The death of a child is the most traumatic experience any parent can ever have, and I watched Dad and Mom shrivel when Daniel, my 4-year-old baby brother and the joy of our lives died. The laughter that was all so commonplace in the mansion we called home died along with him, and Kemi, my quiet fraternal twin and I walked around the house like ghosts, afraid to breath in air; afraid to exhale the air we took in.
Our family never spoke of Daniel after he passed; at least, Mom never did. Yet, I could tell there was so much bitterness in her heart because it also lingered in mine. I was 13, grown enough to blame God, as the rest of my family surreptitiously did, for the death of my brother. Thoughts such as “God, as a lover of children should have prevented my baby brother from drowning in Lagos Country club” plagued me. Why didn’t He, if He was truly a good God, script the story of our lives such that Dad didn’t get that much coveted job in Lagos? If Dad hadn’t taken the job, then we would all still be in London where expert paramedics would have saved my brother when he jumped into the pool. Besides, if we hadn’t moved to Nigeria, we wouldn’t have become privileged members of that cursed country club where my Nigerian friends from school envied me for visiting every weekend. And if we hadn’t visited the country club quite often, then, perhaps, my brother wouldn’t have jumped into the glassy looking pool that carried no Caution signs to warn off kids, especially when we all knew he didn’t yet know how to swim.
So everyone in my family internalized their pain, refusing to share. And deep down, my Ghanaian Mom blamed my Nigerian father for indirectly causing Daniel’s death while Dad, equally angry at God and at life was terrified of loving anyone for fear that he lost them as he had lost his precious Daniel.
Our parents divorced a year later from the pain caused by the inability to deal with Daniel’s death. Dad found comfort in the arms of a young woman chosen by his parents to birth him another son. Before I could wrap my head around what had happened, our family, as I knew it, ended.
Mom took bewildered Kemi and I to Ghana to take up a teaching job at a private school. New country. New life. A whole new culture to adapt to and I found myself dealing with severe depression in my teenage years. Kemi, always the introvert, was very private in the way she dealt with Daniel’s death, but for me, the life-of-the- party twin, the experience of losing a brother and losing my parents to divorce did some crazy things to my psyche. In desperation, I began to seek for love and attention outside our home as Mom was still quite absorbed in her own grief.
At 16, I got the attention I craved from an older married man, a neighbor Mom and I trusted. Mr. Kwesi Gray with his flattering tongue got me pregnant and my world spiraled even more out of control.
The day I announced my news to Mom, I remember staring at Mom’s shocked expression. Mom never uttered a word. She simply got up from where she had been sitting – the sofa closest to the TV – and walked into her room. No comments. No hollering. Not even a single tear.
Later that evening, numb from everything that life had unloaded on me, I dumped a whole bottle of paracetamol in my mouth. I didn’t think much of my strange action until I began foaming in the mouth and reeling on the rugged floor. Before I passed out, I remember Kemi screaming; remember mom’s tormented scream as she darted out of her room to find her child on the floor with an empty bottle of medicine by her side.
They carted me to the hospital. Later, Kemi would tell me that she and Mom sat in one corner of the room, terrified, as Doctors and nurses battled to save my life. Every time Kemi recounts the story, she says that she saw a strange look in Mom’s eyes as they sat there – one she’d never seen even when we laid Daniel to rest. Years later, Mom would confess to me that as she sat in the hospital room, she had an epiphany: It was time for her to stop mourning Daniel and cling to life for the sake of her remaining children.
I survived my suicide attempt but when I saw the very relieved look on Mom’s face some days later, I started bawling for I knew in that moment that I’d lost the baby. True, I didn’t love Mr. Kwesi Gray, neither was I stupid enough to think that he loved me, but losing that baby, it made me feel like I’d lost Daniel all over again.
Mom and Kemi took me back to our cottage-like home in Accra to start a new life, but in my heart, the harm was already done. Distraught over the loss of the child that I’d secretly day dreamed would replace the fun brother I’d lost, I vowed never ever ever to open my heart to loving again.
And that was how I pretty much lived my life: Bitchy, cold and unloving, until I clocked 33 and had an experience that would change my life beyond ways I could have ever imagined.