Off the Hook
Monday, 29th June, 2020. 8.30 p.m.
I am doing the last of the day’s dishes. I am spending more time on it, not because it is one of those sufurias that will break all my nails before it runs clean, but because my heart is heavy. I am breathing in and out, heavily, to wane off the anxiety. I am on the verge of tears, and both my arms and legs cannot stop shaking. Inside my stomach, there is a formed knot that threatens to burst my intestines.
I am taking too much time at the sink, ignoring the cold tiles at my feet, because I am too afraid, or scared to face the truth. I am too ashamed to accept whatever just happened. I keep thinking it will be over, this feeling, soon, but it does not help.
When I finally rinse off the last of the dishes, it dawns on me; I am going to be offline. Not just tonight. Not just tomorrow, or the day after… I am going to be offline for quite some time, until things try to get back to normal. Until I can afford to breathe gentle, again. Until I can gather the courage to answer to those ‘What happened?’ questions. Until I can gather the courage to look myself in the mirror and see myself, devoid of the pain.
No, it is not the physical pain I am worried about. That, I can mask up. Or do whatever make-up artists do with big noses that make them slimmer. Or let my locks dangle to the sides of my face. Physical pain; that I can hide.
It is the emotional pain that touches at the edges of my skin even as I make my way to the bedroom, the silence in the whole house adding to the weight on my shoulders. It is the silence I live in daily, but today, it is too loud I want to break out of my own house. It reminds me of many things my memory has so far done great at keeping away. It reminds me of hopelessness and resignation. Uncertainty and lost battles. Blind spirits and careless affection.
I do not remember a lot from that night. But I remember tidying the bedroom. Stashing clothes into bags like someone preparing to leave. Changing the bedsheets on my bed. Cleaning up the floor and clearing the study table. Pairing socks that have lay scattered on the floor for the longest time now. I remember asking myself why this looks like a new beginning, yet I have been this way all along.
I remember the tears finally finding their way out immediately I lay my head on the pillow. One, two, three streaks…..then some more. I remember the knot in my stomach slowly untying itself, and transforming into a heat that settled right in my chest.
Somewhere, in the middle of the night, I lost sleep. I thought it would be a good thing to finish all my pending tasks. To clear all my unpaid bills. To send all those emails I have been planning to. To vent out in my diary.
To remind me that of all the Ls I have so far taken this year, this one stands out.
Instead, I found myself staring at the dark sky, and the few buildings around me that still had lights on. I stared into the dark sky, thankful for the absence of stars, because beauty and hope was the last thing I wanted then. Thankful for the fact that my house is not crawling with people who will keep pushing and asking me why I look different. Why I sound different. Why I have recoiled into myself. Why I am doing more of nothing; which is almost what I always like. Why I have stopped laughing at everything. Why my face is different. Why I am biting into the nails I just spent my money on in the last twelve hours; something I haven’t done since I was eleven years old – the biting.
In the morning, even though the silence was still there, the pain had started to wash away, bit by bit. I could walk to the kitchen without fear gripping my knees. I could wash my face without fear of it falling off. I could breathe without fear of it being my last. At last, I could feel the cold tiles against the soles of my feet, and found the courage to slip into my socks.
Still, I was coming into terms with the fact that my phone would not vibrate, and it took quite some time before I got accustomed to the fact that this new unfolding was here to stay. That I needed to find new things to preoccupy my mind. New things, apart from my phone, that could renew my spirit. New things that could remind me who I really am, and what I want. New things that could propel me towards the goals I have set for myself.
I needed to find new things that could distract me from the pain, anger, guilt, and shame.
Fast forward, I spent close to two weeks partly offline, carefully choosing what to do with the internet. Intentionally doing only that which builds me in one way or another. I have read two whole novels in a span of two weeks, partly because I wanted to find new footing, mostly because there was nothing else I could do.
What have I learnt? Those who want. Those who really care. Those who genuinely know you inside out. Those who are gentle with your spirit. Those who wake up and think of you. Those who are constantly on your case, because they want to see you move up the ladder. Those ones, even if they are one, or two, or five, or ten, will reach out.
They will call your phone, and continue to even when they are unable to reach you. They will call those they know are close to you. They will text. They will send emails. They will ask why you are away, and send care packages while at it. They will, in one way or another, walk with you and find ways of getting you out of that place.
I do not have many of those, but these two weeks have taught me the importance of strong bonds. They have taught me who I can count on. Who will stop whatever they are doing just to find me, and pull me even closer. Those who will wait on WhatsApp until the day I resurface before they say ‘Ah, mbona hujakua online? Unajua vile nimekua nikingoja ujibu hiyo text?’ As if I owe them my presence. As if I am obliged to always be there for them. As if my universe has them only.
I know who will not notice even if my whole identity was wiped off the earth.
Those two weeks have taught me to be intentional with who I want, because not everyone is meant to get with you to the finish line. Many are just meant to give you the push to start the race, but only a few will run it with you, give you the support you need, and clap when you finally get the crown.
There are friends, and then there are people you know.