 hours for observation. The state psychiatrist happened to be Indian and I told him point blank that he was an idiot; his questions were stupid; and that I would sit out my 72 hours, and I was not going to talk to him. I wasn’t trying to hurt myself. In fact, I’m a chicken. I hate pain. I’ve never contemplated it either, so I don’t know what he was thinking. And I don’t know what the hell my friend was thinking – when she called 9-1-1. Greg was sitting next to me, I told her that, she should have spoken to him. He was angry with her as well.
So I transferred to Emory the day after to finish my 72 hours, and Greg shows up with my clothes. We had a short conversation and he said he had to leave. Sad – he just couldn’t stay. That should have given me a clue of things to come. We would chat on the phone and he would tell me things like he didn’t want to do this anymore, I was getting too angry, and he was afraid for himself, that I would be violent. And, maybe he had reason to think that way. But, I don’t think I would have hurt him. Not physically. I just don’t like violence. I mean I’ll throw things, I’ll break things in the dustbin, but I won’t hit anyone, I won’t do any injury to anyone.
I don’t throw things anymore. I won’t get angry like that again. I haven’t for some 14 years. Greg asked for a meeting with the psychiatrist and me, while still at Emory. I was on a lot of medication for the pain – from the surgery, it been about 3-4 months since the first surgery (had 3 after that). His rule was that I would have to listen to what he had to say. I wasn’t to argue, I was supposed to behave. And I agreed. Because I think I had to make things right, to try and salvage the relationship. I had just ruined this poor man’s life. Was he strong enough to handle all of this? I suppose with the chronic pain I had some personality changes. I was angry, about …not sure…all I knew I had severe pain and I just could not handle it. I was not the mighty Judy anymore. I thought nothing could ever have happened to me. Now I was solely dependent on one person; I couldn’t do things for myself and it worried me.
During this meeting, he said that he couldn’t do it anymore and he didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore and that I should just go away. He didn’t really say go away, but what it meant was just don’t expect our relationship to continue. So I went away, physically yes…emotionally, that is another issue. I agreed, I said okay. I didn’t argue, I didn’t say anything. After I left the Emory I spoke to Greg a few times. Shortly thereafter I left for Trinidad. It was the only place I felt sort of safe. When I went back to Atlanta Greg had already packed up my stuff and put it away in storage; including all the gifts he gave me over the years. And I gave it back to him, why add salt to the wound. And he said but I gave you those as presents I want you to have them. Okay, that’s fine.
I left Atlanta and went to Alaska because it would have been difficult to be in Atlanta and not be able to talk to him. And it was not for lack of trying…I got no response/feedback from him. He did come to the airport to see me when I left for Alaska.
We did have a chat probably a year and a half after I went to Alaska. I thought something was wrong with him, and I offered to give him a ticket to go anywhere he wanted for a vacation. He came to Alaska. The promise I made was that I wouldn’t discuss anything about the relationship, etcetera, we could talk about general things. He didn’t want a relationship, and I said okay, I’ll respect that. We lived in the same house for three months. It was really hard. And I presume it was difficult for him as well. And, I just had to let him work out whatever he had to. And I can say that I hoped something would have worked out but it would be dishonest of me to pursue such a notion, since I had already given my word; there was no choice.
We stayed friends for a few years; we went on vacation a couple of times. I always had fun with him, we got along well. I choose to remember the good things. I choose to remember that he took care of me, when…oh! I didn’t tell you, Chandrabhan asked my biological mother to come to Atlanta to take care of me. She said to him point blank: “No, I am not going up there because that man is in the house.” And that’s exactly how she said it. Well, you see that man – is going to stay in the house and everybody can go to hell. If they don’t want to help, fine. No one was going to ask him to leave. No one was allowed to find fault with him or to ask him to leave or anything for that matter. Nobody had any right to judge him. Oh, the family thought he was not suitable for me, (age, divorced, kid) and I didn’t care about those minor things. If it were not for the surgery we would have been married in August 1989.
