Failing Forward Pt. 1 An Ode to Adam



“My brand of TRUE FICTION. I dare you to believe this lie. I dare you to read this truth. I dare you to love this story.”



I dated a drug dealer for 3 years.

I tell everyone it was only for a year but really, it was for 3. The first 2 years weren’t exclusive and we were on and off. Honestly, we kept our relationship pretty private. No one knew about us for a very long time. I was hesitant to tell my friends because I went to NYU’s Tisch School of Arts and I didn’t want people to judge me, even though a lot of people I knew did drugs recreationally. There was just this expectation there, ya know?Even at a school for the arts, of higher “standards” and a certain level of polish and class level that we should be dating and making friends from. Even among the arts, elitism and snobbery exists. Don’t let the theater and acting worlds fool you, no matter how liberal and free love it seems-we can be just as precious as the rest of the elites. I realize now, looking back, that I dated…lets call him…Adam, (which in no way would be his name because Adam is Italian as fuck with the “only speaks Italian even though she’s lived in Brooklyn for 25 years” grandmother to match) because we both fulfilled a need in each other’s lives. Adam needed me to make him feel like he was still worthy of a “good girl” even though he was doing something criminal in order to make a living. Adam at his core was a staunch Catholic boy and he found it very hard to justify his actions due to his beliefs. He fought an inner battle almost daily due to what he felt he was forced to become: A Criminal. He came from harsh beginnings and hadn’t been afforded many opportunities. He started dealing out of necessity, as he saw it. America, the land of opportunity, hadn’t been so fortuitous to him and his loved ones. Shocking right? Note the sarcasm if you missed it. Well, for me, Adam made me feel desirable and sexual in a way that had been missing from my adolescent years. He lit a flame in me that I’d never experienced prior to him and suddenly, all the racy songs on the radio made sense. The intense attraction I experienced with him, finally made me feel normal. After years of having to fake my way through relationships: allowing boys to touch and kiss me while I felt nothing- well, except mild disgust; Enduring their attentions and physical demonstrations of affection for as long as I could before I inevitably broke it off..

I finally, finally!, understood what all the fuss was about.

It was a relief to realize I was actually normal.

I wasn’t broken.

I’d experienced lust and arousal only when I read the sexy and explicit novels my mother had banned me from reading (even though she read them herself—hypocrisy much?..) but I’d never felt physical desire and yearning before with a real human being. Not until Adam. He was my reassurance that I was just as capable of those emotions as everyone else.

After growing up under the intense peer pressure to have a boyfriend and to have relationships because “that’s what made you normal” and “all my girlfriends had to talk to each other about these things,” it was a relief to finally feel whole. With the exception of a boy I’d dated briefly in my high school years, who’d evoked such alarming emotions in me that I now realize he’d been an unhealthy obsession of the Single White Female variety, Adam was my salvation from being labeled abnormal.

But I digress, as I often will, so get used to it.

I am striving to write in mimicry of an oral storytelling experience. I grew up an oral storyteller, telling fantastical tales to my little brothers each night before bed. Picture the scene: late nights with three nappy heads crowded beneath a crude blanket fort while several nightlights illuminated the world beyond the cozy cocoon we’d created. I’d start of hushed and reverent and pitch my tone to match the fevered imaginings I was trying to verbally project from my overactive brain. The tales would always end with a To Be Continued, the story to be picked up the following evening, as each new eve brought with it the continued fight against the boundaries of a strict bedtime. Those were some of the most beautiful and meaningful nights of my youth. I felt like I was creating magic; alchemy in the power of my tongue. I knew then that words were powerful. Words could create worlds.

I like to imagine that many of my ancestors were famous griots. That would explain the origin of my unique gift.

I like to believe that many of my written tales flow as if they’d been spoken. This is my homage to them-my imagined griot ancestors.

Back to the tale at hand.

