By Inyang Edoho
We’re all outsiders, that’s what permits us to be here. If we belonged, we’d be too much for the earth.
I grew up painfully aware of my difference. I was born a lefty, but that didn’t feel like a scar. I really began to feel exotic when I started losing weight. I think I was about six or seven. I have memories of being taken to see a pharmacist. It’s one of the few things I remember clearly. My dad said I was not eating as much and that “…she’s losing weight”.
At the time, my father’s “skin problem” was becoming a bit of an issue; maybe that’s why we hardly left anything to chance. Other children could step on rusted nails and move on, but it would get us into the doctor’s office. We went to the hospital for what I felt were the flimsiest things. So when my dad talked about my weight loss like it was a problem, I remember smiling. I also remember feeling like his dear princess, but that’s not for today. That weight loss was the beginning of shame for me.
I may never know how much of a difference it has made in my life; but I know that it and losing my father has stopped me from speaking up for myself or daring so many things. Obviously it was a concern to my parents and in my house it was common to make jokes and throw words around about things like that, so it wasn’t something I could ignore. I think most people felt that the more they talked about it, the more I’d be encouraged to eat. Well that didn’t work ‘cause I’m still trying to gain weight. What they achieved with that was making me very uncomfortable with my body. The only person who didn’t make me feel bad about it was my dad.
Most, if not everything I know about myself is through the lens of seeing myself as the little girl who lost her best friend and father. I’m immensely tired of it, but it’s impossible to talk about my journey without bringing that perspective in. Later I would find that I may have been depressed as a little girl or maybe I was just intensely sad when my father was away; but I remember singing sad songs so I could cry to ease myself. The memories go all the way back to when I was four or five. One instance is clear enough for me to remember the song and the place. I got into that mood when my daddy travelled for work, but occasionally when he was around. I don’t know how often and I don’t think it was something my mom noticed; I don’t even want to ask. I find it interesting though, that even if I was surrounded by love (from my mom and my sister), I couldn’t interpret it correctly. I just didn’t notice anyone else. I built too much around this one man.
Well, about the weight, I remember an instance where I went to my mom’s staff room and one of her colleagues said I had a neck like a vulture. I told her son – who was slim and at least 12 years older – had a neck like a vulture as well. I embarrassed my mom, but when we told my father he laughed. My mom laughed too. I was never reprimanded. He seemed to be of the impression that standing up for myself was important and that he had my back. I was not an insolent child otherwise, so that was not a concern I guess. I was also raised to really respect people, but after my dad left that turned to fear and an unhealthy reverence for anyone who had someone who had their back, someone like a daddy; in fact, a daddy.
I think I felt my mother had too much to deal with and she didn’t need to add standing up for me to the list. I can’t remember processing this, but it’s the only explanation that makes sense to me when I think it through. I definitely believed that women didn’t have to do that. I felt that was something a father should do. I never wanted to put my mom in a position where she’d have to argue with a group of fathers about whose child was right. So I was quiet about many things; about bullies, about things I wanted, my preferences and that took my voice away. In some way, I believed that I didn’t have what it took to be heard. It made me keep quiet about a lot of things and it still makes me quiet about things I don’t agree with. It made me ashamed.
In secondary school, I remember asking myself the one thing I always wanted to be conscious of, even in my dreams and my response was that I always wanted to remember that I no longer had a father. I don’t know how these things affect other people, but it did a number on my self-esteem.
I never wanted to be the smart one or the daft one. I also didn’t like being just another person in the room. In a way, I think I wished that someone could look under the surface and just discover my real thoughts for me, some of which I dared not even bring to my consciousness. While in the university, I was one of the youngest in my class and in most places I found myself, especially in my first year. I remember consciously pretending not to get witty jokes, so I wouldn’t sound like the smart one in the room or like the tiny, loud one. I was desperate to make people feel like I wasn’t much and the truth is I didn’t need to do that, ‘cause I would have done well without it. I was obviously not the most intelligent in my class and I didn’t have to worry about irritating people’s egos. These people were fine. I was my problem. After a while of doing that, I think I successfully made myself less smart, because I started having to process things that used to come naturally, but that too is a story for another day.
Photo credit: Kevin Jesus Horacio on Unsplash
About the Author
Inyang Edoho is a writer and content creator with experience in film, radio and television.