I vowed never to be that pathetic again five years after my first love. He was, well, he was everything. I was sixteen years old and finally coming to terms with who I was sexually. It had been a year since I arrived in Nigeria, and my memory was still fresh with the taunts from middle school bullies. Boys who seemed to know who I was, even before I truly knew myself.
But meeting him that day, the realisation finally dawned on me. The way he moved. The way he looked at me under those heavy-lidded lashes. The way his voice seemed to rub against my brain. At that point of seeing him for the first time, I could not deny myself any longer. I loved men. And I loved him. He was my first love.
So, I waited. There wasn’t much more I could do, and in a boarding school, you had plenty of time to wait. I crept closer to him every day, with a hi, and a bye, hoping he’d notice me. Eventually, he did. He’d come to my bunk in his boxers, chiselled body glistening from a fresh shower, with no idea of how vulnerable he, my first love, made me feel.
Our conversations grew longer as we talked through the nights about dreams and nightmares alike. And still, I waited some more. Hoping I wouldn’t have to say it, that maybe he’d get the clue. That maybe he’d realise my need to hold his hand, and his body was more than a show of brotherly affection. I waited until I couldn’t wait any longer.
He thought it was a joke. How could I possibly be serious? Kiss me? A boy? He laughed it off, but I knew the line had been crossed. At that point, I really didn’t care. All I wanted was for him to see me the way I saw him. For my first love to love me in return.
I think he enjoyed the attention. The way I only wanted to be around him and him alone. It got to the point where he’d ignore me for days. Weeks. I remember one night I walked into the cafeteria and saw him laughing. He looked me in my eye and laughed even harder. I had an idea then that maybe it was all a joke to him. I couldn’t handle that thought, and I fainted.
Yes, I fainted at the mere thought of my first love. I woke up in the clinic, and the first person I searched for was him. He was there alright, and we began another cycle of me pleading for just a hug, just a kiss, just some form of affection.
He always gave me enough to make me feel like there was a possibility for more. Holding hands was easy. Cuddling me in bed was fine. A hand job that never reached climax. Because God forbid, even if he couldn’t put his lips to mine, my fingers around his shaft were never a problem.
In his head, he probably told himself, as long as he doesn’t kiss me, then we’re not the same. Loving him made me realise that sexuality, sex and love, are not one. I could have gotten the sex from him, but that wouldn’t have guaranteed my first love loved me. He actually gave me everything but the sex. It was like being in a relationship with a priest.
Christmas holidays rolled around. I went out to buy him gifts. Thinking maybe, if I couldn’t use words, I’d use money. He gladly accepted the gifts I brought him. Gave me a hug. Told me he loved me. I woke up in his bed in the middle of the night, and I made my way around his body. Tears streaming down my face, I finally put my mouth where I had been dreaming of putting it all these past few months.
To this day, I’m still ashamed of my actions. Trying to convince myself that he was awake, even though he probably wasn’t conscious.
But that night, I was in bliss.
Yet, it wasn’t enough for me. I knew that I could easily continue this half-sided lovemaking, but I wanted him to consciously want me back. One night, I shook him awake. He opened his eyes and asked what I wanted. I didn’t say a word. I continued to touch him, trying to get him to admit while conscious that he wanted me as much as I needed him.
He pushed me away. Told me to stop. I wouldn’t; maybe I couldn’t. I had to know at that moment what I truly meant to him. If there was truly any future in these wild daydreams, his face conjured up in my soul.
I grasped firmer. He pushed harder. As I fell from the bunk and hit the floor with a thud, my first love turned his back and went to sleep.
The damage was done to him, to me, to any semblance of us. All he ever wanted was a friend, but I had built sand castles in the air, believing that if I loved my first love enough, he would give me something back in return. I had fought against the obvious signs that showed he had no amorous interests in me until they were as concrete as the hard cold floor on which I now lay.
I picked myself up.
Years later, during my NYSC days, I met a boy off Grindr. What made him special, or what I believed was special about him, was the way he seemed to want me immediately—a far cry from what I had with my first love. I ignored the obvious signs that pointed to him not being who he said he was and told myself that I was just paranoid. He invited me to his place, and I went.
Grindr Boy turned out to be a gang member, and on getting to the meet-up location, I was physically abused by his friends. Once again, half a decade into the future, as I found myself hitting another floor, miles away from “my first love”, I realised that I had come full circle.
I had never really picked myself up off the ground from the last time. I realised that I had been on that floor for years, hoping and waiting for a man to come and help me up. Years of empty sex and empty conversations, desperately seeking someone to reciprocate the energy I gave to my so-called “first love”.
All those years, and I never really loved myself.
I promised myself that if I survived this beating, I’d make my happiness my single priority if I made it out alive. That no matter where I find myself laying, on a floor, or in a bed with another man, I’d take full responsibility for being there.
Obviously, I made it out alive from being attacked by a homophobic hang of men. I think about it sometimes, both experiences, and I revel in how life is such a beautiful pattern. If “my first love” had loved me the way I pleaded for him to do, maybe just maybe, my path would have taken another route.
I wouldn’t change anything, though. I’m stronger. Wiser. And I’ve finally realised that my real first love is myself. I’d never fall for a straight boy now. I’m way too self-aware about my sexuality to hide for any man.
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- Further reading: Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture)