Meet the Bon Vivants: Amaka Onongaya

Introducing guest bloggers to the Michelle Thomas Fine Arts web log!

Meet the Bon Vivants is a brand new series that showcases the work of my favorite thinkers and good-lifers, all personal friends with important ideas and interesting musings. Meet Amaka --

Amaka Onongaya is a first-generation Nigerian-American born and raised in Northern California. She has an accounting degree from Penn State but is not an accountant. Her top interests include dinosaur hierarchies, the possibility of life on Mars, and turning a few of her most ambitious daydreams into enjoyable realities. She has been writing things down on various Tumblrs (off and on) since 2009.

The Reminders by Amaka Onongaya

I am incredibly grateful for the ability to recall. The strength of my memory is fleeting and non-permanent — at this moment, I feel that remembering the past can be a gift and a burden.

When I was much younger, I tried to be selective with memories — I attempted to preserve the beneficial and concoct a soothing web of self-serving triumphs. “I can’t walk in public without staring at the ground, but I have a good volleyball serve. Hold onto the memory of the volleyball serve.” In theory, it would allow me to treat past experiences like fallen fruit, securing the ripe and discarding the bruised. It was a well-intentioned defense mechanism that appeared to work until it never worked again.

From time to time, I try to make sense of what matters to me. I acknowledge that what has mattered is what I carry with me. It justifies my defenses, my insecurities, my joys, my ways to express myself. I’ll never forget the feeling of being a pre-teen and growing eight inches within a year, but I can’t remember which family friend attempted to teach me how to braid during a holiday vacation to Nigeria in 1997. I remember that she assessed my inadequate hands, and gave up. I remember pouting. I’d rather remember her name instead of the embarrassment. It feels unfair. 

Memories blend and mesh uncontrollably, and I can’t sift through what I want to store away, and what I want to keep. My memories accommodate what I am willing to confront.

Some memories are difficult to trust. They’re heavy with nostalgia, cloudy with lust, rank with desire, consumed by fear. All of these things can be good in proper dosages — used in excess, I find myself swept under a cloak of delusion. I crawl out.

There are memories that hiss and cling to the skin like ravenous locusts. Pressing the palms to the eyes doesn’t make them go away. Wishing them away gives them strength. I can’t choose which memories I’d like to keep. I can’t understand why the sight of a deep fryer brings me back to her kitchen, the image of her fearlessly placing sweet rings of dough into a vat of sizzling, generic brand oil. She insisted that the “generic brand oil” made the doughnuts taste better — I rolled my eyes. I can visualize how she expertly drew the mini deep-fried desserts from their hot bath, coated them in granulated sugar, and brought one to her mouth without waiting for it to cool. She didn’t flinch. I danced around the kitchen like an overjoyed child, taken aback by her heat resistance. The two of us don’t speak anymore.

Memories can force you to confront the fact that you cared.

I try to make sense of the things that still hurt. I try to find balance — to make sense of experiences that are specific to me, while combatting the idea that It’s All In My Head. 

Years later, I remember some folks so vividly — optimistically over-analyzing the grazing of bodies (his shoe rested atop mine for exactly six seconds in French class — does he like me? Is it a sign?), gap toothed smiles, genuine laughter that always ended with a snort. 

None of this is a unique experience.

I try to find the balance between self-reflection and consumption — the terrible place in which experiences are used to justify bias, cruelty, callousness. The place that rejects accountability and vulnerability. I try to cherish while knowing that things may change in a few years — location, income, the important people in my life. I try my best to not be devoured. I take my experiences and I try to see with empathy, with celebration. I try to be kind, but I try to protect myself. I search for enough like everyone else.