OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.
Grief. Belinda Mountain articulated precisely what I have been feeling in this wonderful piece of writing:
Quite a long time ago, I read one of those life-changing books about TCKs (third-culture-kids). I could identify so well, it was shocking. Suddenly, most of my experiences as a refugee child made sense. It was a revelation, a homecoming like no other. I felt understood, no longer alone. There were millions of people like me out there. I was ‘normal’.
In the last few days, I have been thinking about one particular aspect of that experience: that we were not allowed to grieve “lost things”. During those four migratory years spent in different refugee camps and then homes that we carved out for ourselves as a family, there was so much loss – of places, people, institutions, languages, selves – that it was nearly impossible to count. I don’t remember how many schools I went to during that time. I don’t allow myself to remember most people I had to abandon without even saying goodbye. One, two, many. I became afraid of making friends because I knew that I would have to move on and leave them behind. But because it was all part of a necessary, a good, project that we all endorsed as a family – our attempt at a better life – it was nearly impossible to voice pain. The accepted attitude was to get on with it. And we did, brilliantly so. In the end, we found the Holy Grail, the Better Life. And I am infinitely grateful. But when I’d read about the need of TCKs to grieve for the people and things they lose along the way, to have rituals to acknowledge the loss and the pain that accompanies these losses, I thought to myself: IF ONLY. I just wept most nights in secret into my pillow before sleep; and when I cried at school, I told concerned witnesses that it was my “allergies”.
I had become allergic to loss.
I think I still might be allergic to loss. I know very well how to “get on with it”, despite everything, always. It often bothers me that I simply cannot fall apart. There is a survivor’s instinct in there somewhere that refuses to give up, ever. I learned how to do it as a ten-year-old and the lessons have stood me in good stead over the past thirty-three years. But after André’s death, I also learned that there is just so much that one can take before the abyss arrives and you stands at its edge, contemplating how much can your sanity still manage before you take a step into the darkness. Something broke irrevocably five years ago, and it continued breaking for a long time afterwards into smaller, sharper pieces. The only way to survive the breaking was through articulating and acknowledging that I wasn’t coping, of allowing grief to take over – the howling, snot and despair of it all – and allowing other people to help me through listening, caring, being, understanding. Through rituals of grieving. I am so grateful for the people I have in my life, friends and family, who were not afraid to pick up the pieces, no matter how sharp and dangerous. To love me unconditionally.
Yesterday, my wise friend Erika wrote to me about the world “reopening again” in the near future, and that future feeling “like an eternity” away. She said: “We do know that it won’t be the same again, but we also know that the good things like love and friendship will.”
I am broken. And dealing with the uncertainty of the present – swinging between the loss of a way of life and gratitude that it isn’t much, much worse; and understanding that we need to do this because we are all in it together for a good cause – is dredging up the grief of a lifetime, most of it unacknowledged, and I know that this is not the time to cry alone in secret into my pillow, to pretend otherwise. This is the time for honesty and grief and rituals and love and friendship. The latter two will be the same no matter what. And they can hold one even if one is broken…
I had a huge gap in my sleep last night and watched CNN for a while before switching to a TV series I like and falling asleep again.
In the past, I’ve found it is impossible to call some people – evil people – by their names. It is almost as if by evoking their name you acknowledge that they might be human after all, but by calling them something else you reflect on their evildoing. I feel like that about the Tangerine Troll. And every time I see him on TV, I realise that we live in an Era of Gaslighting. You look at this mess and think: it just cannot be, it cannot be that this is our reality, that a psychopath of such calibre is in one of the most powerful positions in the world, at a time when we need compassionate human beings to guide us through the chaos of the present.
It is hard not to despair. To sleep through the nights.
Once I managed to fall asleep again, I dreamt that I said “good riddance” to an evil being I once knew. The moment I managed to get rid of the horror, it started raining soft cushions and teddy bears from the sky, and I ran around my garden trying to catch and hug them all. Yes, Dr Freud, I know.
It wasn’t an easy day. I read a bit, got up eventually, executed a few household chores, sat down to my computer to reply to the accumulated emails in the New Contrast‘s business manager inbox. How heartening that there are still people interested in taking out subscriptions, even now! Thank you. The André P. Brink Literary Trust has to deal with pirated copies of André’s books that are available on the internet in PDF form. Whenever I think of how little some people think of the work that goes into writing a book, I just want to shrivel up and continue writing for my drawer only… Karavan Press had another manuscript submission today – a lovely one I am very excited about, no matter how low I feel otherwise. I planned to write a review today, but managed only a few sentences. My spirits were broken by another list of lockdown books that people are reading with only one (out of several) titles by a local author. What are the chances of our survival without the support of local readers?
At the end of the day, there was only one thing to do: light a fire. Despite my dispiriting shopping excursion yesterday, I have a few nice things in the fridge (including chicken soup that I cooked yesterday to heal the soul) and new toilet paper! The fire itself was soothing. A steak, some red wine, a stunning sunset. Another day.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.