To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

Once upon a time, a fifteen year-old sat in the dorm-room she shared with another fifteen year-old a wrote a letter to her crush, a twenty year-old heartthrob (according to her). She was rather naive, having been protected all her life, and had really very little idea about how she should go about getting his attention. She messed it up, he was amused (but not moved) by her letter, which included all the lyrics to Brandi’s Sitting Up In My Room, properly acknowledged of course because she’d read her brother’s notes on citation. She regularly went through her brother’s old files from college because she was that kind of child: wordy, ready as in read everything and anything, and far advanced beyond her years. 

However, one cannot learn about love and romance from books, one must learn by experience and from the anecdotal evidence of others. Unfortunately for that fifteen year-old, she had been so well-protected that she had never heard these anecdotes or experienced a crush before, so relative to her age, to her developmental progress, when it came to boys despite being ‘advanced’ in other areas, she was woefully unprepared.

Sitting Up In My Room read like everything she wanted to say to this boy whose smile made her little heart thud, so she was happy that day, painstakingly copying the lyrics from an old Look&Listen magazine. This was in the days before Google and the internet, you see. 

Once the lyrics were neatly copied on to the front page of an A4 counter-book centre spread, she filled the remaining three pages torn from her Geography notebook with her untidy scrawl, writing about how handsome he looked the last time she saw him, how boring school was now that she was supposed to be thinking about her O’ Levels, and ended with a plea: would he please tell her if he was going to be her boyfriend because she also liked her music coach’s brother but liked him more.  I told you. Clueless.

~

 Once upon a time there was an unmarried woman in Joburg. She prayed to her God often, crying out for relief from her deep loneliness and for healing from heartbreak. She sat in her study (she had such a room where she lived in those days) and wrote out the characteristics of the kind of friends she wanted to attract. Soon enough, as happens with single women past a certain age, that list evolved into one detailing the kind of romantic partner she desired. It wasn’t a very long list because she had learnt a lot since the days of Brandi lyrics and teenage crushes, and although she would never be completely comfortable with the dating scene and was  forever awkward in her interactions with the opposite sex, she was a little bit wiser and her expectations were more, shall we say, realistic?- which is not to say that she was no longer naive. She was. 
This was her list: 

  • He must be able to teach me about God (because she had walked through wilderness and met her God there).
  • He must be willing to be a husband to me and a father to my children (she wrote a separate list for the kind of husband she wanted and another for the kind of father she desired for her children and then combined the two).
  • He must want to be with me.

I told you it was a very short list, if list can even be used in this context. Anyway.

One day, a few months after writing and refining and committing and praying over to her lists, a man she liked and thought she could learn to love (he made her breathless for real, imagine that), came to see her. They’d known each other for a year by then and his visits were sporadic, random, and always short, but she liked him and let him come and go as he pleased, never asking him what he was doing, nor asking herself what she  was doing entertaining what she later came to call his shenanigans

One day after a particularly trying encounter (her heart was in her throat the entire time and she struggled to maintain composure: he had that effect on her), he dropped her outside her building, said his goodbyes and drove away. She walked into her flat smiling, giddy with endorphins and dopamine, and got straight into bed to think about him. She replayed the scene over and over in her head, examining it for clues about his intentions, and -because she was wiser now not just older– she focused too on her responses to the very real stimuli that presented itself in the shape of a seemingly appropriate, generous, God-fearing man. 

Yes, he could teach her about God and had done so already, showing her the face of God in new ways. Her talks with him were the primary cause of her study of the subject of prayer, and she knew that in matters of spirituality she had at last met a man who could do what Adam failed to do for Eve. Here was a man who could stand between her and God as both pastor and prophet. Yes. Point No.1 on the list: check

Next, could he husband her and father her children? She considered this, weighing his actions up till that point against the measure of husband and father: protect and provide. Could he, she wondered. Would he, was the more pressing question. She considered this seriously. Her ability to ignore the rush he gave her, to create space in which to consider the things that matter, was hard-won and she valued it. She had ignored these things before, fallen for unsuitable men, but now she was well-equipped -because of her commitment to hiding in God and living in truth- to properly separate fact from hormone-fuelled fiction and fantasy from reality. Ah yes, she had learnt you see. She had learnt that what a man says is important, but less so than what he does. She had learnt to enjoy the words while reading the actions, instead of lettting mere words, unsupported by action, cloud her judgment. She had come a long way from that foolish fifteen year-old. But I digress.

