After moving to California, in 2010, it seemed as if Mom would spend the rest of her life there. She never complained about the weather, as she had in New York. Though I had never known her to be an especially active person, in California she went hiking nearly every weekend, and even became a docent in an open-space preserve high in the hills. And after years of working for temp agencies that shuttled her from city to city, she now worked full-time as a civil servant in the Alameda County Department of Agriculture. (As far as I could tell, the job consisted mostly of telling people that they could not legally grow weed in their apartment; they had to do so in a field.) Most importantly, her employer contributed to her retirement. It seemed, for the first time in her life, that she would not have to work until the day she died.
In California, with her children finally grown, Mom could now pursue the dreams she’d put on hold when she had my older brother, her first child, at twenty-three. She joined a trans South Asian poetry collective, though she was neither trans nor a poet. She stockpiled oil paints and turned stray sheets of paper into canvases, mostly for paintings of silhouettes resembling her younger self, me, or my brother. She also constructed woodblocks, stamps, and art books. It seemed as if she would continue her weekend artisanship until retirement, at which point she could spend her days in front of an easel on a ridge, with late sunlight casting a golden hue on the canvas.
But something changed in Barack Obama’s second term. Mom complained more often about microaggressions at work and in public, about white people whom she barely knew claiming to be good friends, and about white Californians who paraded their progressivism while inadvertently uttering antiblack sentiments in the same breath. They had bumper stickers that said Black Lives Matter, in her account, while advocating for racist housing policies that displaced people of color in Oakland and San Francisco. “California liberalism,” she once wrote me in an email, hides “super conservatism” underneath a veneer of political correctness. She spoke of her neighbor, a British expat who told her the only Jamaicans he’d ever met were British bus drivers who smiled a lot. She sent me several emails each week about politics. The subject of one read, “Bwoy! Colonialism is a bitch.” Another read, “Wow! U kno that fdr was a real fukka?” She sent these critical emails from her government address. I asked her to stop, fearing it would cost her her job. She said she didn’t care.
After Donald Trump’s election, Mom grew even more vocal about her anger. But she also began to talk about something else: home. She called to share long-forgotten stories, often told in one breath, about growing up on a coffee farm in New Monklands, Jamaica. Did I know that, after Grandma moved to the States and left them with her stepfather, she and her sister spent many Friday nights in muck, turning over rocks and catching janga (crayfish) to cook on an open fire for dinner, while their stepfather drank at the rum bar? No, I hadn’t heard that one. What about the time her sister, Auntie Peaches, named and befriended a goat that the family later slaughtered and served for dinner—had I heard about her bawling at dinner? That one was new to me too. Did she ever tell me about how Grandma had warned her not to hug the newborn chicks, but when she saw them in the coop they were too cute to resist, and so she picked one up and drew it close and squeezed until she felt something wet on her feet, suddenly realizing that she’d popped the chick like a balloon, its innards tumbling out? That story I did know, since she shared it every Christmas dinner.
Mom’s art also turned to stories of home. She began researching our ancestry, reaching as far back as Barrett Mclean, who was born in 1828. She compiled a family tree into a hundred-page-long art book full of woodblock prints, photocopied birth certificates, and Jamaican nursery rhymes. She sent the book to me, she said, so that I would not be confused when she spoke about our family history (and, perhaps, so that I would not forget our ancestors). She also made a shorter book replete with handmade stamps and stories of her sliding down a grassy hill, past yellow-tipped birds and spotted cows. She sent that book to Auntie Peaches, who responded with stories of catching lizards and digging for potatoes. Her research forged winding paths through several of the islands’ regions, through family name changes and two centuries, all of it leading to her childhood. It was as if history ended on a farm in a remote corner of the island.
None of her stories was happy. They blended the everyday traumas of farm children with histories of enslavement (on the Black side of our family) and indenture (on the Indian side of our family), layered over with the uncertainty of a country taking its first steps after independence. Even if she rarely spoke of life after she left the farm, I knew that her own childhood was cut short when she and Auntie Peaches were sent to live with a relative of one of Grandma’s friends, who beat them. The optimism of Jamaican independence, meanwhile, as David Scott has memorably written, now looks tragic from the contemporary perspective. The burgeoning nation’s dreams of economic equality were undermined by widespread poverty, and the visions of safety that came with nationhood were replaced with a murder rate that rose to the world’s highest in the late 2000s. The future—both hers and the country’s—cast a dark pall on Mom’s tales of fishing in the Morant River. But these qualms about what came after those years were my problem. When she spoke about her youth, her words flowed quickly. She seemed transported to a place beyond reproach.
