When the mercury retrograde came two Decembers ago, I was twenty-five and madly in love.
Step 1: Do not argue with those important to you
She liked my left eyebrow. Her middle name was Rose but she thought it was too cliché or something. I thought it was cliché and beautiful. Our first physical meeting was anticlimactic. We both loved Drake’s “Sacrifices,” so I planned to start singing it the minute she came to pick me up from the reception of her hotel. But she made me wait too long. After all the things she planned to do with my body we hugged as though we were friends. “Do I undress and wait for you in the room or…” she had texted the previous week — and now this brief brother-sister hug. I was still scared of her back then, I think. Terrified of the possibilities of her. I wanted to observe her from a distance, but she was always pulling me close, come and sit here, why are you sitting far from me, investigating my eyes. We connected in the [LT1] strangest ways which stupefied me because I had believed after my previous relationship that there was no one else in the world for me. So who was this girl? Where did she come from?
She wanted me to write about us but I was against the morality of that, living a life just for the sake of writing it. She wanted me to stay the night. I wanted to go back home but of course I knew I would stay — how could I not? She wanted me to stop writing and look at her. I wanted to finish writing the romantic parts of my novel before I fell irrevocably in love. I wanted the distance of being loveless to write love. She wanted to stay with me in the shower while I bathed so I locked her out. When I was done, I came out and met her on a stool next to the door, scrolling through her phone. She asked for permission to hold me on the bed. We held each other for hours even though we both hated cuddling. She gave me her diary to read. Full of poems of a recent love that nearly destroyed her. I was excited and sad at the poems. Excited that I had fallen in love with an artist again. Sad that I had fallen in love with an artist again. I love alternative music. Her playlist consisted of old Nigerian musicians long dead. I begged her to dance with me. She begged me to come back to bed. Of course we couldn’t sleep. Of course nothing happened that night.
The second time we met I was kissing her and she was running her hands on my back when she asked about my scars. I told her my answer would ruin the moment. She promised me it wouldn’t. I promised her she really didn’t want to know. She begged. I told her how I got my scars. She squeezed my head to her chest so tight I thought I would choke. She choked because she suffered the inability to cry. We were both mournful at that point but she never let go of my head. “I told you it will ruin the moment,” I said when she finally let go and laughed but she couldn’t come out of the mood. Before we slept she asked, “Can I hold you?”
Step 2: Do not begin new projects
At the start, we exchanged harmless compliments on Instagram. I already knew there was no way a girl like her would fall for a guy like me. So, the compliments were harmless. No danger of possible romance. We were both running away from bad relationships with good people at the time. I had banned myself from love for five years. She saw my Insta-story of the two last women fighting in Zion from The Matrix and replied, “So you like strong women.” In my head I could hear a genderless voice yelling Run, Run, Run. But no way in hell a girl like her would fall for a guy like me so I sent a laughing emoji and typed yes.
“Do not date her,” a well-meaning mutual buddy warned me on the phone one night after she played him a voice note of me singing to her on WhatsApp. In the middle of our romance I would learn she had asked him for my number and he had refused to give it to her long before we started talking. He cared for her too much. He cared for me too much. He was her friend, too. Even though things were over between them, he told me he knew us well enough to know it would end badly if we dared to start: “I beg you. Promise me you won’t date her.”
“Do not date her”
That first night when I met her in the hotel reception and she hugged me as though I were her brother, as I danced naked with her before falling into a sleepless sleep, his advice came back to me. It was already too late by the time he gave it. We were too far gone. Victor Uwaifo was giving his own advice as we ballroom-danced, from her boom box: If you see maami-water eh…if you see maami-water eh, never never you runaway…
Step 3: Do not make commitments or agreements
She loved me light and playful in daytime then dark and heavy at night. Harmless compliments morphed into secret promises. “You look like you will be good in bed,” she typed in response to a video I uploaded on Instagram. A video of my face as I brushed my teeth. I tread lightly. I typed “Thank you” and pressed send. By the end of that week I was already apologizing to her for liking her and hoping it didn’t make her too uncomfortable and she said it was okay, that it was okay in fact, if I was falling in love. “I am like that, too,” she said. “I fall in love with people easily. So don’t bother, you might get over it and laugh.” That was the moment I realized it was too late.
She didn’t hide me. She talked about me for hours with her family and friends and her ex who was my buddy and made sure her Instagram followers knew each time I sang to her in French. I woke up some mornings to long epistles of love and dozens of electronic roses she sent on WhatsApp in her midnight marijuana clouds. A rose for each holy year I want to spend with you. I felt claimed. Owned. There is no one out there in the world for you like me. Your female side fits perfectly with my male side. I am your wife. She texted I love you, I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you.
