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Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke: Before I Learned to Love Myself



dreamstime_l_47297548Before I learned to love myself, I thought-

I am the dreary first pages of a lengthy novel, the intro track in the musician’s new album; I am cold coffee and insipid wafer biscuits, the too-much commodity not purchased in Balogun stores. I am deep-rooted Ikoyi homes- not loud like Lekki homes perhaps, but stalwart- and the high budget movie that grosses only little profit. I am inadequacy and failure rolled into one.

I am a Cinderella dream, losing its essence at midnight; problem is I am already at my midnight and as unnecessary as the understudy for the lead in a squat theatre production.

I know I am important, but I am not that important. Thus, there should be little of me and more of others in my decision-making. I should strive to make myself loved and say only what makes others content irrespective of how it makes me feel. It’s okay if I am inconvenienced just so other people can feel alright, because here it’s not your opinions that matter, Caleb, it is not your happiness, it’s others.

I am lacklustre, humdrum, tiresome and all the other words to define uninteresting, and I need to be interesting, I have to be interesting. If everyone would go to the ocean and jump in the water, I am the guy on the beach guarding the wallets.  I do not always have to stand in a room full of sitting people. I can’t inconvenience others, just sit like everyone else.

Hide the Harlequin novels in your backpack so the boys down the street will not see and call you a woman. It’s imperative they like you, you cannot live without their like. You wouldn’t breathe if they detest you. Their liking you is the prologue to your life’s novel, the sharpness in its soup. It is proof of your existence, reassures you that you are alive.

You are a fine boy Caleb, but maybe not too much. You cannot be too fine, you are not that fine.

I said-

“Life is too short to make yourself happy” and “People’s opinion of you matter” “You can make everyone like you” and “That’s the most important rule as a Christian”

People would like me more if I was this way or that way. Unless, Boys like me would never fit in. We are austere and ascetic, Stephen King rather than football boys.

I am not gaudy brocades ogled at by society women or bars of chocolates in fancy wrappings, I am not “I like that boy because of who he is” and “He’s real”

I said my life was a Broadway show and people its eager audience; I said, “It is imperative to put on a good show”

In the restaurant of life, I do not always have to select the tasty menu, I do not always have to get the best things, I am not worthy of best things.

“I care about what people think, my life should matter only in the face of theirs” and “when someone loves you, love them too much in return, they are not supposed to love you sef”

I said “God does not love a sinner like you Caleb” and “You say you have a Girlfriend, but she does not love you, she cannot love you “

Before I learned to love myself, I was this:

“What did they say about me?” “I don’t like what I am hearing about me” and heartbroken at losing friends. I was beautiful, because we all are. But like what make up does to women, I was oblivious of this beauty, unaware of it. I did not see a “Me” without the “Me” I attempted to be and I was stressed out at this striving, this desire to live life by a yardstick placed by someone else.

I was fainthearted and coy, timorous and diffident. I was “play things by the book” and “let everyone be happy” frightened at aversion and perturbed by disapproval.

I was “what will they say if I did this?” and “I heard that…”

I was a painting fitted into the oversized frame of my actions. I was marginal and negligible, petty and unimportant. I was lost in it.

Of course, I did not know that there are people whom one can never gratify; insatiable, like desert animals given water in trickles. There are people, to whom one is never enough, and like the devil, fanatical about reminding one of how imperfect they are and not how beautiful.

There are people, dyed-in-the-wool of the business of glumness, people whom you can never please. They are stoic, rigid, like the candle lit faces of children during block rosary. They derive pleasure from your trying too hard, constantly elevate the benchmark, and swear that you cannot be your own cheerleader.

Before I learned to love myself, I was not the only thing that mattered; there were ‘others’ opinion, and ‘friends of others’ opinion, and ‘friends of friends of others’ opinion. I was not my only priority, before I smiled, I wondered if the other person was smiling too. I smirked at overambitious people and called them “selfish”. But hey, it helps to realise that this is your life, yours, you are in possession of it, you can do whatever you please with it.

It’s fine if you decide to watch omnibus episodes of The Voice, dye your hair gold, travel to exotic places when you have little money or take selfies at a train station. Its fine if you decide to hate whomsoever you want to, laugh out loud when others are serious and be parsimonious with love, we would call you “mean” and “uncaring” but its fine for people to call you names too.

It’s fine if you do not want to make friends at your new office, if you smile less and if you go to the cinema to see Wives on Strike countless times, even though everyone else hates it.

It’s fine simply to do what you want, because you are beautiful and you are your top priority. On your scale of preference, making “you” happy should be number one. So, your numbered fleet of 365 days should make you happy. You alone.

Now, I am owning myself, more than you can ever understand, more than I can explain. I listen to Beyonce’s “Be who you are” and smile when no one is looking, read lines from JK Anowe’s “Ikemefuna” and find cheer in its words. I sing along with Hillsong and Jesus Culture, read The Thing around Your Neck repeatedly and grow a beard when everyone else thinks it’s unattractive

I am owning myself and I want you to own yourself too. Because I know that with the Lamb, I am never alone. I am becoming my own cheerleader, narcissistic in your terms, but he is my cheerleader too (the non-judgemental sort) and oh, he is a good one.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime


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