I’ve often mulled over the idea of one day listing the moments that I believe defined me in ways I often still don’t fully understand.
The images that flash through my mind when I contemplate those defining moments are often not scenes of hope and happiness, but most often they’re scenes of struggles, pain, isolation, betrayal, and detachment. Being one of six siblings in a small house makes it easy to disappear into the clutter. Sibling rivalry never needed solicitation.
Standing in the cold night air urinating into the flower bed in front of my uncle’s house when I was a scared little kid barely 6 years old, I remember staring across the road at the sight of my mother standing in tears under the carport of our house out of concern for my wellbeing. I was physically dragged by my collar and kicked out of the house for not being able to find something I didn’t lose. A lesson my father thought was very much needed in order to teach me not to forget my jacket outside after playing with my cousins; so he chose to hide it away until he was ready to stop teaching me that lesson. It worked. I’m anally responsible these days.
Moments like those were numerous and such a harsh approach to establishing discipline was the norm. I often find myself resisting the inclination to apply similarly harsh measures in dealing with untoward behaviour from my children. It’s strange how easily we adopt the nature of those that reared us, despite having had distinctly distasteful moments at their hands. I was born with an inherent resilience that prevented me from seeking affirmation from others. I was odd and I didn’t give a damn, and for the most part I still don’t. I sat and browsed through encyclopaedias that showed me life in full colour while siblings, cousins, and friends played cricket in the streets of the township where we lived. I sometimes joined them, but it often ended in injury, so there was hardly ever much attraction for me to immerse myself into the sporting experiences that others seemed to live for. This, I realised later in life, was a source of much disappointment for my father. It didn’t deter me. For as long as I can remember, anyone attempting to coerce me into doing something I didn’t like or want for myself often departed frustrated and unfulfilled in their attempts to prevail over me, or the situation.
My academic achievements at school were largely unnoticed and barely celebrated, until I lost total interest, slipped from the top of the grade to the bottom of the pile, and eventually dropped out of high school without anyone caring, including me. Girls wouldn’t talk to me and guys wouldn’t bully me because neither group knew what to expect in return. But those weren’t particularly defining moments for me.
Being jailed for bogus charges of domestic violence and child abuse against my own children. Now that was a defining moment, especially since I was the one that called the police to stop the abuse meted out against me for years. My timing as always was impeccable. I chose to do that at a time when domestic violence against women was a priority for the South African justice system. Nonetheless, it spelt the end of a tumultuous relationship with a depraved soul that was diagnosed as having several severe mental disorders, when in fact all she cried for in the most destructive ways was security and affirmation from parents that made dysfunction look like an admirable next step in life. Unfortunately she projected her demons on me and found it therapeutic to win the favour of others by demonising me instead. It was during those four distasteful years that I lost the very few friends whose presence I always cherished in my life up to that point.
Pacing around the courtyard of the holding cells at our local police station on the coldest night of winter that year left me even more detached. My pleas to the police officer for common sense to prevail echoing in my head while the nagging knowledge of having hardened criminals sleeping in the cell alongside me left little space for peace. But the moon looked distinctly beautiful that night as I watched it cross the sky through the metal grids that sealed the courtyard above the 20 foot high walls, just in case someone was able to climb up the sheer face of it. It was odd how the police officer that arrived on the scene appeared to be more traumatised than I was. I later discovered that he had presided over another arrest relating to domestic violence during which the alleged perpetrator hanged himself in the bathroom. No wonder the indignity I was afforded when I needed to use the bathroom that night before being taken away by the police. I still smile at the memories of standing in the holding cells below the courthouse and having random convicts coming over to me to tell me their stories of claimed innocence. I seem to attract the weirdest kind.
Wintery nights seem to be the common thread in many defining moments. Years before, I was held at gunpoint by my previous wife while she went through yet another crazy mood swing demanding that I call the police to settle an argument or else she would shoot me with my gun while holding our daughter in my arms. You read that right. It didn’t make sense to me either, but such is the logic of a recovering drug addict. Again, the police were sympathetic towards her, while confiscating my firearm that she mishandled, and asked me to leave the house while entrusting my daughter into her care for the night. Amazing what the weaker sex can get away with.
My naivety has been a loyal friend throughout my life, and still remains a bosom buddy if recent events are anything to go by. Many accuse me of gullibility, but I would rather live a life of being consciously naïve than to live suspiciously.
I’ve had good moments, and even a few great ones. I’ve recoiled at the unexpected loss of loved ones, but always receded into a private space to grieve, rarely showing my pain to the world. It’s none of their business after all. The buoyancy of my spirit often mocks me because it leaves me confused about who is being fooled. Or perhaps no one is being fooled, and in fact this inherent resilience that I cannot lay claim to, but nonetheless do possess, perhaps this is what makes it possible for me to see the present moment for what it is rather than what it should be relative to the souring experiences of my past.
The moments that have defined me are many, but their realisation and conscious recollection still largely eludes me. There is a strong undertone of changes blowing through my life right now. Profound changes that barely show in the normal light of day. Perhaps this is why my mind has been distracted to the point of mild dyslexia recently. My sub-conscious mind is pre-occupied with contemplating these changes, while my conscious mind knows nothing of it in the face of the routine that effortlessly persists.
I still feel a need to define who I am, but I suspect that I may never fully achieve this goal in this lifetime. Life is…undefinable, and I remain a mystery to myself, and most often, to those around me as well.