I mellowed out when I met him. I don’t know what it was, or what it was about him, but I just mellowed out. I saw things in me that I didn’t even know existed. And that’s another story. I haven’t spoken to him since 1997. But I do often think of him and hope that all is well with him. Ah – at one time I blamed him a little bit because he wasn’t strong enough to go through my ups and downs after the surgery. I don’t know if I wouldn’t have done the same thing too. Maybe I would have stuck it out a little longer because of my personality because I don’t like to admit defeat in anything. I see everything as a challenge sometimes, and I, I want to prove that I can do things that other people can’t do, or put up with things that other people can’t put up with.
But, I’ve gotten over most of it. Ah, sometimes I miss having someone around who knows what I like and what I don’t like and I want the companionship. Someone to make me a cup of tea and to forget to put the milk in my tea. So there were many happy times for us and I’m…I will always have that with me. The problem is, I gauge everybody else by him. And it has caused a little problem along the way, ah, I’ve met some very charming gentlemen, very nice men, um, however, I just don’t take them seriously. It seems I am saying unconsciously “you’re not worth my time, and, you don’t measure up”. And one of these days I’m going to wake up and realize that’s not really a healthy way to exist.
Nonetheless, I’m contented, I’m happy with me. I feel sad now and then when I think about it. But I don’t miss anything. I don’t feel that I have to run out and look for someone, or to feel that I have to be with someone to be complete, because I think, what I had with Greg was more than any one human being could ever expect.
A little work history. When I left Atlanta for Alaska, it was not my intention to stay. After sometime being there, I stated working at a law firm on the Exxon oil spill litigation. I liked Alaska and decided to stay. Alaska has been very good to me. I’ve met some wonderful people, and I had fun. Sigh. Working with Native corporations, flying out to the bush, eating whale muktuk, and getting involved in all sorts of exciting adventures.
I lived in Anchorage for ten years and then decide to live in the arctic – Barrow, Alaska. Very desolate place. Very unhappy people, cold, uninviting atmosphere. People are very cliquish, you don’t know who is related to whom, and, if you say something, then you are shunned. The winters are beautiful. To see the ice coming in from the Arctic Ocean onto the beach is spectacular. To see the Eskimo children enjoying the 24-hour daylight (while you’re trying to sleep).
The work environment, the living conditions (always cold, no good grocery, etc) — I found myself becoming more and more unhappy because of what I saw in these people – agh – tsk! I hate that word “these people” – people who are living in Barrow. I mean everybody- all nationalities. It was not an intellectually stimulating place, devoid of spirituality, a place of excess and abundance, and yet a place of scarce resources.
I made some friends. And they treated me so well. Maybe it’s because I’m that kind of person, I get along with everybody. Even if I don’t like a person I get along with them. So, I found that all I was doing was working seven days a week, no life, no cinema, no sports, no theatre, no Anchorage friends, no bowling alley, I left all my friends in Anchorage and it’s very hard to make friends in Barrow. And I pride myself on making friends. I had three friends – that was it. Actually, four. It became four after a while. After two years I quit, and took a year off and went to Trinidad. I did not want to work. I really intended to go to India, to spend a year on the beach. Doing absolutely nothing – veging. Finding myself – (laughs) as my dear brother would say, “Oh, you lost yourself, o-ho, where did you lose yourself?” Well, I’m still looking for Judy. And, one of these days I’m going to bump into her and recognize that wonderful human being I once knew.
I didn’t go to India. I don’t know why. I just got stuck in Trinidad. And I sort of made it my base and I went to different islands, and I went to Paris to see the Dalai Lama. I’m so intrigued with this man of faith. When he smiles, it’s as though he’s smiling with you. When he greets you, and there were 4,000 people in the stadium, it seemed as though he greeted you personally. The energy, the charisma that he possess, truly a genuine human being who lives the life of truth, compassion and love. If he could forgive the Chinese….I could forgive. He has a wonderful smile, endearing and welcoming. I like what he said, I like his books. He’s saying exactly what’s written in Hinduism. Nothing different. But I like energy that I got from him.
Chandrabhan paid me a beautiful, beautiful, complement when I came back from Paris. He looked at me one morning and smiled and he said you look very happy…and you look very different. And I said, “Well, thank you”. He said, “I hope it continues”. I hope so too. And I think it will.
