Thoughts on Friendship, Crisis, Trauma, and Need

Note #1: No matter how many times I have tried to rewrite this piece, it always comes out sounding theoretical and abstract, and I think I have to accept that I may not have enough skill to express my thoughts on this topic in any simpler form.

Note #2: I’ve found myself unable to speak on this theme without heavy reference to The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. It’s one of the best books I have ever read and what I’ve found inside it, I’ve never found anywhere else. I quote and reference it so much not because it gave me my ideas, but because I was the first time I found my ideas on this theme reflected back at me in extraordinarily coherent form.

There’s a popular narrative about Friendship that is centred on the idea of “being there for” someone/each other. Often, the connotation is that one’s availability during someone else’s crisis is not only the ultimate test of their friendship, but the essential reason for that friendship in the first place. It makes me uncomfortable. It’s like we’ve reduced the concept of a friend to “the person I can go to when (something in) my world is falling apart,” and if any other benefits come with that fundamental service, that’s just a happy accident. A logical conclusion from this would be that the fundamental pillars of friendship are directly related to crisis, or trauma, or usefulness. (Here, I mean “usefulness” in the sense that is closest to “utilitarian”— the idea that you must be able to provide some practical service to someone for your friendship to be valuable.)

I can definitely see how the “friend = someone who’s there for you” narrative is useful—but more often lately, I have been preoccupied with the ways it is not. It’s not that I see no truth in it. My issue is that this should not be considered the fundamental aspect of Friendship.

I think the key tenet of a healthy friendship is something I’ve chosen to call “That Which is Shared,” a thing I find even harder to properly define than C.S. Lewis did. It’s that thing (or several things) that friends share which makes them “kindred.” A thing that is largely external to the personhood of those friends, but which, nevertheless, becomes the bonding factor between them. I don’t think friendship should fundamentally be about service, or need to/for each other, but instead, about that connection. And I think, at least based on personal experience, that the over-emphasis on service/need is what makes many friendships fail.

There is a whole host of Friendship-adjacent phenomena that are often confused for Friendship itself. Among them are Affection, Companionship, and Alliance. Every single one of these either can or ought to be part of the “matrix of Friendship,” but if a friendship is to be built or maintained on a healthy foundation, I believe that none of them must overshadow That Which is Shared.

Take Affection. Loosely speaking, Affection is a feeling of fondness towards another. Emphasis on the word “feeling.” Another type of love that is reliant on feeling is Eros (erotic love). Loosely speaking, Eros is a feeling of intense romantic/sexual attraction towards another. Friendship, however, is not a type of love that is defined by one’s feelings for a person. Certainly, friends may naturally feel affection for each other, but this is not the same thing as Friendship itself. And while friends can love each other erotically and erotic partners can be friends, Eros, Affection and Friendship are still different types of love. For anyone who wants to better understand why I say so, even while I acknowledge that it’s rare for the individual types of love to exist in isolation, I strongly suggest reading The Four Loves. For now, though, here’s my clarification: A feeling of affection towards a person does not automatically make them your friend. Conversely, in the absence of any particular feeling of affection, a friend does not suddenly cease to be a friend. The reason: Friendship is based on That Which is Shared, not on feelings. (And That Which is Shared is generally external to the individuals’ own personhood.)

Deep down, we know this. We know that friendship requires something more than, or other than, “I like you.” That is how come we know to put emphasis on the importance of finding things to “bond” over. Affection, Eros, and other types of personal attractions operate on the basis of “I like you” or “We like each other.” Friendship, however, operates on the basis of “We both like this thing.”

Say, for instance, that someone is kind. That quality is integral to who they are—part of their person—and may attract you towards them. It may make you like them. But it’s not a bonding factor. It’s great as an attracting factor, but attracting factors are not necessarily the things that make one think, “My God. This person and I are kindred spirits.”

An illustration of “I like you” love vs. “We both like this thing” love.

