On Thursday afternoon you have a get together with old friends from boarding school. Girls to women, you’ve grown. They’re at your apartment. You tried to catch up. It’s been at least 4 years since you’ve met either one though you still send the occasional message on WhatsApp. As has been the case lately, conversations turn to relationships; they envy you your independence but not so much the work and lonely lifestyle required to maintain it, ensure that you can do as you wish, afford what you want. You envy them; their kids, some of the relationship stories they tell, but not the uncertain structure of being a baby mama for a married man nor the strain of shacking up with a boyfriend who is still very much a boy. No one can have it all it seems.
They turn on you, united in experience you do not have: what is it you’re waiting for? Is it glue you have between your legs? Why haven’t you done the deed yet? You tell them you have a vibrator and as things stand the options do not encourage choice. They’re fascinated with the vibrator idea, but you must admit when they press for more, that no, it is not enough, not near close. They laugh at you, tease you for being picky, what have you seen? They ask. Go on trying to be Virgin Mary.
And you want to scream.
You want to tell them that you are not claiming ‘Virgin Mary’. You want to tell them that you’ve been losing your virginity for years now. That for you, it’s been a process: stages of your hymens loss, like Stations of the Cross.
You are 8 when you get your first clue of what sex is. Your mother sends you to visit Noella whenever Uncle Hassan comes by. Only when he comes by is she okay with you going over to the Akata neighbors for a visit. But this time you do not want to visit Noella, you have a new toy and would rather play with it at home. So after leaving and loitering in the hallways for thirty minutes to sneak back into the apartment. Your mother’s room door is ajar and though she is seated on the bed, Uncle Hassan standing between her legs she is arched over unseeing. You realize a grown man can feed on breasts too. You stand stock still, watching till you feel some shame at hearing your mother’s groans and scurry away.
You are 11 and a half. You always add the half, you are grown now, you say. You are a preteen, and in that day and age, preteen is the new teen. So when you happen upon Uncle Mike the newly immigrated ‘uncle’ renting the basement as his home watching three women and a man in dimmed lights… when he calls you to him, you try to act adult, though your stomach lurches. You approach him and see his pants are down his hand holding his manhood. He passes it to you and whispers ‘sshhh’ moving your hand so it rubs him rigid till milky residue shoots out. Your first hand-job and you didn’t know. You do know however, that what you had just done was somehow forbidden, simply because it felt forbidden. And if you didn’t know, his warning to you, when he smilingly says “you this bad girl, your mother must not know this, she would be ashamed of you” confirms it.
By 16 you know of sex. Know of it because conversations on it usually involve many alternative names leaving it cloaked in taboo. You know it as ‘grinding egusi’ as ‘tape dos’ and more. You know of it as the thing that gets you pregnant and expelled as in the case of Cynthia. Or the act which somehow simultaneously cheapens and promotes you such that boys both lick their lips and jeer at you as in the case of Freeda. And you know from reading many, many Harlequin Romances that it is not the same as making love. You already want the latter
You want to tell them you had your first real kiss at 19, perhaps a bit older than them but not really that out of the gap. That it was body image issues, not believing you could truly be loved by someone so built and handsome as Chi that made you stop, rather than morals or righteousness. You want to tell them that your fears were confirmed when he mistakenly sent you a message meant for another girl he was hitting on, one you imagined to be everything you were not. You want to explain how this made you feel, how you consoled yourself with the idea of waiting for the right one because obviously you’d just been saved from a cheater by stopping at the right time, even for the wrong reasons. But this marks the beginning of other stages.
At 20, on a mission to prove you can be the ideal woman, ideal size, a follower of Pastor Bimbo, reading all the instruction manual cum self-help books telling you how to be the proper help-mate. Studying feminism in class and the virtues of purity everywhere else. Trying not to dwell on the contradictions. All the while memorizing the words describing love-making in every novel you read.
At twenty-one being kissed without my consent at a hostel party and hating the fact that you actually felt a bit aroused by the assaulter’s touch. Even then sensing the danger of being happy for someone’s attraction, someone you did not want. Alarmed at the notion that I could participate in an act of intimacy without the feelings of love.
At twenty-two falling head over heels for someone who you thought was everything you’d been waiting for. Being brave enough to approach him first, to be the one to confess feelings, bold young feminist that you now were with your heart on your sleeve. Offering yourself, with barely any effort on his part. Saying yes, in actions and words whereas no question had been asked, despite the fact that you knew at the back of your mind and innermost chambers of your heart that he was just not ready, but had an ego three times the size of Sudan before it split, and so could string you along.
You want to tell them…
At 23, you would have gladly been relieved of your hymen on January 17th 2013. You’d made the New Year’s resolution to finally ‘give it up’. You had been willing, so willing to let yourself be swept away. But you, with your overthinking and dense emotions were too heavy to sweep, or perhaps he with a big ego and a possible fetish for ‘big girls’ didn’t bother investing in a broom.
