Intelligent.Genius.’You’re gonna be something someday’ I’d hear. ‘You’re gonna be what this world lacks and needs’. Beautiful.Kind.’ You’ve changed my life’.
These words that seem like compliments tossed me around like a crumpled up paper in the October wind. Or a tornado; whichever is more forceful and devastating.
I saw desperation in people’s eyes; parents, teachers, strangers. I saw the kind of hope one has when one has given up on everything and lay down in the field, awaiting death. I saw broken dreams rising from the ashes, and I was expected to ignite them, breathe into them my gift. I saw homeless souls knocking on my door, wanting to be housed in a space I hadn’t explored yet…
I came to hate my ‘gifts’. I suppressed them, hid them, did away with them. I could not stand disappointing people, and I was bound to disappoint because I wasn’t cut for this. I wasn’t able. I was useless. I’d never amount to anything. I was weak.
I took to the shadows of myself and every time someone caught wind of who I was trying to hide, I’d shut that person out of my life. I never had an active goal I aimed for; anything I achieved was a by-product of my curiosity.
I taught myself English because my 15-year-old self was infatuated with an English-speaking boy and wanted to pen elaborate love poems to. I learnt Swahili in three weeks because I asked my tutor this one Swahili word I heard someone say, and one thing led to another… I learnt Arabic within months because I really
wanted, no, needed to read this book I found, and I’d open up random pages to read each week to see how if I my comprehension had increased from previous weeks.
That’s why I don’t feel I can ‘own’ anything I’ve done that people find impressive. I try to explain it away but people seem to think that I’m somehow responsible for my achievements. Maybe I am. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to think about that because it’s a Pandora’s box; a box I was stuffed into by well-meaning people. They pigeonholed me when all they could see in me were my gifts, my intelligence. I could not afford to jeopardize that, because if I took so much as one misstep, I ran the risk of eroding the only worth I held…
The paragraph in maroon is the most difficult paragraph I’ve put in this blog. More difficult than writing about my mental illness and rocky relationship with mum. I feel like throwing up. I feel so disgusting and filthy writing that. I feel naked. I’m deeply ashamed of the fact that I speak 5 languages. Which is why I’m taking this first step in feeling the disgust and doing it anyway.
I’ve belonged to others for way too long. I’m reclaiming myself.