The Way Home

I have four siblings, but spent the first eight years of my life as an only child. In that time, I understood the importance of having someone on your side—a sibling, an uncle, an aunt, anyone—when your parents are absent. I learnt that to be singular, in any form, was not acceptable. So, I tethered myself to anyone who bestowed the title of friend on me. I loved this title so much that when my benefactors threatened to take it away, my eyes and face would turn puffy and red from wailing, my throat hoarse from begging, and my poor heart, scared of an all too familiar loneliness. 

To be alone in this world is one of the scariest things. The feeling is similar to being alone in the dark and waiting for power that will never come on. It is shuffling forwards and backwards, left to right, searching for the light switch and never finding it. There is no finding the switch because that rings hope, and there is no hope in loneliness. There is only you, with a longing that extends beyond yourself. There is only you, extending yourself, attempting to fill the vacuum. There is only you, never filling the vacuum, never reaching the end of it, even when you have reached the end of yourself, even when all of you is gone.

Before I became myself, there were many people inside me. There was me who fell to her knees for deliverance because an eight-year-old boy demanded it after I was allegedly demon-possessed through the medium of a plastic ring that once held a multicoloured candy sweet. There was me who tried to be a rapper because Ms. Onika knew how to help the lost girls feel relevant at the time. There was me, who was rebellious and spoke restlessly to and against authority. There was me, who had multiple phones broken in her teenage years because she disrespected relatives. There was me with boyfriends in high school, me in new schools, me being the new girl, me missing old me, me finding new friends and me missing old friends. There were all these versions of me before the me who accepted that love was all I was. 

I was searching for spaces where it was okay to be myself. Sometimes, I tell people that all these things I did were not things I was supposed to do, and there were things I did only because acceptance was a vice I desired too much. I thought it was cool to be hot and brash, and people loved that, so I was that. But today, I am still hot and brash in the necessary context. I still spit out verses, but only in the right rooms with the right people. hat girl is still at my core, but I am also a lot more me, and I attribute that greatly to my community to the family that chooses to love me. The acceptance I longed for had always been there. Only I doubted it until I convinced myself it wasn’t. But the difference, then and now, exists in the frequency with which I doubt and how I respond in turn. That is to say, I think of myself more often as accepted than before, and when I conceive unacceptance, whether misconceived or otherwise, I am indifferent. 

I find that for me, I am all these girls when shrouded in love. Now I spit bars because a friend raps verse two after I do verse one and we have sung the chorus together. There are people screaming and fanning us in the back because things are getting too heated. It is being in a space where there is motivation to indulge, where silliness is supported and championed. Where in a lyric, the joy of friendship is evident, the love it carries exploding in the air like a thousand confetti. I think there is something to be said about the type of living that is beyond being alive. I am looking at life beyond achievements, academics and career. I am looking at relationships beyond their labels. I am looking at gatherings beyond their memory.

However, there are days when (after I have exhausted the content on my phone and convinced myself that there is nothing else to do or carry myself along with) I lose myself in the vacuum that occupies me. I am motionless and stuck in a particular position in bed, eyes wide open, thinking of nothing, thinking of everything that is a lie. In these moments, the emptiness is the beginning and end of myself. I forget all of who I am and what I do. I forget that I can sometimes shake a crowd with laughter with the utterance of an unintentional statement; I forget that people choose me for love and intimacy. 

When I fall like this, I remember quotes written by Sylvia Plath in her unabridged journals about loneliness, about the need for intimacy—to fall deep into a person’s heart and wonder what it’s like to follow its beat. To be so close to another’s life source, a person chosen by you. A friend who chooses you too. She writes about the need to cling to another’s soul. She writes about the possibility of a person unfolding when they perceive interest from another. She writes about her need to fall into people, to drown deep in them. There is no alternative for her; there is either intimacy or nothing. In this way, we are alike. When I fall into the place that convinces me that I am nothing, what I long for is to feel like something because I am tethered to the soul of another so much that I can speak of the workings of their heart and mind, however inexhaustive, however endless. Sometimes, I think about achievements and how it will help my relationship with a person. I think about money, and how it will help all my relationships, however small or otherwise. The feeling of loneliness that engulfs me stems from the illusion that I am by myself, without family, without friends, without connections. I think of who I may be without these people, who I will be as an island, who I am in that very moment where I am unable to locate the evidence of love my memory cannot recall. The answer, for me, is always nothing. 

I think of the grand scheme of me and how the concept only exists because of every person I am connected to. I want to be acutely aware of who I become; the process of becoming that person with and around the people I choose to be a part of my life. There is a constant desire in me to feel tethered to myself, no matter how often my body feels uninhabitable, no matter the frequency of chaos that ensues in my mind. I am always there, bearing witness, waiting to fix whatever I may find broken, allowing myself to hope that whatever flesh is severed heals. I command myself to be present, so I am able to tell the story of my life as well as my friends. I want to be a reliable source for my history. In sharing the burden and gift of my existence, I want there to be truth and potency in its continuity and influence on whoever chooses to borrow from it. 

The person I become is dependent on all the choices I make. Whether I consider or damn the consequences. Often, my decisions are based on the rollover effects that come from family and friends. How things might look for them, how they might look for me, how people outside of us will look at them by reason of association, and me by reason of self. But I am not compelled by it. My motivation is to make short and long-term decisions that make our lives better together. I will go against the wisdom of my parents and choose freedom to ensure my siblings are not without it. I will make enemies of the people who make enemies of my people. I will move cities to be with them. I will walk out of romantic relationships that threaten their security. 

All of the versions of me that have existed are products of the people I have surrounded myself with. One way or the other, they have allowed me to determine what traits I want to be identified with and the ones I want to shed off. The process of becoming as I would like, as I believe I am destined to, is not an easy thing. There is the conscious decision of choosing who I include in my daily living, for myself and because of my siblings. The decision to build on a relationship, to stop it at a specific stage, to go on, to fall out, to fall in. It is important because I am still trying not to centre my desire to be accepted; to merge easily with people who, from their eyes, I can see that love is not a thing I must struggle for, that it will trickle down to the possible fruits of my womb, my hands and my heart. 

They solidify the me that surfaces on my hard days, reminding me of this endless stream of love I have somehow built for myself; the me that says the vacuum is only for a time and sometimes necessary because there is love waiting for me. The me that assures me that there is more love to discover, and so the stream will never stop, that there are more people to know, heartbeats to dance to, more flesh to sink into. The me that tells me to look closely at emptiness, to walk around in the darkness, because I will see the thick layer of threads maintaining my connections. That I will never be fully lost. That there is always a way home. 

*Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash

Elohozino Okpowo

Elohozino Okpowo is a lawyer and writer. Her writing is largely influenced by community.