Chapter 1 - Three’s Company
The Montego Bay sun shined down on the couple, who were just getting to know each other. Gordon kept his camera close as he snapped photos of Lillian throughout their day. She posed in her small bikini as the camera clicked, then they both stripped down to nothing as they took a swim in the river. Even then he kept his camera near by, the glass globe of the lens clicking quietly in Lillian’s direction. Gordon commented that he wanted to capture every moment, so that maybe her beauty could be encapsulated.
To him, her beauty was indescribable. Her brown eyes held a soft gaze, her hair cut into a silky style to her shoulders, her brown skin contrasted the structured bottoms of her bikini reached her navel, emphasizing her waspy waist, and her legs appeared long and toned despite her small stature compared to him.
If she was a small, quaint Jamaican girl, then Gordon surely was the opposite. He stood tall, almost twice her height. As he held the camera up to his face, his green eyes squinted to capture the image of his love. His pale skin became pink in the hot sun, as he refused to use sunscreen. And most of all, he was a foreigner, as locals would call him. A Yankee.
That could be seen as both positive or negative. Having owned a sugar cane plantation and some realty on the island, some would say Gordon was the future of Jamaica. Others would claim that his whiteness was an echo of the dark past of colonization. And when he would be seen with Lillian, local men would scoff in their thick accents about how the Yankee man thirsts for their women without desiring to see their relationships through long term.
For the couple, there was no color. There was no dark history. What Gordon meant for the future of Jamaica, which would soon gain its independence, didn’t matter to her. All she felt was the love in that moment, and how he looked at her as she turned into his muse. To Lillian, Gordon was an enigma. Both youthful and playful, yet mature and trustworthy. When he would caress her, his slender build would wrap around her, and on his arms which locked under her bosom she would look at the cinnamon freckles that peppered his skin. They matched the ruddy hair on his head.
When he would remove his glasses, she could easily see his green eyes that had golden specs of brown within them. On their daily escapades through Jamaican forests and exploration of nearby streams, at times he would lay down on the clay-like ground. She would lay her head on his chest, looking up at his every detail. The curve of his nose, the shape of his eyes that looked at her warmly, and the curve of his lips that she would sometimes run her thumb softly over, before leaving a warm kiss.
He often invited her to the house he’d recently bought in the area, a large cabin-like structure that was built at the turn of the century, the architecture of which harkened back to Germany. The Jamaican breeze would flow into his bedroom, the only light by his bed being a small kerosene lamp, which he felt divinely glowed against the rich color of Lillian’s skin. As the soft breeze flowed in, the mosquito net of his bed would become concave around their two bodies which rustled softly in the bed. It would stick to his back, which was glistening coat of perspiration from their lovemaking.
When he was in town, every night was be like this. And she loved every second of it. Although they weren’t married, she welcomed him with open arms to do whatever he pleased. And he did so lovingly, leaving small kisses over her neck, her breasts, allowing her nipple quietly to be sucked in between his lips, down to kisses around her navel and even further, causing her to gasp toward the ceiling. At times, it felt like the wind picked up the more passionate they got, and all of nature was linked to their love.
But of course, such times could not last. He had to return to New York, where his main businesses were. And so Lillian would stand on the runway of the Montego Bay airport, watching as her love walked up the steps of the airplane only to disappear into the cabin. She would count the days, waiting for him to call, or at least write. He did neither, which drove her nearly mad.
Anxiety filled her when she noticed that she had begun to feel ill, especially in the night. Her mother, who would bring her a warm cup of tea with milk, stroked Lillian’s straightened hair. “You’re with child”, she would comment.
“Mumma, I know nothing of that.” Lillian would insist, before running to a nearby chamber pot to vomit. Over the months she would get larger, until it became apparent exactly what’s happened. She was advised not to alert Gordon, since he desired not to seek her out before. However that only made her more sick, because not only did she have a child growing inside of her, but she now felt as though she lost her love.
When she was eight months along, in August, Jamaica gained its independence. And what felt like all the foreign men in the world had now returned to the island to check on their many businesses and properties. This included Gordon, who showed up to Lillian’s family home in search of her. Her mother stood on the porch, assuring him she was not home. That was until Lillian emerged from inside the home, her large stomach apparent.
