I would have titled this letter How I Met Your Mother, but that would mean you expect much of a fairy tale than the reality of the rough path I have been through. How I met her is far from the point. This is about the baggage that has been my course of life ever since I made a decision I nowadays think was a grave mistake.
September 1988, my head buried in my arms, I was fighting away painful tears that threatened to burst out with all the little hope I had left within me. Seated at the corner of a tiny staffroom with a dozen books piled on top of my desk, I was a miserable thirty-year-old guy whose fiancée had just been married off the other day. No, not to me. To another dude I had never even seen before. Did it hurt me? What do you think? How would you feel when someone you have been seeing for close to three years suddenly walks down the aisle in the arms of a man who is not you? How would you react?
And no, I wish I could tell you it was the first time it was happening to me. No, it was the second one. Two women I had loved with every shred of my feeble heart were gone and I had nothing to do, but bow my head in shame every time my friends asked me what happened. I cried, mostly in the one-roomed house I had rented whose rent was such a hustle to raise. I was struggling to make ends meet when most of my age-mates were far away in college getting their degrees and diplomas. Where I came from, no one had the cash to do all that for me, so I had to settle for meager jobs to try to raise money for my schooling.
I still remember my job title back then. Useless Teacher, commonly referred to as UT.
So, this friend one day in the staffroom walks to me and says ‘hey buddy, I found someone for you.’
“Someone for me?”
“Yeah. Great woman. We come from the same place back at home.”
I wish I had left the conversation at that point. If I did, then I wouldn’t be here, typing a letter to my daughter instead of sitting across her and letting it all out. You wouldn’t also be here. But I didn’t end the conversation at that.
A couple of meetups later, I guess I was hooked. I was so much broken that I wasn’t careful enough to look beyond the freckles. I was glad I had found someone who understood where I was coming from, and who would take me for who I was. At least that is what I thought it was.
The first mishap was the wedding. Your mother insisted on a white wedding, and I didn’t have any means to afford all that. But what does a man do when he wants something so bad? He gives it his all. So, I dived into everything and everyone who could lend me cash to afford everything she wanted. The whole thing wrung me dry. By the time it was all over, all I wanted was to lie down and take a huge breath of life.
But that was the start of a sprint race no one ever prepared me for.
I spent the better part of my days working my ass off to pay off debts and the little I thought I could save for my college fees, ended up paying for the ever-escalating house bills. Water, electricity, food, medical coverage. All that. I was told it was a man’s job to take care of his family, and a woman’s job was to maintain the home.
I tried, Maua. I tried. But the nagging was too much. And the disrespect. And being called all kinds of names because I was unlearned and ‘didn’t have a proper job’. You were two years old when I finally enrolled for my degree at the university, amidst numerous protests from your mother’s family. According to them, I was abandoning my young family, and that was the most selfish thing to do.
But I left you all because I was looking for a better future. I needed a better fighting chance to ensure you would have a life I really wanted you to. Did things get better? I wish I could say yes.
Every day was a storm that hit me at my lowest. I tried doing everything I could, but I was never enough. There was never love. There was not a single drop of affection. We could not even look at each other. We could not even share a bed, let alone do anything that was supposed to be done. We were strangers to each other, fighting to maintain an image before our peers.
I got my first suicidal thoughts when you were five years old. Your younger sister was just one year old, but I couldn’t take it anymore. The pain was too much I couldn’t even breathe without help. I lost so much weight I thought I would disappear. I looked older for my age. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed because my legs refused to move. The doctors found nothing wrong, so I was forced to go back to work. I had a series of nightmares and would occasionally wake up screaming at the top of my voice.
No one cared about my wellbeing. No one asked whether I needed help. Everyone kept draining my cup until there was nothing left to take. I was a walking corpse, waiting for the winds to blow me to wherever direction they felt like.
You were too young to realise any of these. But I knew one day when you grow up, you would ask questions. So, I tried to make things easier and wrote different letters to you and your sister. You were the only people who gave me hope in that house. In that letter, I explained my reasons to you. Somehow, I knew you would never judge me. So I wrote everything that came to my heart and mind. But I was a coward Maua, maybe I still am.
Three times, I had the whole house to myself to do whatever I needed to do, but I couldn’t bring myself to. I wanted to be in your life, I so much wanted to. Maybe that’s why my hands shook so much every moment I tried to pop the pills.
Sometimes when the burden of all these weigh me down, I wish I had just died back then.
