I love Emeli Sande. We share a couple of things in common (says every fan, I guess). I love her music more. My favorite video of one of her songs makes a powerful portrayal that I identify with, and which has provided me with another number for my notes.
My relationship with words started early.
Words were pretty important to me. They were the mare that I galloped around our fenced yard in, growing up. I was that child that held on to her parents’ promise to wait while you change your shoes, and they snuck out on. I was that student who believed the lecturer’s area of concentration specification and got surprised in the exam hall. I was that worker who came into the job ready to deliver as passionately as I had been instructed, only to have HR tell me not to be bright, as I would not be the one to change the company.
However, I didn’t learn early, so I still grew to be that lover who took love’s words at face value.
To me, there is a big difference if you said you would do something or you said you would try to do it. One signifies effort, the other, near-certainty.
I loved poetry, I read between lines, I appreciate the art in literary works, and I am fascinated by beautiful minds that articulate the world so succinctly.
I spent my growing years gathering pieces of beauty and inspiration in words; from the media, to academic and casual discourses that I came across.
So when I felt the grip of words slip, I knew I had lost a love. I went from that romantic relationship I had with phrases, where with a small smile laying on my lips, I could caress words’ curves and edges in my mind, to cold blandness.
I had such reverence for words that my use of them was almost like worship. I didn’t speak a lot, but when I did, it was with carefully chosen pieces of my favorite tool.
Friends would wonder how come I remember incidents so clearly: How I remembered that Ms. J did not exactly say Mr. K was dense, she just said he could be insensitive sometimes. Big difference, right?
It infuriated some that I attached such political correctness to things and speech and people.
My brothers used it to their advantage when an argument dissolves into a he-said you-said accusation. My sister thought it was cute, but she is older than me by a couple of decades, so I treat her like my mom, respectful and a bit distant.
I became an unwitting records clerk. And like a teenager with a fake ID to a pub, they would sometimes attempt to make a slick move by hurriedly brandishing my name to support a position: “I’m speaking the truth. You can ask Susan, she was there”.
In certain circumstances, it was enough that you invoked that name for support, it was enough that you dared it because then, you must have been pretty sure I would corroborate your story.
But like the most efficient machines, I break down too. I agonize over something I said earlier but didn’t quite mean that way. I struggle to have my best soldiers lined up for speech and often find myself scrambling mid-sentence for accurate words to send on a mission. So I fumble and stammer; I speak slowly while trying to have my mind catch up with my brain.
The quest for precision is messy, but not many see it.
The world weaned me off faith in a linear relationship between intention and words when I found another I thought was like me, who loved my soldiers like I did. Unfortunately, he sent my babies to war and used them to inflict pain. Not unlike scratching an iPhone screen with its SIM slot needle, he would take my mindful craft of words, turn them into a jumble of mines and set them ablaze.
I beheld my beloved lose value in his hands. To him, an I do was an I might, when it’s convenient; a yes was a let me be and a no was the quickest way to put a woman in her position – at the back of the room, with no voice, opinion or admit-able knowledge. I mean women pee on a squat, how much knowledge of anything could a being who has not had target practice with their urine have?
Words like shameful, too much, not enough, dumb, stupid, headstrong, were becoming uncomfortably familiar and often used in conjunction with my personality.
He never hits me but he seldom misses his shots at the core of my heart.
To lessen the pain, I dissociated. Attack the issue not the person, they say. In tears, I made to carve a line between word use and people.
I dug my Achilles heels in the sand and hid it from plain sight. I let words slide over me, watching them fall like empty shells around my feet.
Dissociation has to be absolute or it could be problematic, so words like love, and forever not only became meaningless, they became downright scary.
Recently, I saw the latest celebrity scandal on TV and I felt pleasure pool at my feet as I listened to a young woman’s testimony of an event and contrasted the defensive responses of the accused to the allegations. I sifted through both parties’ words in my mind and found I no longer believe people just because they are articulate, old, smart, titled, or revered. I am more critical and I know that contrary to body language experts, the truth may sadly sometimes lie in halting speech, shuffled feet and shifty eyes.
At last I realise that the imperviousness of words may just be a lifesaver that helps me survive these streets called life, as bullets of words may nick my skin, like in Emeli Sande’s My Kind of Love video, but I vow to live long and strong enough to pick the empty shells and make art someday.
Susan Asompto is a world-weary civil servant. She is a dodo and hybrid cars enthusiast. She makes a mean party jollof and loves to travel.