So it wasn’t a surprise when she started talking about returning. I thought the decision was risky, if not irresponsible. In California, she had work; if she left, how would she feed herself or pay her rent? But whenever I raised this concern, she said she would figure it out, and told me to stop fretting.
These conversations often reminded me of the times she’d tell me, “Boy, you a boy and you no man yet.” Besides, she’d say, she’d moved without work before: Since 1992, she had lived in no fewer than six places in two different countries, including three states in America. Her itinerancy made me wonder what she was looking for. Most of her complaints about the places we lived were about the racism and sexism she experienced. She may have thought she would find freedom from antiblackness, if not freedom from misogyny, in a majority-Black country like Jamaica. That seemed unlikely, but I tried to let go of my anxieties; no matter how much I worried, she would do as she pleased. Beyond that, when she spoke about home, she reveled in the idea of wading in rivers and sharing mountain landscapes with animals, which never happened on her hikes in California. So maybe it was the natural world that lured her back. There may also have been something else she wanted to recover—the deeper stability in belonging to and understanding a people and a terrain. I can’t say for certain. But I wanted her to find a place where she felt like she could live the rest of her life in comfort. So, despite my fear that she would run out of money, I did my best to trust her.
Mom planned to stay at the home of one of her best friends when we lived in Jamaica, Auntie H, a former senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies who had moved to Canada after her daughter grew up. Auntie H owned a home in Silver Sands, a gated resort community in Trelawny, a parish on the north side of the island named for the eighteenth-century British governor of Jamaica, William Trelawny. The parish contains much of the Cockpit Country, an interior mountainous region that was home to the Leeward Maroons, a group of largely Black people who fled slavery, created new settlements away from British slaveholders’ surveillance, and fought several wars against the British. The parish was also home to almost one hundred sugar plantations that fed into the triangular trade, wherein enslaved Africans were brought to the colonies to cultivate sugar and other goods sold in Europe, the profits from which were then used to purchase more enslaved people. The tension in this history—slavery in Jamaica was defined by high death rates, yet marronage in the region has made it a beacon of hope in academic Black studies—intrigued Mom. She wanted to visit anyone and any place that could teach her about Trelawny.
The pandemic changed her plans. Jamaica’s response to COVID-19 kept infections and deaths low: By December, only 258 of the island’s nearly three million people had succumbed to the disease, about 6,500 fewer than comparably sized Chicago. But the country’s success had required heightened restrictions. As a result, Mom was not sure when she would be able to enter the country, and even if she did, the government’s (understandable, commendable) regulations ensured that she wouldn’t go rafting with a guide, or tour Maroon land or visit historical archives. In light of all this, I assumed Mom would postpone her plans indefinitely. But in the summer of 2020, she put in her two weeks’ notice, renewed her passport, and bought a plane ticket. On September 13, she got tested for COVID; two days later, she was tested again. Both tests came back negative. She boarded her flight to Jamaica on the seventeenth.
What she found was predictable, yet it still surprised her. After landing in Montego Bay, she waited in customs with a mask on. When she finally approached the officer, she handed him her passport. “Rodriques,” he remarked, “big name, that.” He told her to quarantine for two weeks and instructed her to download an app that would track her location and her COVID status. She hired a car east to Trelawny. As she traveled, she saw a red-and-white helicopter stationed on a flat plane of bright-green grass, its propellers cutting a sharp line against the pale-blue sky. To its right, just beyond two lushly canopied trees and a line of dark-green bushes, a sandy-colored roof peeked out. Day one, she wrote to me, and she knew she could never live here again. The helicopter was how wealthy people traveled, while their gardeners and other laborers maintained the property. She asked how much I thought they paid their employees. I wondered what the exchange rate was but didn’t bother to look it up. The question made her point clearly enough.
Shortly thereafter, Mom arrived at the house alone. Auntie H was recovering from eye surgery, which made it hard to travel, and the pandemic had largely closed Canada’s borders. Nonetheless, she graciously let Mom stay at her place rent-free. Mom and I didn’t have the kind of relationship where I could have asked what the absence felt like and received an answer other than, “I’m fine.” Still, I assume showing up without her friend, knowing that she would have to self-isolate for two weeks, came with the quiet pang that accompanies seeing the emptiness of a home one is leaving for the last time, that it may have even come with fear. Whatever she felt, she was not unaccompanied for long. Just hours after she got in, a health officer showed up to ensure she was indeed quarantining, and staying put.
