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MAKING HISTORY WITH CROSSWORDS AND PROZAC
By KENT PAUL
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Kent Paul
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGrowing Up in the Islands
I was born September 2, 1974, on the tiny island of St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean. The Island is two hundred fifty square miles, which is fourteen miles long and roughly seven miles wide. We're part of the same chain of islands as Jamaica, but very small by contrast. St. Lucia is a very beautiful place, very tropical, with an average temperature between eighty and ninety degrees thus experiencing only two seasons. My family's roots there go back as far as the island's own history. St. Lucia historically had been under British and French rule, and had no American influence whatsoever, other than tourism, which was restricted mostly to the resorts. St. Lucia was granted its independence back in the early nineteen seventies. As a result, the language we speak is called Patua, which is sort of an unwritten French dialect similar to that of the Haitians. While my father's lineage is purely French Caribbean, my mother's family migrated to the Caribbean from India generations ago. My great grandmother was Indian, which made my mom half and me a quarter Indian.
My island, especially the little part I'm from, was very impoverished, so even though my father worked three jobs, we were never better off than anyone else. As a little child, there were a couple thousand people who lived in my small community. We were never able to enjoy the luxury of having a movie theater, like most people in small towns do in the United States. Needless to say, resources were very scarce. I still only have the one and only picture of myself as a child, I was about three years old, and it's blurry to the point that you can hardly make it out. That is partly what inspired me to take up photography in my most recent years; with my own children, I document everything. It's my intention to chronicle every age and stage of my children's growing up, because there are too many memories from my own childhood I wish I had pictures of to document.
Very early in my life, I lived in a two-parent home, but when I was about the tender age of seven, my mother and father went through this bitter separation in what might as well have been a divorce. My mother left the family behind for a new start in St. Croix. My older brother and I were left in my father's custody, the opposite of how it was traditionally done in our island culture. My father was only in his thirties and our family's sole breadwinner, so adding single dad to his list of family duties was a lot to take on. Somehow, he pulled it off, working three jobs: a full-time insurance salesman, a part-time gig as a tailor and running a business that rented videos to locals.
We all lived in a tiny house, which sat on about a quarter acre of land. We had a main living quarter with a bedroom, living room, and kitchen. Another family lived in our second house in the back yard, but even with the additional rental income, things were still not looking good. My dad, my brother, and I slept in one bedroom, and it was pretty close quarters. So when my brother finally got into high school he then moved to occupy an extra room at Aunty Olive's house. That situation in turn created a one-on-one rearing dynamic between daddy and me.
I wouldn't say I grew up in an abusive home, but it was a very strict one, with a lot of focus on physical punishment. My parents were blinded by the church and somewhat brainwashed into reacting in certain fashions—like when it came to discipline— they were really from the old school. The Caribbean is very much that way naturally, in terms of the influence of church on its people; it's all over the place. There's no place you can turn in a Caribbean society, where someone doesn't apply the church's teachings to their everyday culture. It's a very historic, religious culture that dates back hundreds of years. Along with my parents' own church, there are Roman Catholics on the island as well. But in addition to raising my children without much of the religious influence in the home, I also would never lay my hands on my children disciplinarily, no matter what their problems were. And that works well for me as a parent
My brother, Uriah, who was born September 20, 1973, was only a year older than I, so we basically grew up as twins. For about eighteen days of every year Uriah and I would be the exact same age. We were latchkey kids, I suppose, but had some support from our aunty Olive or grandmother and grandfather when we were younger. We saw our mother very rarely after she left us as young children, and amazingly, she would later blame us for not coming to see her more often. She would only come down on her own once a year, and with the infrequency of her presence in our lives, I felt we were raised almost entirely by our father. Daddy was one of the hardest-working men you'd ever come across, and he did everything with efficiency. It's amazing to see everything he's accomplished in his life, at the age of only fifty-five. Looking back today, years later, I'm totally amazed at the level of responsibility he shouldered at such a young age. It inspired me to step up to the plate with the same level of commitment when my children were born.
