Archives: Remembering Things I Forgot to Forget
by pronounced "ahhh" like a sigh
I’ve been going through old writing, hoping that reading and re-editing would spark some new writing in me. This writer’s block has stretched into the bricks of the Great Wall. There are more acres of silence in this block than any words I’ve spun in recent years. I know what’s happening. I understand why the words won’t come. I’m trying to be still. I’m trying to allow the soil enough moisture and sunlight to encourage a growing. Just a bud of something that reminds me of what these words are meant to do. Instead, there is still so much purple and prickly nothing. I’ll continue to push until the earth cracks and gives me space to wiggle through.
I wrote this years ago. After the first show I had at Oklahoma State University. The place that raised me. The place that though never felt like home while I was there, will always be home now that I’m away.
Will try to write something tomorrow. Even if I use this space for a free write. I can’t hear the silence is too noisy.
Right now, I’m in Stillwater, Oklahoma. This is where I was raised. People often ask me why I came from Nigeria to Stillwater, Oklahoma. I tell them it’s because my father went to school here. Oklahoma State University. The answer I want to give is, “Because this is the only place that could shape me. The only place strange enough to understand the things that made me.”
This place shaped me. Made me this “please” and “thank you” woman. This place made me small town laugh and big city dreamer. This place is why I am quick smile and slow temper. This place also is where my dark skin and second hand clothes made breathing difficult. This place of peanut butter and tuna sandwich embarrassment. This place that called me ugly to my face and then dared me to cry over it. Despite all of that this, this place, is still home to me.
I haven’t been back in 15 years, but I still remember my address. 30-4 North University Place. We drove by yesterday when we came in. The long, one storied rectangular box of an apartment building has been cemented over; glowing with the black tar and white stripe newness of a parking lot. The woods– Our woods– where my sister and I ran free amongst the magnolia trees have been replaced with stark, housing developments. The small babbling creek, we called Boomer Lake, has been sacrificed for these new perfect, many storied, cookie cutter buildings. My childhood lies beneath a red Honda Accord. My youth, buried beneath oil burning SUV. I don’t even have the space to be sad. I feel like they have been built on sacred grounds. I can only close my eyes and say a soft prayer for forgotten yesterdays. These houses seem so small now. Forgot how small I was then.
Remember how small I feel now.
Sailing past Carmike Cinemas, the place my father worked. The place that kept my father from us for days at a time. My sister and I used to run up and down the aisles of the movie theatres. We invented games and stories to keep us occupied while my father cleaned up after people privileged enough to leave half eaten boxes, spilled cartons and full cups, on the sticky, dirty floors of these theatres. I was often awed by this. Wanted to leave notes in each seat. “Please throw away your trash. I need my daddy to come home early tonight.” But I knew those notes would just be more for my father to clean up. I helped him when I could, but hated the drudge and toil of this life. Hated these people that couldn’t walk 8 feet to the nearest trash can. Hated these silent ghosts that kept my father bent and broken. He was better than this. And it made me angry. The people that left chewing gum stuck to the chairs in front of them, I hated them the most. My father would hand me a flat, squared iron object, “Nyono, try the best you can to remove the gum.” and I would try, would put all my 12 year old power and anger in scraping and helping. I still throw away every box and empty, soda container left in aisles, in chairs, on floors. I know that somebody’s father is bent. I know somewhere a kid with eyes like mine will see their father for half a second longer tonight. It means nothing but it is everything.
Stillwater was struggle and hunger. Was beauty and break. Was blood lost and wind stolen. But this place is where I learned to daydream. I knew there was more to my life than small of this college town. So I dreamed big. Watched the Karate Kid and longed for my own Mr. Miyagi. Watched Back to The Future and longed for my own Doc. I needed someone to take me from this place and teach me useful lesson as well. We left here when I was 13. I remember pulling away and watching Stillwater, Oklahoma, fade in my distance. I vowed that I wouldn’t return until I was somebody. Until I was more than the brown, big eyed girl, bubbling under the weight of untapped potential. Not sure if I’m that “somebody” now. But I am something. Something more.
Tonight, I read my poetry on the same campus that held my breath all those years ago. Yes. There is something musical about this place—Still Water. Something that sings a soft song, a low hum, in my chest. This is where I am from. The place that made me who I am. I recognize myself in the green of this campus lawn. I see that girl, five years old, learning English by watching television. I see that girl, eight years old, not quite fitting in. Writing that first poem. The one that told her that she belonged somewhere. I remember her—ten—lost in a world of books and stories. And I remember that girl, twelve years old, writing letters to boys named Anthony and Jeff, declaring a soft love for Anthony’s smooth dark satin and Jeff’s cornfed blonde and blue eyed. Loved the way their names rolled on my tongue. Whispered about them in pages at night hoping that the raging Oklahoma tornados would transport a little piece of me to them. I was too shy to do more than write those secret letters but even then, I wanted to be loved, despite so much. Prayed in my silent spaces, faced Mecca to my right—what I thought was east—kneeling twice a day. Ritual even then. Even then, I was too much in my own head. Even then I was two girls one full and public, the other sullen and quiet. Even then, I felt the awkward pull of a life spent internal. I was too much like Magnolia shade and seeds, the games my sister and I played. I was the girl who laughed and bubbled easily. I was “Bassey is a good student, but she talks too much.” I was shadow. I was brick. I was lost in my own song. I wanted only to be heard.
Thank you, Stillwater, for finally listening.