For Companionship, think along the lines of people whom you share space with, usually because you engage in the same activity. For instance, imagine I keep meeting a certain person in a particular dining hall at 7:30 a.m. because we both have 8 a.m. classes. We see each other so much that it becomes established routine that we eat breakfast together at 7:30 a.m. We keep each other company, maybe even walk to our respective classes together afterwards, until the point where our routes diverge. We are companions, which does not necessarily make us friends. Here’s what my man Lewis has to say about Companionship and Friendship:

“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).”

(Lewis, 1960, p. 83)

So imagine, one day during breakfast, that Doctor Who comes up in conversation, and it turns out that, not only are we both fans of the show, but we like it for the same reasons, are biased towards the same incarnation of the Doctor, and are superficially confused as to why our favorite Doctor isn’t everyone’s favorite Doctor. You see, the more we have in common (i.e., That Which is Shared), the more material there is on which to base our friendship.

The Doctor Who example is fairly shallow, which I think makes the illustration a bit easier to understand. But That Which is Shared can also be several layers more abstract than one’s disposition towards a TV show. The thing that makes people feel like kindred spirits may be the fact that they have common ideas of what justice entails; or who/what God is; or their specific interests in the ways race intersects with class. That Which is Shared is fundamentally a question about how the Friends relate to “truths” that are individually important to them. To reference Lewis again, the thing that binds is more internal, more intangible, than outwardly obvious. It’s not even a “Do you see the same truth?” as much as a “Do you care about the same truth?” And that interest in the same questions is a binding factor, regardless of whether the friends in question agree about the answers (Lewis, 1960, p. 84).

Now, on to Alliance, the most important for me to disentangle, because my frustration at the conflation between this and Friendship is what motivated me to write this in the first place. “Alliance,” here, is the word I am using to refer to the type of service we might expect from those who are important to us in times of trauma, crisis, or times of need. For this one, I’m going straight to quotation:

“A Friend will, to be sure, prove himself to be also an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in sickness, stand up for us among our enemies, do what he can for our widows and orphans. But such good offices are not the stuff of Friendship. The occasions for them are almost interruptions. They are in one way relevant to it, in another not. Relevant, because you would be a false friend if you would not do them when the need arose; irrelevant, because the role of benefactor always remains accidental, even a little alien, to that of Friend. It is almost embarrassing. For Friendship is utterly free from Affection’s need to be needed. We are sorry that any gift or loan or night-watching should have been necessary — and now, for heaven’s sake, let us forget all about it and go back to the things we really want to do or talk of together. Even gratitude is no enrichment to this love. The stereotyped ‘Don’t mention it’ here expresses what we really feel. The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will), but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all. It was a distraction, an anomaly. It was a horrible waste of the time, always too short, that we had together. Perhaps we had only a couple of hours in which to talk and, God bless us, twenty minutes of it has had to be devoted to affairs!”

(Lewis, 1960, p. 89)

I think it could change a lot about how we relate to each other if popular discourse chose to emphasize That Which is Shared as the definition of Friendship, as opposed to “who is there for whom.”

I’ve been worried lately that I’ve accidentally developed some sort of saviour complex. For nearly a decade now, nearly all of my relationships with individuals I have referred to as my best friends have felt like rescue missions, where, more often than not, I feel like I’ve been placed in the role of the rescuer. (Don’t get me wrong—sometimes, my primary expectations of my friends have put them in inappropriate rescuer roles as well.)

The thing that defined these relationships is, I think, what happens when the function of Alliance is allowed to overshadow everything else—the kinship, the shared things, the regular old joy of platonic connection. The result is often a type of co-dependency. In these relationships, I was not playing—or feeling—the role of a friend often enough. Instead, closer role descriptions would fall in the park range of therapist, parent, babysitter, medical professional, or Christ himself. In retrospect, it’s no wonder at all that these “friendships” failed.

This year, I have been forced, by circumstances in my life, to consider that maybe my consecutive rescue mission friendships have created a pattern that I had started to follow without thinking, like muscle memory. That maybe I had begun to unconsciously gravitate towards people I felt “needed” me, for reasons beyond the basic, yet beautiful, tenet of Friendship. I have been forced to ask myself why I feel such a strong sense of responsibility to solve problems that are not mine to solve, but rather those of a professional, a guardian, or the troubled individuals themselves. And then, even when I act on this sense of responsibility, I have had to ask myself why it leaves me feeling so exhausted, so unbalanced, and so unfulfilled in the thing I am calling a friendship.