Looking back, Adam and I were pretty hot and heavy from the start. I was still at the part of my journey where I was barely holding onto my non-denominational upbringing and lifestyle of Christianity, with all of its rules and decrees. I’d barely held on throughout college, living life as I pleased and unwilling to reconcile my strict Christian beliefs with my actions. You see, I still wholeheartedly believed in Jesus. I prayed and thought about God everyday but nothing beat that underlining quiet guilt that lurked in the background of everyday life and my everyday actions. I kept suppressing it, for the most part but once in awhile, it did pop up and try ruin my fun. Everything I was doing, everything I was experiencing was screaming to me that I was IN SIN. Yes, capital letters and all. I felt like I was doing something wrong just by living, exploring and feeling curious and alive. I acted on my curiosity and completely stretched my boundaries and according to the church and the messages from the preacher I’d grown up listening to, that was a big “no no.” I was slowly forming beliefs outside of what I’d been told to believe and feel my entire life. It was a very confusing time but I got through it by pretending everything was alright until it was alright. Even through it all, I had the sneaking and then overwhelming suspicion that God still loved me, Jesus was still with me and everything was going to be OK. Even if some Christian people looked at me and thought-“Traitor!” I knew, at the end of the day, that God would always have my back and would help me to make sense of it all, some way, somehow.

So, yes, Adam was a straight up gateway drug. Even to this day when I talk about him, I only talk about the one year-our last year together. I don’t acknowledge the fact that we’d known each other for years beforehand as friends and that I’d lusted after him so intensely, I was bold enough to proposition him and he accepted.

When I look back on those years, my early twenties, I was bold as fuck. I was a queen.

Growing up, having to behave so properly at all times and always having to be that “Good Christian Black Girl” example, in addition to all the cultural pressures, as well being a first generation immigrant, and all the pressures behind being the oldest child and the only girl one at that, I was READY to let loose when I hit those New York streets for my freshman year of college in August of 2005. And even then, it took me over a year to fully acclimate and accept my new life. Freshman year was an agonizing one of change, the freshman 20 (ugh), growth, extreme homesickness and discomfort and the distinct feeling that I’d Made a Big Mistake by deciding on NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for college. It was a culture shock for me, having been so sheltered growing up. I swear, my parents wrapped me up in bubble wrap, twice!, and kept me so naive and so isolated (or at least they tried to), that I was a vulnerable and easy target.

Praise God, I made it through–with a little help from my friends…and lots of alcohol.

Sophomore year was when I really emerged from my shell. I came back to school after a long summer back at home, realizing how much I’d changed and how much I missed New York City and all of my friends. I finally began to view the city as my home. I grabbed life by the balls and decided to be the kind of girl I’d always wanted to be: loud, bold, sexual, brave, foul mouthed, creative as fuck and feisty as fuck. All the witty and cutting remarks I’d always muttered under my breath, kept in my brain, or written in my stories while growing up were now flying out of my mouth. I had no filter. I was so honest it was cutting. My friends knew me as the crazy, loud, funny, bubbly one. Someone I’d tried to be while I was growing up-and trust me, I definitely did some crazy shit and rebelled like a pro behind my parents’ backs- but I still always felt stifled and held back by familial expectations and societal pressures, being a “young black girl growing up in the south.” Those damn gender roles too. Try being Nigerian and a girl, trying to buck societal and cultural norms. My parents were NOT having it. At all. I had to do everything I wanted to do behind their backs. From them, there was always that looming threat of: “Be on your best behavior at all times, or else.” “Keep your legs closed and your eyes away from boys, or else.”  “Obey us and don’t you dare start to believe that you’re an individual who can have your own thoughts and ideas, or else.” And yes, the one that all Nigerian parents are famous for:

“You ah here to study ohh! Ah ha focus on your books and your reading. I did not bring you to AMERICA for you to be a dundee!”

