by Philomena Robertson, Communications Specialist
41 years have elapsed since the 19 June 1980 bombing at Queen’s Park that left 3 young women dead and several other persons injured.
The bombing occurred during a Heroes’ Day Rally hosted by the then People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG), at what was then known as Queen’s Park.
For the then 9-year-old Jackie Bailey, the fateful day began like any other, sunny and bright. She recalls quickly completing her household chores because there was palpable excitement about the day. There was going to be a rally at Queen’s Park and she was excited to go, not merely because her class teacher told them they had to attend, but for a fun-loving 9-year-old, this was an opportunity to meet friends and play.
But there was something more influencing the excitement of the day — for the first time in her life, Jackie was actually going to wear shoes and socks. An everyday occurrence for most of us and something we take for granted, but for Jackie, growing up poor, this was her first time and she was thrilled. Years later, she’s still amazed by the irony of it all, ironic because the same day she experienced what it was like to have 2 nicely cushioned feet in enclosed shoes, would also be her last. It’s one of the things she still can’t quite come to grips with so many years later.
Jackie has absolutely no recollection of the actual bomb blast but there’s no denying the havoc the explosion wreaked on her body. She sustained several injuries. In fact, she lost a limb and has had to use a prosthesis ever since. Today, there are still fragments of the bomb in her body. As recently as 2019, without the benefit of medical expertise, Jackie personally removed a shard from her leg.
In addition to her own personal injuries, Jackie also lost her older sister in the bomb blast. 15-year-old Bernadette Bailey was in the same location as her sister when the bomb detonated. Unlike the other two victims, Laurice Humphrey and Laureen Phillip, Bernadette was spared instant death. In the immediate aftermath of the blast, the two sisters lay side by side on hospital beds, but Bernadette would not survive her injuries. One night, Jackie recalls, a screen was placed between them and curious to know what was happening on the other side, she peeked through an opening and saw her sister being wrapped in a sheet and taken away. The vision was almost too much for her young mind to process.
“That was a painful experience,” Jackie shared, her tone soft as she looked into the distance, maybe willing the memories to come, but still wanting to keep them at bay. “Before she died, I remember nurses removing worms and maggots from her body, especially the bottom area that got blown off. I also remember being in the hospital when the funeral was taking place and I was listening to it live on the radio. There came a point where I didn’t want to hear more,” Jackie continued as the emotional memories threatened to take control of her. But just like she has been a trooper through life, she soldiered on with the interview, resolute to finally tell her story. A story, that up until now, has been untold, but as she seeks liberation from a past that haunts her present, Jackie is for the first time, sharing intimate details of her experience and of her life.
For many Grenadians, historic occurrences are just that, historic, often relegated to the recesses of the mind and may even be forgotten over time. For others though, when these historic occurrences affect them personally, the impact is lasting. Jackie has had to live with the aftermath of that bomb blast all her life. The exuberance and carefree nature of youth that flowed effervescently within her was annihilated; life as she knew it was obliterated and her dreams of a normal future, eviscerated. A literal BOOM, and her life transformed completely. Likely knocked unconscious because of her proximity to the bomb, the last thing she recalls from the rally, was going in search of her sister and finding her downstairs the pavilion. When she regained consciousness in the hospital and she tried to get off her bed, she fell to the floor, not knowing she’d lost a limb that brought balance to her life. Unsure now, how much time she actually spent in the hospital, Jackie has had to endure multiple surgeries.
“I lack the accuracy of date and time, I really don’t know how long I stayed in the hospital but it felt like an eternity. What I do remember is that the daily routine was one that I didn’t like. The nurses came every day, I had to get injections. Imagine dressing burns, it was painful. I remember my mom saying, she could hear me bawling long before she reached the ward. I also went to Cuba twice, that’s where I got the bulk of the treatment.”
The physical injuries have healed but the scars unflinchingly tell the horror story. And then there is unseen, the emotional toll that life-changing experiences naturally have on us humans. Oftentimes in life, we have what if moments, times when we ponder on what could have been, what would be different, what a certain experience would be like. For Jackie, there’s something that nags at her all the time. “We take so many things for granted. Imagine, the first day was able to wear shoes and socks, is the same day I lost my leg. I would love to know what it feels like to wear shoes and socks. I wear them now, but I can’t feel in one leg, so it’s not the same.”
Jackie has another wish — “I want to know what it feels like to just run.” Elaborating more on that, she shares an experience from many years ago. “After I returned to school, I remember seeing a classmate run, and he was running sideways. I told myself if I tried really hard, I could run like that. I remember going home that evening and trying to do it, but I didn’t succeed. I’m not a quitter but I just couldn’t do it. Up to today, when I see him, that’s the vision that comes to mind. I really miss the experience of being free to run. Those things play on your mind, because in my private moments, I try to do a lot of things that I should have been able to.”
