Now when I look at you, my son, I know that earth’s tomb will come for you, like it will come for all of us. Take me into the light. It has a quality that knows the power of words.
Events, relationships, fragments, all will diminish from my memory. All will be erased. Becoming a blank slate once again. I think of the crucified Jesus, meeting the man who would become Julian’s stepfather, Deon Tobias who was a youth pastor at Ebenezer Holiness Church. Meeting him through my sister Edith’s boyfriend. I was lucky. A lot of people told me that I was lucky. Now I would have a father for my son, because it is always important for a young child, a boy, to have a father figure in his life from a young age. The memories I had with Julian’s real father became smaller and smaller and smaller. High school and the first year of university was erased, and my life became divine with a baby and Pastor Deon Tobias in my life. My life became a blank slate once again until I met the next man in my life who would light a fire in my heart.
I never dreamed that there would be unthinkable repetitions in my life. Christopher. Julian. Deon Tobias. All I wanted was for Deon to love both of us. For the three of us to become a family. Now I read. Listen to soft classical music to keep me sane in the evenings with no man around in my life. For a woman to lose two men in the span of five years. Was there something that was so wrong with me, I often thought to myself, but I knew how to handle this. After all I was a therapist. So clued up about issues that affect the family. I saw this in my own practice. When it came to relationships it was as if I was returning to childhood. Living in that house with four hardworking women and one brilliant and intense man who wanted all his daughters to be married, living in spacious houses, two cars in the driveway. Married with children before they were thirty.
I had to go through images of death and funeral. I had to go through those chapters of crazy, of losing my mind, perhaps even at one point my sanity, baring my soul, feeling disconnected from the world and the reality that I knew. And people that I knew, close friends, estranged family would even begin to tell me that I look different but in a good way. I was changed. The accident changed me, the pregnancy, and Julian’s birth, meeting Deon, the man who was to change my life, and going to church in my twenties for the first time. God was never really there or important to my parents. After a bad breakup Edith began to drink. Vodka and orange juice in her fridge. She’d pour it into one of those sports water bottles, walking around in gym clothes and a t-shirt that said, “I rule the world”. It was an open secret in the family. Her going to rehab would have killed dad.
So we pretended that Edith was not a drunk, and that there was nothing wrong with Janice after all, or her marriage. And then when it came me, half-widowed, divorced before thirty. To me Christian morality was bittersweet. I never believed in waiting for marriage to have sex. Happiness was spray-painted on my soul when I was pregnant, when I felt Julian kick. I wanted to know the sex of the baby. So did the love of my life. So young. So tragic. Everybody said about the car accident. I was fighting but until Julian was born I didn’t know what I was fighting for. Survival? Instinct? To know the supernatural? A high to overwhelm the lows of grief that I felt sometimes. It’s a big thing to him, my son Julian. The ocean-sea. In a split second Julian’s father was gone in a head-on collision. Nothing could bring him back. Life was fragile. And Deon was never coming back.
I could have been bitter, could have lived with regret, could have, would have, should have, but I had Julian in my life. Deon moved on with his life. I heard he got married again. To someone much younger than me. As long as I am giving to Julian I am also receiving. His unconditional love, the light in his eyes, and I am done with pain. The youth pastor who fell out of love with me and God. I’ve put away the wedding veil, the wedding dress. Put the darkness somewhere out of the way. In the attic of my mind. In a box that has no windows. Julian wants a dog. Everyone his age wants a dog. If this will make him happy, then I’ll do it but it feels as if I am giving into something I don’t really understand. Love. A father’s love. A stepfather’s love. There are pictures of us together. Me and Julian’s father. Happy times. It takes me back into the light. To high school.
Sometimes I just want stay there for as long as possible in the light. Feeling the lovely sensation of being comfortable in my own skin, the future potential of Julian, and the fragments of the green light flashing from hiking in the Drakensburg in my bones. The country that I am giving my son is a hopeful one. There’s hope in darkness. There’s light in darkness. When I was pregnant it was as if there were other seeds planted inside of me as well. The seed of family and wanting marriage. A time to dance to fire. I never wanted Julian to feel the way I did when I was a child. Insecure. Feeling unsafe, and vulnerable. Having an inferiority complex in high school, and a superiority complex when I reached university. Leaving university when I was pregnant.
I’m a therapist now helping gifted children find their own voice. We each have our own love language. In my work I find a lot of children like Julian. Children who walk in rejection.
“I see them years from now as friends. My parents. Mum and dad. I find them finally gathering the family together. They’re so used to this choreography.”
“I liked your mother when I first met her. I really thought she was lovely.”
“She never liked you”
“It’s what I did, I think. Me being a youth pastor and all of that. It’s because I believed, and she was an atheist. Well, I think she always had these high expectations of you to marry well. A doctor or a lawyer.”
“I think I finally believed what faith really meant when I started to talk to you on campus. You’re smart in your own way. A youth pastor.”
“But it doesn’t count.”
“It counts with the most important spiritual being in the world. Jesus. You’re successful.”
“But not as successful as a doctor or a lawyer.”
“My mother was just jealous of you.”
“You sound incredulous. She never expected me to marry. I was the clever one in the family. The one who would go on to university, get a degree. Teach. It was my sisters who would marry well. Get to honeymoon in Paris.”
“Is Edith, the one with the drinking problem, still working as a counsellor at that high school in your hometown?”
“She’ll never leave. She has her moments. She’s a good girl.”
