Lost in the Sunset
Reflections on a Journey to Self-discovery
Written by Charmine S Slater
Chantal, my precious daughter. You are more than I ever hoped for, or dreamed you would be. You are extraordinary, my love. I am proud to be your mother.
Beulah, my beautiful and wise mother. You always love, guide, nurture, inspire and encourage me to be the best I can be. Thank you Mom.
Special thanks to a few of my family and friends whose love and friendship encourage me to be: Charmine
Chantal Toni Le Hunte, Beulah Slater-Alexander, John Alexander (Russian), John A. Slater, Shirley-Ann Bailey, Cindi Latchmansingh, D. Shurland, P. Parmley, J. Ahamad, D. De Las, E. Hierso, P. Slater, C. Slater, J. Naime, Dr. C. Tull, Dedra Cox, Roslyn John, Terry-Ann Wilson, Benedict Iheagwara
Table of Contents
Acknowledgement | Introduction | Forward
1 - The beginning of a dream || 2 - Discovering life’s passions || 3 - Emotional highs and lows || 4 - Looking back to move forward || 5 - Holding on to an ideal || 6 - Commitment and expectations || 7 - Hoping for a fairy tale || 8 - Some special surprises || 9 - Moves, shifts and unstable foundation || 10 - The disconnect || 11 - The uncovering || 12 - The gift || 13 - Finding a voice || 14 - The awakening
Lost in the Sunset
Reflections on a Journey to Self Discovery
Charmine S. Slater was born and raised in the island of Trinidad. She worked in the financial services industry for over thirty years and has an EMBA from the Arthur Lok Jack School of Business, University of the West Indies. She is currently engaged by an international financial corporation and lives in the island of Barbados. She has a teenage daughter at University.
Like most of us, I am referred to by many names, mother, daughter, sister, sweetheart, friend, confidant, colleague, etc., but how often do we really reflect on what we call ourselves and who we actually see when we look into the mirror.
I enjoyed writing short stories and poems as a teenager, but really discovered my passion for writing during a period of change and introspection. During that time, writing was both therapeutic and a form of relaxation, as I often poured my sentiments into my journal out of desperation, which has now turned into inspiration.
Lost in the Sunset: Reflections on a Journey to Self Discovery draws on my personal journal and some of the life lessons experienced
Thank you for joining me on a voyage of self-discovery with Toni St Hillaire, a simple, young woman who unwittingly meandered into complicated situations.
In the pursuit of perfect love, we sometimes lose ourselves and who we truly are to the idea of love. But just as often, we sometimes fail to recognize the love right in front of us and within us.
We journey with Toni St Hillaire through her life transitions as she discovers both herself and love. Contradicting emotions and sentiments of love, failure, expectations, disappointments, hope, and more riddle her life story and experiences.
I hope that as you journey with Toni through her transitions, you, will be touched and inspired. Now sit back and experience a walk in her shoes.
I look forward to meeting you at the end of the journey.
The Beginning of a Dream
I sat back on the gallery chair and looked at the beauty of the orange sun just disappearing behind the aquamarine sea line. It was a scene I had witnessed often in my sixteen years, but every time I experienced the sunset, the sheer brilliance felt like it was all new again. The view from the gallery was magnificent and breathtaking all at once; it encompassed an aerial view of the western seacoast with miles of houses and businesses scattered along the roads that resembled a monopoly board. I often dreamed of sharing the beauty and magnificence of a sunset with the man of my dreams.
My name is Toni St Hillaire, and I live on one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean: Trinidad. My family home was perched on top of a hill and I often enjoyed the tranquility and beauty of the flora that surrounded it.
Notwithstanding the humble household, it was my mansion in more ways than one. You see, I am the eighth of the nine children in my family, so I treasured moments such as the one I had just experienced, as our two-story home sometimes felt like Grand Central Station. My mother always encouraged us to entertain our friends at home, so quite a bit of our socialising was done under her supervision. While I was a youngster, it was not unusual to see friends of my elder siblings drop by for a visit. I would later realise it was a way for my mother to ensure that we were in good company.
At sixteen, I spent most of my spare time reading romance novels or quietly enjoying the peace of my surroundings. It was the long-awaited summer vacation and my routine was about to drastically change, as my parents had agreed to my taking part in a student-exchange program to learn French in Martinique. It was my longtime dream to vacation in Paris, and I regarded this as part of my preparation for that dream becoming reality. Imagine being able to experience the language of love. During the weeks leading up to my departure, this new adventure preoccupied most of my thoughts; it was the first time I would travel on my own.
It was now the afternoon before my scheduled travel and Mummy was busy tidying the kitchen after preparing the fudge she had made for the host family that I was to visit in Martinique. Daddy had just returned home from work and was eating the fish broth Mummy had prepared. Soup was definitely a daily staple before dinner for Daddy, as he usually conversed with Mummy about his day during this time. My parents were the prime exemplars to guide me, as a teenager, regarding relationships between a husband and wife. I watched as Daddy walked over to the gallery to smoke his customary after-dinner cigarette before listening to the evening “Panorama” news. Their conversations would resume soon after the news.
My older sisters Yvonne and Shirley were in the bedroom packing my suitcase; they had taken full control of that activity. My brother John was reviewing French words and phrases with me to ensure that I was able to respond to or ask basic questions on my arrival.
By the time I retired to bed, I could hardly contain my excitement for what lay ahead the next day. My mind filled with imaginations of traveling alone for the first time. Would they be at the airport to meet me? Would they recognise me? Eventually, I fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion from the preparations.
The time had arrived for us to leave for the airport, and Daddy was squeezing the suitcase into the trunk of his car, whilst the St Hillaire clan manoeuvred into the old Hillman Hunter.