I was the normal girl with the normal amount of raging hormones or maybe my hormones raged even more due to their suppression. I was forced to appease my appetites with romance novels, day dreams and the wild illicit act here and there, knowing I could never openly do what I really wanted. I’m so glad I found acting in high school. All the aggression and fantasy I got to live out playing different characters saved my sanity. I wasn’t allowed to date and my parents had a purity ring on my finger from the time I was 13, so even just talking about the possibility of dating in my household was taboo. My father threatened me that I would be promptly disowned or sent back home to Nigeria in disgrace if I had sex outside of marriage or “came up pregnant.” I had a healthy fear or perhaps, a more than healthy fear of my father and I grew up believing that his love for me was conditional due to his Jekyll and Hyde personality, so I took his threats seriously and put up the appearance of towing the line.  No wonder I’m such a good actress. I’ve been acting all my life. When I did date and have relationships, I did so in secret and my parents never knew. To this day, they have no idea that I dated boys while living under their roof. I was trained to live in secret, to keep things hidden and to lie. Because the things and the people I truly desired had to stay hidden.

I became a pro at hiding what and who really mattered to me.

I even-for a short period of time-considered dating a girl. I’ve never admitted that to anyone before. As it is for many heterosexual women, it was just a phase, in the sense that, it never became my reality and it never will. I hate writing that because I don’t want to offend anyone that grew up wrestling with their sexuality. For most of us, despite what we’ve been conditioned to believe, sexuality can be very fluid. It depends on the individual. I come from the school of thought that not every emotion and feeling must be acted upon. I’m a firm believer of self control, under the tenets of one’s morals, values and beliefs of course. But that’s me now-speaking from a very comfortable and cozy position in my Jesus Bubble.

13 to 14 year old me was just plain confused.

I had a best girlfriend growing up who I loved so intensely, so passionately and was so incredibly close to and intimate with emotionally, It began to resemble a romantic connection in my head and heart. I was growing and changing and my connection to this girl was stronger and felt more important than any romantic relationship I’d had up to that point. I was only 14 and most of my affairs with boys my age ended in a matter of weeks. I had a short attention span and an even shorter fuse. They lit me up-boys did. I became interested, fascinated and attracted. Yet just as quickly, that fire would be snuffed out by my eventual apathy. However, my connection to this girl was so powerful and overwhelming, that my mind and heart felt in uproar and I became at odds with my soul. My soul knew one thing, felt it to my core, and yet my feelings were perhaps whispering something different. After talking about it with another close and older friend, one in my church youth group ironically, I eventually realized that what I felt for her was ultimately platonic but she was a soulmate. She was someone God had brought along my life path to enrich and develop me. Someone I couldn’t live without at the time. Someone I felt a deep and forever type of connection to, even though we weren’t going to be friends forever. She changed my life, in the deepest and most influential of ways. But we weren’t meant to be romantic partners. It was Agape love, not Eros. To this day, I love this girl, although I am unfamiliar with the woman she’s become. We haven’t spoken in nearly 16 years but I will never forget her.

I haven’t felt that particular type of connection to a female friend since. I most likely, never will. We have many soulmates throughout our lifetime-each connection unique and irreplaceable, each individual sent to teach us something different.

So here you have me, sexually pent up and frustrated, waltzing into my Sophomore year at NYU with some wild and beautiful friends by my side. Oh honey, I was a sexual bomb waiting to explode and when I met Adam, explode I did. Adam was my first experience with extreme lust. I saw him and I knew I had to have him. I was still wearing my purity ring at this time and for the most part, was sexually inexperienced. I was unsure but something about my physical desire for this boy made me bolder than I’d ever been. When I propositioned him, I wasn’t expecting much to be honest. Maybe a makeout session here, maybe a graduation to 2nd (and a half) base there. Nothing more than that. I’d kind of developed a reputation as a tease during my teenage years with certain boys and during Freshman year of college (again, with certain boys) but I felt no remorse and guilt behind it. I relished in the title. I was holding onto my virginity for me. I had no desire to be in a serious relationship at that time in my life-I wanted to focus on school and my acting career.