Then she heard the news from a passerby: Something had happened to D. K. Duncan, a politician born to relative poverty in 1940 who had risen through the ranks to become the Minister of National Mobilization and Human Resource Development under the socialist-leaning prime minister, Michael Manley, in 1977. As his son, Keith, said of his work, he was a champion of poor Black Jamaicans and equal rights in one of Jamaica’s most radical periods, helping to usher in nationalized health care, paid maternity leave, and more. And, as Mom learned, he had died at the age of eighty from complications related to COVID-19. His passing must have felt like an unnecessary reminder that the midcentury’s anticolonial fervor and the 1970s’ radical dreams were both long gone.
In Trelawny, Mom was surprised by the heat. Having spent the last decade in the Bay Area, she was used to less humidity and breezes blowing even on ninety-degree days, the heat never lasting past dusk. Jamaica, on the other hand, was an oven that had been preheating since March. When she awoke around 5:30 in the morning, the thermometer often read ninety-two degrees, and when she went to bed around 8:30 at night, it was still above ninety. Bound inside, she left the doors open to let salty breezes enter with the sound of the distant sea. Mosquitoes pockmarked her body with bites. The occasional cat wandered in. (She also saw mouse droppings, but the cats didn’t seem to help.) Once, while she was in the living room, she heard shredding and tearing somewhere else in the house. She followed the sound to the kitchen, and there saw a mongoose—a long, tan, ferret-like creature—trying to get into her garbage. Upon seeing her, it scurried out. I assume Mom envied its freedom.
Unable to leave, Mom found life more expensive and cumbersome than she’d expected. She paid a taxi driver to buy her groceries, and he understandably hiked up the prices to account for his labor. She bought produce from an older man who passed by the property twice a week. His sweet potatoes, she said, were reasonably priced, but the fruits were expensive. (I suspect they were worth the cost; since leaving Jamaica, I have not had a single mango that compares to those on the island, nor have I been able to find good breadfruit or any fresh ackee.) All the while, the local health officer called every few days to ensure that she had not broken quarantine. She hadn’t, but that was getting harder to do as the days wore on.
Still, she found ways to pass the time. She read. She made a makeshift greenhouse by covering planters with plastic bags. She birdwatched from the backyard. She sent me a blue ink drawing—mostly contours, with the occasional curve to mark a feather—of a heron standing by a pool, sketched into the title page of Modern Nature: The Journals of Derek Jarman, 1989-1990. “You should hear the night herons,” she texted. She thought they lived on the roof and came down in the evening to look at their reflections in the pool. It was dangerous to be around when they descended. They guarded their territory—the pool—viciously.
She also sent a phone recording of birdsong. Over a staticky rustling, perhaps waves storming the shore or the wind jostling leafy branches, a bird emitted cries in twos, its trilling voice softening, then cutting through the air again. In time, another, faraway bird responded. I hoped they provided some solace and, if not a vision of days to come, a reminder that, somewhere, living things communed. I wondered if she would remain attentive to their songs once she could leave the house or if she would tune them out, relegating them to background noise.
Finally, at the end of September, her quarantine ended. She had long been looking forward to this day, when she could go to the grocery store to stock up on whatever was available at market prices, but the fridge had broken. She could only buy nonperishables as she waited on the mechanics to receive the part to fix it. They had been waiting for several days already, and it looked like it would take several more. “Welcome to the 3rd world,” she texted. She didn’t know when she would have a fridge again.
A few weeks after that first encounter, another mongoose wandered into the house. This time, when Mom walked into the kitchen, the animal stayed put. She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t pick it up; mongooses are, essentially, land otters in that they appear to be cute but are in fact apex predators with very sharp teeth. No matter what noise she made, it didn’t budge. Eventually, she backed away, went to the next room, and emailed me asking how to get a mongoose out of the house.
I had no idea. If I were on the island, I would have come over, though I was just as likely to get hurt as she was. With a sea between us, I couldn’t do anything. Even more alarming, she was emailing while the animal was still there. Part of me was afraid that she wasn’t taking the threat seriously; our family had a long history of foolhardiness in the face of danger. (Once, when the police locked down my septuagenarian grandmother’s block in Flatbush and positioned snipers on roofs for a raid, Grandma snuck around to the back entrance to get into her building.) I suggested Mom call animal control. She didn’t respond.