Trips to the airport were a family excursion, with as many of the family going on the drive for the “wave off.” Daddy was driving at a "flying" speed to get me to the airport on time. At last, we arrived safely with time to spare.
Many of the other exchange students had already arrived at the airport, and I was happy to see familiar faces. It was time to say goodbye with some quick hugs and kisses before I moved past the security checkpoint.
As I sauntered toward the aircraft with the warm sun and cool breeze caressing my face, I looked over my shoulder to glance at the waving gallery and saw, to my great delight, my family frantically waving to attract my attention. I paused and quickly acknowledged them before hurrying up the aircraft staircase.
Discovering life’s passions
I arrived in Martinique amid a bustle of activities. To my benefit, the immigration officers at the Fort de France airport spoke enough English to allow me to communicate with ease. On exiting the security area, I saw in the distance a teenage girl holding up a sign that bore my name, Toni St Hillaire. This must be Dominique—I was not disappointed.
I waved to her, and her enthusiasm delighted me as she hurried to greet me. Dominique embraced me and promptly gave me a kiss on both my cheeks. This took me aback. It was not the way we greeted one another back home, let alone strangers, but I quickly remembered “C’est Martinique.” Dominique introduced herself and her elder sister Marie-Claire.
The conversation was slow because we both needed to become familiar with speaking the other’s natural language. As we sauntered through the car park, Marie-Claire, in her slow combination of English with inserts of French words, explained that we were on our way to her home, where Dominique and I would spend the next two weeks with her family. The drive to Marie-Claire’s home was long, as they lived on the south of the island. It was quite interesting with quaint homes visible along the route.
What a welcome I received as we arrived at Marie-Claire’s home. Her two young children Marie-Louise and Jean-Michel—five and three years old— excitedly jumped around and spoke in the cutest French accent. Marie-Claire’s husband Jacques tried to keep them calm—without success, I must add. It was definitely a busy house, and I felt right at home.
We had gotten into a daily routine of walking or hitching a ride to one of the beautiful beaches where we would meet many of the other exchange students. Marie-Claire occasionally took us to visit family, friends, and places of interest.
It was on one of the afternoon outings with Marie-Claire to visit an aunt that I had witnessed an unfortunate family dispute that left an impression on my mind.
We were returning home when Marie-Claire noticed her husband Jacques’ vehicle parked on a side street just off the main roadway. In her slow French, to allow me to understand, she stated her concern that he may have had some type of car problem.
On approaching the vehicle, Marie-Claire saw, to her great shock, that Jacques was in the car with a woman in a state of undress. In the midst of my bewilderment, I heard her give a loud scream. The young Marie-Louise and Jean-Michel confused by all the happenings began to cry. This threw me into a tailspin, wishing it were just part of a horrible dream.
I looked at Dominique, and her stunned face showed obvious disgust of the unfolding situation. My thoughts raced to what might take place, but before I knew what was happening, Marie-Claire stormed out of the car and approached Jacques. With fearless rage she shouted words I did not comprehend but instantly sensed their meaning. Jacques disembarked from the car and began a shouting match with his wife, oblivious to the distraught cries of the children in the background. It was just unbelievable, and I prayed that it would end soon. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Marie-Claire entered the car, spoke in a hushed voice to the children, and drove home in silence.
That night as I lay in bed, my mind raced with thoughts of what had happened earlier; I imagined the sheer sadness, betrayal, and humiliation that must have been on Marie-Claire’s mind. I prayed that I would never have such an experience of betrayal and wondered how a person really gets past something like this.
The next morning the silence continued, and I was unsure whether Jacques had returned, but Dominique and I were moving to her mother’s home, as Marie-Claire had to deal with her family issues. The unsettling events concerned me, and I longed to return home to Trinidad with my family, where it was safe and predictable. Never had I experienced such chaos as I had witnessed the previous evening. Just after lunch, Marie-Claire drove us to her mother’s home where I was to spend the remaining week of my stay in Martinique.
Dominique and I shared her bedroom; the bunk beds reminded me of home and the room I shared with my younger sister Camille. We did not speak about the unfortunate events, but Dominique reminded me of the upcoming social scheduled the following evening, which many of our friends were planning to attend. I was looking forward to what I hoped would be a “pick-me-upper.”
It was now morning, and Dominique and I traveled to Fort de France to do some sightseeing and window-shopping to pass the time. We met a few of the exchange students there who, like Monique and me, planned to attend the party later that afternoon. All wound up now, we traveled back home to get ready for the evening’s event.
We arrived at the party just before sundown, and many of the exchange students from Martinique, Trinidad, and Guadeloupe gathered in groups under the outdoor tents. Some of the Martinique students had friends as their guests. The music was a combination of French cadence and Spanish salsa. We sat at a table with some of Dominique’s friends, and she was definitely in high spirits—happier than I had seen her since the blowout two nights before.
While popular French music played, the people in the group literally jumped to their feet onto the dance floor. I was familiar with the music, having heard it several times on the radio. Once on the dance floor, many introductions took place. It was all high energy, with chanteuse and body movements in sync with the music. Fantastic!
Just as I returned to our table after an exhilarating series of dances—which seemed more like an aerobics session—I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around quite expecting to see Dominique. Instead, I glanced into what I thought were a stunning pair of eyes, set above a handsome face with a freckled nose. It was one of Dominique’s friends Jean-Marc. We had met the first time I had gone to the beach and then fleetingly said hello on meeting again during an afternoon stroll a few days earlier. “Would you like to dance with me,” he asked? I paused and pondered my reply. You see, the music was slow and appeared to be a love song. Jean-Marc asked me again in the most beautiful English I had ever heard. “Would you dance with me?”
I heard myself respond, “Oui.” Yes.