I did not see it coming

So the other day I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year. We had limited time as I needed to catch a flight. We caught up over a quick meal, and given the limited amount of time, we conversed about a lot of things. I mention to him how lately I’ve been thinking about turning 40 a whole lot. I am 38 years old (39 in a few days) and although I still have at least a year to go before I turn 40, I have already begun seeing myself as a 40 year old. This friend of mine, is 35 years old. So when I mentioned how 40 is looming on the horizon and how extremely conscious I am of that fact, he said, “You know, I didn’t see 35 coming. Even now when people ask me how old I am, I often almost say that I am 34. I think I am stuck on 34.”
That to me was the funniest thing I had heard in a long time. “I didn’t see 35 coming.” As if 35 is some sort of freak accident that you can never prepare for. As if it’s an impromptu speech required of you at a funeral, as if you never; on the day you turned 34 that on your next birthday, you would be turning 35 years old. The way my friend treated turning 35 was as if 35 is some ominous thing to be avoided, as if 35 is a big deal. Yes, a big deal.
I guess for me, 35 was a big deal 3 years ago because in a way, it marked the half way mark (excuse the pun). The Bible tells us that man’s days on earth are 70 years, and anything outside of that is an extension of God’s grace (Psalm 90:9-10). So 35 for me marked the point where growth ceased and aging began. It’s the point where one starts anticipating the pains that come with age. For others, it heralds the much dreaded mid-life crisis. Age 35 is also officially the end of youth in South Africa.
So I looked at my friend, having known each other for at least 16 years, me, in my early twenties and him, barely our of his teens; in the prime of our youth. Today, his hairline has significantly receded; to put it mildly. He keeps no hair at all. Me, with streaks of grey hair that didn’t exist when we first met. Each of us has accumulated a fair share of the unwelcome visceral fat around the tummy region, and the tolls of adult life can be seen in the lack of enthusiasm for life that we both possessed in our twenties. We both feel that our parents’ generation had this “life” thing better figured out than our generation.
On this day that we met, so much had changed since the very first day we met back in 2002. We have been through many different chapters of our life stories. Some glorious, some excruciating, some hilarious, others traumatic, some totally unnecessary and others just simply annoying and others more perplexing. Life is the sum of all those experiences. The gains, the countless losses. The loves and the hurts. The Tears, the joys. The celebrations, the Lessons. Life is still beautiful. We can never have it all figured out, but we can make the most of the opportunities that come our way. We can make good choices and hopefully when 70 dawns, if we do make it that far, we would look back and be content that we would have made every minute count.
Are you dreading 35? Why?
Are you already past 35? what have your experiences been? Have you accomplished all that you set out to acheive in your 20s?
Are you enthusiastic and excited about life?
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One year on

Dear Child,

As previously mentioned, when I started this blog, I hoped to write consistently and frequently, but in the last 12 months, I did not even write a single word on this blog. I was unable to write. The reason, my child, lies in here and here. It is about your aunt. In November 2014, your aunt was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. I remember it was thanks giving day when I received the devastating news. I was sick in my stomach, my ears grew hot and my palms sweaty. In my panic I felt defeated and I just hoped for the best. I was not completely aware of it at the time but because of that news, life would never be the same, ever.

I could possibly write a whole book recounting the events that occurred in the eleven months following the diagnosis, but because it was very painful for me, for her and for my entire family, I will spare you the details. On the 20th of October 2015 her 38th birthday would be the last day I would hear my sister’s voice. I spoke to her on the phone but I could not hear what she was trying to say. At that point, despite everything in me refusing to cooperate, I had to reach a point of acceptance that she would not live for much longer. Four days later, very early in the morning I received the dreaded phone call. She was gone. Today is exactly one year since she died.

My child, death is as part of life as life itself but one thing I can tell you about death is that no matter how much strength you nurture in yourself, nothing ever adequately prepares you for the pain, sorrow and grief that you go through when you lose a loved one.

My grief has been an unspeakable burden. The past few days in particular have been very hard for me. I have experienced much difficulty in writing this letter to you, but I am glad it’s out of the way. My mind inevitably plays back the events leading to the death. I am full of memories of the life we had before Cancer made a hostile takeover. I remember the days we spent together when she had become very ill and unable to walk on her own, I would push her around in a wheelchair. I would drive her to the doctors for her routine check-up and I would hold her tiny frame and help her to take a step when she was no longer able to take that step on one her own.

My child, there are so many lessons I learnt from this experience of going through this sickness with my sister. I will share some of them in the upcoming letters but for today, I want you to understand that death is real, it is painful and it is our lot. I am not saying this to discourage you but I want you to know that it is OK to cry. I would like you to know that when you go through such a loss, allow yourself to grieve in your own way. It is an important part of the healing process. One day, the pain will be gone and you will be able to smile at those precious memories again. Life is still good.

