“Girlfriends,” A Personal Essay
By Chioma Nwana
As a child, I took pride in being “the girl who ran around with the boys.” I played sports with them, I fought with them, I burped with them, I got into trouble with them. I mean, I grew up with two brothers, so aligning myself with boys who acted just like them felt right to me. Though my behavior often alienated me from the girls in my class, I welcomed it. “What could those girls do for me that wasn’t already being done by my male friends?”
Life has a funny way of humbling you. After graduating from my co-ed middle school, my parents agreed that I would spend the following four years of my life navigating my way through an all-girls high school, as far away from any boys as was humanly possible (literally—our school was conveniently stationed in the middle of the highway, far away from civilization and equally as far away from any opportunities for mischief). On the first day of classes, I remember telling a friend from middle school, “This is about to be the worst four years of my life. I don’t really do girls.” As I reflect upon my mindset at the time, all I can do is laugh at the painful levels of ignorance that had already shaped my understanding of the world at the young age of 13.
At 22, however, I am not only aware of the intrinsic value of having women in my immediate circle, but I am also eternally grateful for the opportunity to experience and learn about sisterhood on a continuous basis. I may have entered into high school cold, but I warmed up to the idea of sisterhood before the first semester of my freshman year even ended. I’m sure that all of the female faculty members who doubled as alumni shoving the word “sisterhood” down our throats expedited the process, but it was the genuine love and affection that I received from my peers that held my heart and carried it through. Today, my heart is still held tightly, and the women in my life continue to cradle it as I reveal to them its ever-changing contents.
With my heart and eyes wide open, I look back upon the girls in elementary and middle school who offered me their friendship, even when I told myself that I didn’t want it. I didn’t give them enough credit back then, but I’m fortunate to have managed to hold on to those friendships long enough to give them their credit now. As far as credit goes, all of the women in my life deserve so much more than I have words in my vocabulary to offer, and yet I still feel it necessary to use this space to attempt to describe the impact that they, individually and collectively, have had on my life.
When I think about their impact, the word intentional comes to mind. Intentional, as it pertains to love, is a word I did not learn until my junior year of college, but it gives great clarity and necessary context to the relationships I have formed throughout my life. The women in my life love me, intentionally. Their love for me, their genuine concern for my well-being, and their contributions to my overall development are conscious acts. The women in my life do not love me by accident, and they do not love me by chance. They love me on purpose, with intention. It’s evidenced by the way that they have committed to learning and speaking my love languages. It’s evidenced by their patience with me; as parts of me grow, as other parts of me die, as new parts of me are born, the women in my life remain by my side. They support me through the ugly stages and rough patches and celebrate me when the light at the end of the tunnel finally illuminates parts of me that once rotted in the darkness. It’s evidenced by their hands. The women in my life use their hands for several things: they lift them over me in prayer, they hold them in front of me in invitation, they raise them above me in celebration, they intertwine them with mine in solidarity, they clench them in preparation to protect me. Most importantly, their hands have helped to mold me into the woman I am today, an entity whose very foundation is comprised of the qualities of the women I hold closest to my heart. I cannot thank them enough.
The women in my life embody love in all of its varied forms. In turn, I wanted to capture the women in my life in all of their varied forms.