journal

Perhaps the butterfly is proof that you can go through a great deal of darkness and still become something beautiful.

– Unknown

Anyway

“MAMI BREEEEEEEEEEEJ!”                

Emmanuel’s voice violently cut through my window before plopping itself on my chest. His visit was expected, as we always gossiped in the mornings before running downstairs for our usual egg sandwich and pancake. But today…today, I wondered who came up with this stupid idea, anyway. I pulled my braids from under me and readjusted my pillow. If I stayed quiet, he would leave, right?

“My Queeeeeen! Ah, so you want to behave as if you can’t hear me?”

Wrong.

“Emmanuel, relax.” I rolled to the edge of the bed before tossing my legs over and flipping upward to meet my reflection.

“Fuck.”

My eyes had swelled overnight and had attempted to mimic the processed pink of the rubbery sausages that the kitchen served downstairs. But, who leaves a mirror right in front of their bed, anyway?

I felt around the room for my keys before unlocking the door. I yanked it open and turned away quickly so that he would not see all of what was the night before. So that he would not see my shame.

“Sweetie dahhhlinggg—MAMI BREEJ!”

I snorted.

Emmanuel chucked off his black flip-flops and dumped his weight onto my bed. The old frame creaked and sighed from the sudden pressure.

“Ah, but why is your pillow wet?” he queried; the answer seemingly less important than the discomfort it posed.

“Sorry.” I sat down at my desk, untied my headscarf and looked outside the window. The trees that canopy my balcony looked ragged and bare from the harsh winds and rainfall that replaced the sun of late. How comforting. It appeared that I was not the only one that withered when going through a break-up of sorts.

He perked up and perhaps for the first time that morning, he looked at me. “Mami, you good?”

“I’m fine.”

“Is it Kojo, again?”

I winced, feeling a sudden tightness in my chest. Love had a funny way of doing that, of becoming that much more real, when it hurt.

“Ooooooooooooooh…,” Emmanuel groaned and threw his hands over his head. “As for dis one dier–”

“Its probably over, anyway. So stop. It’s done.”

“What happened, now?”

“Nothing…I’m just so tired of this shit. This is so dumb. I’m so dumb…” Emmanuel looked away and tried not to roll his eyes. We both knew that I would go back.

“But you knew he had a girlfriend—“

“YES. Damn. We don’t need to keep going over that.”

“So then what is it again, ehn?”

“I just…I just want him to choose…me.”

Emmanuel shook his head. “He won’t. Nahhh. Kojo will just be with both of you.”

“You don’t understand—”

“Chale, I’m telling you—just let it go.”

I wish I could explain how I got here without sounding like the very women I criticize. The ones that get so wrapped up in a smile or a look that seemed to promise them a future, that actions, had proven, did not exist. The ones that defended a smile or a look through the very pain that it caused them. The ones that thought love, despite it all, was enough. But I cannot. So, I will not try to.

Instead, I’ll tell you that in the midst of the heat that accompanied the months of my semester abroad, I fell madly in love with a man, that I knew belonged to someone else. And though, a wicked love, it was, there was a time where I would have gladly fallen, and fallen, all over again. Please do not mistake my honesty, for pride or joy. No, that is certainly, not it.

I often still spend my nights thinking of the other woman and what she is like. If she drank apple juice as much as I did, or practiced her dance moves in the mirror before going out at night. If she traced his jawline with her index finger or pulled at the hairs on his chin while he slept. If she and I could have been friends…

…If she loved him as much as I did.

I write to her in my head, apologizing for the pain she does not know yet and for the lies I might have told her, for him, if she had found out. I wonder if she could ever understand that I could never be sorry for loving him, but I would always be sorry that it meant hurting her.

I hope that she can forgive me, as I have finally started to forgive myself. And I pray that she might, one day, see that we actually have a bit a common—after all, in a way, we both know what it feels like to concede an entirety, to a lie.

Emmanuel took a deep breath. “So, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

I would not know for a long time. For the days that turned into months, and the months that turned into a year and a half, Kojo and I continued on in our love saga seesawing between passion and confusion, confusion and passion. Despite my efforts to let him go or accept things as they were, it often felt like I was incapable of either.

This summer, I made the decision to stop speaking to him for good…or at least until I thought we could be friends. Most, if not all of me, however, knows that I could never go back to being his friend; our interactions would be too much of a reminder of the time I knew I deserved better, but stayed, anyway.