Dear Child

 

Lately I have wondered that, what if you had been born, what would you have turned out to be? A girl, the splitting image of his yet unknown father, or tall, dark, cute little eyes and gappy teeth with a huge afro, like your mother. Or would you have turned out to be a boy? Strong, passionate and driven like one of your potential fathers. I don’t know, I will never know as long as you remain unborn.

Although I am writing to you as my unborn child, giving the impression that you will be born in the future, or that you currently exist in my womb, the truth is that you don’t and the Lord alone knows if you ever will come to be. Should fate order that you be born to me, your humble mother, I am sure you will cherish these letters that I have taken the time to write to you. I hope you will find wisdom that you can cherish in them. Should this womb of mine never carry a child, I know that I already have a child in every baby I have ever cradled in my hands, and to every child who may read this, you are my child in every respect and this is for you.

So dear child, in about four and a half months, I will be 37 years old. In sitting down and thinking about it, I realised that I have lived, I have learned and I have grown. There’s much I long to share with you in the hope that it will help you get to know and understand your mother a little more, make better choices and hopefully become a useful person in society.

When I started this blog a year ago, I had all intentions of sharing my journey to forty. But as life would have it, I have been unable to write for the past year. These are some of the things I will be telling you about.

My child, I really hope you turn out to be a better person than your mother, and that you will forgive her where she failed.

Love, your mom.

Happy birthday. . . Or not?

Tuesday 20 October 2015

I just spent the day in bed, again. Yep, I know it sounds like I am a lazy bum who just enjoys wasting time doing nothing. Well, it’s not what it sounds like. Today is my sister’s birthday. She is 38 years old, and that is the reason why I am depressed. I have not called her, or texted her or seen her to wish her a happy birthday. I am almost 2000km away from where she is right now. My sister has cancer. In the past month I have received word that she has deteriorated significantly. So today, being her birthday, it is so hard for me to call and wish her a happy birthday. How happy can a birthday be when everything that used to be your body is sore? What happiness can you have when nothing but pain defines your existence? Aren’t birthdays meant to celebrate life, and its milestones? What is there to celebrate in this kind of life? I have spent every other day in the past week crying about her condition as if I am the one with the disease. My failure to accept this situation and to deal with it maturely is troubling me much.
I want to go and see her and spend some time with her, but I also do not feel that I am strong enough to watch her waste away and go through the amount of pain that she is going through right now. I feel that I cannot even focus on anything that I want to do because I am in this deep depression from which I do not know how to emerge. I feel that this cancer is killing me as well.
My sister is a fighter, and I have said many times that if I had been the one with cancer, I would not have survived this long, I wouldn’t have made it this far. She handled this disease with an amount of grace that I know I will never possess. She is strong and every day I am grateful to God for another day that He has given her, I just wish the days added were happier and full of laughter and joy like the days past. But I cannot wish the cancer away. I am angry at God. I am angry at the Cancer. I am angry at pain. And I am angry at my selfish inability to handle this with maturity and accept the inevitable and be at peace with it. Why am I so sad? Why can’t I stop crying about it?
In about 10days time, I will be going home where she is. I do not even know if she will still be alive alive. I pray she is, although I am dreading seeing her in that wasted condition she is in right now. I am so afraid.
Sometimes I wish I could just wake up from this nightmare and live again. Dear God, please forgive me, I just don’t know how to deal. I even feel bad for writing this.

Just a vent

Its late afternoon in my part of the world. I am sitting in my bed. I spent the whole day in bed today. I only got out to take a bath and I crept back into bed after that. I have wasted a whole day, how unproductive. Don’t blame me, I actually had no control over today. Yes it is that time of the month where I wish I was a man. I simply do not understand why my body has to punish me so much for not being pregnant. The excruciation is unbearable. It feels like my insides are being ripped apart in all directions by some metal claws. Everything is throbbing and the blood flow incessant. In times like these, I have asked myself this question many times, “I am 35 years old, I am single; whose child am I going to bear at this age? Why am I suffering like this?” Two years ago on a particularly rough phase of dysmenorrhea, I decided I’d had enough of this unnecessary pain I would have my womb, ovaries and whatever else; removed. When I mentioned it to my friends, they were horrified that I could even think of stuff like that. I don’t know in which world I live in but I am not one of those women with a yearning for carrying babies and raising them. Besides, what is the moral value in going through so much pain, double dosing on pain killers and all their side effects, in order to reach a functioning level of normalcy. There’s also the risk of ovarian and cervical cancer (is there a difference?)

As a Christian, I am battling with these questions and I have no answers. Would it upset God if I had my womb and stuff removed just to escape dysmenorrhea? Even if I met someone today, would I still want to have children when I’m approaching 40? And this is where I force myself to stop because I do not know what the future holds. With my 22 years of menstruation-experience I should be used to it right? No it doesn’t get better and there’s no getting used it, at least for me.