I came to Maine because the University of Southern Maine gave me an offer I could not refuse. I have always wanted to do public administration/policy. Although I have had some anxiety attacks, because I’m fifty, I’m back in school and I’m with young kids, I love it here, I like my professors, the people I have met, I love the class interaction, I want to know everything.
I tend to make fun of my self sometimes. It’s my way of coping. I dare not take myself seriously. I know that I will do well, and I every so often make fun of myself …keeps me grounded. The policy is to laugh at oneself occasionally, or as often as necessary. More often than not the road gets bumpy along the way, so laugh at yourself now and then. But I love it here. And I am appreciative of the fact that, the University allows you to be who you are. In the sense that there is a multi-cultural group that I’m a part of, and they’re all young people there, with ideas for the future. I just had the most hilarious time with these young people. They all speak three and four languages and I’m so impressed with them. I think it’s wonderful. Pity I didn’t keep up ancestral language.
I am thankful for all the experiences I have had. I am having new experiences here, I am meeting some very nice people. I am happy with my surroundings, I am happy to see that there is hope. But, I hope to do a little better with myself. In the sense that, to give myself more credit. To remember that I fell along the way..but got up and moved on. And to forget – not to forget to live. To live life, to be happy. I am looking forward to a presentation I will be giving on Diwali at the college.
My life is a continuous story. I have learned many lessons. And many more to come. I talk to myself occasionally… I know what needs to be done…and hopefully I will accomplish it.
I hope this story was entertaining but also enlightening. It’s just a small part. I am delighted that I had this opportunity to express myself and to be comfortable enough with the interviewer to relay and share these personal and private sagas. Enjoy this story in the spirit it was said and given.
Personal Response Section
I find it difficult to comment on Judy’s life story; she is open, yet she is protective, and she is in an exciting change phase of her life. My interaction with her has been limited, and there is so much more to her. I will express the sense I get about Judy as fabric. Everyone’s fabric – the color(s) and pattern(s) – are different. In Judy’s case, I see her fabric as becoming more substantial – whereas it may have been a thinnish polyester/cotton blend, it has become a thicker cotton with some thin spots. It is simply patterned – some swirls maybe, but not all over the fabric. And then there are the colors. Judy’s fabric has rich colors – because I see her as a passionate person with strong presence – deep red, dark blue, gray-green, and areas that lack color where she has yet to trust and love.
Her story is one of love, family, celebration, contradiction, power struggles, envy, indulgence, fear, violence, confusion, lack of direction, lessons, underdeveloped skills for partner relationship depth, drama, trauma, enlightenment, curiosity, reaching out, learning to be, illness, recovery, and struggling within her family who sent (and sends) her mixed messages of love and dislike, judgement and acceptance. Judy’s growth seems to have primarily begun when her father died, then another push after a temporarily debilitating illness, combined with the loss of her major romantic partner. Judy has spent much of her adult life away from her birth country of Trinidad living in different places, mostly in North America. She struggles with blaming herself and others. She blames her father for her dependency on his money, for not taking care of his estate plan better, for her lack of direction. She blames her mother for the self-discomfort she often feels, the mistakes she’s made in relationships, and for not being a good mother. She blames Byron, the younger of her adopted brothers for stealing her father’s wealth and leaving her without the family fortune. She blames herself for the loss of her primary romantic relationship and for his loss of income after their break-up. She is confused about how her full brother, Chandrabhan, treats her when he tells her something kind and then often says something unkind to her on the same subject. She has not reconciled with the painful memories of her past, of which there are many, and she still deals with drama in her life – she took out of the story some of the more recent painful memories. She has spent a lot of her adult years trying to prove that she is an exceptional, worthy person. And among all of those observations, she is currently working to reconcile with her past, to find herself, to find meaning in her life, and to stick up for herself in a healthy way.