The question now before her was whether or not he would be the man in her life, whether he intended to be that man. She pondered whether she could wife him as he needed (of course she considered his needs too, what she knew of them. She was not altogether selfish), and mother his children. 

Her conclusion was that yes, she could if the opportunity arose, and that he too could husband and father. He had the skillset necessary to protect and provide, and she thought, thought, that the intention to do so was why he kept in touch. There was no rush, there was much ground to cover before such things could be discussed, but she was growing increasingly convinced that yes, the right framework existed. 

And so on to the third and final bullet point on her list of basic requirements. Did he want to be with her? Ah, the most difficult question to ask of another. Are you willing to do what it takes? 

Here she had to be firm with herself. She promised herself a few years ago that she would deal with the world as it was, not as she wanted it to be. So she was merciless in het search for proof of love, of caring, of concern. Yes, there were such proofs. But were they enough? 

For the time being, for what they were to each other, his actions were…satisfactory; fair. They were in a kind of friendship that, to be honest, worked only because they both wanted it to and compromised where necessary to maintain status quo.. Ideal, wouldn’t you say? 

Ah but now, wait. What is this? The woman sits back and a frown appears on her brow. What was it that he said? Yes. The memory fills the room. She is no longer smiling, her heart is no longet racing.

  I am not ready for a relationship.

When he said those words she nodded in agreement. She  knew he had work to do on himself, and to be honest she was glad for the slow pace with which their relationship grew. From sharing Scriptures, to discussing the nature of faith in God who claims to be the God, to talking about matters of the heart …they progressed slowly, carefully, gingerly because when they were children, these two, they thought like children and acted like children but now they were grown, and needed to reason like adults. 

So what did it mean, this thing he said? 

Now that she was alone and not buffeted by delighful sensory perception of his maleness and deep spirituality, she asks herself why she didn’t press him? Was it because she knew where he was going and wanted assurance that he would never leave her? She understood him easily and was encouraged by this sign of self-awareness on his part. Besides, she knew she wasn’t ready for a relationship either, and she knew that full well. There was a lot to be done on both sides before they could even begin to talk about what a life together might look like. So when he said he wasn’t ready although it was appropos of nothing, really, she agreed. She said she knew that he wasn’t ready, and let him know that she too had work to do before committing to a relationship. She understood what he was saying, and appreciated the truth of it.

Now, alone, she thought about it and found herself wondering why he had said that. Who asked him? 

A new sensation arose in her chest. Nausea, or something like that. New understanding bloomed. Her breath became shallower, and she had to consciously decide to breath in 1 2 3 4 and out 1 2 3 4…

Again.

And again.

And then she faced the deeper truth of his statement.

When a man says he’s not ready for a relationship, what he means is that he’s not ready for a relationship with YOU.

~

To all the boys I’ve loved before I dedicate this piece and this beautiful, beautiful song because I stand here, I am still standing, not because I am superwoman or uniquely inured to heartbreak (I’m also dramatic and prone to exaggeration), but because I am still able to love. You all taught me that about myself. I’m still standing because hope springs eternal. It really does. Because each one of you taught me this: good men exist, men I can love exist, it is inconceivable that I will not find one man who wants to be loved by me. 

I am stronger than I have  ever been because I still believe in a loving God who will in His good time satisfy the desires of my soul.

The vision will come though it tarry. If t’is not now, then it is to come, and if it is to come, then it will not be now.

 Yes. Another sunrise, another day. I live, I learn, I love. Here’s to moving forward. #squadsalute 

#squadsalute

Come Into My Lair…

  1. Sometimes I worry about what people think of me. Usually when it’s too late and their perception of me is virtually set in stone. 
  2. I struggle with depression. There. I said it. Well, by said
  3. One day my past will be a story. When that time comes I will remember how I felt when watched The Contender
  4. This weather is especially,  ekspeshaly horrid for single people in cold homes who have trouble falling asleep. 
  5. Celibacy is the best gift I ever gave myself. 
  6. Three-day weekends for mothers and all women over 35 should be a thing. I feel like if we don’t make it a thing womanhood will die a horrible death.
  7. I am a teacher. I have much to learn. 