But then I rebuke myself. My sister has cancer. This occasional-once-every-three-weeks pain I’m complaining about is nothing compared to the excruciation that she has to live with day and night. It breaks my heart. It breaks all of my heart. So maybe I should just shut up and count down to day 6 when aunt Flo bids me farewell, wait another two weeks until the PMS kicks in again. And the vicious cycle continues. Periods suck, period.

Pardon me, I’m just a victim of a mood swing.

First crush

I was 22 years old. I know that’s sounds strange because most girls have crushes way before that. I’m a late bloomer, and that’s alright.
A Zambian national, he was the tallest human being I had ever seen! He wasn’t cute or anything like that. He wasn’t muscular neither was he attractive in that sort of way. He was just tall. I set my eyes on him and I just fell in love with his height. I’m 1.77metres tall, and although I cannot be counted amongst the world’s tallest women, I’m still significantly tall, especially in Southern Africa. In my part of the world, I’m taller than most of the men I meet, add a pair of good heels and I’m towering above everyone in the room.

I like being tall, well I’m OK with it, it’s not as if I have a choice, but when it comes to dating, height creates a restriction to the already limited pool of potentials. People always tell me that height doesn’t matter, but it’s one of those things that are difficult to explain to anybody who is not in the situation. My man has to be taller than me. I need to look up to him, literally. Yes it is a matter of preference. I have no issues with tall women who are in relationships with shorter man, I just prefer mine to be taller.
Sorry I digress. Benny was tall. And that’s what I fell for. There was nothing else to it. The sight of his huge frame could make me stop breathing. I’d get palpitations when he came by to greet. My brain would freeze and I wouldn’t know what to say. I could imagine myself enveloped by his embrace. I would never have to bend to hug him. I could imagine sitting on his lap and not obstructing his face. He also sounded like an intelligent guy, at that time he was pursuing a Masters in Economics I think. That was 13 years ago.

If I saw him now, I’d probably struggle to recognise him, but if I did, I would just greet him and carry on with my life. I’m so over it.

Brilliant disguise

I met him through Paul*, my then piano teacher. Paul, an accountant I had briefly worked with, was running his own accounting practice. There’s a whole story about how him and Jacob* met, which I can’t quite remember. It was at the beginning of July of 2013 and I had been unemployed for almost a year and a half. So when Paul began to look for me, and eventually found me, and told me he had a job for me, it was more than a welcome relief. Before I even went for an interview, I received a contract, which I was quite happy with. That Monday, I had to report to “work” at 9am. Upon inquiry, “work” turned out to be a restaurant at one of the city’s shopping malls. It was surprising though that this company did not yet have premises of its own because on my contract there was a physical address. At first I thought this was pretty weird but then I dismissed this thought because, hey, it’s a start up; and we all know that some of the biggest companies started in the most unlikely places. Apple for example ~ Steve Jobs and his buddies were operating from a garage; the firm of Chartered Accountants I had worked for apparently had also started in someone’s parents’ garage. So for me there was nothing sinister about the initial place of operation. For the next 5 months, we spent every working day doing presentations, visiting different kinds of big people in different big offices and big positions, drafting contracts and editing them, preparing projections and presenting to different people, preparing and adjusting business proposals, and head hunting. More people were hired to operate in different departments, some even quit their jobs to join us. Everything was rock solid promising. When the company would take off, it would be explosive.

At the end of 5 months (November 2013) I gave up. My financial resources were depleted, we still had no offices, and there was no salary. It all fizzed out. Jacob made huge promises and never followed them through. The only thing he never tired of doing was dreaming big. Whenever something was almost coming together, he would drop it, meet somebody else, embark on another more promising project, and run with it, drop the funder and look for another investor. He was a scatter brain. At some point he received funds from God-knows-where, but we never saw a cent of it. He stopped answering his phone and literally disappeared. By the time I decided to give up, I was broke, broken, my dreams were shattered, I was in debt and in a deep depression. My attempts to recover any remuneration from him were all in vain.

His business ideas were brilliant. Investors were willing to fund his business significantly. He had gathered a great team of workers to help him pull it off, but he always wanted something bigger. He kept amending the business model, looking for new business partners and trying to build Rome in one day. He was greedy and power hungry.

Three months after I quit, I found a job, which paid me less than a third of what I was worth. At that point, my level of confidence had been knocked so hard I was just grateful for some money in my bank account, no matter how little it was. Today, a year later, I’m still working for the same company, and I wish I could say it was all good.

It’s been two years. I occasionally speak to Paul who is still in touch with Jacob. The company never took off. In fact, Jacob is still dreaming big. He has a new team of people whom I pray and hope will not be as broken as we were. For his sake and that of his wife, family, and kids, I hope it takes off and generates some remuneration. This is phase is one stage of my life I would really love to forget.

*not their real names, changed to protect the identity of the individuals and the company.