Sunken Ships is a Zikoko series that explores the how and why of the end of all relationships — familial, romantic or just good old friendships.
The subject of this week’s Sunken Ships is Arike* (26), who tells us how her mum was her best friend until she came out to her as bisexual.
Tell me about your mum
Arike: When I was three years old, my dad died. It was just my mum, my two older brothers and I from the moment he passed. And they were hit harder than I was. I barely knew the man and was too young to understand the loss.
My mum tried so hard to compensate for my dad’s death. She worked so hard to put the three of us through school, and she still put in the effort to be there for us emotionally. She came for every PTA meeting, open day, visiting day, Christmas carol, etc. She always found a way to just be there for us.
The older we got, the fewer responsibilities she had to bear alone. She relaxed a bit when my brothers grew older and started caring for themselves and me.
Whenever people told my mum to remarry, she would say it wasn’t something she was interested in. She told them we had a system and adding someone to our lives meant we’d disrupt this system we spent so much time perfecting.
What was the system like?
Arike: If anything was wrong with the home’s generator, fridge, television or any other electrical appliance, my oldest brother handled it. He had a knack for separating things and trying to put them together again.
My second brother handled the cleanup. He’s very tidy and obsessed over which cleaning products to use for which part of the house. He took great pride in having the place spotless.
My mum and I handled feeding. She’d started teaching us all how to cook by the time we turned eight, but my two brothers were disasters in the kitchen. That’s how my mum and I became very close. We’d spend time cooking and just talking. About each other’s day, school and life.
Our bond grew with each meal we made, and when it was time for me to go to secondary school at 11, I didn’t want to leave her. After my first year, I begged her to remove me from the boarding house and make me a day student. The thought of her spending so much time alone because all her children were in school? I didn’t like it. I think she didn’t like it too because she agreed without fighting.
Was it only cooking you bonded over?
Arike: No. When I was the only child at home, we did everything together. I basically moved into her room because I thought actively living in two different rooms gave me more places to clean.
We’d run errands, watch movies and go to the spa. All my mum’s friends called me her handbag because she never went anywhere without me. We’d even go on international trips together. She was my best friend, and I was grateful to have her in my life. She was there for all my significant milestones, from my first period to my first heartbreak. There was nothing about myself I couldn’t tell my mum, but all that changed.
Why did it change?
Arike: Valentine’s Day of 2011. I was 14 and was waiting around school with a friend who was a day student as well. School had closed, but we stayed back in class to finish some assignments.
After a while, we gave up on the assignments and started talking. That’s when she gave me a note for Valentine’s Day. I always knew I treated her differently than I did a lot of people, but I thought it was because we were very close friends.
After I read the note, we hugged. Then she kissed me. I was shocked, and my initial reaction was to pull away, but then, I relaxed a bit and actually liked it. From then on, something changed in how I spoke to my mum. I started keeping secrets from her.
Arike: After that kiss, I kissed many more girls, either at parties or in empty classrooms. I liked it a lot. I knew I’d always want to do it, but I wasn’t sure how to define myself. I still liked men, but I wasn’t sure how my realised attraction to women fit in.
I liked to read, so I Googled a lot of questions like, “Is it possible to like men and women?” That’s when I figured out bisexuality.
I couldn’t tell anyone. As much as I liked kissing girls, I also realised it wasn’t something society encouraged. I remember church services in which they’d preach against homosexuality and my mum’s comments about queer Western couples we saw in the media. I’d heard stories of how being queer had scattered families, and I didn’t want to lose my mum’s love and friendship.
But you eventually told her?
Arike: Yeah, I did somewhat recently. My brothers had found out about it. They followed me on social media and saw some of my comments and posts, so they asked me one day if I was gay. I told them I’m bisexual and they took it pretty well. They asked if I would tell our mother, but I said I was looking for the right time.
That time came when I visited my mum for a couple of days. I had moved out when I was 23 and occasionally came to spend time with her when I could tell she was missing me.
The night before I left on that particular visit, I stayed in her room like I used to and told her I had something to say. I told her about my first kiss with a woman, liking women and how I’ve even dated some in the past.
She listened to me without saying a word, and although it made me scared to talk about it, I had to. I knew it’d significantly reduce my anxiety, so I powered through. When I was done, she said she was going to bed. I went back to my room and slept too.
The following day, she didn’t leave her room. I don’t know what she was doing inside, but I knew she wouldn’t come out until after I left. I won’t lie; it hurt — a lot.
I considered my mum my closest confidant, but she couldn’t even look at me when I told her I was bisexual. It took a month before we spoke again. She told me being bisexual meant men were still an option and I should choose it. That’s when it dawned on me that she wouldn’t get it. I couldn’t decide who I would fall in love with, and if she couldn’t accept that, then we’d have problems.
What was the worst part of not being able to talk to her?
Arike: The fact that I couldn’t tell her anything anymore. I couldn’t tell her about my girlfriend or all the new queer friends I’d made. I couldn’t tell her about funny relationship drama or when I got my heart broken. I couldn’t go to her house and have her make me amala and ewedu while we gist in the kitchen.
However, I still tried to keep her up to date with my life. I’d send her gifts like I usually do, texts about what’s going on in my life and why. She hardly ever replied, and if she did, it was with an emoji or “ok”. My mum has always been chatty, so it wasn’t because she didn’t know what to say.
Did she ever come around?
Arike: Yes, she did. My brothers were talking to her. They asked if she would choose homophobia over speaking to her only daughter again. I think that made her realise if she continued ignoring me because of my sexuality, I’d stop making an effort too. I was already reducing my texts and gifts. Slowly, I was removing myself from her life.
Now, she’s making baby steps. She still occasionally prays for me to find a good husband, but when my girlfriend and I broke up, I told her about it. She listened and sent me some cookies she baked to cheer me up.
I know she’s trying her best, but our old relationship is gone, and I don’t think it’ll ever come back.