I woke up some mornings to long epistles of love and dozens of electronic roses
Step 4: Do not purchase technology
She broke up with me on my new phone. A passionate WhatsApp message. I was surprised at how reading the text which began with a declaration of forever love and ending with basically “It’s not you, it’s me,” didn’t feel cliché. Heck, I was in my own damn tragic romance. I had gotten the new phone without telling her (I wanted it to be a surprise), and I felt a bit guilty about it; then I realized I needed some memorable parts of our chat history, so I asked her to please screenshot them and send. I told her I had formatted my phone. She sent the parts I asked for. We bantered a little. Then I love you I love you. You are the love of my life but I don’t want to be in a relationship right now. I am not in a good place mentally and I want to care for myself. For the first time in over a decade I begged. I forgot that we had made a pact to end things the moment it got to be too much. We knew jumping into a relationship at the time wasn’t the safest move after the kinds of relationships we both ended, and had established these lifelines. But I had forgotten. Or didn’t want to remember.
I will learn French properly! I promised in response to her pleas to let her go. I will perfect my singing! I have this app-
Stop it, she begged, please.
In the end I had to see what my begging was doing to her. I had to see the actual reasons she had to leave me and heal and in the end I let her go with pride. She was trying to take care of herself. And me. We were lucky to escape the relationship when we did and I will always be proud of her for calling it off. I will always be proud of us for being soft and kind with each other while it lasted. We gave each other so much magic that many times we felt like we were in a movie. I would have loved you, I told her once, when she showed me a photograph of herself in secondary school. I would still have loved you even if I met you in any other life.
I forgot I had intended to surprise her when we met at an Art Café post break up. She wanted chocolate cake and when she had a bite she moaned and said it tasted like redemption. No one had ever loved her in this life she declared; the way the cake loved her in her mouth. No offense to me of course, she insisted, and we laughed and studied each other’s faces across the table.
We were lucky to escape the relationship when we did
By then I had started giving my opinion on her stories again and she had started giving me tips on handling people again. By then we had become close buddies, safely distant but close. Returned to the way we were at the start, the way we were before I let go of safety and common sense. Now our conversations were without tension of an inevitable romance between us.
“You look good,” I told her after our brother-sister hug when she joined me in the cafe. A harmless compliment, “Like you’ve actually gotten bigger.”
“Really!” she was genuinely curious about this, so she turned back to inspect her bum before sitting, because of course I was talking about her bum. “Do not be deceived, O, the depression is still alive and flourishing,” and we laughed. “O, you got a new phone!” she said in passing before taking a bite of the cake. I smiled.
Step 5: Do not purchase property
Because her middle name’s Rose I decided I would live in the only part of the country where roses grew, Jos. She kept talking about running away from her family, running with me. We both didn’t want children for hundreds of reasons but we were wonderful with them and so we wanted them a lot. We were careful with our future. We knew not to rely on romance; we had to be compatible with each other’s demons. This is how millennials fall in love.
Step 6: Avoid travel
I was traveling between states when I read something about the Mercury Retrogade. A Tweet by SZA made me look it up. I read what it meant and the first thing I thought to protect was our relationship. Oh God, not now, I prayed under my breath in the car. There was no safety for my heart at that point. She had loved me out of my precautions, loved me out of my five-year ban. My buddy, her ex, was so convinced of our love at the time, that he not only expressed his approval but coined anagrams of our first names, telling me he had never seen her this way before. She convinced me with her thousand electronic roses and marijuana midnight avowals and random daytime kindness that snuffed out every darkness in me. She loved me more than I loved myself.
We had broken all safety laws at this point. I was already thinking about our house in Jos, safe from relatives and friends, protected from the world by a hedge of roses. I would somehow convince her of the genius in her writing and succeed. She would find a therapist we could trust with our minds and then we could go and unburden our present and inherited traumas. SZA’s Tweet would be a precursor to my interest in astrology, especially when days later, the relationship would end. The retrograde, someone explained under the Tweet for those who didn’t know, would undo all communications that had occurred the period before mercury began its reversal. Schedules could get messed up. Things like jobs could be lost. I had been traveling past tiny villages with sunflower bushes so yellow in the blue of the evening when I saw SZA’s tweet, thinking about the journey that had first led me to her. A haze had covered the road from view that first day, as uncertain as our future.