Encore

It’s been a long summer of hoarding anger and pouring it all out into my writing. At this point, I’ve realized that I’m not so much venting and trying to get rid of all my toxic feelings, as I am just using my words to be as hurtful as possible to the person that hurt me. I’ve been trying to make up for all the  lost sleep/writing time/peace of mind/joy over a person and situation that didn’t deserve any of this trouble. My hurt didn’t come from the regret of losing out, because I know for a fact that I’m not missing out on much. It came from being disrespected and left powerless to do anything about it. So, I wrote. This is going to be the last post of its kind, because in that person’s own words “There are more important things to worry about; it’s not that deep.” It was only a couple of months, right? Chill. 🙂

***

Does it get exhausting to be so careful? Did you ever take piano lessons? Probably not, and I don’t judge you for it, although you will find some way to braid this fact into the tapestry that is your rise to success, from neighborhoods we shall not name to the beds of women with accents sliding past immigration regulations. I only asked about the piano lessons because I would imagine that they taught you discipline, to keep steady hands at a meeting where you are being silenced over and over for your age, your stature, for bearing the wrong passport. I imagine that in those lessons you would hear how to measure time carefully, how to drop staccato points of argument, to play softly when the mood calls for it, to close the deal with a high-pitched tinkle of whiskey tumblers at the extreme right of the keyboard. What do you do to unwind? Do you ever relax? I assume that is the purpose I served. I was a novelty ornament sitting on a dusty shelf behind invoices yet to be accounted for. I would rise slowly out of the box at your request, sometimes sharp, other times slow and teasing– whatever you would like today.

But this is not about me. You are probably not surprised at my harsh judgment because you believe that feathers and imaginary middle class anxieties cushion my every fall. Any attempt at a sob story is only a pathetic play to match yours, and it doesn’t matter what toilets my mothers scrubbed and what broken shoes they had to wear so that I could hide diplomas I cannot read in a drawer I never open. As far as you’re concerned, a baby born with success clinging to the folds of her chubby arms turns into one of those “fancy girls” you see enjoying unusual blends of tea in the café down the street from your job.

Now you have access, in space, in wallet, in meticulously maintained but still crooked and unconvincing smile, and you can destroy your previous enemies from the inside out. The heart is the tastiest part; start there. But this is not about me. This is about you and how hard you’ve worked to live in a house very far away from the one of your childhood. You can shake your head at the little boys with dust covering their arms from wrist to shoulder, the ones aiming jagged stones at unripe mangoes. “That is no longer who I am.” That is no longer who you are unless, of course, it can add to your charming brand.

I ask if it gets exhausting, but I actually do not care. Even if there were traces of actual human sentiment left hiding in the hollows of your ears, I would not believe you if you tried to say, sincerely, that sometimes you need a respite from the cruel mime you have performed for many years. You are the engineer of what appears to be a perfect system, at least for now. No creaks in the joints, every joke carefully placed between product pitches, every private memory carefully curated to show off the cosmopolitan sheen glinting off your face.

I could also be wrong. You could be perfectly human and flawed in less sinister ways than I have dreamt up. You could be happy in the same uninteresting way that drives people to hold hands in public and block doorways with their embraces while strangers offer indulgent looks of approval. The tools that I have, you lack access to, words like weapons to gouge out all the parts you thought were hidden, an intelligence you cannot begin to fit into spreadsheets and three hour sessions dreaming up incomplete solutions to problems to which you contribute yourself. But of course, I could just be bitter and unable to let go. You could be totally happy and regular. It is obvious that I do not wish you to be, but mostly I do not care.

fuck you
Source: Tumblr

 

 

 

Inventory

Here’s another extract from the story-that-shall-never-be-finished 🙂 You can read the first part I shared here.