Also, boys, love and romance paralyzed me.

As much as I dreamt and read about it, yearning for my own Beast to be a Beauty to, I was scared shitless to fall. I wanted it one day-you know, the fairytale- but at the same time, having such limited experience with it all, (well, positive experience), I was a commitment-phobe. “One day” always seemed far, far off into the future. I was only 20 after all. Also, watching my parents’ relationship had put a strong fear of marriage into me, that would take years for me to fully realize. The feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach whenever I seriously considered committing to someone was 100% real. So no, I had no intention of having sex with Adam because I was committed to holding onto my virginity, despite being unable to commit to an actual relationship. As much as I used the church, my beliefs and my purity ring as an excuse (for years I did this!), at that time, I just wasn’t ready. I was scared at the thought of going all the way sexually with someone and had no intention of being that vulnerable and open to any man.

Vulnerability and openness were my kryptonite. After so many years spent hiding my emotions, living in a house of horrors orchestrated by my father, where I never knew the emotional climate from one day to the next, I was a pro at sliding by in an emotionless fog, guarded to the teeth from feeling or revealing anything. 

The idea of a man coming inside of me, in every way, was terrifying.

So Adam and I started off as friends, then friends with benefits, then back to just friends, then we added the benefits back again. It was a roller coaster of a timeline. We finally managed to hook up, repeatedly, for 2 years straight. When we were on and off, we’d stop when he’d get a girlfriend-because I refused to be exclusive or committed to him- or when I decided we needed to stop because “This really isn’t me!” and “I feel guilty because of my religion”, blah blah blah. It amazes me now that our connection was strong enough to withstand such a prolonged period of time..of so much bullshit. It was our friendship that made all the difference. I’d never been friends with a boy who I also wanted to kiss all the time before. We did a lot together sexually because I trusted him implicitly. I even explored some light BDSM-focus on the bondage/domination and not so much on the sadism/masochism- with him, but we never had any type of penile penetration. Is that a thing?… It is now!

There was lots of oral sex-on both sides, hand jobs, making out without our clothes on, grinding, you name it but no penetration either vaginally or anally with his dick. I remained, technically, a virgin. I held on to that purity ring strictly by textbook definition. The irony was, I was not “pure” and I’d never really wanted to be but I pretended to be. The decision had been made for me long before I had the emotional intelligence to decide for myself. And so, the image of the “virginal” and “holy” girl that I portrayed myself to be in certain circles, became more important than the actual truth.

Do you see how messed up that is? I didn’t. Not many, many years.

I was doing what hundreds of other “good christian girls” were doing, albeit my actions may have been years later than most. Adam was good for me though. He taught me to be more outgoing, more frank in my opinions, stronger in my actual beliefs, not what I’d been indoctrinated to believe. Adam challenged me. He challenged my beliefs of right and wrong because he was a drug dealer. He sold and contributed to addiction and maybe even, destruction and death. But he was the best person I’d ever known: strong, tender, funny, smart, a business man really. He took care of his entire family with his earnings and never bought anything extra for himself. He always put people first and was so supportive and caring it was unreal. He supported me financially for years and I never had to ask him for a penny. He treated money like it was nothing and yet he had more of it than most people, but he was always giving it away. Adam never pressured me for sex. Never. He believed in my holding onto my virginity and felt that if I didn’t want to “give it to him,” it was my body, my decision and that there must’ve been a greater reason and purpose for the way I felt in my soul. He encouraged me to follow my heart and trust my gut and not always my head, something I still struggle with to this day. He was intuitive. He loved dogs. He loved his grandmother more than anybody. He was Catholic so he got the whole Christian Guilt thing. He was Adam.

But he sold drugs. Something that I couldn’t seem to get over and in the end, it ended us.

I dated a drug dealer for 3 years and he was the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. No lie. Every man I’ve dated after him has failed to compare. How do I reconcile that?

I honestly don’t know.