I love Stargate. It’s a sci-fi show that launched in the early 90s and it was one of those forever shows, like X-Files was. It featured a mashup of folk that included a salt-n-pepper haired former MacGyver, one standard blonde, one standard geek-type, and a tall black dude serving ’80s hair-band eyeliner (Teal’c). In each episode they hopped through this shimmering hoop and worm holed through to some arduous zone across the galaxy. In a way, love can be like that. On one side, we look at relationships like these electrifying, glittery things we need to plunge into head first, regardless of what’s on the other side. So we leap, fearlessly, only to get spat back out on the other side a little wiser, perhaps a bit jaded, and a bit scarred. But an end of a journey is still grimly satisfying because the memory of that finale is sometimes the stamp on our emotional passport we need before we venture to fly elsewhere. So leap, warp, learn, and love.
I once bought this huge t.v. and a proper stand to go with it. Later that evening, after my huband at the time had lugged the box up to our apartment, we sat cross legged on the floor in a procellous swirl of nails and tools with the good intention of following the attached instructions to the letter. But after we hurriedly screwed it together, we just plopped down on the couch triumphantly and tossed the extra bag of screws and plastic thingies in the miscellaneous drawer in our kitchen. We’d given up on the task the very moment we were satisfied with the outcome and bored with the process, ignoring the crucial steps of placing the pegs and using the washers that would’ve made the stand whole in the beginning of its life and far less damaged in the end. As a structure meant to shelve a t.v., the words ‘shelf life’ took on a painfully literal meaning for the doomed, faux wood quadraped from the moment our asses hit that that couch.
Also, the stand needed those screws. Those screws were it’s cartilage. So eventually, it wobbled, buckled, and caved. Sure, it looked outwardly good for a long while, but in the long run it just couldn’t bear the weight of our flat screen because it had never been properly buttressed to hold it. It collapsed. And since our acumen for marriage was akin to our acumen for carpentry, we fell apart too.
Because love has cartilage, and it has a skeleton too.
The things I’d been fed about relationships and love until my marriage were, in fact, about its skeleton. It’s base. Its starry-eyed infatuation phase. Worse, I liked the quixotic, skeletal version of love I’d been taught because I’ve always been less afraid of the skeleton of a thing than the rotting flesh of it. The idea of love-rot is far more terrifying, after all. Perhaps that’s why I fall into a mild calm once I’ve processed the end of a relationship. After the turmoil is over and it’s not threatening anymore, I’m able to marvel at it’s smooth bones and wonder how it lived.
*Gently touches glass case.* Hey, come look! It’s Love! Wow. I wonder how it died? I hear it was beautiful when it roamed the earth.
When I got my heart broken for the first time, I felt it as a seismic event. And nearly every other heartbreak shook me in the same way, as if each affair that ended was as heavy as a felled nephilim that shook the earth near my feet. But afterward, a cold would rush in to cool another layer of glaze baked onto my heart. So that slowly, I became the “I’m-good” version of myself, cold and empty, so that I attracted only the cold and empty:
“I never wanted to hurt you. Are we good?” he’d ask.
“I’m good,” I’d say, flat as Florida.
I was ready to swear off tradition, oaths and monogamy altogether, since I know it’s not a standard trait for us invertebrate mammals anyway. As I walk the streets in my new neighborhood, seeing couples walking their dogs on the manicured grounds, I seethe at them and turn up Frank Ocean’s Biking (Solo). But I only heard one part, really.
The diamonds is plural, the Tiffany brooch
On my lapel, at the table, I’m givin’ a toast
The first wedding that I’ve been in my twenties
Thinkin’ maybe someone is not somethin’ to own
Maybe the government got nothin’ to do with it
Thinkin’ maybe the feeling just come and it goes…
But no matter how cynical I get, I’ve learned that there will always be an aspect of pairing off with someone for life that I can’t help but praise:
It’s simply less exhausting to love one person, physically and spiritually. Also, cheating is draining for all, eventually–save a few dedicated sociopaths. Juggling two hearts and focusing on two futures is overwhelming, like playing Jenga with my emotional health while using palsied hands. And while I don’t have all the answers, I know I’ve evolved because I look at love through a different lens than I once did. I’m quite bored with the ins and outs of what’s wrong and right with relationships and marriage, and I’ve found more healing in observing the love I’ve always known so well but have seldom appeciated. In my head, these types of loves are flushed out in bulleted points that make the most sense to me.
And all those points cascade down from self-love, which was hard for me to accept because even though loving myself so that others can love me seems like a simple concept, self-love morphs and shifts in my hands. Sometimes it’s a stone.
Sometimes its sand.
So this is what I’ve decided to do.
Love each fold and mark and too-long second toe. I sit in the tub and will myself to love these things. I sometimes mouth the beginning words of May Swenson’s Question like a mantra; “Body my house…” And I do this because not loving myself has always been a weakness, and that weakness has always attracted predators.
I barely survived their claws.
