I live in America now. I moved here in the early days of the Great Naira Crash of 2016, and after Brexit. Financially, my timing was atrocious. Every time I changed Sterling or Naira to Dollars, I fancied I could hear my bank account gnash its teeth. Emotionally however I think if I had waited even a day later, I’d have regretted it forever.
I get a lot of shit for not liking Lagos. It would have been a lot easier for me if I didn’t feel about it as I do. When I lived there I only felt happy in small sips, and I only felt free when I ran. Soon I was running every day, upping my speed and my distances so relentlessly that when I felt my leg break one Saturday morning, I simply kept on running.
The place you call home ought to feed you. I know and love so many people who are always hungry unless they’re in Lagos. The energy of it makes their skin shine and their eyes dance. They are made fat and happy by Lagos, but Lagos is so much of itself that it will, given the opportunity, start to feed on you.
Things rolled on very quickly after my Damascene moment. I quit my job. I dusted off an old admission letter to a graduate program. I booked a flight to Philadelphia and signed a lease online. If you’re one of my Original Readers (hello lovelies) you may wonder why I came here instead of going back to England. Well. Inexplicably, England had begun to feel less like a favourite jumper and more like an old jumper in need of mending. Besides, the motto of my family is “When In Doubt, Get Another Degree” and this is the best place to get the degree I wanted.
The night I left Lagos, I sat in my room with my two oldest and best friends. My brother had already warned me that if I didn’t get a move on, Lagos traffic would punish me. I didn’t know why I was crying – I don’t really know how to miss people and I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Dodge- but they did. They knew that it is in my nature to run from the right things, and therefore that they would have to push me out the door.
When I arrived, I felt as if every skyscraper in Philadelphia was glittering in the sun just for me. My leg was still throbbing in a cast, I’d been travelling for 21 hours, and my shiny new flat was furnished only with echoes. But as I unfurled an air mattress to sleep on the hardwood floor of my new home, I felt that hummingbird thrum of ‘yes’.
That was over a year ago. Usually I learn the lessons of my life in hindsight far removed, but this year God has been bringing me up to snuff in real time.
I’ve always had a bounce-around life. Boarding school aside, the last time I actually lived in one place for more than 18 months was in 1996. In interviews I say “my background is uniquely multi-jurisdictional” and it kills, every time. Here, I quickly learned that it also left me with a self-identity partially made of wet cement; I’ve never stayed in one place long enough for it to ‘set’. There are very few things less fun than seeing the end of your 20s on the horizon and realising you’ve still got a hell of lot of work to do. But if you ever feel within yourself that something important is a bit too malleable, pour everything you have into shoring it up.
One of my Necessaries said it’s been an Eat. Pray. Love year for me. We both hate that book. But I was delighted; I’d been doing all this hard work, grafting it out with myself, basically becoming a soul-vegan, and someone had noticed! Like when, halfway through an unhappy diet, someone says “you’ve lost weight!”
This was however not an easy year of finding myself in a bowl of pasta in Italy. I think it would have been easier if I wasn’t so damn arrogant – I learn half a song and fancy myself an opera singer.
I got out of my cast, ignored my physiotherapist’s advice and immediately reinjured myself. I became a bit of a teacher’s pet in one of my seminars – I was giving it all the right chat – so I barely studied for one of the finals and got a B. My professor said “I consider myself to be an educator, not an examiner” and gave me another chance. The lesson here was to stop self-sabotaging by avoiding hard work and disdaining patience.
I let myself into a relationship with W, someone so objectively lovely I failed to realise that he wasn’t lovely for me. I broke up with him and he still hates me. I have had to learn to stop seeking absolution for it. A friend of mine, G, helped. “But, why must you carry this? Or this is the first time a guy has told you he loves you?”
She is French in all the ways a woman can be French, so spending more time than is strictly necessary thinking about men baffles her and spending any time at all on what she called ” a relationship you allowed, not a relationship you chose” was completely incomprehensible. That she indulged my self flagellation at all was merely the result of us being 3 hours into a train journey; we’d hit the bottom of the barrel. By the time we got back to Philly, I realised I may have been wrong to write him false letters of forever, but at least I made sure that the last one was full of nothing but truth.
Can I pause here to answer a few questions that have popped up in some of your emails to me. Yes, “Luscious” was about W. No, I did not take that piece down when or because we broke up- I took it down to enter it into a contest (I didn’t win, so it’s going back up) No, “This is How You End Up With the Wrong Guy” is NOT about him as we were still very much together when I wrote it. Jesus guys, give me some credit for not choosing assholes. Or, at least, trust my inherently selfish sense of self-preservation.
Have you ever heard and immediately disregarded the clatter of an earring as it falls into the space between your dresser and the wall? This is how I felt about my relationship with W when it ended. The lesson here was that I must never again stay in a relationship because I feel guilty for wanting to leave it.
This piece was getting unwieldy, as I’ve been away for so long and therefore feel like I’ve so much to say. Hence, Part 2.