misty memories: snapshots from a funeral

There’s a haze over Cape Town like a 25% white soft light photoshop fill as I’m headed out of town (unbeknownst to me, a volcano in Chile has coughed up part of it’s lungs into the universe like a butterfly flapping it’s wings…). I’m on my way to Franschhoek for a funeral and I’m not sure how I feel.

The car I’m driving is borrowed from my very first boyfriend. I like to say I chose well. We’re in relationships with other people, but eons later we still love each other and always will have each other’s backs. I remember my grandmother’s funeral shortly after we met, when he, effete German, braved the unknown of a Cape Flats/Franschhoek family and tramped through grave-yard mud with me as I cried hysterically for the woman who used to be the person I loved most in this world. I can’t help but take a trip down many miles of memories as I drive towards another goodbye, even if merely symbolic.

Lining the roads, the trees wear their best brocade. Russets and reds and ambers. Rich, varied textures in which to pay their respects. The wine farms of the valley race toward, then fall away one by one: Graham beck, La Motte, La Provence. The latter two are beacons from my long-ago childhood. The basin of blue mountains curve familiar, yet strange.

Pic by Andy Shader

Against the slopes the Franschhoek sign is barely visible and in need of a good coat of white-wash. How ironic that when I walked barefoot down these icy gutters (my choice – I didn’t want to stand out against everyone else who didn’t have that choice) I never imagined I would one day live in another city on the other side of the world, also famous for it’s white letters against a hill.

When I arrive I find my mom (who has a fractured wrist she conveniently forgot to mention!) scurrying between my aunt and my uncle’s neighboring houses, making last minute arrangements. When I see my aunt I’m scared by how frail and shrunken and ancient she looks. I’m scared i might be booking more funeral flights in the not too distant future.

I’m overwhelmed by all the people, extended, distant family whose faces I recognize, but whose names eternally escape me.  The house is buzzing with the busyness of funeral prep, food, flowers. Mundane yet crucial questions like, “Is there enough toilet paper ?”

One of my cousins is looking for her lipstick. She says she needs to write on her lips, which doesn’t sound quite as descriptive as her actual words and tone of voice in Afrikaans, “Ek moet op my lippe skryf!” I’m reminded of the inimitable sense of humor that runs through the inevitable tragedies of my family.

Silence descends on the house as everyone leaves for the service next door. I take a deep breath and jot down some thoughts before I join them.

Last time I saw my uncle we sat around a Xmas dinner and he talked about the family history. How our clan is made up of a mix of Mozambicans and people from Malabar, off the coast of India, various European explorers,  with a huge dollop of Khoi San and Xhosa and whoever else was to be found wandering these rich hills and southern shores. I meant to get a video-camera and get an oral history record of what he remembers. Remembered. Now it’s too late. Time steamrollers everything with not a shred of sentimentality under its steel wheels.

At the church I’m once more overwhelmed by memories. It looks almost exactly the same as when I practiced my piano lessons in here as a 9 yr old (a concession made because we did not own a piano). I wish now that I’d continued those piano lessons. I have a life-long regret that I gave up music because of the dirty-old-man-piano-teacher who tried to feel me up (one of the countless predators I’ve had to deal with in my life). Another thing which I now realize I allowed to be taken from me.

The service goes on and on. I realize that just about everyone in the packed church is somehow related. Cousins, second-cousins, nephews, second-second cousins twice removed… Everyone seems to be made from 1 of 3 or 4  basic templates and you can see that so and so is related to auntie so and so and that one looks like uncle whatsisname… There’s a singer with a lovely voice, accompanied by a man on a concertina. It’s bizarre. I’ve been asked to read the thanks and can barely get through it. I who was never able to cry, now seem to be capable of deluges.

We push the coffin in which my uncle’s body lies cold, a mere avatar for someone no longer here, out of the church. The white hearse lurches out of the churchyard and with it, that empty shell, too, is gone. Off to the crematorium. An obvious choice for someone like me, I’m surprised that it was his…

At the hall where people have been invited for refreshments, the (mostly enormous) women of the family are bustling,  feeding everyone, amazingly nimble with their amazonian breasts and thighs and hips. There are probably 5 generations present, toddlers, to great-grandmothers. Cups of soup on trays fly out of the kitchen, followed by the ubiquitous chicken curry and rice and plates of samoosas and savories.  People eat and then just as fast, the hall empties and in the kitchen it’s a mess of dirty dishes and sorting of which empty pot belongs to whom. A typical “colored” funeral.

When I’m done with my stint in the kitchen, out in the street I join the cousins from far off places who have been pulled back together by the gravitational force of this death. We congregate on the open tailgate of a car and I smile to see my teenaged niece nestled in the crook of my mountainous brother’s arm. It’s nice to see them both smiling.

It’s nice to see my brother – we have  probably spent no more than 1 day together over the last 15 yrs, if you add up the hours. Not my choice.

