Thursday, October 23, 2008

Postcards across the veil

The veil is thin right now, says the wise Reya. So that's why my dreams are populated with people who have passed over. My grandfather last night, totally himself, with all his wit intact, his gurgly chuckles. Only thing strange was he was lying down in bed, which is not how I remember him, although I suppose it is how I last saw him. He was in that house I've dreamed about before - a double story with a huge pine tree outside and leaded windows, high up in that funny little attic room with a window seat. The house that, last time I dreamed of it, was stuffed full of treasures that my grandmother had left, spiling out of empty suitcases. In the dream I had to cross a river, just shallow enough to wade. There were wooden nyau masks in the long grass on the riverbank, empty eyed, but hanging there, chaperoning us across. When I got to the other side I had a vantage point and saw there was a flashflood coming. Torrents of huge angry waters barrelling towards us. I had to get us back, back to the other side before the waters came, or we would be stranded, on the wrong side. When I woke, I was sure that the river was about crossing over, to where the others are.

And its a year since dear Kevin didn't wake up.
And Teelo.

And still, I see C/Karl, all the time. And this is my letter to him.

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c/karl

Its years later and I still miss you. I often see your face, momentarily edited over the head of a passing stranger.

I remember, at Varsity. I met you during orientation week, noticed you immediately. Would have had a crush on you immediately, except it was more than that. It was never going to be That. Your blonde hair, the shock of your eyes, how they probed and concealed at the same time. Your slightly wounded artist look. I wouldn't know how wounded until much, much later.

Billie and I, we were best mates and went everywhere together, first and second year. We ran into you that one night on Beaufort street, you seemed as hunted as the wind that was chasing litter down towards the cathedral. We spent that evening with you – weird and magical, in your sparse little room, where was it, near Cross street? That bare floor, single chair. You were never much into possessions. That evening still haunts me, why? Only one of many otherworldly Grahamstown nights, but something stays with me still. Your eyes. All that was not said.

Years later, your bookshelf still amazed me. Your small collection of books that signalled how very very clever you were. To read them at all, much less understand them. But we knew that. Your thoughts were much too big for your head, my friend.

At my dad's place once, when I was waitressing at the Russian Tea House with Thandi and we were all a little wild. But I fought with you when you came to the house crazy eyed, opening and shutting the fridge, looking for sugar. You'd been in Hillbrow, and I got so mad. Didn't want that, knew then already it seemed so irreversable. Didn't understand.

You wanted me to. You never asked me to do what you were doing, but you wanted me to understand. So I went with you, to a bar in Hillbrow, where lost souls congregate. I wasn't frightened. It wasn't like that. I was sad. I remember the Nigerian guy who sold to you. His kind eyes, his concern. His love. I remember the very trashed white boy, stranded from the suburbs, he looked so close to death, slumped in the doorway like that.

We went to the toilets. Peach coloured walls and concrete floors, but not filthy. It wasn't like that. And the white smoke curled around your heads and you offered but didn't mind that I said no thanks.

You battled for years. Crack. Welkinol. Pinks. You went to that dreadful place that calls itself a rehab. Noupoort. Christian ubermorality, shame and guilt. Breeding house for suicides and back-on-the-wagon-as-soon-as-I'm-out-of-here derelicts. Was it a rumour, that you worked at a vet so you could swipe the ketamine? Or was that one of your jokes?

Beautiful c/karl. The way you spelt your name redolent of your ambivalence, your humour, your wanting it all. But also – the way you say it aloud. Not a stutter, but see karl. An instruction. An invitation. Did we, any of us?

I remember, in that flat on Buckingham avenue, how you started to loosen the strings holding you here, giving away what little you still owned. I lay next to you on the bed, you just wanted someone there. You couldn't say what you wanted. You gave me the little Scheherezade badge that I still wear. You gave me those two stories you had written. I said I'd do something with them. I still haven't. I held your body, so skinny, already detached, orbiting. I still didn't understand. You had glimpsed something else by then. Another way to be, or to go. I wanted to plant your feet in soil.

Long time later, Thandi told me some of your demons. I wonder why you couldn't speak to me? Now I get it, a little. How sometimes there's just too much pain and confusion too early – we get hardwired with so much pain. How the child doesn't know how to unravel this and it gets pounded down like the way they ram the earth when they build foundations. It just fuses into your psyche. If you add psycho active substances into that, I guess the path can just open up the way it did for you.

Lots of years passed before I got the news that had been sleeping in my heart. A few days before the millenium, Thandi phones me in Luangwa. On the crackly Kapani phone she tells me. Carl is dead from an overdose. I didn't feel much at the time. You and I, we'd said our goodbyes, I guess. I'd hardened part of myself to that.

But I often see your face. I blink – and it's a stranger. Are you restless, c/karl? Or is it I who has unfinished business? Those stories of yours. What shall I do with them?

I miss you. I'm having a marvellous time. I wish you were here.