But this—the point of this whole essay—is why: Because when it comes to my idea of Friendship, I have been focused on the wrong fundamental things, attached to a misconception.

When a friendship becomes centred on crisis, need and trauma, what happens to the friendship in the absence of those things? If the friendship is based on That Which is Shared, the friendship ought to get healthier in the absence of crisis and trauma. If the relationship was, in fact, based on those dependencies, however, in the absence of them, the relationship fizzles out and disappears, perhaps forever, or perhaps until the next dependency arises. And that, my dears, is not Friendship. It is something else entirely. (And this, by the way, is not a value judgement. I’m not saying that being someone’s helper is either better or worse than being their friend; I’m just saying that being someone’s helper is a different sort of relationship from friendship.)

To be very clear, at the expense of repetitiveness: It’s not like friends have no responsibility whatsoever to each other in times of trauma, crisis, and need. However, this ought not to be their primary function as friends.

The process of realizing this, even cognitively, has been like therapy for myself. But, thanks to the power of habit, it feels like it’s going to take a little longer for me to deep it enough that it transforms my very actions, and helps me to gravitate towards healthy friendships, rather than co-dependent ones. Learning real-life lessons can be painful, and applying them can be extremely difficult—but we move, regardless.

Conclusion: Human beings are flawed, and moments of dependency will always arise. But they ought to be regarded, to paraphrase Lewis, as “interruptions” to Friendship, not the definition of it. May he who has a mental health diagnosis gain access to mental health resources, and may they spare those who ought to be their Friends from taking on the role of therapist. May she who requires financial assistance find gainful means of income so that her status as a debtor to her friends does not overshadow her importance as a friend to them. May they who have attachment issues be granted the means and resources to work through that trauma and not subject those who would be their friends to unhealthy demands borne of their own insecurity.

Selah. 🕸

How Do You Want to Be Loved?

On Friday, the 21st of December 2018, I had one of the most violent nights I had experienced in what felt like several months. No, no armed robbers attacked my household. Neither did I get beaten or stabbed or even get into a verbal fight with anyone. All the violence occurred within my own mind; between me and myself. Between me and my God.

With conflicting efforts, I was trying to sleep and trying to pray. It was 3 a.m. and I wasn’t having much luck with either because my heart was troubled, and my mind was stressed. I don’t truthfully know what exactly brought on the attack I experienced. That day, I had hosted several friends in my house, including my best friend. But, lying alone in my bed at the end of the night, although I should have been filled with the pleasure that came from having spent the day with some of my favorite people in the world, I was plagued instead with a large, empty hole right at the core of my being. And then there was a yearning, which I struggled to interpret. It took a while of intense discomfort, tossing, turning and tears, but then I arrived at the root of the yearning: a desire to be loved.

Emptiness and a yearning for love: rather odd things to be feeling, especially after I’d spent several hours with friends whom I loved and who loved me. Where could it possibly be coming from—and why didn’t the love I already had feel like enough?

One easy answer was that there is a specific kind of way I want to be loved and I am not yet being loved in that way. I get bits and pieces of my Ideal Love from various friends, but none of them is my Ideal Lover. If my Ideal Lover exists among the people already in my life, they have not yet shown their real face.

The trouble with all this is, although I know well that there is a way I desire to be loved, I have never really taken the time out to examine and outline what that way is; what my personal, ideal loving relationship would look like. (The word “ideal” is used here more loosely than literally.)

I have reason to believe that as fantastical as my yearning for ideal love sounds, it is likely within reach. A few years ago, I was hoping and praying for a person who fit the description of my invented title of “Someone Who Gets It.” This person would be someone who actually understood me when I spoke—not just someone who merely assumed they understood me but didn’t or couldn’t, even when they had the best intentions. I wanted a person who wouldn’t try to lecture me with counterpoints to what I’ve said; someone who’d have recognized the fallacies I’d have seen in those counterpoints, before the words left their tongue. I wanted someone who would interpret my expressed thoughts and statements within the crucial context of my outlook on the world—hopefully by virtue of sharing that outlook themselves. I wanted someone to whom I wouldn’t have to explain, for an hour, what I felt should have taken three minutes. I felt like such a misunderstood oddity that the idea of finding Someone Who Gets It was almost purely fantastical, even for me.