a spine- folded in half

The curve of my back was the long stretch of road to Labadi beach. We were sitting in the cramped backseat of a taxi, the rattling of the loose parts underneath it competed with and eventually won over the radio static interspersed with football commentary Dede Ayew with the cross, and it’s a gooooaaaaal! It was my birthday, so I didn’t care that the leather seat was sticking to my thighs with sweat in one place, and scratching my skin in another with place where the leather had cracked and where hairpins and groundnuts from some other passenger’s lunch were now embedded in the seat’s foam filling. The faded tarmac fought the sand encroaching onto its sides and the omnipresent waves of the Atlantic grew more restless and furious the more of land and “sea defense” rocks they swallowed. The road knew it would soon follow. You were the first person to ever buy me flowers, so it no longer mattered that hours before, I was prepared to give up on you and spend the rest of my day punching disappointment into the cushions of grandma’s sofa because you arrived at the gate hours after you said you would. My low expectations for you had been exposed, but the embarrassment I was hiding in my throat had almost vanished.

It’s not my fault you’re not reliable

It’s not my fault I’m late. The car–

It’s because I’m not your priority.

Let me finish. The car broke down and I had to take a taxi.

It’s not my fault I have a hard time trusting you.

It’s not my fault you always want me to prove something to you.

But perhaps I am moving too fast down the list of minor slights and sly insults. We had not yet learnt to drag each other on this journey after which I could no longer see myself in mirrors, and you wondered what made you try to understand something as unconceivable as a reflection in flux in the first place. That day it smelled exactly like July should, drizzle clinging to leaves and the next rainstorm never far off, but you couldn’t tell from looking at the tourists roasting themselves, first on side, then on the other, by the pool. We picked our way through discarded slippers and empty bottles of sun cream pressed down in the middle towards the back of the hotel grounds. What looked like just another chalet actually housed an eclectic and slightly confusing array of things; a winding hallway with orange and white tiles and walls covered almost entirely with abstract art that looks like everyday Accra in haphazard brushstrokes, stick men fighting over another stick body lying on the ground, a red trotro in the background. At the end of the hallway and past the Thai restaurant, a porch swing strung between two bronze pillars, its seat full of gold and fuchsia pillows with a few bald spots where there used to be beads. Then, an indoor replica of a lovers’ lane overgrown with vines in such perfectly ordered disarray that they must have been plastic, leading to an ice cream parlor with attendants in starched pale green uniforms, an unfortunate color choice considering the large tub of pistachio ice cream right in the middle of the glass display case.

Maybe it was the air conditioning whistling over our heads, or the series of tingles one brain freeze at a time, or the fact that the tall metal table and chairs were a little awkward to use so that your foot kept meeting my ankle in the same spot every time we shifted, trying to get more comfortable. It could also be the familiarity of this place I had begged my mother to take me whenever I did well on a big test in primary school that relaxed the tension that was yet to build in my back. I did not yet know that I would hold moments like this in the side of my mouth like toffees I didn’t want to melt, running my tongue over them to the point where it was raw and aching, trying to recall the taste of lime sorbet and teenage infatuation not as yet tainted with insecurity and the pressure of long distances and too much time spent apart.

Carnage

I wake up to warfare every morning. Fists clenched, spirit ready to pounce on the air and claw holes into it. I’m going to implode. I can only be as scathing as I desire when I am my own target. I’m lying down, and my pulse is running marathons inside my wrists. There is nothing left of me to dismantle. I have already used the edges of these words to chop up my self and feed it to the greedy rage growing more robust with each day that passes, the one that lives in the part of the wardrobe I can’t see from my bed. I’ve made a confidante out of this anger that is feasting on me non-stop. I give more and more of myself to it during the early hours of the morning so that it’s full and drowsy by the time I’m ready to wake up.

I re-enact the motions of preparing for the day. I am my favorite dress– black, thin-strapped, low square neckline and very clingy, slits on the left side– in your face. My body in your face because at least that, I can control. I walk through my new fury-tinted life, sprinkling swear words in everyday conversation like part of a ceremony from which I can draw some sort of power. My skin has gained a rough covering, unsightly to look at, even more to the touch, but I don’t care.

I AM ANGRY ALL THE TIME.