Gordon slowly removed the fedora hat from his head at the sight of her, taking in the fact she was with his child. He knew immediately it was his own, he recognized a woman such as she wouldn’t have been with anyone else. By the time he returned to America, he had begun regularly sending money to her in order to care for the child. Ensuring that at the end of her pregnancy, at least, she would get all of the modern care the island would have to offer.
In September of 1962, Lillian and Gordon’s girl-child would be born. She would be named Pamela, and proudly she was given her father’s name, Pamela Cortlandt.
If Gordon knew love with Lillian, he surely knew it with Pamela. Upon hearing of her birth, he immediately flew down to see his child. It was as if the baby never left his arms. And every season, he would return to see her. Pamela, in return, loved her father, and loved to see the joy in her mother every time he would return.
However, there would come a day when her parents seemed upset. Gordon sat in a seat as Lillian stood before him, arms crossed. He had begun to cry, Pamela had never seen her father cry before. She ran to him, standing between his knees where he sat on the chair. And he reached down to hug her tightly, almost as though that would be the last hug he’d ever given to her.
After that trip, he would return home to America. His usual phone calls had ceased and he no longer sent letters, postcards or photographs. He didn’t even dare to send a telegram. Pamela would ask relentlessly what happened to her father, but her mother would have no answer. The only trace of her father left in her life were the checks he would send from America, which became less and less every year.
People in the small Jamaican town would notice his absence. Kids in school would tease that Pamela Yankee father had loss interest in both she and her mother. And people in town forever stared at the two as they traveled to market, just like many other women who fell for American men, without a father.
Pamela’s only true recollections of her father became the photographs he left behind. At times, she would look at the old photographs he took of himself and her mother when they first fell in love. How handsome he was, she would dream of him sweeping in and saving her from the island that was ever changing. As it was becoming filled with a violence unknown prior to independence, and the sudden loss of the crutch of their exploiters left the economy shocked and in shambles. Over their head loomed a possibility of extremism, a constant red scare. All Pamela desired was to leave the island and live in America with her father, where she would imagine that he and her mother would find love again and all would be right.
One faithful day, Pamela was sent down to the post office by her mother to check the mail. And there she would quickly glimpse at each envelope, but she stopped in her tracks when she read a particular name.
She looked up at the postal man who stood behind the counter, and he nodded with a grin in her direction. She excitedly began running back toward her home, her feet kicking up dust off of the dirt trail. People stared at her as she swept by.
“Have you gone mad?” An old lady with her hair tied under a scarf asked, Pamela nearly knocked her over as she passed.
Running up the creaky steps to her house, she burst through the screen door. Her mother turned to her. “Why have you burst in like a bull in a china shop?”
“Mumma, a letter. Daddy sent me a letter!” She held up the envelope. Her mom was in disbelief, they hadn’t heard from him in writing since Pamela was six years old. Lillian could hardly catch her breath as she took the letter from her daughter, then opened it cautiously. Her eyes appeared to be hopeful as they skimmed the page, but her face began to fall with every sentence.
“What happened?” Pam asked her mother softly.
Lillian set the letter down and practically fell into a chair nearby the dining table. And then she burst into tears. Pam dared pick up the letter and read it.
To my lovely Lillian and Pamela,
I know it has been over a decade since you’ve last heard from me. As I pen this letter, I wonder if you wish to hear from me at all. I’ve done the arithmetic, and I suppose that Pamela should be about 22 years of age now. It seems shocking that so much time has passed. I hope you all have found my financial support useful over the years, and I intend on continuing such support. However, I must inform you that I’ve fallen ill, and I am afraid I’ve not much more time on this Earth. I wish to see both of you, and in this envelope I’ve inserted two plane tickets to New York. I hope to arrange financial matters so that when I am gone, you two will find yourselves well taken care of. I also wish to see my daughter once more before I go. I understand if you do not wish to…
Pamela couldn’t read any further. Her eyes were too filled with tears. She set the letter on the table and wrapped her mother in a hug. The bittersweetness of the moment was hard to bare, the face that once again her parents would be together, but only during a time toward the end of her father’s life.
Together they would pack what clothes they had, saying their goodbyes to all in the town. They asked for them to take many pictures, and to write down all they see in America. One child asked to check if there were truly golden streets, and another asked to see if the houses were truly covered in gemstones. Boarding the plane, Pamela herself found the idea of New York titillating. She could hardly wait for the plane to land.
Although she was shocked by what she was met with upon arrival.