Island Girl in the Castle

September 20, 2023

Monica Roberts Essay Contest 2023 Runner Up

Hey Sweetie,

Do you remember Back to the Future? Actually, I know you do…because it represented a world of possibilities for you–the ability to connect with ancestors, the opportunity to repair what has been broken but also that music! Yes, it has been playing in your mind regularly for some years now (and it will remain that way for many more).

Well, I am 40 years old. I am you and I want to thank you for saving my life.

It was really important to me to write to you now that you are 12 years old because I remember exactly how it felt back then. At this point in your life, you have established and recently perfected a routine: killing dreams in the morning, crushing hopes at noon, and yet designing brand new aspirations at sundown because such is the mind of this little Guadeloupian girl who everyone else is calling a boy.

You have been paying close attention to your surroundings for years now. Every unfriendly word coming from your family has been noted and meticulously archived. Everyone’s response to people who you know…feel like they might be just like you has been recorded and weighed. That emotional process has left you quite discouraged, I know. I have heard the words you have heard, the threats of violence (which you could not help but internalize), the actual violence…I was there when, out of the blue, your dad listed to you the things he hated most on this earth—and one of those things was well, something that strangely felt like you. I was there in the uncomfortable moments where you feared the most secret parts of yourself would be exposed. It is all very familiar tome and it makes it impossible for me to begrudge you any decision you have made at such a young age.

I see you, an unassuming, awkward, skinny little teenager with the clarity of a hermit who has been sitting in the dark, observing the ways of the world in silence for a thousand years. I see you, quietly cementing every decision the 6 year old version of you had thought necessary for survival. I see you, resigned no, resolute…firmly anchored in the certainty of what you feel and what you know.

So yes, your morning ritual consists of smothering your own innocence with the pillow of resilience and in doing so, laying waste to all the dreams that may have been birthed the night before. Yes, it may require that you turn into that evil doctor in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to lobotomize and neutralize your ambitions, for the sin of being incompatible with your search for peace and a way out. I now recognize that you are prepping me.

Years of observation have planted in you the thought that no one could ever truly love you or even genuinely want to be in your presence—that is, once they know the true nature of your being. Therefore, why even form relationships and develop bonds if they are meant to be broken? Why invest all that energy and commit so much of your heart? Pointless! All of it!

Instead, you have decided that access to us is no longer going to be free. It is going to cost dearly in effort, time and determination. That is how your building project started. Stone by cold stone, every breath a dollop of mortar, every interaction a tool, every day a new edifice, you have built walls—the higher the better. You have dug trenches, installed barriers, scattered mines and laid booby‐traps. It now makes sense to me that this felt like your only choice. What good is an extra smile when you live with the knowledge that, sooner or later, this cousin is going to turn their back on you? Why bother? You are not responsible for the things people say around you about people who are just like you. If they are mean to them, why would they be nice to you? Why would their disgust spare you? I understand and am grateful that you decided to protect us.

These defenses you have put in place for me have allowed me to move forward with my life without the guilt you know our education has baked into our soul. Not only have I felt allowed—dare I say pushed—to leave the island, I have also opened myself fully to the world. It feels like you have taken Maman‘s cautious spirit and Papa‘s thirst for adventure and new horizons and packaged all of it for me to be free and safe.

Now, although I am aware of every anxious moment that comes from being on this island and feeling like time is at a standstill, I have to ask you for a favor. You can lock all the doors. You can even bar them. But please…do not throw away the keys. There is a level of comfort and safety when you take refuge in one of your towers but it also makes it harder for those who want to make things better. When they are actually ready to reach out to you, they find themselves trapped, shoulder to shoulder, in the same ditches as those who are not worth your time.

Essentially, what I am saying is that when you end up leaving in five years or so, give your Mémé a call once in a while. It will save you countless hours of spiritual therapy at your ancestor altar. Ask Maman, she can tell you all about it.

I really want to end on positive advice; perhaps mother you as you have mothered me; but you are already doing your best. I see you. I love you. Please believe me when I say that you will end up living in a world where many others do too—a world where they will know and respect exactly who you are. Thank you for making it possible for me to live long enough to experience that. I have cherished these walls and am thankful for those moats but now, I am moving out.

Maybe, in 30 years or so, you’ll come and sit next to me, somewhere in the meadows, so we can read together a letter from a future version of us.

I love you.


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