My brother is basking in the testosterone of “hanging with the boys. I love seeing him this relaxed.

I see the empty beer-bottles in the trunk and say, “Organize vir my…” and the boys scurry off  and find me a cider. Slowly everyone disperses. The older crowd washes up at my aunt’s house and before the younger guys float off with an ice chest to go and hold an old-fashioned post-funeral wake, we stand around in the street and shoot the sh*t and laugh at each other’s stories. It’s good to see everyone together. Uncle Willie would have approved.

Long before I even thought of becoming an actress, my uncle was the rockstar of the family. He even went by a single moniker. Uncle. That was it. He was the “crown prince” of the family and he was a rapscallion. The 6 children he sired are proof of the fact that women loved him! He always seemed to have an impish smile on his face that said, “I know something that you’re dying to find out!”.  As a family member read in the eulogy, he was not a perfect man… In fact, in many ways he was deeply flawed, but swaggering in his 10-gallon hats like an outlaw from the westerns he loved, he lived! And he lived most of all, for  fishing at his favorite Hentie’s bay. I have fond memories of trips to Namibia to spend salty holidays by the sea. He was gruff, rough and funny and educated, lived to educate in his role as teacher and was one of those people who was always the focus of any crowd. He always had  an enthralled audience and a great story and I guess it’s a good gauge of his life that he had so many of them to tell.

For all his flaws, I guess love, the fact that he loved and was loved, is what made him perfect..

RIP Uncle.

I’m sure he’s regaling everyone with a fabulously fishy tale wherever he is right about now.

Willem Johannes Davids 1935 - 2011

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the morning after…

it’s the morning after the night before. my first of many nights alone in the house, knowing that this time he’s not coming back. the first day of the rest of my life.

and i’m so sad.

i was wise enough yesterday to call my good friend deon for some support. we went to another friend’s birthday party over at claire johnston of mango groove’s house, while l was moving his stuff out. everyone was wonderfully supportive and didn’t mind me crying when i needed and claire and i connected like we’ve known each other forever. and i drank enough punch to knock out a horse, though it didn’t stop me from waking at 2 and wandering the house for the rest of the night. just like the night before.

the irony, the ambiguity and ambivalence is that while i’m mourning the end of what was meant to be forever, i know we had come to an impossible impasse. while we both wanted the same thing, we got lost in our own heads and never made it happen together. and then there are certain things which are non-negotiable for me and others which are non-negotiable for him. there’ve been times when i’ve been ready to walk away, times when all i’ve wanted to do was leave, but we stuck it out and now i feel hopelessly mired. it is so much harder to let go.

but still, it’s 4 years worth crying over, so i’m giving it it’s due and grieving. though i’ll be ok. i’ve been through much worse and come out the other side. so i’m not running away. i’m feeling what i’m feeling and honoring that. i’m owning it.

and i know that everything’s going to  be alright. the slogan for the last week was “change”, wasn’t it? well, a change has come. and without a struggle, the chrysalis cannot become the butterfly.

at least lack of sleep has always brought out the poet in me.

watching love walk away     nov8.08

we sit
on the sofa.

side by side,
yet worlds apart.

your words sink inside me
like stones.
we’re in  a ship descending
into a sea of regret,
while on the horizon lie
tomorrows that never will be.
my tears will not stop
and so the waves overwhelm.

the ship starts breaking apart .
reality threatens to drown us both,
as clinging to flotsam
we float,
a part of each other
no more.
no longer us,
now just you and me.
we’re both still mouthing
“i love you”
and
“i’m sorry”,
but the distance between us deepens.

despite our best intentions,
despite everything we’ve tried,
on the shore, far off,
in the distance,

we  can see love.

and it is walking away.
(pic removed)

A wake  Nov 9, 08

I am holding a vigil
For us
A wake for what was
I am staying up these long nights
Sleepless
My eyes wide
My heart hollow

There’s part of me
hopes that you are sleepless too
But the better part
hopes you are sleeping sound
And resting in peace.

running aground…


… that’s what the little boat which is my almost 4-year relationship, is doing. it’s run aground a number of times before, but we always got it back afloat. this time though it seems battered beyond repair. i don’t know if it’s the winds of circumstance which wrecked the sails, or if it’s we who’ve kicked holes in the hull. 

i don’t know if it’s been broken all along, or if we broke it. 

it sucks. and i’m sad.

we’re not waving. we’re drowning.