“Good girl gone badly when she drinks. And Janice, still unhappily married?”
“It’s not her fault she can’t have children. They’ve been trying for years. They’re looking into adoption now.”
“Your family wasn’t exactly warm and kind to me when I first met them. Edith was a cold fish. Janice ignored me when I said, “Hello, how are you? Your mother never asked me to stay for dinner. You father was distant.”
“In those days they were still getting over the fact that I was pregnant and unmarried. A child out of wedlock was frowned upon in the community that I grew up in.”
“Whatever happened to that boy?”
“He died in a car accident. It made the local newspaper. Deon?”
“Why did you love me enough to marry me and Julian?”
“God made me do it, and I love him for that.”
Somehow you learn to forgive. Instinct teaches you that, or your parents. All day I’ve dreamed of you. Now you’re asleep. I watch him sleep. His mouth open. His even breathing. One day he’ll play sports, but we don’t know for which team yet. He’ll either play rugby, cricket, and soccer. Be good at it or not. I’ve never completely recovered from the particles of sorrow of loving you. Now that you’ve left me to raise your stepson on my own. A single mother in her late twenties. I think of the two of you, the loves of my life. Where you are now, who you’re with. Christopher what is heaven like? What is that paradise like? Who is sharing your bed Deon, your dreams, and goals and desires? My house knew joy once. Once. When I was lover to both of you. In your arms. You’re dead to me Deon, but not to another woman. I’m stronger. It seemed to happen overnight.
Parts of me fed on the popularity of taking vitamins and watching documentaries on the human body into the early hours of the morning. You were a beautiful part of my life once. Once. I realize now that Christopher’s charm was like a machine-gun. It left no prisoners behind in its wake. We’re at the beach again. It’s your sea now Julian. It’s an endless weaving, beautiful and graceful thing. The beach is windswept. My eyes are dry. I don’t cry anymore. There’s not a lot of people on the beach today. I don’t fall asleep with the child in my bed anymore. We listen to Lionel Richie and Diana Ross records all day long on a Saturday, eating caramel popcorn and vanilla ice cream. Sundays we go to the beach. That is our thing. I don’t know how far gone the child is. How messed up Julian is, how damaged he is. His stepfather (Deon) left us when he was just a baby. Innocent.
Julian looks like me. Same sandy-brown hair. Same brown eyes. Same ears. Same nose. Same everything. This is survival. This is life. Language shifts. Water shifts. Julian’s tiger’s-soul shifts. Paradise shifts from beginning, middle, to end, to the birth and death of eternity. Mind and soul, shifts to mind and body. Now all my tenderness must make up for the fact that there’s no father in the house. Yes, there’s a part of me that realizes that there’s truth in saying that I don’t care to have a man in my life anymore. That wound haunts. It’s a quiet day and I’m in a contemplative mode cooking spaghetti as I listen to Bach in the kitchen, woken up early by the prayers from the mosque down the road. It’s a haunted Eastern Cape on a day filled with rain and cold. I have life again.
“You’re perfect just the way you are.” Deon smiled at me. That day Julian was with my mother and we made love the whole day. Forgetting about the boy child, work, and our responsibilities. For breakfast we ate leftovers from the night before. Cabbage and sausage which tasted wonderful and delicious even though it was cold, but already there was a fracture in Deon’s smile. I could sense his frustration with Julian, even with me. He didn’t pick up Julian when he came home. And then out of the blue one day he just said, “I think I made a mistake, a big mistake marrying you.”
And I was like, “Why would you say something like that. It’s nearly been three years. I thought you were happy here, happy with us. Happy with the three of us. Is it your father, Anthony?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. Don’t think that just because my folks didn’t come to the wedding. I’m sorry. I just don’t think that I love you or Julian anymore. I don’t know anymore, Anna. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore. I’m sorry.” And that night Deon packed his bags and left. We’re at the beach. It’s the summertime. His small back is turning brown. The small boy is full of life. Was I like that when I was his age? He’s graceful in the water. Playing in the sand. I watch him with pride. Shield my eyes from the sun. My fingers reaching tentatively for the olives that I’ve packed with the potato salad, and hardboiled eggs, and an assortment of sandwiches. Winter’s cold was singing but it was always summer in Sedgefield. The sun was coming out again. Sharp and brilliant. I don’t think that the nights should be filled with lovers anymore. I buy red wine again.
“Look towards the sea, Julian.”
“I am looking at the sea mother. It’s big, and wonderful. I like it here. Why couldn’t Uncle Deon come with us?”
“I already told you. Uncle Deon doesn’t live with us anymore.”
“Is Uncle Deon with Jesus like my real daddy?”
“Something like that. He married a church lady. Look at the boats. They got big years on them.”
“I am looking.”
“Are you bored yet, boy?”
“No. I want to stay here. Can we, mother. I like the boats.”
“Be careful over there. I’m watching you, Julian. Don’t go too far. Don’t go where I can’t see you.”
“Are you listening to me?”
“Yes. I’m hungry. I want to eat something now. Mum, you’re taking too long!”
“Here, eat this.” I say handing him a hardboiled egg, while biting into a toasted cheese sandwich.
“I want chocolate.”
“I didn’t pack that. There’s raisins.”
I want nothing to harm you, Julian. I want nothing to harm you. We’ll get to Paris on our own one day. I don’t need a man for that. Somehow you’ll learn to forgive the people in your life too.