“I am coming to spend a week with you.” Those were my sister’s words this past spring when she informed me of her planned visit to the United States. At first, I was overwhelmed. For one, she was arriving on the second day of finals and my finals time-table stretched through the week. I had to attend a convention out of town the day of her planned departure, and I was scheduled to leave for a summer study abroad class the following day. I whined during the weeks leading up to her arrival.
“I cannot believe my sister is doing this to me. She plans things at the most inconvenient times and expects the whole world to bow to her demands.” My friends stared at me in shock as I ranted on and on. My sister was coming all the way from Nigeria and rather than being excited, I was complaining about the inconveniences she will create for me. It was only natural for them to question the love I had for my family.
The day of my sister’s arrival eventually came. I checked with the hotel to confirm her reservation. I hadn’t seen her in a year, so I hurriedly made my way to her room after my last final. We embraced and chatted for hours and the next four days followed the same pattern. I gladly made her breakfast in the mornings, showed her places in and out of town, and introduced her to my friends. She was excited about the itinerary I had planned for her and I was happy that she was having a good time.
Her visit came to an end abruptly with so many things I needed to tell her and I knew the feeling was mutual. As she gave me a final hug on the morning of her departure, tears welled up in my eyes and I cried unabashedly. I was going to miss my sister. I bawled inwardly throughout the convention I attended that day as I reminisced about how good it was for us to be together. Slowly, it dawned on me that even if I didn’t express it, I truly missed and loved my family.
At this realization, I began to think about what changed. How did I go from the young wide-eyed child who wouldn’t let go of her mother’s wrapper to the young woman who viewed it a sense of duty to call her mother each week? This moment of being proved to be very revealing as I discovered how I developed the pattern of suppressing my feelings towards my family.
The word, family brings to mind togetherness, love, and cherished moments. However, I have never viewed my family through this lens. This is not because the above atmosphere did not exist at home, rather it stems from not being encouraged to speak openly about such feelings. As I ponder my upbringing, it may seem to be a ready conclusion to attribute this to the culture I grew up in, but the truth is there were families who openly said, “I love you” and “I miss you” even within that culture.
I never gave much thought to this for whenever anyone inquired if I missed my family, my answer was always, “no.” The confused expressions on their faces said it all. “How could this twenty-one-year old who lives two oceans away from home claim to not miss her family?” It was strange to them and to be honest, I thought it strange too. In a bid to come to terms with why I felt this way about my family, I attributed my stoic reaction to being enrolled in a boarding school for six years. I often compare being sent off to live in a different environment at the age of nine to tearing a suckling newborn from the breasts of its mother. I was not weaned properly.
Like many of my fellow newcomers in school, I cried when my parents bid me farewell at the gate of my hostel. I vowed in my heart to write to everyone back home as I could not bear to have them missing out on the events happening in my life. True to my word, I did write. I wrote tear- stained letters to all my five sisters as well as my brother. I wrote letters to my parents and cousins who lived in our family home. I poured out my heart in those letters and sent them off with whosoever came for the monthly visiting days we were granted. Yet, I never got a reply. After two years, I stopped writing and no one even asked me why.
Without a doubt, this period refined my feelings for my family and I became desensitized towards any longing for their love and attention as I was left on my own to figure out such emotions. Upon my high school graduation, I set off for university, residing away from home once again. It came as no surprise when I took things further at the age of eighteen and made the decision to continue college in a different country, a distant continent, and a different time zone. My family consented and I was eager to leave. The soft spot I once had for them had become a scar, seared and unfeeling.
This is not a call for therapeutic assistance to reunite my detached self to my family in an effort to love them like I once did before. However as I left my sister’s hotel room crying on the day of her departure, that moment made me realize there was a spark waiting to be reignited. The seed of love needed just the right nutrients to blossom into a flower. I knew deep down in my heart, that it was not too late to speak about love again.