On Dec 31, 2017, against all odds, I somehow managed to journey back to Montreal all the way from Mauritius. A couple of weeks earlier, I had travelled to my family home for what I expected to be my end-of-year holidays. What I did not anticipate is that my time there would be fractured with ongoing intimate family violence that would trigger me back into my childhood traumas—parts of myself that I had conveniently tried to escape by leaving home and leaving Mauritius the moment I had turned 18.
What 18-year-old me did not know is that ultimately, there is nothing you can quite fully escape, nothing you can quite fully repress or run away from; one day or another, the ghosts living inside of you start rattling the bones of your present self, demanding that you listen to them and to their grief.
Survival skills are important in that they do just that: they allow you to survive, to escape your pain, for a moment, for one night, for a decade… But deep inside, in the chasm where all your pain and grief lay buried, there is a force festering, writhing like shame, wriggling like rage, multiplying like a swarm of insects. And one day or another, the pain swirls back into your body, making its way through your veins, all the way up your collarbone and down your spine, flooding your hip bones and knocking you off your knees, and in that moment, you become the terrified child who you were 10, 15, 25 years ago…
And because sometimes, the universe works in mysterious ways, the ground fissuring underneath your feet does not seem quite enough: sometimes, the universe wants you to fall, deeper, deeper into a bottomless abyss, if only so you can learn to find your way back from the darkness.
So on the eve of my premature departure from this botched trip back home, as I was taking one last ceremonial dip in the ocean, somebody stole my handbag. Within it: a copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, my favorite shade of satin lipstick, my cell phone, my wallet with my bank cards and my Permanent Resident (PR) card.
A dark ocean opened inside my chest, tides of black waters came swirling in my body, salty currents tearing and burning me from the inside. If I hadn’t felt violated and betrayed enough by my own family, the people who had failed at protecting me, I now felt like the island itself had let me down. I stood on the eastern coast of the island, stared at the horizon, letting the reality of the situation sink in: I will be stuck here for weeks, unable to get back to my chosen home, my chosen family, and I will have to face all sorts of demons, those inside and outside of me, and in the process, I will die.
The truth is, in that moment, all I wanted to do was to leave my body, to escape this burning feeling of acid rain thumping under my skin.
You see, even if you have permanent residency in Canada, you cannot enter the country without a PR card. The only way you can still enter the country while being a PR without a PR card is if you drive across the border in a private vehicle and are in possession of your Record of Landing, which is a paper given by border agents when you first “land” in Canada.
The alternative is to apply for a Permanent Resident Travel Document, a single-entry visa that one can apply for outside of Canada in order to re-enter the country. Except, there is no Canadian Embassy in Mauritius, so all visa-related work is handled in Nairobi, Kenya, which means that it could take weeks, even months, before I could come back to my home, my work, my loved ones.
My blood turned to lead. Thick oil flowed in my body.
I remember looking at the eastern coastline in that moment of loss and wondering: how can an island so bright, so colourful, so lush—an island surrounded with turquoise seas that stretch all the way to the skies, an island exploding in splashes of the red from Flamboyant trees, an island dripping in the golden light of the sun—feel so drab, so heavy, so dark at the same time?
And somehow, I found myself back in Montreal 48 hours later.
A trans sister of mine, also a woman of colour, who had travelled with me to Mauritius, held my hand through the entire ordeal. She embraced my soul with the sacredness with which you hold on to divine bodies. She grounded me by reminding me that my heartbeat is the song of my ancestors who refused to disappear, reminding me that they chose to live and breathe as they were forcibly taken and made to cross oceans to labour on sugarcane plantations. And that I have a duty, to them, to the lineages yet to come, and to myself, to not let the spark in me die. She reminded me that I get to choose life.
Together we organized an online fundraiser.
The community rallied and we fundraised over $3000 overnight.