I have learned to love again since this experience—a feat that seemed almost impossible just a year ago. The stars have aligned in a way that my path has crossed with a beautiful, and awe-inspiring man who teaches me something new, everyday. I have never met a love so patient, so selfless, so kind, and so unconditional. I look at him and wonder how I got to be so lucky.

I realize that at a certain point, my attachment to Kojo became an unhealthy one that I surrendered all of my power to. I not only allowed it to define me, but I wanted it to. If Kojo chose me over another, I believed that it would, in someway, make up for the fact that I had not already chosen myself. I became so focused on what would be a fleeting satisfaction that I lost nearly two years worth of opportunity to really love and celebrate the amazing person I have always been.

I apologize to the other woman that I may never know, for the ways my insecurities and selfish decisions have impacted you. I apologize to the man, who now holds my heart, for the many moments I have made you feel as if you were not enough. I shake my head at the man that I let believe was the source of my light simply because he basked in it. And I laugh, affectionately, at myself for letting someone make me #2 when I am the only choice to make, again and again.

I cleared my throat and blinked back the routine tears. “Anyway—”

 

Copycat

Imitation | 1The assumption of behavior observed in other individuals

2Something produced as a copy

I remember her vividly, her face, perhaps, a bit too clear in my head: the mismatched brown splotches from years of bleaching and the tribal mark that ran across her left cheek. I remember her strained, yellowing eyes and the disgust that filled them. I remember the way her lips twisted and poked as she mouthed, “Ashawo.” I remember feeling terribly ashamed. I remember wishing I were anywhere, but there—anyone, but myself.

That was not the first time I have been called a hoe in Ghana. It was not the first time someone had taken one look at me and decided that they already knew what I was. But it is a time that I have difficulty forgetting—something I cannot shake. It is a moment that became a part of me, and one that set up much of my experience the past few months here.

I did not know it then, but that moment would only be the first of many other startling encounters during my stay. And each of them would come as a surprise because for a long time I believed that moving to Ghana meant that I would find comfort in obvious similarities, when in fact, I have never felt anymore different. The truth was, in trying to make Ghana the home that the U.S. could never be, I miscalculated shared skin color, heritage, and language as the only parts of the equation necessary to be seen as an equal. I had failed to understand that Ghana’s conservative nature did not bend to nourish liberal minds, and that instead, it cut down anything that did not remain in line.

So soon enough, all of these kinds, of moments, became the voice that made my decisions everyday. It maintained a thick accent and heavy tone, a down inflection and clear emphasis. It raised concerns whenever I wanted to wear something short and/or tight and hushed my laugh whenever it got too loud or took up too much space.

I stopped getting dressed up. I laughed much more quietly and I spoke only when spoken to. I tried to be bashful around discussions on sex and reluctant to share any seemingly womanist ideas. I acted more like the woman my culture would rather me be. I mimicked how I thought she moved and I copied her style. I tried to be less, me. But the issue with imitation is that when we run out of the script that informs us, we are left with a blurred line between who we really are the person we have tried to be. We become unable to run from the reality of uncertainty and discontent. Uncertainty of what is, and what was—discontent with who is, and who isn’t. It is when the dust finally clears that we find out that the truth of who we are—who we have always been…is still there, having never left, waiting to be loved.

This is not really about the woman that called me names because she did not approve of my outfit. And this is not about all the other moments just like it. But it is about what happened to me when I internalized them. It is about me twisting and manipulating myself into someone that could fit in. It is about performing under the guise of a copy, because it was the only way I might feel at home; because it was the only way I thought Ghana would love me back.

I still do not really know what it means to be myself. I am still figuring things out. But I am learning that that journey is not worth compromising for a false sense of belonging. I am learning to be proud of my mistakes and to make them loudly. I am learning to be unapologetic over my laugh and comfortable in the home I have within.

It is often, too hard, to imagine the Ghana I want to help shape—the one that does not shame others for what they wear or who they want to be. However, it is always, too boring, playing the copycat. The truth is, I will always stick out—that is to be expected of a first-generation, Ghanaian-American, BOMB ass black woman from the Bronx in any space. So if I am going to be called a hoe, in any language, I might as well be looking sexy as fuck, or at least, like me, when it happens.