I love my family. I marvel at the resolve of my surly grandmother, who bathed me with her hands that look nothing like mine, and brushed my hair which is nothing like hers. My grandmother. Who leveraged home and reclining years of peace and leisure to support her only daughter as she played the guitar and grew dreads to her waist and brought home babies with names Grandma could barely pronounce. I love my condescending big sister’s scientific, calculating mind. My android sister who, as such, never cries, ages, or expands. She also never fails to inspire me. And of course my baby sister who closes doors softly when I’m in a mood, and never needed two dimples because she could always melt a misanthrope with one. I love my brothers as a band, though they’re each so different. My brothers who can march anywhere on the lord’s green land and erect a house with whatever they find scattered there. Boys who speak Arabic and Wolof and cheated me at Monopoly because I was a sleepy, gullible child. And I love my colorful mother who wore so much jewelry when I was young that I secretly thought that other mothers were bland by comparison with their plain, un-hennaed (is it a word? Now it is) and unadorned hands and wrists that made no jingling sound when they walked into a room. I love my strange, brilliant father and I’m terrified of all that I see of him in me–even the brilliant part. Now that I’m older I see myself like him; we have music and words and ideas pirouetting in our skulls and it’s all so beautiful and loud that it’s easier to retreat inward than deal with the outside sometimes. I get that now.
In fact, I love my parents even more now that I’m a parent. I now know that they too were people before they were parents–just two musicians who traveled the world making music and babies and artsy friends.
I’ve also learned that despite all that I was was taught, romantic love is sometimes the least powerful because it’s the most difficult to gauge, while the bond of true friendship can be an immovable force. Once I visited one of my closest friends to help me sort out something I was feeling, but ultimately we just collapsed and cried. We were twenty-something, unlucky in love, and broke. Our lives were one long SZA song but we had no idea who she was then, so we just cried damned good until we couldn’t anymore. Then we did our hair and readied ourselves to make even more bad decisions. (“God bless dem twenty somethanz.”) She’s pregnant now and I avoided her like the plague all throughout. Because even though I rarely confess it, protruding bellies remind me of the times that Ko and I really tried, only to stare disappointingly at the little window on the long white stick in the bathroom, the one that informed us time and time again that one was all we’d have. So sometimes, being around those tummies is too much to bear. But, I went to see her smile, laugh, and wobble about, radiant as ever. I couldn’t stay long, but I stayed as long as I could. Because I love her.
My stepfather loved me even though I was a trashy, volatile little runaway as a teen. In fact, witnessing his love for my mother helps me soldier forward even today. I love him too; his Naija-Brit accent always made the pronunciation of my mother’s name sound melodic when he called it in the house (“Kuh-OOhm-Bah!”). I associate that sound with a time when we were all together in a basement apartment that got too little light, but let in just enough spiders to keep other pests at bay. The place where my mother taught me to make fried cabbage with onions, hot peppers the color of ripe tangerines, and a dash of adobo and curry–the type of dish that would leave a yellowish, oily bouillon on the plate when you finished so that you could mop it up with bits of bread. Love.
A few years ago, my biological father sat by my little brother’s bedside with his religious books and beads, offering tearful supplications day and night after he learned that my brother had taken two bullets through his neck. My brother lay with his dreads splayed around his head like a sleeping lion, because perhaps that’s what he was. His neck was sewn together rather crudely, like Frankenstein’s monster before reanimation. Anyway, my father’s dhikr was low and soft as he rocked back and forth as my brother’s life held on by a wispy thread. His garb brushed the floor with each of his seated movements, and his beads were rhythmic as a child’s abacus, hypnotizing the everything to hear his one request: Let my youngest boy live.
Love. All of it unadulterated, powerful love.
Now onto the scars. I love the man I married, and not in the past tense. His small ears and the mole on his deep brown face. His half-stutter when he’s spewing a poorly thought out lie. The way he looks at our son, like he’d let the world fold in on itself and pull him down into a fiery crevasse while holding our only child extended safely above his head. So that his only son would survive. He’s capable of that kind of love. And god help me, if it’s reserved for our son and not for me, that’s alright. I understand that it’s different, after all, and that’s…actually comforting.
And I love that he knew about my scars but braved it all, tested the waters that were surrounded by electric fences and “NO TRESPASSING” signs. He braved and survived a barb-wired heart and a horde of in-laws–the brunt of us wild as some cut-off sylvan tribe. I especially love the pensive looks he still gives me today when he knows I’m down-spiraling, and the quiet decency he observes when he allows me to do it because he knows it’ll pass. That was his brand of love. And now, after nearly a decade of trying, we’re in a void.
Over, but with a sting that won’t leave and a love that won’t function under one roof.
Over because I’m mean when I’m scared, I’m scared when I can’t seem to tunnel out from under my melancholy, and most of all, over because no one should live like that.
Over because I’m new to loving myself and sometimes accidentally exercise it, outwardly, as confidence that looks and smells a little too much like indifference.
Over because there wasn’t enough God in our house, just work, food, and play. So I became relaxed and forgot to invoke protection for our love against Al Ayn, leaving us unwrapped and vulnerable.
Over because I’d forgotten that he’d fallen in love with the person I was before now, and dared to love me through all my growth–some feigned and some real.
So here I am, like I’ve been spat out the other side of a big metal upturned hoolah hoop onto the surface of some brutish bad-land where the folk have devolved to be incapable of love. There’s nothing here but abbreviated text messages and day parties and networking brunches and hashtags and situation-ships, and the hope to reclaim what I’ve lost with someone new even while I know this is not even the time to try. (And so I’ve decided I won’t.)
Thus, the void.
And most of all, there’s resentment because I love him in such a way that I wouldn’t dare subject him to myself until I’ve fully healed. Because I want to see him happy. Because that too, is love. I’d soon see him with someone balanced and a bit nagging. Someone who’ll make him smile. Hopefully, I won’t see it on Facebook and crumble into particle dust. But even if I do, it’s worth it to let him be happy.
While I deal with these damn scars.
SG2017 : 0000009302017. OUT.