Author Archives

When to Throw a Goodbye Party

Illustration by Olivia Waller

Joy Notoma | Longreads | July 2019 | 15 minutes (3,746 words)

I didn’t want a goodbye party. They always make me lonely because I can never connect with people as deeply as I want. I didn’t feel I needed one. I was happy with one-on-one time with friends during the last months before I left Brooklyn to move to Benin.

These were the days when the busyness we habitually shield ourselves with melted away. The excuses we usually find to not get together suddenly weren’t good enough; we attended to those last moments religiously, knowing that coffee dates and weekend hangs would soon dwindle to once-a-year affairs, and those even only if we were lucky. We had already seen enough life changes among us to know the fragility of our bonds — many of them were already mostly memories steeped in nostalgia for days bygone, coated with the sweetness of stories told and re-told, but brittle beneath the weight of our everyday realities. We could look at each other, our eyes shrouded in shame with the knowledge that we weren’t present for the other’s most recent tragedy, but nonetheless carrying the trust of friendship’s creed: I love you though I am not always there and if you really really really need me, I’ll do my damndest to hold you up however I can— present or not. Through this creed, we forgave each other’s absences through divorces, first years of motherhood, and even a suicide attempt. Somehow, that creed meant something even if in reality, we had not been there for each other when we were really really really needed. And then when it was decided that I was moving, all the hurts of previous absences were less important than the one that was pending.

But during my final days before I moved to West Africa, to a country that many of our friends will likely never visit, we stopped time to shore up the bonds, to declare love, and to lavishly heap that coveted resource, time, upon each other. There was no other way. We sat and laughed and celebrated and mourned the time we spent and did not spend together. I was sure that these moments with each of them were enough for me. I knew that a party would sully it.

A party would force our conversations into five-minute segments while we shifted every few seconds because we aren’t sure when, if, how we would be interrupted. A party would make it strange if eyes spontaneously filled with tears…because who can handle all that emotion when there are other people to manage and attend to? A party would make me conscious of anyone who had the need to grab and hold me tight because of my obsessive worry over anyone feeling left out. Please, I would pray for the duration of a party, let me be all things to all people.

But then during my final week in New York, something began to change. I began to crave the uncanny thrill of a crossover episode — that rare intermingling when characters from the disparate corners of my life meet on neutral ground. Against my better judgement, I decided to have a party. I sent out non-committal sounding texts: “Are you free? Thinking of a little goodbye shindig.” The replies poured in. Everyone was free. A party was happening. And then in response to the anxiety of what I had done, I lost track of the texts and replies and began to forget who I invited and who I had left off the list. In the days approaching, I kept myself busy packing my apartment, getting rid of things, and contemplating the reality of my move.
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At Risk, at Home and Abroad

Illustration by Lily Padula

Joy Notoma | Longreads | January 2019 | 12 minutes (3,079 words)

 

Akosua* was in my care when she was assaulted. A man entered the bedroom where she was sleeping and tried to undress her.

She called out, waking us around 3 a.m. Moments later, she appeared in our bedroom doorway hugging herself, a distraught expression on her 15-year-old face. Akosua was sleeping in the bedroom next to where my husband and I slept, in the house we were renting in Benin, a small country on the southern coast of West Africa.

“There was a man!” she stuttered through tears. “He came into my room. He tried to undress me,” she said.

I wanted it be a nightmare, but Akosua was an unlikely person to confuse reality so dramatically, and we would have taken her word for it anyway. She was the type of teenager who contemplated big issues about the world, who could hold her own in conversations about race and politics, who expressed emotions easily while still managing to be grounded. She was selfless in the way American parents sometimes wish their own kids were.

There was an exit door in the bedroom where she slept that I had carelessly neglected to lock, which made me culpable. I was overwhelmed by guilt.

The man who did it was the groundskeeper for the house we were renting, hired by the owner. People called him the security guard, but I never could. It made me feel like the house was a prison. What could he have actually protected us from anyway? His only valuable task which I could discern was yard work, so I called him the groundskeeper. And then it was he — the supposed security guard — who assaulted Akosua.

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