On Being Unloved, Which Is Not To Say I’m Unloveable

​I take up yoga because you say she wasn’t flexible enough
And I swallow my wit because you say she wasn’t serious enough.
I wait for your desire to rise because you say she couldn’t get enough,
But the bold truth is that for you I am entirely
Too much.
– Not too much me, don’t mistake me,
I know I am enough,
But too much for you to have,
You don’t deserve,
Your heart is not big enough
To love all of my awesome.

I write and delete texts
Because you say good-morning-I-love-yous are stupid
And I stop wearing lipstick because you say
You don’t like make-up
But the truth is that I am too much –
Too in love, too pretty,
– Not too much me, don’t get it twisted,
Your hands were not big enough
To receive my big love.

I twisted myself into strange shapes
To please you,
Became a shadow of myself
To keep you.
I didn’t know that you were not mine to keep,
That what you have between your legs is
Actually community dycke.
I didn’t know then what Sister Waheed taught me
About not making homes out of people
And that trying would kill me.
I’m not one for drama so I won’t say you killed me
But I am one for truth and the truth is I almost killed me.

I forgot my divinity and fell in love with yours
But that could not work –
I could not breathe
I suffocated
Asphyxiated
Under the burden of becoming yours
When I needed to fill my lungs
With the joy of becoming me
In the presence of you.

I don’t blame you,
Not at all, not even a little bit:
I am pearls and I am rubies,
And I am not for everybody.

I stand tall because I survived you and I
Lean back –
– Too divine to live in the shadows.
My heart may crack
But my light will not be dimmed by such as you.
You too were light and like the moth I hungered
To be consumed in your inferno –
You’re going supernova
And I refuse
Refuse
To settle for what’s left-over.
I cannot do for you what you ought to do for yourself
But I can do for me what you thought I couldn’t.

I can choose me and I can walk my path
And I can wear this tiara
Until my king gives me his crown.

This might be cliched but cliches are that for a reason:
That you do not see my worth does not make me unworthy

-Beauty’s Daughter

Destruction/Distraction

Floods of memory and washes of pain soaking into flesh leaving indelible scars that will forever tell the story of who I once was. 

Little welts of raised skin that I will one day caress and describe as the foolishness of  youth

No more difficult to explain than the involuntary flinching at sudden movement and raised voice –
A new day shall dawn and mourning shall cease, heralding a brighter vision and a new goal:

Heal. Get better, and then get well. Tell your story without fear and live your life without shame.

On Self-awareness

On Self-awareness

I behave badly sometimes because I’m human and because Petty is my middle name. I’m also overly sensitive and have a tendency to overreact to perceived slights, imagined or otherwise. Also, I have no filter and say the wrong thing all too often. I know what I am.
 That said, as I get older I find myself more concerned with doing the loving thing and authenticity than I am with being agreeable and liked. I have found, in these the last years of my thirties, that I don’t need to keep in touch with everyone no matter how much I once loved them, because people outgrow me and I outgrow others, and that’s ok. I know where I am.

I have found, in these ‘woke’ years of my life that my path is mine to walk and my spirituality mine to develop, harness, unleash and enjoy. I don’t need any one to cosign my beliefs and while teaching is at the core of who I am, I too am still a student and can’t teach everyone everything. Not all moments are teaching moments and being grown is knowing the difference. I know how I am.

I have found that I am most free when I enjoy each moment for what it is, neither yearning for an imagined future nor  longing for a dimly lit past. I have found the most power in learning myself and loving what I find, completely and without reservation. I know that I am.
I have found, in these the most single years of my life, that I can be happy and fulfilled without a romantic partner, and that living as a sexual being is not just about the sex I’m not having, but about letting my creative self free, and embracing and revelling in my God-given femininity with and without the male gaze. I stare into the deep dark abyss and conquer it every day; I know whose I am.

On Becoming Woman

Every now and then I manage to take a selfie that makes me stop and think damn, girl you’re so pretty! It doesn’t happen nearly often enough partly because I have long since resigned myself to the fact that photogenic I am not. That said, when I look good, I look effin good, even if I do say so myself.

I grew up feeling decidedly unfeminine. In fact, for a period of about two years in my adolescence I got my kicks from hearing people ask – is that a girl or a boy? I have always been ‘that tall girl’, and with short natural hair and no ‘breasteses’ I was able to play a boy with ease. In my late teens I developed hips and could no longer be mistaken for a boy, but I was still flat-chested and self-conscious about it. It was the one thing about my body that I hated, that I blamed for all my troubles, romantic and otherwise.

