This Is What the Darkness Taught Me
This darkness obliterates even the memory of tenderness.
There are no caresses here. No embraces to ward off the pain. All you will have is the fading memory of softness. Here in this place, all you will find are bitter tears and even bitterer blood. Both will try to drown you. They will fail. But you do not know that now. To be overcome by despair is to be certain that it will be the end of you. You are not yet aware of your endlessness.
You will soon learn.
Vuong writes: “Only something in pain could make a sound you could enter.” That night my sobs could house an entire family. They would enter it and never come out. Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is your body ablaze. But don’t worry about that for now. For now, let the tears fall. Let them fall the way your soul fell out of your body when your father left home. Let them fall with the inevitability of gravity.
Just. Let. Them. Fall.
It looks like we are in the season of bad days. Laughter leaves no room for despair, and despair…it pays back the favour tenfold. On this night, you cannot recall even the shadow of joy. What you will come to learn of despair is how personal it is. You see this darkness,no one but you can lift your head above it. And yet, you cannot move. This is what the darkness does: it tethers itself to you, forming cinder blocks around your ankles, shackling you to the pain. On nights like these, freedom is the ghost whose body continues to slip from your fingers.
You worry about this kind of darkness. Anything that can strip love of its potency is terrifying. How can you look upon a photograph of your smiling face with no recollection of such euphoria? How can you not recognise your own face because it is alight with laughter? How do you become a stranger to yourself? Why have your eyes forgotten the light of laughter? Why does your face only feel like it belongs to you when it has been drowned in your tears? You know why. But let us not say why. Maybe if we do not name a thing, it cannot kill us.
You call your heart. Nkem. It is FaceTime and you call because you are looking for a light that can silence this darkness. Both of you are quiet on the phone, looking at each other through glass. He lifts a finger, points to his chest, forms a crescent with his right hand and then points at you. He is telling you he loves you without uttering a single word. He knows that your ears are full of sand, and that asking you to listen now is asking for too much. Words have no place here. But your eyes are working. You have always loved each other with your eyes, so this time will be no different. Or so you thought. Even as they are littered with tears, your eyes drink up the comfort of this offering. Your tears triple their torrent and you end the call. You hold on to the love and turn it into a life raft. You hope you do not drown. But, what if drowning is not a bad thing? You are lost in the storm, my dear –maybe your drowning will calm it.
It is after this phone call that you take the purple shaving stick screaming your name from the sink. This is not an exercise in hair removal. You pick it gingerly, almost like you are afraid of it. You are. Maybe a red current running out of you will ground your feet and still the crashing waves. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. A red ocean of possibilities. You dive in. At first you do not apply enough pressure to break the skin. You think it is the fear that is responsible for this hesitance, but you know there is something else. So much confusion. I do not even know what I am doing because this darkness is myriad. In this cauldron of darkness there is a sprinkling of fear, a spoonful of anxiety, and most of all, an intense desire to disappear. It is this need that drives your hand a little deeper until you break skin. The sight of blood terrifies you even more than the darkness. So, you stop. You drop the shaving stick and pick up your black pen. This is what you are doing now. Maybe you cannot disappear but maybe these words will keep you afloat. Adele sang, “Turn your sorrows into treasured gold.” This is what you are doing now.
It is your lover who tells you that this darkness is called despair. You are grateful he named it because you were beginning to run mad trying to understand the shape of this darkness. Your heart tells you that it is a normal feeling, “It happens, baby; you just need to float along until the darkness passes.” How do you tell him you want no part in this? You are a creature of light. Once the darkness comes upon you, you are no longer yourself. And that is what happens on nights like these. You are unravelling. You are unbecoming. A braid coming apart until strands of hair fall to the ground. You have lost yourself in the darkness. You are begging to find your way out.
Your sister says,
“Are you okay?”
Immediately, you know she is asking about your body. You want her to ask about your soul. No one asks after your soul. And that is half the problem. You never thought someone could see a person drowning and not know they were drowning. But you cannot blame them for not seeing you. Therefore, you cannot blame them for not saving you. No one walks into a storm, even for love. So, you cannot be angry that they are watching you drown. Maybe they are drowning too.
Your sister says,
“Are you okay?”
You shake your head.
When they ask you what this darkness felt like, you will give them multiple definitions.
(i) It feels like mourning something that never existed.
(ii) It feels like something is dying inside you but you do not know what.
(iii) It feels like you are buried beneath the world, where no one can see you.
And is there a greater harm than erasure, than disappearance? What cannot be seen cannot be saved. So, what it really feels like is that you have been left for dead.
What this darkness taught you is that being dead is better than being left for dead.
You want this to be on the record. You tried to carry this heaviness well. At least better than this. Earlier in the day, you tried to laugh, to smile, to make jokes. But it was pointless because the darkness sees right through imitations of light. And it will not give way to them. Darkness only runs when it sees true light and there is no fabrication for light. Light is light, and on nights like these, all you have is darkness.
You are not usually like this. What this means is that those who love you do not know what to do with you when the light goes away from you. You can see the confusion in your mother’s eyes, laced with worry and helplessness. You feel even worse for Nkem. It must be quite a sadness to see your love so broken and to know there is nothing you can do to put them together. Remember, this despair is deeply personal. Tailor-made for you. A weight created only for your shoulders. A burden you cannot pass on. They love you so they want to help, but who can help the pregnant mother carry the heartbeat of the child inside her? What they do not know is that the intensity with which your sun shines is the same intensity with which your storms rage. You have never known half-measures. When the rain pours, it drenches you in showers of doom. But it cannot rain forever. So, you wait out the storm.
The worst thing the darkness does is convince you of its permanence. Remember what I will tell you now: a bad day is not a bad season. I know it is easy for these words to sound like empty shells on a deserted beach in the dead of night, but promise me you will listen. More than that, promise me you will pick these words with your right hand and tuck them underneath your tongue. My darling, a bad day is not a bad season. That today is dark does not negate tomorrow’s light.
Sometimes, bodies drown on dry land. You would not have believed it if it did not happen to you. The miracle is that He walked on water but no one speaks of the disaster of drowning on solid ground. How the air in your room morphed into waves that stole the breath from your lungs. The demons you can see are the ones you can fight. It is no good to wrestle with a ghost. But you try anyway. This is how you learn about futility. This is how you learn that you cannot fetch water with a basket. This is how you learn that to live is to exist at the intersection of both darkness and light. One cannot be without the other. You believed that yours was a life of only light but even God watched his son bleed. So, who are you to be saved from the darkness?
Next time, when the darkness comes, instead of fighting it with every fibre of your being, you will surrender. This surrender will re-teach you the ephemerality of all things. Even the darkness. Especially the darkness. Surrender is how you find the light. Remember this. Do not ever forget.
Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe is a young Nigerian writer living in Lagos. Her work explores the complexity of human emotions with an introspective self-lens. Her work is published in Guernica, The Kalahari Review and forthcoming in Black Warrior Review. She is the Creative Non-Fiction Editorial Intern at Oyster River Pages. Her Medium page (https://fiyin-okupe.medium.com/) enjoys a healthy following. She tweets @fiyinskosko.
*Image by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash