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#TUTS20: Sula got me thinking about friendships.
Phew! Finally made it to the 20th issue. It's been a longgg time coming
About two months into the lockdown last year - around the time it was dawning that we would be spending a long time out of school - I told my friends on the group chat that I'll read all Toni Morrison's novels before resumption. A tall order, yes, and as expected, they expressed doubts but wished me luck.
If you are like me and you stay in Nigeria, you know that books are prohibitively expensive, so yeah as I was a poor undergraduate, money was my first obstacle. Also, procrastination had - have - me in a chokehold so long story short, my friends weren’t wrong, I didn't achieve that goal. In my defence, I started Beloved but dropped it before the first 100 pages. But, Sula. Oh, Sula stayed with me.
I got Sula on a book haul earlier this year (?honestly not sure if it was this year or late last year) and almost finished reading it travelling from Ilorin to Abuja. And boy, people dey write. Specifically, Toni Morrison dey write. Sometimes, I remember the characters in that book, how they were written and I get hit with different emotions on random days. However, what stayed with me most was (female) friendships, which was the book’s central theme.
The climax of the plotline is the unfurling of betrayal, and it was at that point that my eyes were darting across the pages eager for what would happen next. Sula, after returning to the Bottom, - the hill atop which the black folks in the town resided - had slept with her friend's husband Jude. Nel - her friend had caught them ‘on all fours nibbling at one another’, which caused a rift between them that lasted years. I have been thinking of this recently, and also the loss of friendships.
These two women who had been friends since they were kids, loving each other’s homes for what was lacking in their own, complementing each other’s personalities, finishing each other’s thoughts so much that they melded into one another, sharing giggles and laughs - and even committing murder together - yet what threw them apart had to do with a man (which got me thinking about the possessiveness that often comes with love, but that's a story for another day). I imagine what would have happened if Nel had forgiven Sula. But then again, Sula didn’t exactly feel remorse - nor apologise - for what she did. In fact, she almost didn't think what she did was wrong.
In Morrison's words,
[Sula] had clung to Nel as the closest thing to both an other and a self only to discover that she and Nel were not one and the same thing. She had no thought at all of causing Nel pain when she bedded down with Jude. They had always shared the affection of other people: compared how a boy kissed, what line he used with one and then the other. Marriage, apparently, had changed all that but having had no intimate knowledge of marriage, having lived in a house with women who thought all men are available, and selected from among them with a care only for their tastes she was ill-prepared for the possessiveness of the one person she felt close to.
I think about what would have happened if they had found their way back to one another, what would have happened to their love, and how their lives and subsequently the ending of the book would have been different. Yet, I understand their choices - both of them. See, simplistically told like this, it is easy to conclude that Sula is obviously in the wrong abbl, but one of my favourite thing about the book is the blurring of lines of good and evil. You do not feel inclined to judge the characters because you 'understand' their choices - even see a bit of yourself in them. It's like an unfolding that you're privy to, and you just watch, allow yourself be taken in rather than pit the characters against one another or choose a side.
Betrayal is not something I am unfamiliar with, although it is - like other bothersome situations - something I tuck in a corner and switch off the light. Thinking about Sula, I have come to the conclusion that we often carry betrayals and grudges as badges of honour, stamping the permanence of other person's misdeeds on our thoughts/realities, allowing it to affect our choices so much that we allow ourselves to miss out on many things.
Forgiveness, I realize, is not only needed by the ‘culprit’. At the end of their lives, it turned out Nel needed the forgiveness the most. That singular event set a trajectory for Nel’s life in that all she did afterwards was to make ‘being good’ her purpose in life as opposed to Sula whom everyone knew was ‘bad’, and this invariably hardened her heart and trap her in a ‘conforming’ persona.
Also, I ask myself if I was Nel, could I have forgiven Sula, if she had shown contriteness - or not even. I realize that getting to a place where one could do that demands transmutational courage - one that goes against who the person Nel was. Forgiving Sula and moving on to preserve the friendship demands a change in the inherent nature of who Nel is - one who allows herself to be a 'victim of circumstance'. I believe I could have forgiven Sula in Nel's shoes. Also, I recognize the decision is not an isolated choice made in a vacuum of yourself. So, freedom too, not just courage.