But I found that person, in my current best friend. Miracles do happen, and I serve a God who answers prayers. If Someone Who Gets It exists, though, even for a self-perceived rare creature like me, why shouldn’t there be an Ideal Lover out there as well? Unable to find a legitimate answer to such a question, I concluded that there was none. Therefore, if I really wanted Ideal Love/an Ideal Lover, all I had to do was pray for one and believe I’d get one and wait for one to arrive. It seemed a simple enough path to me—but only in theory.

I started praying that night. In the hour of 3 am., as I said. I probably hadn’t even reached even thirty seconds into the prayer when my mind, body and spirit, suddenly and in tandem, cut the prayer off. I think I sat up in bed. I know I started sobbing.

Akotowaa, what the hell do you think you are doing, praying for love?

How dare I be so audacious?

The enemy within began its barrage: I did not deserve love. I was not worthy of it. Not only was it effrontery to think I could come to God with such a topic on my heart but it also made no sense! I was not the kind of person who should be loved, much less in her own, ideal way. All the love I was living on already was borrowed, undeserved benevolence from the people I called friends—probably wasn’t even love anyway, just some kindness borne from pity.


Truth lives within us, I believe—and it lets us know when we are lying to ourselves. Lies, in reaction, try their best to be louder than the voice of Truth. Alas, far too often, the lies succeed, as mine did that night.

I felt like a dirty, damaged, pathetic thing, and only later, in trying to process it, would I realize what a relatively new phenomenon this was, within me. I hadn’t, until recently, felt so dreadfully undeserving of love. In the moment, however—which lasted quite a while and was interluded by another, separate but somewhat related, even more violent breakdown—I thought it sufficed to conclude my prayer with asking God/Jesus to please, please make His love be and feel sufficient for me and make me thus in no need of human love to complement it.

I don’t know if there’s any such thing as a “wrong” prayer, but I do know that mine was a cop-out. And that it was founded on very, very toxic grounds.

As I said before, this development was recent. It’s something the experiences of 2018 did to me: the various relationship struggles I had that year in particular have made me often feel unloved, insignificant to the people I love, unworthy of love, a terrible friend, and unworthy even of friendship. All of this went essentially unprocessed and likely had as much of a hand in the deepening of my yearning for Ideal Love as my inability to pray, the effects culminating at the end of the year, in the third week of December.

My relationships with others have taken several lethal shots in 2018—and sometimes, I have been the shooter. These are a few.

Very early in the year, my sense of ostracism from the only community I felt comfortable with on my American college’s campus heightened. I once expressed this sentiment to a friend who also belonged to this community, and I can’t remember her knowing what to offer me in response. The feeling hadn’t simply emerged from nowhere, but from concrete incidents where I found myself being left out of the loop, excluded from invitation, or something of the sort. It’s been a recurring phenomenon in my life, for the past six or so years; a group of people and I all start out on the same level of being near-strangers, and then the others’ relationships between themselves deepen, whereas my relationships with them stay superficial or dissipate altogether. It made college life a bit uncomfortable, to say the least. But like I say sometimes: My loneliness isn’t anyone’s fault; they can’t help not being the right people. Still, the fact that so few people are the “right people” for me often makes me feel as though there is something inherently wrong with me. Because, although I’m not entirely incapable of making friends, I can’t ever seem to make and keep friends the same way or as easily as others do.