But I didn’t. So when the temperatures threatened to scald my skin, I took my leave and lived far away from you. It hurt me to see you grow without me. It hurt me that you learnt to call me daddy at a very late stage in life. It disturbed me that I was not there to teach you even the basic things; like learning how to walk, or run, or read books, or change channels on the television set. I was not there to see you transition from a little girl to a full-grown lady.
I do not know whether my occasional visits did anything to prove my genuine love and care for you. I have never been in your shoes, I wouldn’t know how to react to that. But I was giving myself time to think things through, and let the temperatures return to normal. I was giving her space and time to decide whether she still wanted or needed me in her life. It was tough proving myself to her. That I needed her and the family at large.
Forgive me for sending you to boarding school at such an early age. Now that I think of it, it was an emotional roller coaster that did more harm than good to you. You were forced to keep your feelings to yourself, and you thought that strength meant the ability to undergo the most heinous acts without breaking down. That was not strength. That was my little girl slowly losing her way with no one to hold her hand. That was my little girl taking the dangerous walk through a dark forest, with no one to cling onto when the pain from the thorns against her heels was too much.
It was wrong. But it was the only way to protect you from all the drama that was going on back at home.
When I thought the storm had abated, I moved back in. I still remember the smile on your face the evening I told you I was there to stay. Forever and ever. I could live for that smile for the rest of my life.
You were away in boarding school again when hell broke loose. It started with me missing breakfast because I didn’t wake up early enough. Then moved to lunch because she was too busy or too tired to cook for me, till I was forced to buy my own food and cook it myself. Were you not my daughter, I would have explained bits and bits about our sexual life, now that you are, let us just say it wasn’t what was supposed to be.
You don’t need someone to literally throw you out before you realise they don’t need you. Do you? No, you don’t. Right about that time, my finances were not going so well because as you grew up, responsibilities increased, and the least I could do was try to provide everything to you. Your sister was old enough to realise there were creases in the fabric of family.
She slipped a number of notes through our bedroom door, requesting for a family meeting, notes your mother always shredded the moment she lay hands on them. We never granted her the one thing she never stopped asking for; audience. Up to date, I still feel I broke a huge portion of her heart by hiding behind the façade. She was just a child trying to do the little she could to bring happiness to a home she so loved.
One day, I will write to her and let her know she was right. That I am sorry she had to witness the ugliest part of my life unfold right before her eyes. That I am sorry I had to leave, despite how hard she tugged at my trousers. I will write and tell her that the reason I didn’t look back when she was wailing at me to stay, was that I couldn’t let her see me in tears. I had lost control of myself.
Do you know how hard it is to permanently walk away from a home you struggled so hard to build? To walk away from your own children? To go through fire and rain to put food on the table, only for it to turn out poisonous? Do you?
When I left, I had no intentions of getting myself into another marriage. I wanted peace, now that happiness to me was long lost. I wanted a safe space to let my heart bleed out. I wanted a dark room to lock my soul in. I wanted to get away from all of that, even if it meant losing the people I loved most.
I was going down the suicide road again, and that was the riskiest path I didn’t want to take. I tried getting to talk to you, but I had to struggle to even get a chance to come to see you in school. I was a lonely and sad man, who didn’t want to rub his mess into other people’s lives.
But as time had it, I needed someone to talk to about whatever was hurting me so much. I needed someone to hold me down when I was on the verge of giving up. Someone who could help pick the broken pieces of myself and stitch them back together. Someone who knew what it meant to be lost, and fail to have a reason to find your way. Someone who could teach me to love myself and find happiness without depending on others. Someone who could tell me it was okay not to be okay. It was fine to go through a rough patch, but that was not the end of the road.
I know you have a million questions to ask, questions I probably have no answers to yet. But one thing I am sure about, I am happy. After all that I have gone through, I really deserve some happiness. It does not mean that everything is as smooth as it should be, but I am learning to learn the most from each lesson as it comes. I am taking slow steps to get to where the road will lead me, so I am not sure whether it is the right road in the first place.
So, yesterday when you asked ‘How did we get here? Do you even love me?’, I felt that shit.
This is how we got here. I have run out of ideas to prove my love to you. But there is no single day that passes without me thinking about you. There is no way I can make up for the lost time and chances, but I will try my best to do what a distant father can do. There isn’t much, but I promise you I will try. You give me every reason to never give up, no matter how hard it gets.
I would understand if you outgrew your love for me. I would do too if I were you. But if one day you ever want to talk things through, I will be here.
(This is an excerpt from my maiden book, Breaking Down; a collection of short stories. A copy goes for KSh800. In case you need one, reach me on 0718853372)