I’m From Nairobi, Kenya.

by A.J.

Google Earth Satellite Image of Kenya
I’m From Nairobi, Kenya.

I met him when I was 14 years old and a freshman in high school. It sounds silly and made up but I honestly remember the first time our eyes met and for that millisecond time froze. There was something there.

For the first three months of high school he was sweet. We spent a lot of time together talking about life and authenticity and sharing our back stories. I’d apparently come from a ‘rich-kid’ primary school as most people saw it at the time and in spite of having close friends back then, I never ever felt like I could be myself around them. I always needed to keep up appearances. He was the first friend I could tell absolutely everything and be myself around without fear of judgment or abandonment. He was a humble 16-year-old; a quiet soul from a not-so-well-off family. I loved that about him because I also got to see (what I thought was) the real him…no flash, no designer clothes, no famous family names or connections…just him. I never actually acknowledged it at the time but I also found him ridiculously attractive. He was the most extraordinary person I’d ever met.

On the last day of the first term of freshman year we exchanged letters and promised each other not to open them until we got home. That marked the beginning of our secret form of written communication all through the four years that followed. In those letters we expressed how happy we were to have found the other. We shared even more intimate details about our lives and our dreams. I’m sure we both knew that we were at a whole other level of “intense” than our classmates were and we needed to keep each other close. I still sometimes smile at the memory of the subsequent letters over the years in which he constantly expressed his awe at how “real” I was and how grateful he was that I was in his life. I had no idea at the time, but I had officially fallen for him. Hard.

Two things changed everything when we got back to school. First, he turned out to be a genius. He’d outperformed every single student in the entire 200+ sized class by quite a margin. Being in one of the best performing institutions in the country, the school’s student population regarded the best amongst them as rock stars. Overnight, the sweet, thoughtful, insightful, humble boy from the wrong side of the tracks whom I’d developed these unfamiliar feelings for was transformed into a god by students and teachers alike. It started slow, but his transformation into one of the “typical egotistic” characters that walked the halls of that school (and whom we’d made fun of constantly in the past) was evident. The second thing that happened was my introducing him to an old friend from my primary school who came from a wealthier, more politically famous family; most of all, he was much more of a fun-lover and deviant than I was.
Soon after that, except for the occasional notes and letters to me when he needed a listening ear, I ceased to exist to him. And in spite of his genius, he became painfully ordinary. “Ordinary” bores me. For the next 7 or 8 years after our friendship started to fizzle out and die. I hated him. And I loved him. It was a hard place to be. I didn’t know exactly why I hated him because we had never actually been a couple. We hadn’t even admitted to each other that what had been going on between us resembled a little more than just friendship. But for some reason or another, I felt betrayed. I withdrew from everyone out of fear that I’d be rejected and done away with again once the next “fun” person came along. I threw myself into my studies, never went out with friends, never openly expressed my attraction to men. My life turned into this dark empty room with really high walls, no windows and a locked door, keeping everyone out.

In 2007 he came home to visit. He gave me a call and we arranged a meeting to catch up over a meal. I was excited and nervous. It had been 4 years since our last year at high school. Our meal went well. It was awkward at first. We talked about school and our plans. And then it hit me. One thing was missing. My feelings for him were not there. The tightening in my chest, the chill along the back of my neck and the loss of breath every time he looked straight at me with those sad intense eyes. That feeling wasn’t there! For the first time, I actually had a conversation with him as “Who he really was,” not as the guy I had been so madly in love with for almost a decade. For the first time, I saw him as I saw everyone else and that got me thinking. Why had I fallen so in love and almost obsessed with this intellectually gifted gentleman who, unfortunately, thoroughly lacked any other exceptional human qualities and who strived to be like everyone else while I always innately craved the extraordinary?

The answer lies in who I was back then: A confused, closeted gay young man who hadn’t found his place in this world. I was a lonely, frightened boy who needed that ONE person to make him feel like he was relevant; like he was actually needed for something by someone. It was never my friend’s fault. He was just a guy who happened to meet and bond with me…or at least, the person I was back then. He had always been his true self. I just happened to see and fall in love with the part of him he never showed anyone else. I’ve slowly managed to get him out of my life and I must say, I have achieved an amazing sense of peace.

It took years, but I’m glad to say I’m over it. I’m over him.

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