My mom and my dad were both strict, by-the-book Seventh Day Adventist Christians and went three maybe four times a week at least. Daddy continued to enforce that disciplinary requirement even after mommy left the family. His insistence on my brother and I attending with him from a very young age meant that from an early time in my life, I felt very afraid and very guilty, and the restrictions of my parents' religion—even after my mother was gone—never let up. They were both very loyal to the church and never really took us anywhere other than to church or church-sponsored events. That was until I discovered my first life passion—soccer—in junior high school, which also marked the end of my interest in attending my parents' church.
Because my practice and game schedule often conflicted with the church's requirement that we go on Saturday, I started skipping church to attend my games. I discovered I had a talent for the sport of soccer very early on, as did my coaches, who made me head goalie for our team while still on junior varsity. That position brought me all my eventual success in soccer. Also because I had a lot of heart, and was brave, were both compliments my coach paid me, along with the added fact that the stressful position of the goal-keeper would be the hardest challenge I ever had taken on at that point in my life. Indeed, because my position as a goalie carried a great amount of responsibility for obvious reasons, the training was commensurate. I was always the guy under the most pressure on the team, because if I missed a block, the goal was on me. As I went along, locals were always telling me, "You have a bright future ahead of you, keep it up." I started taking it more seriously. That meant a routine, wherein I got up at five every morning to practice for two hours on the beach, doing sprints and a lot of other athletic training methods tailored to my position.
While at first my father had protested my abandonment of his church-attendance regimen, I guess after a while he accepted it under the reasoning that, at that age, I was at least fired up about something productive to opportunities beyond the horizon of tiny St. Lucia. Before too long, I started playing on what in America would call the state level; we called it the village level, because we all lived in villages and towns not cities. It was exciting for a boy growing up in a village, because we had the opportunity to travel to different schools around the island for games. Not only was I getting exposure to what life was like outside my small village, but I also started to get noticed by talent scouts on the national level. Our island was small, but there was a lot of soccer being played, or football as we called it, so the scouts would comb the local leagues, looking for the brightest up-and-coming players. The local coaches would then "loan us out" to the better teams under our island's banner of Leeds United. We had to try out and make the cut of course, and it was a very rigorous tryout process. A lot of teams started to express interest in me, so we were getting telephone calls at the house. My father could see that I had a talent for soccer and, thankfully, didn't interfere. I think in a way he was relieved I was fired up about something, even though he never came to any of my games.
In addition to providing me the chance to get away from the church, being on a traveling team provided my only opportunities to be exposed to nonreligious music and the like. That meant listening to Michael Jackson and reggae artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, all of whom were taboo because of the church. Being a member of these teams also gave me the chance to develop a circle of friends who were not part of the church; it was a much more comfortable atmosphere for me than that of the church. I felt nothing was forced, even in the sense of peer pressure that everyone could start to feel at that age, because I was eager to explore new music, friends, and, of course, women. By age fourteen or fifteen, I began sneaking out a little to see a girlfriend I'd started dating. My father—to his credit—would know I was gone but never said anything about it. I guess he felt I needed a little breathing room to grow into my own as a young man, and I was grateful for it.
Well before I'd begun dreaming of playing pro soccer in the United States, through experiences like the aforementioned, I had learned there was much more to life than the church, but I hadn't had the opportunity to taste much of it on such a small island community. As I graduated into my later high school years, even with my rigorous soccer practice, I discovered another escape: going to parties and drinking with my friends. And though my mother wasn't around, I felt like a pretty normal kid, all things considered. When I wasn't on the field playing soccer, I studied technical drafting over the course of five years between junior high and the completion of high school, I loved it. I learned to design house plans by hand and all of the related technical aspects of architecture at a young age. I was studying the entry-level program to architectural drafting, which was something I thought I wanted to do once my soccer career had concluded. I felt the United States would eventually offer me the greatest postgraduate opportunities in that field.
