4in X 7in (fragile handle with care)
I am hanging with my Dad today and we’re going to be listening to a tape he made before leaving Grenada. On it, is Maurice Bishop’s last public speech ever made. Daddy taped it on the radio not knowing what will come just a few months later. We will listen to it while we drive—we will stop for oil down at Wes’s restaurant which is next to what was the Green House. Daddy taught Wes during his tenure at St. Andrew’s Methodist Primary before leaving for the US. It is fascinating to watch this man, my father, come alive when he is greeted by his past pupils and old friends, who addresses him formally, with mister followed by his last name. It is a fascinating space to exist in, standing there as a grown adult, being placed in the role of his son, as he interacts with individuals he knew from a different era before my birth. People who knew this man in a way that I will never be privy to, for the simple fact that he is my Dad. I often go between calling him Dad and Daddy, it depends on my mood and where we are. I sometimes refer to him now more as Dad because I am no longer a boy, but at times, it comes out just out of habit and an endearing nature I have for him and towards him. Dad and his siblings also refer to my grandfather, their father, in the same interchangeable titles of Dad and Daddy, and nothing else—inheritance is a beautiful thing. In these moments when my Dad ceases to be my father and becomes his birth name, his individual self, before kids, I find myself in a state of nostalgia for something that I never knew, sentimentality for what we have and what I’ve inherited from him, and melancholy for him—for a life that he is connected to and simultaneously disconnected from. It is beautiful to watch him come alive when they remind him of who he was and what he used to do. When they remind him of his red motorbike and of falling from his motorbike in front of Miss Bebe’s house and the Seventh Day Adventist Church along the stretch of road where daredevils would speed in their motorized vehicles. It is an odd space of local narratives through story-telling that connects my father through space and time, and allows him a moment of transcendental respite. But back to the cassette tape, it is one of the only copies of this speech in existence today. I am hoping to convert it from cassette tape to a CD but I don’t know where and how—the speech is quite telling.
Daddy first mailed the tape to me on Sept 16th. It arrived and I was immediately nervous. Nervous because my Dad is very particular and cares for his things. He is sentimental, caring, but most of all, sceptical. These qualities can be effective in certain situations and a hindrance in others, like everything else—ying and yang. As I reached into the silver mailbox with its limited space, I am filled with excitement and slight terror, standing in the marbled lobby of my pre-war apartment building. Excitement because I have received the tape safely and terror, because now, I am in control of the tape and must guide it with my life. The weight of this responsibility was daunting and I immediately thought of re-sending the tape to expunge any responsibility from my shoulders. I have since carried the tape with me, daily, with the fear of anything happening to it. I figured, if it is always on my body, then whatever happens to the tape won’t be because of my negligence but because of life’s activities—things happen, it is not my fault. Each day, since, I have checked and re-checked to ensure that the package is still there, safely tucked away. I would reach into my bag blindly and feel for its dimensions and its slightly powdery US mail texture. On other days, I would use my eyes and sight for confirmation of its secure presence. Upon receipt of the package I called my Dad to say it is here and thank you, again, for sending it. It went a little something like this.
Me: Dad, I received it—thank you kindly (my heart in my throat).
Dad: Great! Now, it’s in your control. If anything happens to it, it’s on you (and he laughs).
Me: (I jokingly whispered to myself) Shit! I knew it. That fucker! And I laugh out loud to him and with him, because it was a moment when two hearts, knowing each other as best they can, as father and son, realized the trust and love in this correspondence. From the mailing to the receiving of the package, to the opening of the cold metal silver mailbox, to this phone call. The journey of this single tape signified more than its contents. It is an acknowledgement of History, of geography, of family and of love.
The front side of the package reads “FRAGILE HANDLE WITH CARE” in my Dad’s script. His penmanship is unique and it is telling of who he is and the care he puts into his things, into his work, into his life, into his being—his essence as a man. The script is controlled and perfectly evened. It is capitalized, blocked. I have kept each Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Easter card I’ve received from my father since the age of twelve. I have also kept each letter I’ve ever received from family and friends throughout my life since that age. This trait, I have genetically inherited, from my father. He too, is sentimental like me. As I look closer at the script, I realized, it is not my father’s. I panicked, and run to my archive to borough through what I’ve stored, looking for his old mailings to compare. Like the detectives on the television and in movies, I began matching the formation of the single letters. But before I get there, I am distracted by two things: an empty envelope from my uncle during his studies in Texas (my father’s brother) and a birthday card from my maternal uncle who sent me a 21st Birthday card during my studies abroad in Galway, Ireland. In the birthday card, he addresses me by my family nickname on my mother’s side (I also have a family nickname given to me paternally). This name, he is responsible for. For the past few years, I have struggled to spell the name myself because it is unique and I have never seen it or heard it spelled before. It is a mash-up of my actual name Atiba but with a Caribbean spin. Meaning, you shake your head and ask yourself, “Where do these people come up with such clever and creative nicknames for each other?” These nicknames are thoughtful, attentive and created with such intent it is stunting to the senses at its literal annotations. In this case, the entire first part of the name is cut-out and the nickname begins with the last two letters of my name and then an appendage. I opened the card, and therein lies the spelling, from the man who nicknamed me, in his unique penmanship and the correct spelling of the family’s pet name for me. Ah, I sigh. And immediately e-mailed him and my two cousins, who also signed the card with him and my grandma—their penmanship also marking their personalities and their varied ways of sharing and caring, identified by the colour ink and the force inserted in the formation of the letters and the curvature of the words, along with the illustrations that accompanied their verbiage. Immediately, I e-mailed my paternal uncle, too. Then my Dad, asking him, “On the package you sent, were you the one who wrote my address and “FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CARE?” As I write this, I remember, he has written those words before, and he didn’t capitalised “WITH.” I’ve e-mailed and now I wait—it is 7:15 a.m. on Saturday morning.
This tape, the last tape with the thundering and but velvety vanilla voice of Maurice, thirty-three years after my Dad taped it in his bedroom, on his cassette tape player, would be a relic of the past that connects us in the future, today.
I received an e-mail at 7:22 a.m. with “Yes…” and the contents that followed was the announcement that a family relative passed away last night and a reminder of our belated birthday lunch celebration this afternoon. In that moment, the “FRAGILE HANDLE WITH CARE” takes on a different character and I am reminded of life’s fragility and the importance of love and care, and appreciation for who we have and what we have. His e-mail read like this:
“Yes. Morning. I was awakened by some sad news. My cousin by the name of Donna died last night in Trinidad. Early 50’s. I am now trying to get some . Our plans still on. C u later.”
On the signature on the package, what threw me of was the letter A—my Dad never puts an Egyptian pyramid crown on his As, his As are always domed-shaped, circular and oval, with an even arc. The As stand out to me because I have two As in my name, at the beginning and at the end. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in Act II, Scene II, we are reminded of the importance of a name—“what’s in a name?”
Juliet: O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
Juliet: ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
Romeo: I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
I truly believe that love wins and what is in a name, is always love. So as Romeo says to Juliet, call me Love.
“Youth, thou bear’s thy father’s face. Frank nature, rather curious than in haste/Hath well composed thee. Thy father’s moral parts/Mayst thou inherit too! Welcome to Paris!”—All’s Well that Ends Well, Scene I, Act II