Despite the fact that the sun had just set, it was extremely hot, and we were exhausted. The flight from New York to Montego Bay, Jamaica, was overall smooth. However, after we landed we still had to hop into a scorching van and endure a bumpy drive to our “hotel” in Negril. The month before, I had agreed to accompany my younger brother Ted and two of his friends, Sandy (a male) and Sonja, on a Spring break getaway. They were all sophomores at Vassar, and I was finishing my first year at NYU Law. Because Sonja’s mom was not comfortable with her traveling with two boys un-chaperoned, I had been asked to join the trip. We arrived at a low-key establishment that barely deserved its one star, but it was all we could afford. We unpacked and gathered at an outdoor bar right outside our rooms to enjoy a cold Red Stripe. “Excuse me.” An older, unfamiliar man had approached and appeared to be speaking directly to Sonja. I wasn’t surprised, given Sonja was a true natural beauty. “I’m Phil Roy. Want to join me and my friend for a beer?” We all looked over in the direction he was pointing, but all we could see was the back of someone’s head. “Hi. I am Sonja. Meg—come with me.” Quickly, I shoved my hands in my pockets and followed.
As we sat down, Philip introduced us to his friend, Nick Cage (the actor). Quickly, we also learned that Phil was a singer/songwriter, primarily for Aaron Neville. The entire time, as Phil tried to get to know Sonja, I stared at the beer Phil had bought me and carefully sat with my hands shoved in my shorts. Within 30 minutes Nick informed us he was going to go back to their place in Negril. “Don’t mind Nick,” Phil said. “He’s grumpy cause he’s here filming “Amos and Andrew” and his character is in jail and can’t be suntanned. He’s been stuck inside all week.” When it was finally time to go, Phil handed a note to Sonja. “Hey. Why don’t you swing by our place this week? We’re staying with some friends right next to Rick’s Café.” Sonja gave me a quick glance, then turned back to Phil. “Okay, as long as Meg comes with me.”
Later that evening, as the four of us were unexpectedly swarmed by a sea of cockroaches and had to head to another hotel in the middle of the night, I felt a wave of fear rush through me that had nothing to do with bugs. Although I had just met someone at NYU that I liked, I just couldn’t figure out how any guy would realistically think of me as beautiful or as someone worthy of a long-term commitment. As we settled into our new room, my fellow travel companions were still clearly in a state of shock from the roach invasion. I turned to reassure them. “Thank goodness we found this new place. Now everything is going to be alright.” But, despite my words, I couldn’t escape the gnawing feeling in my stomach.
I just couldn’t imagine how everything for me really would be all right.
The other day I dropped Ethan off to spend time at his friend Roger’s house. Although no longer in the same school, the two have remained close nonetheless. As I drove away, I reflected back to when the two of them were in first grade together. Although Roger and Ethan had been in music class as babies, they hadn’t seen one another until they ended up in the same class in 1st grade. It had already been a really hard couple of months for Ethan. We had expected him to face questions and stares about his deformed hands, but figured that would be the worst.
In the second week of school, however, Ethan was the victim of a handful of fourth grade bullies on the playground at recess who surrounded him and taunted him. Fortunately for him and us, his devoted friend Javier noticed what was going on and (literally) saved the day. As relieved as we were to know that Javi was there for Ethan, they weren’t in the same class. That evening, after Ethan was sleeping, I cried to John. “Who is going to be there for E?” John began to talk about Javi, but that didn’t soften my concern. Because Javi was the son of our close friends, he had long grown accustomed to Ethan’s difference. The playground experience left me doubly concerned. I couldn’t imagine how everything would end up being “alright.”
Even though I knew from my own life that the other kids would eventually grow accustomed to our son’s appearance, in that vulnerable moment I wondered whether any at his new school would actually want to befriend our son. One day after school as Ethan I headed to our car back home, I heard an unexpected and unfamiliar voice from behind. “Excuse me, Mrs. Zucker. Do you think Ethan can come to my house today for a playdate?” I turned to Ethan, who was instantly enthusiastic. “Please Mommy?” “Sure!” I replied. In that instant, I realized that Ethan was in direct control of his own happiness. Despite my fears, he would engage people naturally and some would even come to appreciate his beautiful disposition. Things would be okay.
I was further reminded of this realization when I watched the singing show, “The Voice,” this past week. One of the hopeful contestants was an African-American albino man named Malford Miligan. Now middle aged, Milligan described a rather difficult childhood where he was taunted and teased because of his difference. “The pain of my difference has pushed me harder,” he described in his intro video. Based on the format of the show (which I obviously love), all initial judging is completely blind and so the celebrity judges don’t get to see the performer before making a decision about their voice. When Milligan sang “Let’s Stay Together” by Marvin Gaye http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evrL2-tCbNI, I was completely floored by the depth of his musical talent. Surely he was a shoe-in to at least get to the next stage of the competition, I thought to myself. Only, none of the judges turned around their chairs for Milligan, and so his hopes for appearing further on the show were quashed after a single performance. I was completely frustrated for him. Yet Milligan, rather than seeming upset, instead appeared almost calm, even positive. As he warmly and gratefully thanked the judges for the opportunity, it occurred to me that Milligan did not need to progress or even win The Voice in order to feel satisfied.
Through the difficulties of his life experience, Milligan had already come through to the other side, to a place of peace. Every time I feel any type of stress based on my lot in life and what I have passed on to our boys, I need to remind myself (and them) of this state of mind. That, although we may not be control of our destinies, everything will be alright, because we are still in control of our happiness.
Two days after the cockroach fiasco, Sonja and I left Ted and Sandy at Rick’s Café to walk over to the place where Phil and Nick were staying. When we arrived, as expected, the land was surrounded by turquoise water that practically glistened in the sun. To our surprise, however, there were several large teepees for each guest. Immediately, we were led into a large, light beige teepee where even from outside we could hear amazing Reggae music playing. Once again, I had made sure to wear my shorts that had pockets for my hands. “C’mon in!” It was Phil, and next to him was Carrie Elwes, (of Princess Bride fame) was seated with his (model) girlfriend. Nick was nowhere is sight. Apparently, according to Phil, he had flown out of Jamaica earlier that morning. Immediately, Sonja walked over to sit with Phil, so I joined the others. Bob Marley’s hit, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” was playing at full volume. A few minutes later, Carrie’s girlfriend excused herself to take a shower, so Carrie and I began to talk freely. As it turned out, like me, he had lived in Egypt while growing up and we had tons to talk about. Before I knew it, my hands were out of my pockets and Carrie was completely unfazed. Later that afternoon, when it was time to leave, Carrie leaned over, grabbed my right hand, and kissed my cheek good-bye. “Meg, it has been a pleasure. You are interesting, fun, beautiful and special. Don’t ever forget that.” And in that moment it hit me. I may not look like everyone else but my personality could get me far. I finally started to believe that if guys would get to know me, the rest was possible. I smiled at Carrie and offered a warm hug. “Where are we anyway? This place is unreal?” Overhearing the question, Phil quickly interjected, “Oh, didn’t we tell you? This is Ziggie Marley’s estate.” I walked away happily and decided, at least for the moment, not to worry about a thing.