I now feel nothing in the place where I once felt everything, that place where my heart is meant to be, where it is supposed to beat with passion with every breath I take, now it beats with nothing if it beats at all.
That’s The Way Love Goes
Love in Bloom, Is like the brightest field of flowers
Brilliant colours, Thrilling the senses
Dizzy laughter, Amidst a cascade of tears
Relaxing the soul, Exciting and humbling
A myriad of feelings, Enlarging the heart
Nothing is quite as beautiful, As true love in Bloom
Love turned sour, Is like the sun scorched flower
No vitality, no spice, Colourless and distasteful
Beauty turned vain, Quenching the hearts fire
Empty days, Sleepless nights, Dull and meaningless
Hearts gone cold and numb, Hurt and lonely
Nothing is quite as dreadful, As love turned sour
Nothing surprises me anymore. I have seen it all, heard it all, been there and done that and I have the T-Shirt to prove it. I have mixed with hardcore criminals, rendevoued with poverty, shared a drink with loneliness. I have ridden the dejected horse of ridicule, and ridden high on the wine of success. Boy, do I have a story to tell.
Born to the poorest parents you have ever met. If there was one thing they were good at it was making babies without a care how they will be raised. My mother at least kept a roof over our heads even if it was a constantly leaking one. Inside the house, if you could call it that, it was another whole story in itself. If she was at home, you could be sure to find her, drugged out of her mind, comatose on the dirty littered floor in the one spacious room in the house she called her private parlour. It was the most unkempt, filthiest room in the house. No one was allowed to enter in except my father. No one, not me or any of my seven siblings were ever allowed in except in an emergency on the occasions we had to call for help from the neighbours, the ambulance services or the police, and those were regular occasions, at least once a week particularly on nights when the fighting, banging each other around, the sounds of breaking glass and furniture being dashed against the wall became too much for us to bear.
I grew up in a large family but I know what it means to be lonely, to feel as though you had no one else but yourself in this whole wide world. I learnt to mistrust everything and everyone except my own intuition which for some reason has always been very sharp and accurate. It kept me alive. It was what made me know to hide in the big pot in the kitchen when I was five, the night ‘the gang’ raided my house and started shooting, looking for my dope infected, purposeless brother who had flaunted yet another unknown, stupid gang rule. It was that same intuition that stopped me from popping the nice looking pink pills my air head of a sister left on the kitchen table in her hurry to go out partying one cold night when I was 11 and trying hard to understand the world, trying fit in and be just like her. My intuition has brought me through many things, most of which are too horrible to remember. I do not even want to think about the night I was raped right there in front of my little sister. I knew I had to endure it otherwise she could get hurt.
What I am most grateful for is that right from the start, as soon as I could think and talk, I knew that I was different. I knew that I had to live my life differently in readiness for a better future than the one I could see around me everyday. I loved school and wanted to be there all the time. I guess it was my escape from the harsh reality of my life. It was the one place where I felt normal, encouraged, appreciated and fed… oh yes the food. I loved the food in the school cafeteria and found ways of getting what I needed everyday. Besides the free food there was what I could scrounge off others including the teachers and the dinner ladies who perhaps felt sorry for me. Everyone knew my story. They knew about my family where a new baby is born each year. No need to worry about no food at home. There were people that made sure I had enough to eat at school. At school I could stay in the library, have some peace and quiet and escape into other people’s world through books and stories. I was the first one in the family to graduate from secondary school. The rest never bothered. They found ways to hustle and survive and that did not include school. But I was different. I was determined that I will become a politician, a banker or a solicitor. I will be powerful and rich whatever it takes. The easiest way to achieve this, I thought then, was to study, not get distracted by any kind of social life, or fashion or fun. That in my view was for airheads like my elder sister who have nothing but their looks to go on with. I didn’t think I particularly had the looks, but what I had will do just fine. You can imagine the persona and the image I portrayed of myself by the time I was ready for college. I was a book worm, a nerd only interested in political and academic arguments, no interest whatsoever in looking good, having my hair done or painting my nails. No interest in boys except perhaps this one boy I knew when I was about twelve years old. For some reason I could not wait to see him each day at school.
He was thirteen and gorgeous and did not even know I existed. The feeling landed on me suddenly and disappeared just as suddenly when I over heard him complaining to a friend of his about his low score in his maths exams. Even at 12, I knew I wanted nothing to do with someone who was getting low scores in maths. Although I never figured out what exactly attracted me to him, this experienced defined my attitude to men and relationships. Unless you had something sensible to say, to offer or contribute, unless you were rich or on your way to being rich and influential, I wanted nothing to do with you. This attitude became even worse after I got a scholarship to go to one of the best universities in the country. I won’t tell you its name because you just might form an opinion about me I’d rather you didn’t. Suffice it to say, it was the reserve of the crème de la crème of my society.