Back on the field, my teams— Leeds United and Hurricane, which were two of the best teams on the Island—made it all the way to the semi-finals in two separate tournaments. That had been one of my childhood dreams and it led to me being called up to try out for the national team at age seventeen. I made the team as lead goalie, and though I missed my final exam touring in Jamaica with the St. Lucia National Team, it had been the dream of every kid from my little village to reach that level. Also, at seventeen, I was one of the youngest players on the team, so to have a position as prominent as goalie was a big deal. We were playing in a semi-final game that was part of the biggest tournament on the island. It was being held in the biggest venue on the island, with between thirty thousand and fifty thousand seats. The roar of the crowd was sensational, almost to the point of being indescribable. That day, I remember the most victorious moment for me was my father's attendance at the game! We were playing a really tough team, but they only got one goal by me. I was named MVP of one of these games, which we won 2–1. We lost the second but came in third. I remember feeling so proud, knowing my father was present to see me play, because I made some remarkable plays that day. I heard afterward he was cheering, and after that, his whole attitude to my soccer career changed. I was called up to try out for the national team, which he totally supported for the first time in my upbringing. My father had recently inherited a banana plantation from his parents and was in the midst of trying to keep that business running, along with his others, so I appreciated his taking the time to come see me play. Every father's approval is important to his son, and it was nice to feel like I finally had earned my father's.
Along with playing soccer, now that I was out of school, I also gotten a job working at the Sandals Resort on the island, which also provided my first exposure to white people. I was fascinated, because I knew nothing about white culture, and in my position at the hotel as an entertainment coordinator or playmaker, I had plenty of opportunities to become acquainted with them. A central part of my job was to liaise with guests and get them involved in activities going on around the resort, whether volleyball or dancing or movies, and so on. While working at the resort, the part of American culture I became most interested in were the sports, primarily football and baseball. Even today, I'm still a Miami Dolphins fan and have been since the day I had a layover between St. Croix and Houston when I moved to the States for the first time. I had an uncle and some cousins who lived there and ended up staying over a week. They took me to my first football game—a Miami Dolphins game—and that was it: I was hooked! Since then, I've been a passionate fan of that team and football as a whole. My truck has everything Dolphins—floor pads, everything—and that game is still the only NFL game I've ever been to.
My job at the resort was a nice set up because I also ate my meals on the property and lived there in the employee quarters. I loved the freedom it allotted me. Looking back, I would say without hesitation of any that it was the best and most fun job I ever had. Aside from meals and living quarters, other perks included use of a company vehicle to travel to the other side of the island to see my father, or to games, and so on. But perhaps the biggest perk I had were the flirtations I could carry on with a lot of the single, female travel agents who would pass through the resort. As a result of those opportunities, I became sexually active around this period in my life and looked bright-eyed toward the future, feeling that the sky was the limit.
Chapter TwoOpportunity Knocks
Though I was having the time of my life on the island, working for the resort and playing soccer, I knew greater opportunities awaited me in the United States, a culture I was getting increasingly intrigued by through my interactions with American tourists. It so happened that my mother was living up in St. Croix, which is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and my brother had already gone there to live with her a year ahead of me. The problem with my following suit was that my mother and I, at that point, still weren't talking. But feeling it might be an opportunity to have more options regarding my soccer and professional careers and a chance to try and reconnect with my mother and start building a relationship, I decided to give it a shot. My mother offered to file for my green card, her attempt to offer an olive branch, so I left for the States in 1995.
Even though I arrived as an adult to St. Croix, it became immediately obvious to me that my mother still thought of me as a child she had some mythical authority over. At first, it made me laugh in a way when she'd try to lay out ground rules of any sort for me, because she had never taken an interest in disciplining or trying to have a hand in raising me before, because I was legally of age and had been living out of my father's house for over a year at that point. On top of that, she reminded me on arriving that she'd had a whole separate family after she left us and had children which we knew very little about. Her new family included my half brother and sister! Not surprisingly, they, too, were back in St. Lucia with their dad, and she let us know both of them would be joining us up on the island in time. It made me angry and left me with even more of a sense of abandonment in the context of her choosing to be involved with another family of children over my brother and myself. But, being an adult, I chose to try and work past it.
Excerpted from MAKING HISTORY WITH CROSSWORDS AND PROZAC by KENT PAUL Copyright © 2010 by Kent Paul. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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