(written sunday morning)

taking a trip down…

sometimes i wonder about myself, you know. sometimes i really worry.

tv plus magazine flies me down to cape town for all of 48 hours, to once again be one of the judges for their high school drama competition. i fly in somewhere around midnight on friday night. i have every intention of reading scripts on the plane, but instead i sink down in my seat, pull my cap over my eyes and hopefully don’t snore for the duration of the 2 hour flight. upon landing i, surprise!, don’t wait an eternity for my bag and when i get to the counter at budget, my paperwork is all done. i give them my cell phone number and the nissan tiida is mine for 2 days.
just like that.
paul is waiting up for me and wolf gets up out of bed when i make it to claremont. we make chai tea and eat mint chocolate balls while we catch up till about 2 a.m. i marvel at what hugo, their spca pavement special, looks like now. just goes to show, one never knows what one will get when one gets one of these lucky dip dogs. originally a dark brown ball, he now has curly ginger hair and is a marvel of hard to place features. one of those adorable mutts that wins your heart in movies.
saturday late morning i head into town to check out the afro coffee cafe to see if they have any more of the fabulous colorful bags like the one i’ve worn to death. i check the website for their address, only to discover when i get there that afro coffee no longer exists. their website says they do, but they don’t. guys. time to update your website. please.
i wander back down to miriam’s kitchen, one of the best places to buy salomies. (some kind of curry filling wrapped in a roti – a south african version of a burrito). i get a chicken salomie even though i don’t eat chicken 98% of the time. when i eventually get home, wolfgang and i polish it off with some tomato jam. all gone. yummy!
before that though, i walk through the greenmarket square flea market to get to my car. it used to be my all time favorite place for all kinds of unique items, but now it’s pretty much all curios and not much more. some leather jackets catch my eye and i spend some times going through the tchatchkes on the guys’ table. i buy an antique looking pencil even though it’s not working. imagine my surprise when i get home and google the marking on the pencil.
 
S. MORDAN & CO. MAKERS
and i discover that this pencil, according to it’s markings, was made before 1850, i.e., 160 or so years ago! wow! score! probably worth way more than the hundred bucks i reluctantly parted with for it, though my intention is not resale, but personal use.
and then… and this is the part that really worries me, i proceed to clean the keys on my laptop. granted, the guys have left by now and i’m at the house all alone, and i’ve been meaning to do it for months, but please. i’m in cape town for the first time in 4 months. i should be out making the most of it, but instead i. am. cleaning. the. keys. on. my. keyboard. . . . . .
and i’m aware as i’m doing it, that this is weird. i. am. weird.
i leave an hour early for the theatre. i’ve decided to see if i can find ronald’s old flat where i stayed with him in 1981 and where wolfgang and i parted with our cherries. i drive to rosebank and find liesbeeck road. i walk through the now graffiti’d subway to get to the other side of the railway line and i’m surprised that i don’t really remember it. the elision of chunks of memory is scary…(i, unlike clinton, inhaled).  i don’t see the flat. it’s not where i think it was, so i stop to ask a family walking into their big old rambling house, whether they know a bridgebank road or bridgebank court. they point next door. i wander over there, but the blocks of flats across the road look more familiar than the building i’m looking for. it’s been renovated, but it’s not an improvement. i stand infront of it and stare, just as the occupants of a car parked infront of the building stare at me. i decide that i must look odd just standing there staring, so i move off.
i don’t know what i’m feeling.
from there i head into town, but on the way i have to pass the university of cape town,

where i spent 5 long years. on the spur of the moment i find myself on the ivy-walled campus. driving around and marvelling at how much and how little i remember after all the time i spent there. i finally head my car towards town, but when i get to the artscape complex. i am still almost half an hour early. i decide to head to beach road, mouille point, across the road from my friend ineke’s old apartment. i park my car and head out towards the ocean. i stand in the twilight and watch the waves crashing against the mostly submerged rocks where we scattered the ashes of one of my best friends in the world last november. i flew down to cape town almost every month last year saying a protracted goodbye to someone i found it impossible to part from, but finally i didn’t have a choice. i stand there. the last time i was in that same place, i had the gritty charcoal of ini’s cremains still clinging to my fingers, dusty smudges on my white pants.
i don’t know what i’m feeling.
introspective. sad? yes. i miss her crazy, wise, funny, penetrating, quirky self. i always will. i’m wondering about friendship. about the amazing people i’ve been privileged to have in my life. i think about about how though my friendships are consistent, my contact with those friends is not always so. something to change. i am getting old enough to have my best friends die. i don’t like this.
i get in the car and drive through the twilit city, the mountain a cardboard cut-out against the sky. i head to artscape where i am going to be one of the judges deciding, in essence, what direction a number of young actors’ lives will take. they are young and earnest and inexperienced and all pale in comparison to last year’s winner. i write my notes, i write down percentages. at the end of the night, we sit on the stage waiting for the results to be read out and winners announced. it is strange to see one of my high school teachers whom i used to dote on, in the audience. time contracts and expands and somehow is all the same moment. a winner is chosen. the girl who was 3rd last year, does not make top 3 this year. she walks off the stage, trying to disguise her emotions. i feel for her. around me the extremes of joy and disappointment. cameras flash. kisses, handshakes. the mask of comedy. the mask of tragedy. side by side.
i gather my masks and head back across the mountain.