Since I could not get into Canada through a commercial flight, I bought a last minute ticket that would take me from Mauritius to Dubai, then to New York to Burlington in Vermont over the longest 34 hours of my life. Travelling while being trans is complicated enough as it is, but travelling with no wallet, no phone, no cash across so many borders is terrifying: you never know if something will happen along the way, if you will find yourself stranded. All I really had left with me was my faith. I just had to believe that I would make it back safely.
Before flying out, I had called my roommate in Montreal and told her which drawer in my room to look in for my Record of Landing. Two of my friends picked up the document from my roommate and drove across the border to Burlington Airport to drive me back home.
Less than an hour later, we had crossed back into Canada, in a private vehicle, with my proof of residency. The moment we entered the imaginary border, I felt safe enough to cry for the first time. It was a clear and navy-blue winter night and the stars in the sky looked down on me, showering me with shimmering light, whispering: You made it. Now, go on to live.
The moment I got back to my apartment, I collapsed in my bed, hugging my pillow, wrapping myself in my duvet, begging for their warmth to keep me safe. I cried myself to sleep. And I slept a steep, dark, tense sleep. I slept a forgetful sleep. The next morning, my body refused to move, to look at the sun, to get out of bed. My body was at once forgetfulness and re-memory. My body was no longer mine, it was a timeless space that I was trapped in and that I desperately wanted and needed to escape.
But I also had a duty to live. I had been told to live. So I pushed the weight of my body out of bed.
The six months that followed are a blur. The nights leaked into the days that leaked back into the nights. I was no longer myself. My body was possessed by ghosts of my past selves, and probably those of my parents and their parents too; I passed through life haunted, weighed down, heavy with leaden knots in my neck, and silences in my lungs. I smoked weed every time I felt the darkness would swallow me, which was pretty much through every waking moment.
But most mornings, I forced myself to get out of bed. Every morning, I told myself I had a duty to live, that this was my dark road, my dark night, and that I had a duty to myself—my past, present and future self—to honour my journey. Every day, I held on to my faith, and repeated to myself like a mantra: After every dark night, no matter how long, the sun always rises. After every dark road, there is a light that looms up the horizon. Keep walking until you see the light. Keep walking.
And like that, I held on to my faith and I held on to life. I realized that the choice to believe or to give up was mine to make. So I chose to believe, I kept on walking my dark road, falling often, frequently collapsing into muddy tracks, but I kept walking. I kept walking.
Even though I did not always show up at work, even though I stopped seeing my friends for a while, even though I could go for days without eating like I was literally willing my body to disappear, I always, always held on to my commitment to life, to the faith that I would make it to the other side.
Grief is such a tender thing. Grief is such a difficult thing. Grief is such an impossible thing. But grief is also what breaks us open, what allows us to shed our skin so a new sense of self can emerge, if only we let it, if only we make space for the long nights, if only we decide to be present and to hold on the faith that the sun will rise, that the sun inevitably rises.
I’ve had many dark roads in my life, some when I was just a child, some as a teenager, and others as a young adult. I am sure there are other dark roads I am yet to face.
What I learned in 2018 is that if I willingly choose to walk the dark road, if I willingly decide to let my heart break open while holding on to my faith, I get to become the blossoming tree that lies in the promise of a seed. Aseed must first break, so the root can emerge. A root must first fight its way through dirt, before a plant sprouts into the light.
So I welcomed the darkness. I chose to find the light.
Kama La Mackerel is a Montreal-based Mauritian-Canadian multi-disciplinary artist, educator, writer, community-arts facilitator, and literary translator who works within and across performance, photography, installations, textiles, digital art, and literature. Their work is grounded in the exploration of justice, love, healing, decoloniality, hybridity, cosmopolitanism, and self- and collective-empowerment. Kama has exhibited and performed their work internationally and their writing in English, French, and Kreol has appeared in publications both online and in print. ZOM-FAM, their debut poetry collection is published by Metonymy Press.
lamackerel.net // @KamaLaMackerel