The Goddess Yemanja': Unwrapped…
by Monique Taylor
When an invitation arrived by post for my friend’s wedding in Rio, I almost couldn’t contain my excitement. I had unsuccessfully been trying to visit Brazil for the past 5 years, but school and a couple of career changes shoved the thought into the doldrums of my mind. Then there it was, in a red envelope, an announcement for the marriage of my Haitian-American friend to the perfect French gentleman. It was a love story that I only partially understood, because the idea of getting swept off my feet was antithetical to my romantic entanglements. They had planed to pledge their commitment in Rio de Janeiro, the place where their love began. The ceremony was scheduled to begin a few days after Christmas, with celebrations continuing through to New Years. For the Brazilians, or Cariocas, as Rio natives are called, New Years is the most sacred festival aside from Mardis Gras. On New Years, hundreds of thousands of people dressed in all white, deluge the beaches to watch fireworks and to take part in the Yoruba tradition of offering gifts to Yemanjá, the sea goddess. In return, Yemanjá grants the faithful their wishes for the upcoming year. With the trip booked 2007 was officially coming to the end, but I was ambivalent about the anticipation of attending a wedding, because of the collapse of my own relationship. For nearly two years I had tried to see a relationship through, imagining it was only a matter of time before he and I would be traveling to some far off destination to get married. But that path to fruition simply trailed off into a thick forest, where both of us got lost. I attempted distractions from my confusion and focused on some of the requirements for the trip: a flat tummy, a firm ass, and a bare crotch. But all the stretching, squatting, crunching, and waxing could not make the lump in my throat go down. That lump, it turns out, was a mixture of angst and insecurity. I wondered if it would be obvious to my friend that although I was happy for her, I was hurting inside – and if she would misinterpret my pain as jealousy.
I flew alone on the 17-hour, two lay over, five movie, flight – a whole row to myself. The moment my restlessness ended and I drifted off to sleep, a stewardess was asking me to return my tray table back to its upright position for landing. Hesitantly, I lifted the shade covering my window, afraid that I had actually made it to Brazil. Being in Brazil would, in so many ways, signify a beginning and a bitter ending. I only had a few hours to get from the airport to the rehearsal dinner, and it would be the first time seeing the bride-to-be in nearly a month. While she was getting fitted for her wedding gown in Paris, I was letting go of the idea of ever finding someone who loved me in the way that she was loved by her fiancé. Finally laying eyes on her, the furthest thing from my mind was grief. Three languages floated around the open terrace restaurant in the hills of Santa Teresa – family and friends from across continents who had all made the pilgrimage to witness the union. She smelled like lilac, but I’ve never known her to wear perfume. It was like her heart poured out a fragrance that wafted through her pores every time she spoke of the day to come.
The afternoon of the wedding, the lump in my throat had come back. I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with my hands, or my feet, or even my words. Every move I made felt overly thought out, like I was saying to my muscles “Monique, be careful to be happy at all times. Be the perfect friend”. The air was thick with the smell of lime from caipirinhas and rose petals scattered along the walkways, a glorious mixture infused by the tropical heat. Guests in white slowly climbed the stairs lined with exotic plants and to the villa where the ceremony was to take place. I joined them, unable to find anything constructive to do while the bride slipped into her red gown. The sun dipped behind the hill just enough so that candles could be lit around the tree stood in place of an alter. This giant eucalyptus that lived longer than any of us, and whose love for the fertile ground was as strong as the bond between the couple that would stand before it and exchange vows. And they did. In a language the whole universe understands. As the new Mrs. turned around to throw her arrangement of roses, I tried to move to the fringes of the pack. Someone less emotionally exhausted than I would appreciate the deeply saturated pink flowers more. But as the bouquet flew through the air I had to stretch out my hands to keep it from hitting me in the face. Later that night, feet swollen from dancing and throat sore from laughing, I figured out what I would offer to the goddess of the sea.
New Years Eve I sat in my room plucking all of the petals off of the gift that had to literally hit me over the head. A present of hope and love fulfilled, and the promise of friendship to guide me through finding the person who would one day would end their search for completion with me. With every snap from the stem, I said a prayer. I prayed that my friend would find eternal happiness in her marriage, that my feelings for the one who I could not have would eventually fade, and that love would find me when my heart was fully unzipped. I held the box that contained my prayer soaked petals tightly in my palms as we boarded the yacht, which was set float just beyond the jetty opening up to the Atlantic to view the fireworks. Smoked filled the air, and while everyone’s attention was on the magnificent lights petals floated from the bow of the vessel. Yemanjá was satisfied.