At the end of the year’s first quarter, a fracture appeared between myself and a friend so close that I’d thought of her, for years, as a sister. For the rest of the year, from April to December, I was broken and traumatized by it. No heartbreak aches like that of a lifelong friendship you thought would last forever abruptly coming to what looks like an unavoidable end. I shed so many tears for the girl that was one of my oldest friends and acquaintances from infancy. It hurt to the point where, otherwise unprovoked but for the memory, I would just be minding my own business and burst into tears. Always wondering if she knew what I was going through, whether she was going through similar, whether she cared at all. When all my attempts at reaching out wouldn’t persuade her to break her silence, when all my texts remained despondently unanswered. Seventeen years of acquaintance/friendship/best-friendship/sisterhood doesn’t cut without leaving deadly scars. Everything was made worse by my belief that the thing I suspected drove us apart was so trivial to me—and worse than that, I had caused it by bringing the matter up.

Then there was this season that I have already written about, in two blog posts (Underground: A Memoir from May 2018, and Prayers God Chooses Not to Hear), when I fell into stupid deep depressions and was callously abandoned by the man who was my anchor and almost sole comfort. How is one supposed to feel when the person she loves most in the world and whose companionship sustains her when all else fails is shown that she couldn’t be less important to him? Like the threat of each losing their place in the other’s lives is not nearly enough to move him to reveal his presence or act as a friend? This, more than anything else that happened the entire year, was probably where the deepest relationship trauma came from. If I, in my deepest darkness, favored no-one, I favored him. He, in darkness or even dim light, favored no-one—not even me. It was impossible to digest. If my best friend didn’t love me, how could I ever be anything other than unworthy of receiving love?

And then there was the shot I fired. It’s so morbidly interesting, how life works. As I was mourning the death of a friendship between myself and someone I thought I would be friends with forever, I summoned death upon the relationship between myself and a person who’d always thought he and I would be friends forever. I had been nurturing unaddressed anger towards him for the longest time. I’d felt abandoned, under-prioritized, constantly placed in the backseat of the life of this person who’d sworn he was dedicated to helping me and my career. Of course, he’d been going through terrible issues of his own, but when he pulled the trigger of a gun I had always refused to accept would one day fire, my anger only blossomed. I knew the power of words, and yet I used them as a weapon against him—weaving truth with the poisonous lies of my unaddressed wrath and damaging his reputation even further than it had already been damaged. The wrong words, said to even one person, can be all it takes to make a person want to kill himself. I realized what I had done, and I could not forgive myself. I have not forgiven myself.

I won’t pretend these were the only factors that contributed to my breakdown in the midst of prayer, but they were some of the most potent factors in this matter. I hadn’t worked properly through any of these heartaches and traumas and, furthermore, I had no idea how to. It seemed that the effects had all culminated in that night, to convince me that I was a terrible person, incapable and unworthy of basic friendship, much less love. With this belief of myself in my heart, there was no way I could pray for what I wanted.

With God, it was “different.” In theory, I understood and appreciated the concept of His grace. He loved humans who were undeserving. There was nothing I had done or could do to deserve the love He had given or could give. So, I was “allowed” to pray that His love would satisfy me. But humans are not God. I didn’t deserve and ought not to ask for Ideal Love, because it would be coming from a human being—and that was what halted me in my prayer.

The devil is a liar.

While we are on earth, God knows how to give gifts to our physically embodied, living selves—and sometimes, He does that through other human beings. The people He brings into our lives and people He removes from them. I am convinced that no matter how horrible and treacherous I think I am, the God that not only invented love but is Love, the God who saw one human being and declared its isolation was not a good thing, would probably have dissented with me halting and altering my prayer.

I believe human beings, too, are agents of grace. It’s why we also have powers to forgive, reward and favor each other. I won’t lie and say I believe I deserve the kind of love I want. But by all means, I have a right to request for, receive and enjoy it—through grace. If humans are agents of grace, refusing to be loved is as ridiculous to me as refusing to be saved. When a gift with my name on it already lies at my doorstep, what do I really gain from refusing to pick it up?

It’s funny how the process of praying—to a God that already knows our desires better than we do—is often more for our own benefit than anyone else’s. He already knows the conditions of our hearts; but until we open our own mouths to pray, do we?

I know the way I see myself is and has been very toxic. So, I’m going to try, with divine assistance, to rid myself of the poison. And one way I’m going to do that is to intentionally sit down and put on paper, with ink, the nature of my desire for Ideal Love, to be shared between myself and my God—no matter how terrified or wretched I feel while writing it.

