Réginald louis-Jacques, age 37, has lived in new York for 10 months. “I’m married to Regine Coppee, and we have a son, Mathys Reginald. Back in Haiti I was an electronic and network computer engineer.” Betsy Kissam is his ESOL teacher at the College of Mount St. Vincent’s institute for immigrant Concerns, where Donna Kelsh is the director and Mark Brik is the education director. Réginald louis-Jacques aims “to go to school to get a Master’s degree in telecommunications.”
I still remember that day like it was yesterday! It was a beautiful, sunny day. After a hard day at the National Credit Bank, where I worked as an analyst in telecommunications, I decided to go home at 4:30 p.m. to join my young son. At 4:53 p.m. I arrived at the entrance to the dead-end street where I lived. I was waiting for two cars to move so I could turn, when there was a deafening noise. At first I thought it was a large truck whose brakes had failed. Then I realized it was an earthquake, the worst thing that Haitians feared!
I was next to a brand-new hospital at least six floors high, and before my eyes it collapsed on—I do not know how many—patients, visitors, staff and passersby in the street. I moved the car two or three meters, and a wall fell on the car behind me, exactly where I had been. I quickly got out of the car and stayed in the middle of the street while the earth continued to shake under my feet. After a few seconds, the shaking stopped. Two minutes after the first shock, another was felt, then every three to five minutes during the next two hours, and every 15 to 20 minutes throughout the night.
I was a minute’s walk from my house, but it took me over an hour to get there. I had to pass through the rubble, walk on roofs, defy death, and hear the cries of pain and despair of those who had lost their entire families, the grief of those who had seen the fruits of a lifetime destroyed in a few seconds, and the sighs and groans of those trapped beneath the rubble. The most painful was to be forced to leave them to fly in search of my own family. When I arrived at what should have been called my home, I ceased to exist. It too had collapsed with my wife and my 13-month-old son inside.
At that time, I experienced the death of the soul and death in the soul. I am told that I squatted on the ground, hitting it with a stick. I do not know how long I stayed in this state. Finally, I heard a small voice calling from afar, like an echo from the other end of the world. A young cousin of my wife told me that he had pulled my wife and son from the rubble and that they had nothing, not a scratch, on them. When he tried to reassure me, I jumped on him to strangle him. Luckily he understood that I was not in a normal state and fled. It took me about an hour to find my wife and son, kiss them, hold them tight against me and thank God for this miracle that I did not deserve any more than those who died or lost their loved ones.
Approximately one week before the earthquake, I had awakened in the night and switched on my television. My wife had joined me. A documentary showed how to behave in case of an earthquake, and when the first tremors were felt, my wife remembered this. She took refuge with my son under a large, solid wooden table in the dining room. The house collapsed, but the table was able to resist.
I am one of the few survivors in this drama who has lost neither his immediate family nor extended family. But I lost friends of long standing, people who were dear to me, with whom I shared so much and with whom I had so many things in common. I am not cured yet, and perhaps I will not heal. But the earthquake has completely changed my life: This tragedy has brought me closer to God.
Today, my family and I have moved to Brooklyn with the goal of rebuilding our lives.
(The article was published in The Literacy Review, a literary journal published by The Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.)