Judy and I have differences and commonalities. She was adopted, I was not. Her family was wealthy, mine is middle class. She grew up with two parents, I grew up for most of my childhood with one parent. Her Mother sounds like she was insecure and selfish, I have a secure and generous Mother. She has a larger family than I do. Violence was more prevalent in her upbringing than in mine. We did both have sibling issues – I often felt disliked by my sister, and Judy felt that her biological siblings were envious of her, and one of her adopted siblings was cruel to her. On the up side, we were both taught to be accepting of various religions. This helps Judy to be accepting of a variety of people, as it does me. We were both affected by major life happenings: for her, moving, her father’s death, a couple of severe beatings, illness, and loss of a primary romantic relationship. For me, my father’s illness, my Mother leaving dad, physical illness, taking steps of faith by leaving a job I hated, separating from negative relationships, moving away. Faith has been helpful to both of us in finding strength.
Much of Judy’s story has been series of dramas, probably as a result of growing up in a home where drama was created to satisfy other people’s needs. At the same time, in the last decade or so, Judy has been making strides to stop feeling responsible for other people’s feelings; to not repeat the same mistakes she has made; to confront people in a healthy way who are mistreating her; and to retain relationships with her family, even if the family is not always healthy, in a way that she can manage those connections. Judy and I are similar in these ways.
In the Dalai Lama Judy finds a hero. One who has faced many hard challenges and yet gives a glow of acceptance, self love and love for others. He is a source of inspiration for her.
Since writing this story, her older adopted brother Kenneth visited her with his wife and one of their sons. Judy invited me to meet them. It was of particular significance because Judy has often felt persecuted and put down by her family. She said her sister-in-law had not visited her before because Judy’s family (in particular her biological brothers and sisters) told Pamela (her sister-in-law) that Judy is rude, selfish, and unwelcoming. The visit was a great success and Pamela is reportedly telling people what a wonderful hostess Judy was.
I enjoy learning from Judy and have noticed some similarities between Trinidad and the United States (US). Such as, the Indians (from India) in Trinidad often blend the Indian and British cultures, and her family practiced both Hindu and Christian religions. Judy celebrates Diwali, the Festival of Lights, Christmas, and more. She has a British first name and told me this practice was done to fit in better in what was a British-run society. Still, her middle name is a traditional Indian name, chosen in the traditional Indian way, based upon date and time of birth and assigned by a priest. Her father who adopted her changed his first and last name to blend in better and improve his opportunities in business. In Trinidad, people often call each other “girl” (sounds like “gaerrl”) and “boy” – it is affectionate. Judy tells me Trinidadians will drop whatever they are doing to welcome and visit with guests. There, people of dark skin color are offended if described as “black”, they prefer “Negro” – whereas it is probably safe to say that in the United States “Negro” would be considered offensive. Trinidad struggled with similar slavery issues as the United States. Judy said many native people dislike whites in Trinidad and where she lived in northern Alaska.
Telling her life story seemed to help Judy right away. She said she had never talked about her whole life before, and it has helped her to see her life differently, and it has helped her remember things, and even become closer to her family. In our interview, she cried over her Mammy’s death, something she had not done before and it surprised her. She has sought out counselling again. Although it is hard to say, it has likely been helpful to her personal growth that she lost the family money. Without losing her father’s fortune, she may have gotten stuck in the superficial. I am not sure that she would have had the opportunity to develop as she has. She loved the things that money buys, she enjoys travel, clothing, jewelry, eating out, socializing… . She also developed diabetes in the last few years — that may have been her body’s way of tempering her consumption so she can live longer in this world. I wish for her that she will accept the past, shelve the bad memories while keeping the lessons she has learned, focus on the good, let go of the relationship that isn’t anymore, and love herself. Her fabric will change, it will become a more resilient, finely woven cotton, the worn parts will disappear and the whole fabric will become more tensile. On one side it will become more colorful, the patterns will become more intricate – the other side will be one simple color. This will happen as she deepens her self-love, self-acceptance and develops more peace and connection.
Judy and I are building a friendship now; we enjoy tea and food together, a glass of wine. We have spoken briefly about travelling to New York for the Chinese New Year celebration in 2005, as both of us have slept through the last few midnights on December 31st. Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of learning and prosperity now sits atop my computer – her image a gift from my new friend. Unexpectedly, we have become parts of each other’s life stories.