When she awoke, there were no new mouse droppings. She suspected the mongoose had killed the mice. By the afternoon, it sounded as if she had begun to grown fond of it. “Same way it find its way in,” she wrote, “it can find its way out.” At this point, I grew even more worried. Not only had she gone to sleep with a predator in the home, but now it seemed that she was considering living with it. I told her she had to get rid of it; mongooses were dangerous. She responded that she knew mongooses were dangerous; they killed her chickens in New Monklands. But she had not seen the mongoose since. It must have left. If it had while the doors were closed, that meant there was a hole in the house somewhere. The mongoose was gone for now, but others might come back. What if they didn’t let Mom go so easily?
The ludicrousness of a near sixty-year-old woman not mongoose-proofing her home so frustrated me that I couldn’t help but complain to my friends that she was being unreasonable, to which they often responded that the animal might not be so bad. One said we were encroaching on its home; it was just reclaiming its territory. She was well within her rights to kick it out, I argued, and the more I spoke about it, the more I raised my voice, the more I began to suspect that my passion was motivated in part by uncertainty: I knew my mother and the mongoose couldn’t cohabitate, but I didn’t know who had the stronger claim to Auntie H’s house. Neither of us—neither the mongoose nor my family—were native to the land: The British brought our ancestors from Africa and India through slavery and indenture, and they brought the mongooses from India to hunt rats. Given the mongoose’s overpopulation, it was likely that animal control would kill it. I started to pity the thing.
Thankfully, the mongoose had disappeared. I thought about how Mom considered any intention of fully separating oneself from nature—through a home, for instance—likely to fail. One could never really keep the mongooses or the mosquitoes or the cats or the birds out, not completely. Even if she wasn’t paying attention, even if she did not notice, the birds kept singing.
Though the animals of the island would not leave her alone, she was isolated from the people she loved, and it took some effort to conjure them. At one point, she began painting an abstract landscape of yellow dunes bordering the sea, a roughly shaded blue sky. Where the sky met the shore, two silhouetted boys sprouted from the sand, their bodies emerging at about the waist. One of them had a few facial features drawn in, a few lines to suggest a shirt, standing half a head taller than the other. He reminded me of my brother. The other boy, shaded in red, had no features or shirt. I suspected he was me, and that the painting reflected Mom’s sense that she didn’t quite know me. That was my fault. After I left for college, I threw myself into my job, nightlife, and friends, all while missing her calls and neglecting to return them. While she came to know my brother, who lived with her as an adult, she knew little of the adult I had become.
The distance didn’t make it easier for us to communicate. Two weeks after the mongoose incident, Mom asked when I was coming to visit. It would be good for my writing career, she said, to train my eye on the landscape. She could have said that she wanted to see me, but instead she justified our reunion with the carrot of professional success. Even during my teenage years, I made it clear that school was my first priority, using homework and the prospect of leaving poverty, going to college and getting the hell out of Florida, in order to be left alone. Unsurprisingly, my response to her question about when I would visit Jamaica avoided sincerity. I wrote that I wasn’t sure if I could come. I didn’t want to quarantine, and we didn’t know what the COVID rates would be. Even though it was possible to fly and not contract the disease, the thought of traveling felt irresponsible. I didn’t want to be the cause of an outbreak in Jamaica, and I certainly didn’t want to kill my mother. But not visiting made me worry about our relationship, especially on her birthday, when she turned fifty-nine without anyone to celebrate with. I tried reaching her through WhatsApp, but she didn’t answer. I tried again with no luck. I texted, waited, stressed. Finally, after what seemed like a painfully long time, she texted back, using someone else’s Wi-Fi to let me know that the internet in her house was out. She was waiting on the repairmen, but it was Friday, and they wouldn’t be back to work until Monday, earliest. I never reached her on the phone that day. Now that she was on the other side of a border, which made calling her on my cell difficult, and where fears of spreading a disease prohibited me from traveling there, she seemed even farther away than she was when she was in California, even if Jamaica was miles closer.