How do you want to be loved?

A question I have been running away from. A question I am about to answer intentionally.


On Hurting People into Loving You

After several years of tragic patterns, I have come into a deeper understanding of the fact that being made to feel unimportant/undesired by the people who mean the most to me is one of the deepest-cutting kinds of hurt that I can feel. (I do not appreciate that I’ve had to learn this the hard way, and for God’s sake, I wish the lesson would stop trying to teach itself to me over and over. I get it. I’ve learnt! Now, can I please stop getting hurt like this?) The very same tragic patterns have taught me another thing about myself, highly related to the first one: my reaction to being made to feel unimportant/undesired by my loved ones is to cultivate cutting pettiness. It turns me into the ugliest version of myself.

I’ve learned a lot about this pettiness; enough to know that I don’t display merely because of uncontrollable rage. On the contrary, there’s nothing particularly ­uncontrollable about it. When I am uncontrollable, it comes out through screaming and crying, not coldly-delivered, carefully-constructed, cruel words. But my pettiness? That stuff is intentional and calculated. When someone has hurt me deeply, it is not uncommon for me to spend several minutes/hours/days thinking up what to say at the next opportunity that might satisfactorily hurt them. And once is hardly ever enough for me. I can lash out with continuous, targeted pettiness for several months. My hurt doesn’t fade easily. But then, neither do the circumstances causing it. In fact, those tend to only grow stronger, with me as a witness.

A while ago, I wrote about one of the many stories behind my spoken word poem, “Ephemeron,” in the blog post, “An Ephemeron Story.” In that blog post, I told the story of how I antagonized a girl for drastically interfering with the relationship between myself and one of my best friends. I wrote another related blog post involving a different girl who also contributed to the composition of “Ephemeron,” in the post, “When Your Male Best Friend Becomes Someone Else’s Boyfriend.” In this era of my life that was characterized by consistent and relentless heartbreak, another of my best friends started dating a girl I ended up being roommates with (which is just a testament to the pettiness of the universe). I was incredibly rude and drama queen-ish about their relationship for the longest time, because I was hurting, and I wanted them (well, mostly him) to feel my hurt, or at least to feel some hurt.

Very recently, I have experienced a similar kind of disappointment; a person I love and who surely should have known better after all these years did something mindless that left me feeling irrelevant next to someone else. There is nothing that can explain or excuse his actions—they just don’t make sense—and on the day of the offense, there was nothing that could diffuse my anger and pain. As usual, I inflicted some of my calculated pettiness almost immediately after it happened, and I have thought almost incessantly since then about inflicting more. Instead, I have chosen silence (only for long enough to take care of my own anger; my silence is more for his sake than mine, since I’m trying to become more mature in my adult years). The reason is that I have learnt from my own disappointment.

When I feel offended in the specific ways I’m addressing here, I am usually near-equal measures furious at both offending parties: the close friend who is disregarding me, as well as the person they are disregarding me in favor of. On a surface level, it seems more “reasonable” to be mad at the former; after all, if they are direct stakeholders of the friendship, they are the ones I should be holding responsible, right? (It’s like, when your boyfriend cheats on you, you confront your boyfriend instead of the cheatee because he’s the one you were in a relationship with and so he’s the one obliged to answer to your anger. I think. Don’t hold me to that statement until I’m sure, though.) However, my reason for including the latter as targets of my anger is that I believe nobody whom my intelligent friends choose to engage with is stupid enough not to realize they are interrupting something or causing someone else pain, while they are doing it. They cannot possibly be (and are not) so blind and obtuse—especially when I express my emotions so explicitly, so borderline violently, that the dumbest idiot couldn’t mistake my meaning. I am often petty to both parties with the intentions of making them aware how hurt I am and getting them to feel hurt enough to at least attempt, with genuine efforts and not just words, to remedy the situation. Almost always, I want this effort and repentance to come from both parties.