As a young adult woman I still didn’t feel woman enough, and I didn’t understand the concept of dressing for my body and feeling comfortable with my look until I was a fully grown woman. Other aspects of my personality combined with what I saw as a masculine figure (hips notwithstanding) and what I saw as an angular and therefore masculine face, led to me embracing all things boyish -oversized jeans (this was before skinny jeans and jeggings, before men wore both), oversized shirts, oversized everything.  For all intents and purposes I rejected femininity, prettyness and softness. My style was mostly androgynous, with a few hot numbers thrown in when I wanted to be sexy.

That was me for the longest time: a weird mismatch of hot woman and boyish girl. I was confused about womanhood because I felt I was living it wrong, I felt wrong in myself. Not like I was meant to be a boy, no -except for the general misogynoir (not a typo) and the monthly bleeding, I quite like being a woman- but I felt like I wasn’t doing it right, I never felt quite comfortable or at ease, I felt like I was on show all the time, always acting, never just being. 

It was draining and tiring and I was angry and sad all at once, but no matter how many bwe (black women’s empowerment) blogs I read and regardless of how often I changed my look (I had a flat-cap phase, a skirt&tie phase, a pant suits phase, a beat-face every day phase…) none of it rang true for me. Some looks worked better than others, received more compliments, but none of it felt like the authentic me. 

And then, I found myself.

In 2014 I fell pregnant and in 2015 I had a baby girl. I found out the sex at month 5, and once I did, I resolved to figure myself out once and for all, for no other reason than that I did not want my daughter to inherit my gauche awkwardness, my lack of gracefulness. I imagined her being free to express herself as she wanted, and I wanted to be there, supporting her as she discovered herself. I knew I could not support her growth into womanhood unless I did some growing of my own so I did some hard thinking, some experimenting, a lot of soul searching and introspection and I found myself, but more importantly, I liked what I found. 

When I see selfies like the one above I smile to myself because these days I like what I see in my photos, I like it enough to have selfies online even, on Instagram nogal, something I thought I would never do.

I look at that picture and I see a glimpse -it’s just a photo, it can only say so much- of the woman I’ve become and the woman I’m still growing into. A woman who has found her world and her place in it; found her stride and is walking her path. I see a woman who has embraced her womanhood and is living her life on her terms: unapologetic and unafraid, pretty, secure, resilient, loving, lovable, and loved. 

You may look at this picture, at any picture of anyone and see only image that you may love or hate, but I see the woman I struggled to become, the woman I freed from that self-inflicted shame of ‘doing womanhood wrong’, a woman who understands what she is and who she is, and is taking her place gracefully and with poise, and with good humour.

Every now and then I take a selfie that makes me think, damn, girl, you’re so pretty, and I smile to myself, with myself, because for the longest time I didn’t feel pretty and avoided the camera. For the longest time I didn’t know who I was and saw no beauty in myself, but now I can look at myself and think – mama I made it, I became the woman I was born to be, and I’m still becoming her.

I don’t know if it was pregnancy hormones, or God, or something else altogether that was the catalyst for change, that led to me embarking on that journey of self-discovery. I just know that I am here, mothering, womaning, and effing slaying.  I thank God. 

Thoughts on Freedom

Freedom, much like trust, cannot be picked up off the street.

I don’t know about you, but I’m thirsty for my freedom and hungry for it, knowing as I thirst and hunger that what will sustain me, this thing they call freedom, already lies within me.

Freedom is not external to who you are, it is inherent, intrinsic -congenital, if you will- but not inherited. Real freedom is not inherited. 

What I have to do, and you, is find my freedom and live it. Not a narrow life because freedom is a wide life, not meanness because freedom is generosity; because you cannot be free until you understand that what you seek is already within; that you do not grow by stunting others’ growth; that the universe will not take from someone else to give to you. 

You are not free until you understand that life is a journey to unshackle yourself, not a competition with anyone else.

Freedom doesn’t come, isnt found -whatever the term is for pulling something out of yourself, something bright and wonderful and sacred- 

-Freedom will elude you, and me, until we’ve faced and conquered our pain, our fears, our lies; until we’ve choked on the Truth and on our personal truths. 

You won’t know freedom until you know Truth, because freedom walks hand in hand with Truth.

-Beauty’s Daughter