18 comments:

Val said...

shoow Tam - its so hard to want something for someone, and have to let them go their own way. Sad story. Your special bond would surely have made a difference in that time - and finally i suppose thats the best we can do. Be there without judgement - open the map, discuss routes and then choose which way to go.So sad to see someone you care about fade away too soon.... or whenever - but i guess there are always things we cannot fully understand. I am glad to hear you are having a marvellous time - your compassion and caring soul will always give you a broader empathy. When one of us is not doing well we worry; when we hear someone is happy we all feel good. Thats how it is. Keep sending love and forgiveness to c/karl - he will get it.xxxxx

Val said...

oh yes and i meant to say - a beautiful poignant thought provoking post xx

Angela said...

Tammy, I feel like saying the same thing as Val. And - let him go now. Each of us chooses his/her own path and has things to fulfill or deal with or learn, and though it helps us to be loved, still we have to cope all alone. You chose a different path, and I am glad, but this was his way. Go on living your own special life, and let yourself be loved! (Maybe that is what C/Karl and Norman are telling you - we are still near you and love you, girl!)

tam said...

Val and Geli, thank you so much for your words. How nice to have such wise aunts. Its strange, I felt I needed to put this out there, because he's been so much 'in my head' lately, and maybe this was just the reason why, to get that kind of feedback.

fush and chips said...

Gutsy post, tam. I'm also awash with people absent and gone. Must be the seasons changing. Unlike like you, I don't have the nerve to write it down, but this kind of gets it a bit.

"Why did I dream of you last night?
Now morning is pushing back hair with grey light

Memories strike home, like slaps in the face;
Raised on elbow, I stare at the pale fog
beyond the window.

So many things I had thought forgotten

Return to my mind with stranger pain:
- Like letters that arrive addressed to someone
Who left the house so many years ago."

- Philip Larkin

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

What a heartfelt and poignant letter, Tam.
You know, there is a view that says everything is as it should be, that we walk the journey we must in this life. It's often hard to accept, especially when we find it hard to understand, but believe that all is well and cherish the lessons you learned from c/karl's life and the moments you shared with him. Not everything makes sense, but everything has its place and reason for being.
And Val's right, keep sending the love and forgiveness, he will receive it - he knew and he still knows you care.

Pod said...

very touching
ah

Chimera said...

I am so sorry aobut c/karl. Yes it is a strange time of year...and a strange time of life. The thing that freaks me out is that teelo is not going to get old with the rest of us. I knew that of course but a year on and...it suddenly hits. Lovely post Tam!,
T xx

family affairs said...

Beautiful and haunting post Lx

Reya Mellicker said...

I love it that you go visit your grandfather in the land of the dead. In my iconography that place is an island in a sunless sea. I go (in trance) on Halloween to visit my beloved dead. They are always full of good cheer and great advice.

What a beautiful letter to your troubled friend. Seems that he is still troubled, maybe a little bit stuck from all the misadventures of his life. Here's hoping he will soon cross that shallow river and find peace, healing and renewal.

What is remembered, lives. Thank you for this portrait of c/Karl. Really. Thank you.

babymom.com said...

I had a childhood friend called paul who committed suicide and sometimes huants me with sadness. Your letter welled up inside me, but you write with such love, it doesn't hurt so much.

Miranda said...

Ah beautifully written Tam. xxxxx

Adrianne said...

Babymom.com sums up how I felt when I read this. Many years after we last saw one another, my first sweetheart committed suicide. Even though I thought he was long gone from my life, news of his death was such a shocking, traumatic blow. I think I might understand how you feel about losing c/Karl.

tam said...

Tim, the Larkin does say it so well. Thanks for that. Love that image of the letters... thank you!

Vanilla, you are so right. Its one of my oft-repeated lessons, letting people just be on their path. I'm a bit of a rescuer.

Chimera, thanks. I think we get so used to absence, we sometimes only feel the loss much later. The sudden shocks that happen long after we've supposed to have grieved. So important to enjoy what we still have when we still have it, and time and distance can make that so frustrating. At least with Carl I got to say goodbye.

And Pod! A comment. I am deeply honoured. I absolutely love your spot.
Family Affairs thanks for visiting.
Reya I do sometimes feel there's some unrest there. Love your sunless sea.

Aah, Babymom. Thanks for the comment. Sometimes I wonder if people touch us more by leaving early than they would have by staying...
Adrianne, a friend of mine had a very similar experience with a past love. Wow, it smacked her so hard. See comment to Chimera - so grateful that Carl and I did in fact say goodbye.

Thanks all of you, wow. You're very kind.

Janelle said...

tam...wow...god. so beautiful. so so beautiful. so sad. so wild. so beautiful. i love love LOVE your writing. always have. book please. now. i remember a story you wrote about a red dress too..and wild dogs...come on. the world is waiting. waiting. kisses always xxx j

tam said...

Janelle you are far too kind. Such flattery is out of proportion to that which is being flattered. Those stories fall firmly under the category marked 'juvenilia'. Which means I have to publish other books first and one day a collection of other quaint pieces from my youth. Haha. actually there were a series of red dress stories. I should dig them out.

Lori ann said...

what a beautifully written post. you said you are bit of a rescuer.I think that is a sweet thing to be, it's good to want to help others, and ourselves, right? I hope you find the way to remember your friend that will be gentle on your heart.
xx

starryeyed said...

Thanks for the blog and thanks so much for sharing. Much appreciated.