Separated from her friends and family, Mom dove into the history of the region’s people. At one point, she sent me a picture of Rum Jetty, a six-bedroom beachfront home in Silver Sands. It had once been a warehouse for the sugar and rum cultivated by enslaved people there. Her picture framed the home as if approached from the ocean: a long, squat, cement rectangle topped by a series of pyramids, austere and imposing. The house was a part of Jamaica’s history of slavery, Mom wrote, as was the jetty for which the compound was named, a spit of concrete with a veranda at its end. “I feel those spirits when I walk out there,” she wrote, “and the warehouse turned resort house makes me sad every time I look at it.”
What spirits followed Mom as she wandered the island she once called home? What did she feel now that she was a tourist standing above the sea her ancestors crossed by way of the Middle Passage? She was not in the picture itself, but I couldn’t help but see her walking down that jetty, barely more visible than the spirits themselves, almost translucent, sure to fade enough to match the luster of ghosts bobbing on the tide like sea-foam.
In late fall, Mom emailed: “I belong.” She had been waiting for the early October rains of her childhood, at the foot of the Blue Mountains, the ones she said blanketed the sky every year on her birthday. In the States, whenever it failed to rain on that day, she would say she felt out of place. The same seemed to be true of her birthday that year in Jamaica. “Town gets rain,” Mom wrote. “Montego bay gets rain. St. Thomas and Portland but apparently, not Trelawny.” But then, just a few days later, at 5:30 a.m., water poured from the sky. By the time she emailed me late that afternoon, it still had not stopped. The rain had finally come, bringing her home.
That rain was different than the ones of her youth. Hurricane season, which officially runs from June to November, with the stronger storms mostly coming toward the end, was the busiest on record in 2020, with thirty named storms (the previous high was twenty-eight in 2005, the year Katrina ravaged New Orleans). The shower that Mom wrote about came as a precursor to Tropical Storm Zeta, which hit the region after three weeks of precipitation. The storms damaged dozens of roads, flooded riverbanks, triggered landslides, to say nothing of the estimated $18 million in infrastructural damages and $13 million in agricultural losses. The following week, Tropical Storm Eta wreaked yet more havoc.
When Mom reached out again, she said little about the rain. I’d read the news, and assumed the aftermath was too painful to talk about, so I didn’t push. But I remembered what she did during hurricanes in Florida, when I was younger, as storms blanketed our windows, blurring a perpetual dusk. She read and painted in the gray light of each day; she watched the palm trees stretch and bend in the wind. Maybe she did the same during storms in Jamaica, and maybe she and many Jamaicans who remained unhurt by the rain—who escaped the flooding and landslides and had space to think beyond their own survival—wondered what future awaited the island in the face of ever-worsening assaults from the weather.
I avoided beginning with violence in this story about Mom’s return to Jamaica in part to make room for some other vision of the island. The overwhelming association between the country and murder can cast too long a shadow to let anything else grow. “It is an old cliché of anthropological area studies,” Deborah Thomas wrote at the beginning of Exceptional Violence, “[that] if one wants to study violence, one goes to Jamaica.” But violence often comes regardless of one’s choice.
In early November, after the rain, Mom caught a cab to Montego Bay. Along the way, she saw cops stopping motorists. They were just making money off people with cars, Mom said, ticketing instead of taxing. The driver, who was also Black, responded that Black people were the ones giving trouble, getting themselves pulled over. Frustrated, Mom described the ways racial profiling worked in the States. When she relayed the story, I recalled the time my friend and I were pulled over, suspected of having robbed a nearby Cheesecake Factory. Mom was in the backseat. When we talked about this incident later, she asked where my friend and I learned to sit so still. To her it seemed almost genetically inherited, the way our hands rested on our knees or the dash, looking straight ahead, never making eye contact with the officer, as if the slightest movement could get us killed. She may have recalled that night—or any of the other nights she feared that her sons might be gunned down—as she insisted to the driver that all cops, everywhere, were violent and racist. “If you find your head in a lion’s mouth,” the driver responded, “you take your time to get it out.”
Mom agreed, though she disagreed over who was to blame. She didn’t like cops, she wrote me, but she knew who had a gun, a badge, and who was backed by the powers of the state. So she kept her distance. Should she cross paths with the police, she was always aware that they could kill her. “So that is what my taxi guy was saying,” she wrote. “He plans to live to see another day, like the cops or not.” She planned to do the same.