I turn the volume of music in headphones loud enough for it to hurt my ears, bumping into groups of white men in khakis and pastel-colored shirts. 5-4-3- it was only one man. I’m determined to take up too much space, sighing audibly and rolling my eyes skyward until people move out of my way, pushing them with my weight if I have to, making sure they feel the bone sticking out of my shoulder.

I have just learnt what it feels like to combust from the inside. This condition involves my insides melding together and settling with a heavy finality at the bottom of my abdomen. It comes from a regular diet of savoring and digesting all kinds of hate, from casual insults to bitter animosity which sting on contact with my self. The problem is aggravated by all the insults I wish I could throw into the dartboard I want to make out of you. For now, they are flying around in my own air space and pricking me instead. There is no cure for me as long as I keep nursing this illness while you proceed healthy and unburdened.

I AM ANGRY ALL THE TIME.

My frustration is outrageous. It clears a way for me before I arrive, discordant cymbals striking thighs and warped hands being used to play trumpets. I am an ugly parade. Lucky for you that this is the least of my wrath you have had to endure.

Taking Out the Trash

I have revealed a lot of things on this blog that are deeply personal, and not always in a way that is very obvious unless you happen to know the real life situations I make reference to in my own roundabout way. These days I feel as though I’m angry all the time, but have been hesitant to express my anger unless it has to do with larger issues of which I am but a small piece: racial inequality, gender-based violence, among many other things. What will my writing become if I’m only ever doing it with some bigger picture in mind? This blog, although public, is still my own space to do what I want. Today “what I want” includes getting out some of this anger before it eats me up from the inside, more than it has done already. You may see it as attention-seeking or unnecessary, but what will my writing become if I can’t sometimes use it as therapy and catharsis for myself?

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” -Anne Lamott

***

Consider this a found poem, a collection of random trash I stepped on when I stumbled out of bed at 5:08 this morning.

a seemingly harmless follow up message to make sure you noticed me the way I noticed you: Great meeting you yesterday.

arrogance masquerading as playful banter: Here are all the reasons you should be impressed by me.

false self-deprecation and all the reasons I’m impressed by you: I have my money on you getting us a NYT bestseller.

a few “tone-deaf” statements I may or may not believe fully just to provoke you: Feminism still thrives on emotion and faux outrage.

casual suggestion of another in-person meeting: I’m happy to take payment in a form of coffee or some cocktail.

appearing to enjoy your sarcasm and jabs at my ego: After the multiple slights, I must have a weird need to be maltreated. Now do your worst, go for it. I quickly learned to stow my heart away when dealing with you

connection based on a shared language and culture: The curse of millennial Ewes.

 this is the part where cheesy pick up lines give way to requests for you to share more of yourself with me: Give me a glimpse into “Vulnerable you.”

this is the part where you should have heeded the warning, anyone who disparages your sisters to flatter you is not worth your time: The yous of this town are like an eclipse. A rarity. Refreshing.

 this is the part where you really should have turned back, the part that spoke the future almost word for word: I’m very calculating. But not that kind of calculating. Spontaneity is a big part of my MO.

absurd tantrum, complete with tears, when I find out your life plans are not quaint enough to fit into my own: You watched me change plans and get rid of lingering situations! If I had known you weren’t coming back things would have been different.

 arrogance exposing itself with no reservations: I think too highly of myself to be treated this way.

the warning signs are much closer together now that the novelty has worn off, now that you have waited up with no idea where I am, when facts and fiction swirl together in a cloud of smoke: I was working on an urgent project all night. I know I should’ve called. You’re taking this really well. You’re NOT dealing with workaholic me so well. Times and seasons babe. There are times when I’m consumed by work and the time zone difference isn’t helpful.

red flags are slapping you in the face and you still can’t see that you are being made to feel like demanding I take responsibility for my actions is actually emotional instability: I’m sorry you feel that way. Jumping to conclusions with very little context isn’t going to help. None of this played out the way I had imagined it.

unfortunately I thought I could get away with making you the understudy for someone else’s permanence. 

 It’s 6:13 now and I’m still trying to scrape the remnants of this debris from the soles of my feet. 