So you see I had no choice but to redefine myself. I had to make up a background and a family history that didn’t exist. It was the only way to be accepted into the numerous cliques in this institution. It was also in the same year that I discovered my feminity. I had turned 20 and had filled out in all the right places. I decided to find out what I will look like if I made the effort so had a friend organise a makeover weekend for me. I discovered I was just as beautiful as any of those air heads who had nothing to offer apart from their looks. Beauty and brains. No one had to tell me I had both. I knew it and decided it had to be used as a powerful combination for my benefit. I do not intend to graduate from here and go back to the dead end community I was born into. A good job will not be enough. I needed to marry into the echelons of power in this nation. I decided to find myself a suitor.
Unfortunately I could never relax long enough to socialise. Whenever I tried, I got irritated by the young men. They always managed to say the wrong thing or tried to take advantage of me not realising that I was smarter and more hardcore than they could ever dream of being. I was a ghetto girl in disguise. The whole foreplay of chit chatting about nothing, getting friendly, getting to know each other before negotiating the terms of a potential relationship was too much for me to cope with. I wanted a businesslike relationship on my side and love on the side of my partner. I felt, that way, I could maintain control and not get used and dumped. I eventually gave up and concentrated on getting really good grades, joined activist groups, mentoring networks and the like. I even joined a sorority to keep up with the high class girls.
Although I wasn’t looking for love, love found me and I fell very hard for the most unlikely candidate. I have no idea how it happened. I don’t think either of us planned it. With Kevin all my guard was down. I simply let him in, not because he was gorgeous. He was not even particularly brainy. He was just Kevin and I enjoyed being with him. We met when I was in my second year. He seem painfully shy and socially inept, more so than I was. We became friends and were soon inseparable. We got even closer when we begun to work on the college newspaper. Those long evenings just slumped out in his room discussing articles and topics of interest to feature in the newsletter, time spent in the library together, time spent just being together. I think I became attracted to him because he wanted nothing from me neither did he pose a threat of any kind to me. He was not a project to conquer and I did not immediately see him as a potential suitor. It was when the long summer holidays were approaching and we knew we were going to be apart for eight weeks that we begun to notice how attached to each other we had become. I missed Kevin terribly during those holidays. I couldn’t wait to get back to school to start ‘negotiating’ my place in his life. Luckily he felt the same. We planned our whole lives. We decided how many children we would have, where we will live, what jobs we will do. It was better than I dreamed. I’d found my soul mate. Although it was no longer a primary concern, I wanted to know everything about Kevin’s background. I told him everything about mine. After all, this was Kevin, my Kevin. I trusted him. Kevin had previously told me that his father was a senator in another state. His grandfather had made his money through the oil industry. But I now see something in his eyes I had never seen before each time he speaks about his family. A look of powerlessness and of resignation. He briefly mentioned that he was being groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps into politics. His family had already chosen whom he should marry and although he knew the girl quite well he did not feel about her the way he does about me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear more. I was beginning to get agitated. This is my Kevin, mine and only mine. I knew I had to fight for him but how? It was later I realised he had to fight for me, not the other way round. All my insecurities rose to the fore. Kevin knew that his family will not support his decision to marry me because his father had already heard about me and had called to caution him. He didn’t really want to talk about it. He simply wanted to keep his home life from intruding on the happiness he had found with me for a while, well as long as he could.
Another year went by and soon graduation was fast approaching. I had to ask the question. I had to know what Kevin intended to do. As soon as the question popped out of my mouth, I noticed the sad despondent look on his face and knew he had lost the fight. This fight for our love. He did not have to say a word. I knew it was over. This unique, once in a lifetime love I had for him and which I thought he had for me was not enough after all. He had pitted this slum, poor, unknown, girl against the wealth and prestige that he will loose if he chose her against his family’s wishes and had decided not to do so. Although I was fit for him in the small world of college, he did not think I was fit to be his wife in the real world.
This moment was definitely another turning point for me. It will define my life and future relationships. All my insecurities came back up again. My old guard was up again all of a sudden. My constant childhood friend. My intuition which I thought I had lost. I was Alicia again. The girl who has to stand on her own two feet. Deep in my heart, I felt the locks clamping down again and I was powerless to stop them. It was such a sad time. I refused to show it. I made a resolution. I will prove him wrong. I will ensure that my background does not limit what I will accomplish in the future. As for love who needs it when it can be so fickle?
From that day on until the day we graduated, I avoided Kevin. I loathed him as much as I thought I loved him. I decided that love was a distraction I did not need if I was to become the woman I planned to be in the future. I did not need a man to get me to the dizzying heights of success. I will do it all by myself. It will be many years before this deep icy sadness lodged where my heart should have been will begin to thaw.
In the meantime, I did my best to exceed all my expectations, both good and bad. Over the years, I learnt to accept my history, my family and the community that nurtured me as a little girl. I learnt to give back and make life better for other girls who would have walked in my shoes without intervention. I forgave my parents. They were of another generation and had their own histories they had to contend with. I did find love again but I first had to find myself. And by the way….. I did accomplish my goals. All of them. They just did not make me as happy as I thought they would.
As I look across this big dinner table at this Christmas time, at my children and grand children and at Kevin, now an old man .. yes we did find each other again, after many years, what I am most grateful for is that love did find me afterall, in more ways than one.