Shortly thereafter, she went to the supermarket in town so she could stock up on all the goods she’d run out of while stuck inside. There, she saw a taxi van with the back door open. The driver was helping a passenger on the other side of the vehicle. A young man, midtwenties by Mom’s estimation, saw a backpack sticking out of the open back door, and snatched and slung it across his shoulders. He tried to walk away nonchalantly, but someone told the driver, who, though closer to middle-aged, was “well spry.” He spotted the thief, ran after him, grabbed ahold of the bag. They wrestled for control. The younger man spun and contorted his limbs until he slipped out of the straps like an eel escaping a bare-handed fisher.
The confrontation, however, was not over. The driver ran back to his taxi and grabbed a metal bat. Weapon in hand, the driver ran after the thief, swung, and hit him on his rear. Passersby lambasted the young man: How did he let himself get beat up by someone so old? Frustrated with their jeering, he put his hands up and swung at the driver and failed to make any serious contact. The driver swung even harder, beating him with that metal bat all over. Mom feared the driver might hit the boy in the head. A metal bat, even without much room for a full swing, could certainly do plenty of damage. She had just planned to go to the store. She had not intended to witness a murder.
One of the onlookers said they should get the police. We don’t need the police for this, someone said. Somehow, the scuffle ended, the jeering stopped, and the crowd dispersed. The driver kept the luggage and the young man hadn’t been killed. He disappeared, as did she, knowing better than to linger at the scene of a fight. She couldn’t help but wonder if he’d actually made it home.
I asked Mom how she felt after witnessing it all. She repeated the story, as though there was nothing to think but that it had happened. What she saw was what she thought. The violence was a fact of life. I wondered how it colored her sense of this place she called home. Perhaps her resignation to the assault came from a sense that the island was a far cry from the place she grew up in. Having left in 1999, she missed the country’s most violent years, statistically, though she continued reading the Gleaner and remained aware of the prevalence of violence, including the year that Jamaica topped the world’s murder rates at sixty-one per one hundred thousand. By the time she returned in 2020, the annual murder rate rarely dipped below forty. Perhaps she just saw the violence that day as part of the new Jamaica.
Then again, Mom never harbored any naïve ideas about Jamaica being a peaceful place. Her biological father had killed someone with a knife in self-defense; her stepfather had hit and killed a bicyclist while driving. When she was young, she was viciously beaten by caretakers, and robbers had held up her and her mother, at gunpoint, in their own home. When we lived there briefly in the 1990s, our home was broken into twice. And she lived through enough political riots to know the sight of Jamaica Defense Force tanks rolling down the streets of Kingston (an image that constitutes one of my own earliest memories). One of the reasons she often gave when asked why she left was that things were getting too wild on the island, a claim met with nods and murmurs of agreement from Jamaicans of her generation. Statistics suggest that violence got worse over time; nonetheless, these Jamaicans seem to have the sense that it had always been dangerous. Maybe Mom saw the driver beating that young man as the cost of being home.
As far as Mom was concerned, the omnipresence of violence was not that different from her experience of the States. When she was a teen in America, her own mother had been mugged and shoved, leading to a lifelong knee injury. In her twenties, her younger brother had been found with a bullet in his head in an abandoned warehouse in Philadelphia. When we lived in Florida, she feared my interactions with cops and self-identified rednecks could turn lethal. Now that she was home in Jamaica, reading the news about the States, she talked about the two countries as though they were the same. In the days leading up to the 2020 presidential election, she warned me to stay inside, fearing political riots would sweep the country. She emailed to note that the Carter Center—the “center just for countries with despots,” in her account—was monitoring the US election as it had the Jamaican elections in 1997 and 2002. It was impossible to escape the specter of violence, she suggested, the fear of having the weapon turned on her.
Migration has never been a simple means of finding safety for most of the Jamaicans I have known, many of whom followed relatives to cities in the US, Canada, and the UK, where they found poverty, to say nothing of health disparities and unfulfilled ambitions. This didn’t stop them from moving, searching, and hoping. Mom had been disappointed by moves before, but she still kept seeking a life free from violence and inequality, a life filled with birdsong and wandering cats, the steady clapping of waves on the shore and the sensation of spirits all around her, rain that announced her birthday without prophesying destruction, and a history that spoke to her. Retirement in California was a fantasy more mine than hers; she knew well the ways of the world, the difficulty of getting a fridge fixed in Jamaica, the fear of being held up at gunpoint, a son drifting away into professional American dreaming. For now, she’s searching for some other, better life than the one she has found. I don’t know what that will look like or where she’ll find it, but I trust that she’ll recognize it when she does.