Inventory

I wrote this prose poem a while ago and decided to try and turn it into a short story because I felt like I had a lot more to say. I soon realized that picking at old scabs and turning real life events into fiction aren’t things I’m interested in, mainly because it hurts a second time to try and make villains out of victims  (or to realize that one can be both) just for the sake of the story, or to walk back through unpleasant events that actually took place. Another difficulty I had working on this story was that it’s my first set somewhere that isn’t Ghana, and I’m not very good at or interested in doing that at the moment. The surreal is much safer territory for me and that’s where I plan to stay, at least for now. This is an extract from the story, which will probably remain unfinished indefinitely. No edits or additions, no submitting to literary blogs/journals (I usually don’t post complete short stories here because I’m trying to get them published), nothing! The story was difficult enough to write the first time around. I think I’m all good 🙂

***

1 eye liner in nuit noire shade

I’ve pulled out a few lashes from my right eye because it’s always the troublesome eye, the one that is oddly shaped and more difficult to hide behind thick coats of liner.

“What is all this black stuff? I can’t even see your eyes.”

My smile remained fixed only in the photo you took of me, ruined slightly by the table and the bright blue menu covered in plastic, and dotted with unnaturally yellow pancakes and waffles dominating the foreground. The grin slid off my face and onto my chest as I tried to formulate an airtight answer that you could not deflate with condescension. I feel braver when my eyes are obscured in black sludge and glitter. This is the only way I can feel feminine since this big chop makes me look like a duckling with the black fuzz on my head, slicked down with leave-in conditioner instead of pond water. I’m trying to look like the old photos of my mother where she was more beautiful than I grew to be, with 60s lashes standing boldly and separate from each other even though it was ’79. All of these answers were dripping with the kind of sentimental slush that you hated, so instead I said:

“Oh. You don’t like it? I’m still learning ooh, don’t worry.”

Neither of us believed the forced peals of laughter I dropped onto the diner table between us with a harsh metallic sound like coins striking granite, but you picked them up regardless of your tired distrust and shifted your weight to one side so you could shove them into the back pocket of your jeans. Later, you would attempt to dissolve the hard grains of stilted conversation that were caught in the corners of both our eyes, in tea so sickly it left smears of brown sugar on the insides of the mug, just the way I liked to drink it.

The only Boston I knew was green linoleum on the kitchen and bathroom floors, small white lines running up and down each tile like veins, it was the JFK/UMASS station with round backs covered in layer upon layer of warm clothing always retreating and advancing – which direction, Ashmont or Alewife- it was how many times can we go out for pancakes before the syrup turns into clumps blocking our arteries? It was using my arm to hide the angry smudges– one for each eye– on your pillowcases and hoping that my visit would not turn out to be a week-long sparring match in which both opponents were not interested enough to take hits at the places that mattered, resorting instead to lazy swats at the other’s ego, causing slight bruising, if even that.

***

name- unaccounted for

I’m inspecting my body for visible signs of damage, just to make sure that my skin will not betray the hurt from the sharp edges of words like: “You’re so selfish, always asking for too much.” I’m taking stock of myself, looking though archived emotions, replacing peeling labels and crossing out inaccurate ones. I’m trying to remember my name. I’ve found a folder in the back of my wardrobe, a solid blue cover and shiny silver rings on the inside. Across the front of it in threatening block letters, one word: SELFISH. I’m confronted with the moment I was given a new name, when I decided that good little Methodist girls from Adenta didn’t spit on reputable degrees before moving cities to fold and fetch overpriced clothes for women who were manicured from their teeth to the blunt ends of their ponytails, and to fold themselves into men who were unwilling hosts.

“Fafali! How can you burn scholarship money like this? What is your plan? It’s that boy, eh? Answer me!”

“Ma, I have to go. My break is over and the manager is giving me eyes.”

