My mind was a spaceship. With fire erupting from my roots, I charged into the skies with dreams vivid and wild. Unlimited by the boundaries of the ionosphere, I took flight into the galaxies. I saw light and fire. Brightness and beauty. Darkness and depth. For reasons unknown to me, I had a rooted belief that I was special, poles apart from ordinariness. Maybe it’s inborn, or maybe it’s the way my parents cared for me. I can still hear their voices.
“You are going places, Toluwalogo.”
Books became my second home. I found adventure in the pages of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast, Ali Goes To School, Mohammed Goes To The Airport, The Newcomer, Sade at the Beach, and Skyward by Mary Alice Monroe.
With dreams growing wilder, I stepped out. Out of the safety of homeschooling into a world filled with oh too-many-pairs-of-eyes. All searching, questioning my up-until-now-unquestionable greatness and infinitesimal invincibility.
“Who are you?”, “Where do you come from?”, “Where do you belong?”
I fought for what I thought is all that defined me with all the aggression that an introverted 10-year-old could summon.
“I am nothing but the best, a star that was born to shine. So shine, I must.”
Anyone considered to be better than me became a threat. I poured myself. Burned me. I sought acceptance which I believed comes only from being recognized as the best among my peers. In a place where nobody saw, I struggled to understand the actual essence of my existence. Fear and insecurity grew like fig trees inside me. And I struggled to find a place where I did not feel like a stranger. A place where I truly belonged. I wrote my first poem. I unwrapped the gift of the written word that exists inside me. Treasure in a heathen vessel. I caught a glimpse into the places it can take me, a feel of the power it can place in my hands.
My first crush. I grappled with the powerful feelings that consumed me. I was caught in a war between my head and my heart, ruffled like the sand beneath the feet of two elephants in battle. I wrestled to find my focus, my oh-so-familiar singleness of purpose, but all I saw were long gangly legs, square shoulders, brown skin, dreamy brown eyes, and the sweet sensational scantiness of a newly sprouting mustache above brown full lips. I can still feel the tingling on my skin, the tickle in my stomach, and the wobbliness of my knees at the sight of him. I remember Justin Bieber’s As Long As You Love Me, playing on repeat in my head as I wondered what to do with these strange things that interfered with the lub-dub of my heart.
I was a star, shining from my tropical corner of the world. I belonged at the top. I was confident that I was among those who give my teachers a reason to be teachers, one of those who will always win. Yet, in the recesses where nobody saw, I was at war. Why is my face so bland? Why is my hair so thick? I disliked the indecisiveness of my brown complexion. I mean are you milk or chocolate? Fanta or Coke? Pick a side. I disliked the extra folds of skin on my forehead. Like my dad’s. They made me look like a man. Why can’t I be extroverted and humorous and free like the girl that sits next to me in class? And when will my little breasts and nonexistent behind take a woman’s figure? When will the straightness of my form give way to a tinier waist and broader hips? Why don’t the boys like me? I have nothing but these good grades and, God, I wish I was beautiful. Like her and her and her.
Who am I?
The intensity of my passion consumed me. I was after all no longer one of those who will always win. I had counted losses too. In ways I never imagined that I would. Maybe I am not good enough after all, for this game called life. The line between love and hate is very thin and for me, it is almost nonexistent. I was consumed by hate as much as I was by love. Hatred. For myself, and for the ones I thought I would hold dear for life. I fought, worked, and pushed, yet it seemed that I was on the downside of a bell curve and I was falling fast. Into a hollow darkness that I did not know existed inside me. Where I questioned and doubted myself with every second breath. Low self-esteem. Anxiety. The greatness I once lived for now eluded me. I sought answers in time, moments, faces, and places. Tell me, universe, who am I? Where do I belong?
Where is the greatness that was once promised me? It seemed as if the star that was placed in the sky to guide my path when I was born that sunny June afternoon had abandoned me. I was left alone to grope in the dark for meaning and joy and wholeness. I was far from the end of my journey, but I was worn out already. I was running in a race in which only I was enrolled. Alone on the track, I ran, blindly, afraid to be caught up, desperate to be number one, unaware even of the finish line of this addicting race. And I was tired. When will it be okay for me to pause, catch my breath and let my life begin? In the hard pursuit of all these years, I had eaten myself up from the inside out with discontent, anger, fear, and self-doubt. I had been in prison and the jailer was me. I have not freed myself long enough for laughter, for youth; and in the intensity of my chase, I have not allowed myself to live.
Healing is a long tedious process. On some days, it feels like a straight path. On others, it is an abstract work of art, impossible to comprehend, like a treasure that exists only in myth.
Affirmations to myself in the mirror.
I am crammed into a head zone with more questions than answers. But I breathe. Swallow, and breathe some more.
Tick tock. How fast does the clock run? Here I am. Still questioning, growing, changing. And as this new dawn breaks, I hope. I hope I learn to live in simple ways. To breathe in peace, and breathe out gratitude. I hope I burn the chains that hold me to the former versions of myself. I hope I open my eyes and see the gazillion stars that are shining over me, guiding my way, setting out my path.
I hope I embrace and forgive myself.
I hope I learn to love myself and the people that love me.
I hope every day comes with warmth and I allow myself to smile, to laugh. I hope I unleash myself to soar and I learn to cherish the extraordinariness of ordinary days. I hope I care for this glorious body where a star has made her home. Drape my caramel with honey, kiss my forehead dimple with olive oil. I hope I learn to revel in the greatness that comes from just being me.
And I hope that from now on, I will not see myself as beautiful only in retrospection.