Haiti earthquake diary: Sorry, your cousin didn't make it(Read article summary)
On Day 1 for me in Port-au-Prince after the quake, the scope of devastation steals my breath. Then, I have to tell Haitian friends in the states that their loved ones didn't survive.
Mary Knox Merrill / The Christian Science Monitor
Itâ€™s one thing to see the pictures on television â€“ a broken building here or there â€“ but another to see the collective devastation. It literally makes my windpipe close. I open my mouth wide, feel my chest push out as I take it all in.
Up and down the Port-au-Prince streets, rows of buildings that were as familiar as the rooms in my house are now lumps of concrete. Parts of peopleâ€™s personal lives twist in the breeze.
And itâ€™s so arbitrary. On one block, I count six houses standing, seven collapsed. No pattern. Two streets over, there are only a few houses down. The other side of the street every other house is a shell of what it had been.
A priority is getting over to the Bel Aire area to find news about the family of a dear friend, Pulitzer Prize- winning author Edwidge Danticat. Her first cousin, Rev. Maxo Danticat, has not been heard of since the quake.
When I get to the address, there is a pile of debris on the side where I suspect the house was. I start to feel a bit queasy. I get out of the car and ask around: Has anyone seen Reverend Danticat? A group gathers. No one has seen him, his wife, or their children since the night of the quake. They didn't make it.
I feel myself shrinking. My head pounds. Are they sure? I explain that I am a friend of Edwidgeâ€™s, that I have come from the states to find out about her family and they hand me a plastic folder with papers in it, important documents theyâ€™ve retrieved from the house â€“ marriage and birth certificates.
They are talking all at once, asking me if Iâ€™ve spoken with Edwidge, if I can give her these things. Yes, I can.
My driver takes my hand and leads me back to the car. I donâ€™t try to call Edwidge immediately. I donâ€™t know how I am going to tell her. I send a text during the day to her husband and ask him to call me. I think it will be easier on me if I tell him rather than her. Itâ€™s going to be hard enough to tell him.
Edwidgeâ€™s poignant Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, "Brother Iâ€™m Dying," is centered on the loss of family, and her cousin, Maxo, the late reverend, was an integral part of the story. Now to lose him, his wife and the kids?
Later, I call Ms. Danticat's husband, Fedo. Finally, I get through on a scratchy line.
â€śItâ€™s not good news, Fedo.â€ť My voice breaks. He waits, not saying anything. I apologize, tell him Iâ€™m sorry that I have to tell him what Iâ€™m about to tell him. I want the phone line to cut off or go dead.
Fedo says very little and I assume that Edwidge is standing next to him, absorbing all this without hearing a word. He thanks me, and says they will be in touch, and I hang up the phone. Then I sit down on the cold cement, bury my hands in my face, and sob.