Selfish. My mother hurled contempt down the receiving end of the telephone, the same ugly square contraption that had always sat on her bedside table long before I was ever imagined as a small fluttering sensation against the walls of her abdomen. She was probably holding one hand suspended in front of her as she usually does when she is desperate to pull understanding of a horrifying reality out of the air around her. She did not know that I took the blank roll of paper that was pressed into my hands after four years, and used it as a map for a life I did not want to live; an empty desk for an empty office job, the desolation of a research facility with white walls and sheets of white paper with unfilled questionnaires. I often prioritize others before myself. Strongly disagree. She did not know that I had taken my new name, Selfish, the one that you gave me after the last tantrum you could endure from me:

“What’s the meaning of this?” You affected a grotesque imitation of my needy drawl, quoting one of my frenzied text messages: And you call me Fafali instead of babe or beautiful and I know I’ve crossed the line again and I’ve made you angry with me, again.

“Fafali I’m tired! You just like drama. You’re just so…so selfish! I can’t– I won’t do this anymore.”

I was sitting on your lumpy sofa that felt as though it was made of velvet, and I realized that for nearly five years I had dredged up your words in an attempt to understand what you wanted from me, sifted and separated them to the point where you just let me have them. Take them and go. Pack your things and go back to DC. Or back to Ghana. I don’t care. I have wrung my hands to the point where the skin has begun to peel off. I’ve actually gone too far to turn back. We had clung to each other beyond my morning is your late afternoon, past your at times admirable, at times half-hearted attempts to decode the tangled self I handed to you, hoping we could make sense of it together.

Now I’m working hard to scratch off your name from the inside of my cheek. I have left pieces of myself from Adenta to Georgia Ave to Dorchester and back again, flakes of skin between computer keyboards, tears warping pages of a text in another binder which proclaims ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY on its cover, childish terms of endearment in languages we have long forgotten. I’m wearing other names around my neck like self-indulgent, sexy, and you are wasting your life. My favorite name is too-beautiful-to-be-working-here, so I tuck it into all the pastel colored cardigans that occupy my days at a job I tolerate in a city that has now extended beyond the ancient linoleum in your house to the faded one in mine, to the B line always delaying and mice tap dancing on my ceiling boards at night.

Inventory

I’ve pulled out a few lashes from my right eye because it’s the troublesome eye, the one that’s oddly shaped and more difficult to hide behind thick coats of black liner. I’ve arranged them in line next to crumpled pieces of used tissue and some sharply exhaled breaths crystallized in the cold air. I’m taking stock of myself, looking though archived emotions, replacing peeling labels and crossing out inaccurate ones. I’ve used my teeth to pull out the cream lace from that bra you liked, and I’m still trying to scratch off your name from the inside of my cheek. I’m trying to remember my name.

I’ve taken to cracking the ring finger on my left hand, so I’ll take out the knuckle and place it beside all my other things. It’s relatively easy to do, but the difficult part comes when I try to pry the residue of back-when-it-was-different from underneath my fingernails. I’m rifling through the old clothes hanging in my wardrobe, checking the collars and hems, ripping out loose threads every so often. I didn’t realize those were the same threads tying the muscles in my face together to keep my smile from slipping sideways and away. I’m trying to flip through old textbooks, but the pages are warped together with tears and heavy sighs. I don’t recognize the frantic scrawls in the margins, but I assume it must have been mine. I’m trying to remember my name.

I’m undoing the tangled net of shoelaces and headphones, hair ties and conversations that wound on and on to nowhere. I’m sitting on the floor surrounded by all these objects, and I’m sorting through them in an attempt to discover where I left the sense of self that was placed on the tip of my tongue two decades ago on a balcony thousands of miles away from security. I’m trying to remember my name, but it has passed through so many different variations that I am no longer sure which is correct.

I’m trying to sift through all the mistakes to find out when the gap between what I thought and what I actually said began to widen until I learned to fill it with what I was supposed to say. I’m taking stock of myself today. I just found a scratched mix CD and a coupon for a free dance class. Shuffling papers for the trash are shuffling feet on hardwood are shuffling selves until I find the one that I cracked when I tried to fit it into the right self for you.