By Arinola Lawal
I grew up to the soundtrack of my parents – arguing, my mother screaming intermittently, my father cursing followed by the disgusting noises of making out and whatever else. I’d turn up the speakers, throw on some noise-cancelling headphones. By the time I was seventeen, the headphones would go on at the first sound of trouble; by then the sex was the main course and for dessert, deafening silence. Music served a dual purpose: drowning out the noise and filling in the silence.
We had a standing appointment with our family therapist at 3pm on Saturdays. It was just us three. We each had separate appointments during the week and my parents used to have a joint one for about two months when I was in eighth grade. Then the therapist decided that having me present would make things less heated, so I came along. At these sessions, we talked about my parents’ now-open marriage, how they and I felt about it, that week’s headlining arguments. We talked about causality, and openness, if any of it helped.
At my personal sessions, I would talk about school, dating (which I was doing none of), friends and everything in between. All the things regular parents would try to probe their kids for. Curious, I would often ask my therapist what my answers said about me, but as time went on I stopped caring. It was enough to have someone I could talk to. No holding back.
My friends thought my parents were the best. From their perspective, I could see it too. Their open affection for one another and the freedom I had to come and go and spend. I couldn’t complain because they paid for the therapist I vomited all my feelings to. It just made it difficult to explain why I was uninterested in dating. Love, as I knew it to be, was outwardly appealing, but always an explosion waiting to happen. I was not taking that chance. For them, my attitude was shocking, given my perfect-relationship role models.
They couldn’t fathom my decisions after high school either. I was applying abroad. I had not made a single application to study music production in California, where we grew up, or in the States for that matter. Even though I had a perfect base: the universities near home were well-reputed. I wanted to be a DJ and/or music producer. It didn’t make sense. LA was brimming with clubs and all the Hollywood and music business connections you could hope for. But I thought I could shake any vestiges of home away by moving. As far, far away as I could.
Fast forward eight years… and then some. I am standing in front of a mirror, inspecting the bruises on my shoulder and twisting to see the ones on the nape of my neck. I’m wondering how much make-up it will take to cover it all before I join my girlfriends for dinner. I can’t begin to imagine what they would assume if they ever saw. That’s why I have my rule – “Never on the face.”
When I ran away from childhood, its dysfunction and wreckage, I spilled straight into the near-fatal sexual fetishes of the people in Paris. It’s a fulfilling career. Here, I am in control; I’ve spent years perfecting my business. There’s a waiting list so long that I won’t be taking on any new clients for a year. I am also a DJ in the 20th arrondissement. I still don’t date; I’m busy. The days are my nights – or at least that’s the story I tell my friends. They moan about it for a bit but then I throw someone a bridal shower, cover some trips abroad, babysit and matchmake away their complaints. I like my life like this, it works. My parents have stopped pretending to care, and only send the occasional card.
A man whose advance I had refused for a year, once told me something that stuck – not because it was profound, but because I wondered why exactly he had felt the need to tell me that way. It was 6am on a Thursday. I was leaving the club, cold, so much in dire need of a smoke that I was sprinting to my car to find any stray pack. He was standing right there, looking at me somehow knowingly. When he offered me a joint, I took it, even if my hand was quivering. I knew he had been waiting for me and I that I would maybe have to agree to go on a date with him. But I took it. After my first drag, he waited a beat, and said, “You are happy alone.”
I was about to say that I needed to get home, but he held a hand up as if to say, Hold on a minute.
“I’ve seen you around your friends. With their partners and families. I thought, ah, maybe I’ll give her that, but you don’t want it, do you? I know now.”
I was tempted to laugh at his effrontery, but I was trying to be nice, so I just looked at him and nodded. I remember thinking five minutes was enough time for me to keep standing there with him as thanks for the smoke, but he stood up from resting on my car, put out his joint and smiled, before saying, “I’ll see you around.”
I waited until I was in my car to breathe a sigh of relief that there was no date in my future. As I drove away, and he got smaller in my rear-view mirror, I could not help hoping that he would spread the word around and make my life easier.
Artwork by Hope Gangloff