So why did I say, two paragraphs above, that my learning from disappointment has caused me to choose silence? It’s because the disappointing thing that I have learnt is that the pettiness, ultimately, does not work. Certainly, it works on one level: getting the offending parties to become aware of my displeasure and pain. But civil discourse accomplishes that task equally well—although without the deliberate sting I like to pack into the former. Where both approaches have constantly failed me, however, is in getting the offending parties to care enough to do something about the situation. This, in fact, makes my pain even worse.

If my pain were entirely internalized, at least I would have the flimsy excuse of, “They’re just not doing anything about it because I haven’t said anything and so they don’t know I’m in pain.” (Even though this would be a lie, it might be a comforting one.) But when I do express myself, and they hear me, and they understand me, and they still do nothing, then I know it’s because they don’t care. And you cannot simply “petty” someone into caring about you. You just cannot hurt someone into loving you. People will devote most of their attention to the people most important to them. Sometimes, no matter how much I love them, I’m just not on the receiving end of that special attention and there really isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. C’est la vie.

So, in case you’ve been toying with the idea of trying to hurt someone you love into loving you, just know that Akotz the Spider Kid does not recommend.


An Ephemeron Story (and I’m the bad guy, BTW)

I’ve had periods in my life where the ugly in me has really shown. This was one of my ugliest.

This story in particular has been sitting on my heart for a while, and I do this thing where I talk transparently to random people on the internet through blog posts. SMH.

Cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

In other words, I know what I believe – or say I believe, or say I know it. And then I push my beliefs to the back of my mind when I’m clearly not acting in accordance with what I (say I) believe. Like how I acted towards J when I was fifteen immature years old.

I’m thinking, when I wrote Ephemeron, I did a disservice by only telling half the story – the part that didn’t incriminate myself. But then also, life is altogether too big to fit into one spoken word poem, so I forgive myself, and I’ll just tell the story here. Bear in mind that the poem Ephemeron is about multiple people/couples of people, and the story I’m about to tell involves only one couple.

I was in a best-friendship group for a full year with this dude called N. N is an amazing human being. He’s sweet, funny, kind and shares so many of my likes and interests. More than once, I have been introduced to a fascinating and enlightening part of pop culture, whether news article, piece of history, book series, music album or anything else. N was the best. (There is, by the way, no romantic charge here, as several people assume of all my Ephemeron stories. In any case, N is my cousin, and I have no incestuous interests.)

In our second year, the thing that changed was the introduction of an external factor: a girl called J. J was in the class right below us, so she was new. And she became, as far as I can metaphorically describe it, in everyone’s minds, the 3-D version of the thing I’d only been a silhouette of, among my friends; everything that I was but somehow better in nearly all aspects.

This was a period in my life when I had something of a snowflake complex. I made “weirdness” my god, and being “different” one of my ultimate life goals. Almost every time I got called weird, special or unique, I’d blossom with pride. (These were sad times, but adolescence does awful things to us in phases, you know.) The problem with J for me was how easily and effectively she destroyed my snowflake bliss by being too damn much like me.

People who were and weren’t my friends never seemed to tire of reiterating to me how similar they thought J and I were. I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase “You two are like the same person!” It made me incredibly upset. N had started spending way less time with me and far more with J. It was impossible for me to logically accept that J and I were equal, that we offered the exact same things out of our personalities or presences. If that were true, I reasoned, her arrival should have changed nothing about the actual dynamics of my life; the general reaction should have been more like, “Oh, you’re really cool, but we already have someone who does everything you could do for us, and we don’t necessarily need a duplicate, so we’ll just stick with what we’ve got.” (Foul thoughts, but I’ve had worse, TBH.) This wasn’t what was happening, though. In reality, people seemed to prefer her to me. That could only mean that there was something more that she was offering, which I didn’t have.

Back then, I didn’t have the (self-)knowledge that would allow me to name my affliction for what it was: intimidation. There were a lot of factors that contributed to my intimidation, and though I am no longer intimidated, there are some things I can’t yet pass off as completely false:

  • She was/is smarter than me
  • She read more books than me
  • She was/is prettier than me
  • She was/is better at making friends and dealing with people in general than I was/am
  • She had more musical talent than me
  • She was funnier than me, and kept my (then) friends more entertained than I ever could.