You want to tell your friends that the guy who could have been your first spent the night in your bed, even though he’d done nothing to make you feel like it was in a relationship. Not dates, none of the Valentine’s Day gifts they had received, none of the wooing you had yearned for. Just a “I want you and if I come over I‘ll make moves to screw you’. And once again, like the 11 year old you once were you tried to be a grown up about it. To take it as you felt a ‘mature person’ would; He told no lies, you told yourself. He wasn’t trying to deceive you as some others would. In retrospect you sounded like a Trump supporter. You want to tell them how cheap wanting him made you feel. How that night as you kissed and groped each other, as you let his hand roam your body, you developed a new form of self-hatred for wanting someone who thought it was fine to come to take you in your own bed. How you went dry between your legs that night despite the fact that this guy could formerly make you wet through chat messages. You want to explain that it wasn’t glue between your legs, but fear of not being able to look at yourself in the morning, fear of the lack of true emotion you saw when you looked into his eyes with your heart in yours. You want to ask them if you were crazy to think as you did then (as a part of you still does) that there should be more.
By 25, you’ll be tired. Because another unfortunate experience of unrequited feelings later you are beginning to understand that life may just be a tutorial on settling. Frustrated because your body is blatantly telling you that it wants sex. For the first time, you truly get what the characters in American pie are on about. It could be your being in a Western country and the constant public displays of emotion, it could be the more open discussions on sex in this new space, the less than subtle ‘giving of permission’ to date from formerly strict family. It could be the fact that the one you want is thousands of miles away and hasn’t really made any effort for you. You buy yourself your first rabbit for Valentine’s Day.
In that same year, you’ll take an honest look at what you want. What you desire. And wonder which parts of that are socialized and which parts are true to who you are. You will question your faith, not because wanting to have sex makes you all things unholy, but because wanting to give up means you have little faith right? You re-watch Janette’s spoken word video on the wait… And when it fails to encourage you for much longer. You dare yourself to say yes to the person asking you out rather than waiting for the one your heart is set on. That is how you confirm that there’s a thin line between what is consensual and non-consensual. That just because one man doesn’t love you doesn’t mean the next one to offer should do. That year, you learn you vibrator is your safest bet.
On your 26th birthday, you woke up with a need so fierce you missed church to masturbate. Perhaps it was the rekindled communication with the first not-quite-love. Perhaps it was a forewarning of the years to come. You Googled: increased strength of female libido and were both impressed and dismayed to find the needs get stronger with time. That was age telling you things were about to get real.
You want to tell your friends you did not set out to prove anything. That you in no way feel you are better than they are. That in truth you feel you’re much worse. That you have come to realize that your wait has been more a lack of choice than choosiness. You want to tell them:
That you hate yourself for at least one week out of every month. Hate yourself as your hormones rage, controlling you and you want what you cannot have. Hate yourself for using a vibrator because unlearning is hard, and even bold feminist you cannot undo years of learning that pleasuring yourself, pleasuring without a man period, is bad. You cry afterwards as you imagine addicts do after a relapse. Then cry at your tears over such a mundane issue. There are cancer patients and orphans worse off right?
That you are not as tough as they think you are. Not as strong as your church sister (who has no clue of the vibrator) expects you to be. That you are not strong by choice, that your strength is like bronze coating on you bought for protection and it has been cracking off over time. This 27th year, a solid section of it crumbled. That you have broken down as many times as you’ve stood your ground. That you would give a great deal to have your palm-read and told this wait would be worth it. That you have tried to settle. And every time you look at yourself with a new sort of distaste, why did I wait at all if for this?
That while they are praying to have a life like yours, thinking ‘how nice’ the lack of a ‘bad reputation’ might be, you are praying to not give a damn. You are praying to unlearn feelings and beliefs which have become a burden. You are praying that you finally accept that you may not deserve half-loves but that’s what life is offering you and no one said life gives us what we deserve. That while they think you are aspiring after a justifiably white wedding, you think of how you can get over hope for more so you can accept what life is before death comes, like it did with Mercy and Randy. You are praying for the day you’ll be like them, these friends, able to undress, have sex and not need to make love, not need to look into a partner’s eyes and see love.
You want to tell your friends that you are not a virgin, you have lost your ‘virtue’ in phases and are currently at the last stage, on the brink of giving up. And this last stage is hardest. You want to tell them that they need not laugh at you, you already laugh bitterly at yourself, at the internal struggle you cart around unnecessarily.
As you approach 28 you have finally understood that when they said losing your innocence would hurt, they meant losing belief in ideal things, like experiencing your first time with someone you love. Losing that is where the heart-wrenching pain is. The real innocence is lost out of bed, it is lost in resignation, lost in conversations with those who’ve settled before and tell you “it’s not so bad. You want to tell them, you have lost that already, feeling that pain presently. After that, all that’s left is the celebratory break the flesh they call a hymen. You have scheduled that for next week.