Her mind now flooded with these memories Jackie opened up about another routine activity that poses a challenge for her — the simple process of going up a step. “I should be able to go left right, left right and just go up the steps. But I just cannot go up a step with my left foot, I have to go right, lift up left, right, lift up left. Things like that frustrate me because I really would have liked to be a physical person.”
Her anguish over this is evident as she continues, “Whether or not I accept is a question I cannot answer but I continue to cope with it.” But there’s just so much for her to cope with, including the fact that her prosthetic leg is in a terrible condition. Prostheses help amputees like Jackie to function in an almost normal manner, but expensive as they are, they don’t last a lifetime. Jackie’s last replacement was 13-years ago and the artificial limb has long exceeded its lifespan.
“It’s hard you know, dealing with a prosthetic leg that is not in the best of shape. A gentleman was kind enough, back in 2008 to take me to England, and use some of his family funds to purchase me a leg. But these things don’t last forever. It was broken twice and I had some repairs done. It’s not the best but it’s what I have, so I’m still using it. I’m coping.”
There’s that word again — coping. There’s a clear sense that while Jackie’s life is not all she wants it to be or envisioned it would be, she’s still coping the best way she can. But coping isn’t always easy she readily admits and society does not make it easier. “Time is supposed to heal all wounds but time hasn’t been so good to me in terms of real healing because growing up in this society, I was always scared and ashamed to really be, who I am. There are family members who have never seen my scars, never seen me without my prosthetic leg. One of the greatest things I would love to do is put on a skirt and just show all the scars, without caring who stared.”
A wistful look comes across her face and she looks into the distance as she has done on countless occasions. “Sadly I’m not in that place. I am hoping though that by doing this, by telling my story, people would see me, see what I am going through. For me, apart from helping to write history, telling the untold side of this story, this is about personal closure. I feel trapped and I just want to be free. I’m tired of feeling self-conscious, tired about wondering what people think when they see me.”
There’s now a light in her eyes and the wistful tone is infused with a little passion and excitement. “I still long for the day when I can go to the beach and just lay my prosthetic leg on the sand and just go into the water. My beach routine now is early morning on a quiet empty beach. It’s not that I like it, but it is what I am comfortable with. There will come a day when I will go on a crowded beach like Grand Anse and enjoy myself.”
The adversity she has encountered in life may have slowed her physical pace, but there’s a certain sense of tenacity and determination you get when you speak to Jackie, and she, in fact, verbalised strength and perseverance as the biggest lessons in her life. “I had an option when the incident happened. I could have chosen to be homebound, stuck in a wheelchair waiting for handouts, but I didn’t allow what happened to me to stop me from living as full a life as possible.”
Sitting across the table from Jackie, my mind is silently screaming ‘preach it sister, I’m with you’. The mental telepathy seems to work and Jackie continues. “I tried to be as normal as much as possible, almost as a lesson to others. I firmly believe that disability does not give you a license to be untidy, uneducated and lacking the drive to do anything.”
Ever caring about people’s perception, she continues, “I really hope people don’t take this the wrong way but mentally, you just have to prepare yourself to take care of yourself. If your means is just getting some nuts, roasting it and trying to sell them by the side of the road, then do that. People will try to help you, they will support you, they may not even want the actual product but they will buy it to encourage you. I am thankful that I have been blessed with a measure of creativity and that’s how I make my living. [Side note — Jackie is a photographer and video editor who worked for 30 years at the Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN).] The lesson here is that no matter what the circumstances, there is always a way for you to get up and help yourself. We must not let our circumstances define who we are.”
Now the bomb blast may have altered her life, but it has also created a tenacious spirit, a living, walking bombshell, who in her own words says, “My limit is limitless. I push myself to achieve what seems to be impossible.”
She was knocked down and knocked out but through the grace of God, she’s a survivor. “I have to thank Jehovah for life, it’s important to me. Some people who were around then are no longer here, but I am happy that Jehovah has given me another chance at life. I am thankful. Surviving is not easy, people may see you and judge you and think that everything is okay. Some days are better than some, but I try not to let that keep me back or hold me down, I try to beat the odds every day.”
So why this disclosure? Why now? 41 years later, a victim who is now an overcomer, speaks. “It’s not that I don’t want to tell my story but I’m not a really vocal person. This here is me being able to break through a barrier. Maybe soon, if you’re on Grand Anse beach, and you see a prosthetic leg on the sand, it will be mine, I’ll be in the water. I am 50 and I am ready to live. I don’t know how much longer I have on this earth but I can’t live my last years in seclusion and hiding. I just want to be free to live.”
There’s so much more to Jackie’s story, a story of adversity, a tale of triumph. A narrative of pain and suffering with equal parts of strength and resilience. Hers is an account of mental anguish replaced with internal fortitude. A story that emanated from the rubble of a bomb blast but is now filled with perseverance and hope. This is just the beginning. To borrow the words of Buju Banton from his song Untold Stories, “I could go on and on, the full has never been told.”
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