Maybe I could, maybe I couldn't. One thing is I know is the friendship between Nel and Sula is one that is inspiring and worthy of admiration. Also, I may be wrong in putting the burden of forgiveness disproportionately on Nel.
However, more relatable to me was the pain of the loss of their friendship. At Sula’s funeral, Nel sadly leaving the cemetery thought,
"All that time, all that time, I thought I was missing Jude."....."We was girls together," .... "O Lord, Sula," she cried, "girl, girl, girlgirlgirl."
It was a fine cry-loud and long-but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.
I was on my Uncle's sofa when I read the line - circles and circles of sorrow, and I immediately remember walking down a long long road in the town I stayed in a bid to avoid a friend I had fallen out with. The loss of that friendship was probably my first foray into heartbreaks, and it was circles and circles and tears of sorrow. Seeing or hearing her name was physical pain, and I was always making sure I would not bump into her because omo. I believe that was the most hurt I’ve ever been about a relationship ending. Thankfully it was a long time ago, and it's bygones now.
Personally, I consider friendships one of the major highlights of my life - be it with my sisters, my friends, cousins and even in romantic relationships. So, I am careful to keep them light, be present, and let them well alone. And as a fairly non-confrontational person, I have found myself having to overlook certain behaviours from people and forgiving them without ever talking about them. Also, I worry that that might not be a good strategy, because in confrontation comes the opportunity to strengthen the bond and as much as I am an advocate for having the 'difficult’ conversations, I struggle to initiate them myself.
There's no lesson here. except, maybe hold on to your friendships, reach out to the people you care about - pro tip: replying to one another’s status and fleets doesn't take the place of actually talking/calling them. Bonus tip: don’t hit them up with ‘ah you’ve forgotten me’. Also, friendships end, cherish them while you still have them. Beautifully, for Sula, it doesn't end. Her last thought was about telling Nel of death.
"Well, I'll be damned," she thought, "it didn't even hurt. Wait'll I tell Nel.
In the world Morrison built, the experience of death was just another thing to be shared with Nel - her best girl.
A lot of things have happened since the last time I talked to you, Beloved. Talking about it all would probably require a full issue itself.
Remember I was hesitant about travelling the last time? Yeah, well, I spent most of July travelling. Abuja, Osun, Ilorin (twice) and Ibadan. Google maps said I went to 54 places, we'll have to believe her. And it was truly the best month of this year so far.
Also, I got a place of my own whoopss💃, and I love eeeettttt. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I resumed school last week, and honestly, it's harder than I thought it'd be. I was telling a friend I thought I had gotten over it all, but apparently, shame is a more abiding (and crippling) emotion than I bargained for.
My place of work is on a summer break so I've not done any publishing in a while, but I did a piece this month that I’m so proud of - and it stretched me tbh. Hopefully, it comes out soon
Let me know how you're doing too?
Joyful things I’ve discovered recently.
Jazz. Wondrous genre, I find it an amazing background for me to write and read to. I just put on a Jazz playlist and just read or write to it.
Writing on my toilet seat. Don't judge.
The joy of having guests over. I'm literally fighting a losing battle with myself over this. Really want to invite my friends over for a little shindig, but now’s probably not the right time.
In other news, I finally moved my portfolio from Disha to this two-page website. Disha will be packing up shop by December and I have been procrastinating on moving my portfolio elsewhere. Finally did that yesterday so yayyy. Still need some tweaks here and there but it’s here and it’s beautiful.
I am done pretending I'll be writing this regularly, I hope you'll welcome TUTS with joy whenever I come into your inbox. Thanks to everyone who checked to ask why the newsletter is not here yet, especially Ogooluwa and Chuma for making sure I don’t procrastinate on this as long as I would have. It's so cool to know that you look forward to hearing from me.
Till next time, Beloved