/ 7 April 2017

For my parents, for my witnesses

Those men who are in agreement with us, it means as women we need to talk to them, said Lindiwe Zulu.
Those men who are in agreement with us, it means as women we need to talk to them, said Lindiwe Zulu.

That drunken night I fell outside Kong nightclub and woke up cradling my best friend’s Evian bottle.

That time I almost crashed into an Audi in Noordwyk because I skipped a stop street. My heart still pounds like a house song beat when I drive there now.

That Monday I pretended to be sick and watched a Keeping Up with the Kardashians omnibus with a box of Romany Creams for company (I regret nothing).

The first time I met someone who made loving feel like a song I knew the words to.

The last time I prayed because I was scared, not because I believed. My parents witnessed it all, I think.

If a loving relationship is about bearing witness, my parents have loved me more than anyone has. My mother died when I was a baby; my father followed 18 years later.

If rumours are to be believed, they’ve been watching me from heaven ever since. I am not religious but, like Pi from Life of Pi, I have dabbled in multiple religions and tried to extract some sense of meaning.

I have muttered to Saint Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes and desperation, during my matric exams.

I have found comfort in the simplicity of fasting for atonement on Yom Kippur. As if one day being hungry could delete my spreadsheet of mistakes.

Now too cynical, the only thing that seems to have stuck is the idea that, somewhere out there, my parents and all dead people (hi, hello, George Michael) are watching us and rooting for us like doomed characters in an ironic horror movie.

People always say that when someone dies, you realise how short life is. The thing is, they hardly ever mention how you also realise that life is really long without the people you love.

Imagined milestones stretch ahead like a map of when exactly you’ll feel lonely.

The year my father died, he made me a cooler box filled with homemade frozen meals. Cottage pie, something that vaguely resembled beef stew, Bolognese with too much Aromat. Despite my embarrassment, he insisted that I take the said cooler box on my flight from Jo’burg to Cape Town where I was a first-year at the University of Cape Town. In my gap year, I had trained to be a chef so this wasn’t an act of practicality; it was simply an act of love.

After all, love is a verb and food, specifically potato-based food, is my love language. When I lost my father, I lost the knowledge of being someone’s most important person. I mourned not only his life but also the life his love allowed me to have. I lost the one person who would take the time to cook 15 individual meals for me and label each one with a black koki and a smiley face. His death was my rebirth in an absolutely non-caterpillar-to-butterfly sense.

Now, almost 10 years later, with the help of therapy, I have tried to have a secret relationship with my parents. Maybe I’m just talking to myself but then again, maybe I’m not. I’m happy to accept the odds.

I talk to them while I drive. In between singing along to Drake, I confess my anxieties and spell out my dreams. Before I go to sleep, I turn over my worries to them. I share my plans in the shower as regularly as I wash my hair.

I never let them forget the infinite utility of the word “fuck” lest they not need it in heaven or wherever the fuck they are.

They have witnessed every single bad day I’ve ever survived and every single good day that made all the bad days worthwhile. They know the contents of my heart and I hope that it doesn’t disappoint them.

I worry that it’s easy for parents to be proud when all they see is graduations and birthdays and rehearsed Sunday lunches, but when they see everything I’m not so sure. I used to believe that, if you could see anyone in totality, you would inevitably love them. The fullness of their life would render them utterly lovable. To my mind, opacity was cock-blocking love. But now, remembering every moment I acted foolishly, every callous word I ever said and every opportunity I betrayed, I’m not convinced.

But then again, maybe I’m just talking to myself.