The list could go on.

I reacted in one of the most immature ways possible: going out of my way to be mean to her – out of no fault of hers. I almost wish (but kind of don’t) I could remember some of the nasty, unwarranted, malicious comments I threw her way during this time. I think it’s all so ugly that I’ve successfully managed to obliterate my actual words completely from my memory. Thank God for forgetfulness. But the snide comments were consistent. And there was some serious cognitive dissonance going on because every time I said something awful, the next second, my own brain would be like, “OMG that was evil and stupid – why would you ever say that?” And the shame would be acute, but consequently useless because:

  1. My pride wouldn’t let me acknowledge or act upon my shame in order to do something sensible like, I don’t know, apologize.
  2. I’d just go ahead and do it again the next day/next available savagery opportunity.

In this period, what was annoying me about N was that there were moments when it seemed like our relationship was returning to normal, when we could be ourselves again, when J wasn’t there. But it would only last for a few minutes because J had this uncanny ability to just freaking show up wherever N was, and whenever she did, N would rather discourteously leave me and ignore me for the duration of J’s presence. It completely baffled me how he didn’t seem to realize how he was hurting me.

I had one redeeming feature at this point in my life, though, and that was my ability to verbally articulate what was worrying me (in the instances when I actually knew how to define it) to the relevant persons. And so I told N of my woes. Sensible boy that he was, he agreed that something awful was happening with our friendship group (J was only one factor among the multitude of those fracturing us – but she was my personal biggest headache, because N was my favorite friend then, and shh, don’t tell the others), and it needed to be addressed. He even suggested we all have a meeting about it. LOL. A whole meeting, oo, imagine. Anyway, the meeting either never happened or was fruitless, and he continued to act oblivious to my pain – and I continued to be a serious prick to J.

I got increasingly bitter as a result of how good-natured J acted, actually. She behaved just about as oblivious as N was acting, and to me, that was honestly some BS. How can you come and steal somebody’s best friend, watch as she gets hurt, and be happy all through it? Even more annoying was how unaffected she seemed by my meanness. Like, at some points, it seemed like she was for real trying to be nice to me. See, it was not making sense. The thing about bullies (and trust me, I was a bully, just in a more subtle way than we see on American TV shows) is that they need you to be aggravated when they aggravate you, dammit! React! Cry in shame! Flinch! Show me that I have the power to affect your emotions, so that I can satiate my inferiority complex, yo! But she just kept refusing to drop the grace and retaliate. Nothing could have been more infuriating.

The world, or God, or whatever does the orchestrating, has a strange way of arranging the chess pieces of life such that things are sure to happen, whether good or bad. My divine orchestration came in the form of seating arrangements. My high school had set breakfast seating arrangements that changed at the end of every semester. Guess who I found on my table for a semester. Yep, that’s right: J. I had to see her face, sitting right across me every. damn. day. Unfortunately, my meanness went on.

…Until suddenly, one day, she’d had enough. It was during one breakfast meal. All it took was one of my stupid comments for her to lose it, and in about seven seconds, blast me for being so nasty when she hadn’t done anything worthy of such evil, tell me that she was sick of it, and that I better stop – and just like that, all my negative shame melted away instantaneously, to be replaced with positive shame, the kind of shame that actually incited me to repent and change my ways. It was like the breaking of a spell.

I surprised myself entirely with my reaction. Yes, I was ashamed, but it wasn’t my inferiority complex that responded to J’s tirade; it was the self under the complex, the one that had been suffocating, thankful for being spontaneously freed, who replied, “Why didn’t you do that earlier?” (Blow up on me, that is.)

And from that point onwards, it was an upwards process, fixing myself and coming to terms with my ephemeron in relation to N and J, both of whom are pretty awesome people, both of whom I am not particularly close to (anymore).

Is there a moral of the story? Maybe not. But if there is, maybe it’s something like “Yell back at your oppressors so that they can finally see sense.” But that’s probably not it.

Anyway, I hope I’m never, ever this ugly again. Low point. Very low point. Also, may God give me the strength to deal sensibly with fracturing friendships in the future. Amen.