I often wonder how much I have inherited from the women that came before me. Whether power and bruises travel in bloodlines, trickling down to generation after generation of bright-eyed children. 

I know I look for emotional parallels in my family; there’s a beauty to being recognized, to knowing that someone like you has navigated the world, and can now pass their wisdom on to you. Maybe it’s because I’m repeatedly told I look nothing like my mother that I search for her within myself.

Though I associate inheritance with a deeply feminine process, I know there are traits I’ve inherited from my father. We both heat our chai for 17 seconds in the microwave instead of rounding up to 20. We can be critical and analytic, especially with each other. We feel the need to prove ourselves—always. 

There are some blood ties I run from and others I try to intertwine myself with, regardless of how different I am from members of my family. When I was younger, I was convinced I was nothing like my parents or my sister, that I was some kind of anomaly no one could understand. I think we all went through that phase, for me, it entailed  listening to One Direction on my iPod and a lot of attitude. Now, all I want is to make sense of the ways I am by drawing parallels between myself and the people who know me best. 

This year, my Nanima (maternal grandmother) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The first poem I ever wrote and published was about our relationship, and how looking into her eyes makes me feel like I’m looking into a mirror. I can see all her flaws and hopes and dreams reflected back onto  my fresh skin, and it gives me a sense of ambition and drive. I’m not just building a future for myself, I’m building one for all the women in my family who never had the opportunity to do so on their own terms. 

Alzheimer’s has no rhyme or reason, and for my Nanima, it’s coupled with intense anxiety. She falls into patterns where she cannot stop fixating on something small, and it takes over her entire body. Leaving the house is an enormous feat. She’s worried about her mask, her purse, her shoes—everything is a source of fear. 

I spent a month with my grandparents over the summer. In between thyroid medication and zopiclone doses, they both told me stories about their lives. Nanima lived in a house of 15 people growing up in Nairobi. She remembers her father a lot recently, how he was handsome and read books and always wore a suit. He died when she was 10. 

In their stories, I realized that everyone in my family knows what it’s like to have money, and everyone knows what it’s like to lose it. There are certain cycles I was born into – ones my bones have been formed around – to have, to have, and suddenly, to have nothing at all. 

I’ve also been raised in a family of great love stories. Of passion, romance, and “the one.” Maybe if I inherit bruises, I also inherit a predisposition for the beauty in life. This is the story I have to believe: I inherit the possibility of Alzheimer’s, breast cancer,  pain; but also a life of ambition, dreams, and true love. 




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