My Dance of Fire and Water and Chasing the Ghosts in Between
If only I could write everything in my heart, extract the prism of emotions that besmirch my insides like the spritz of graffiti – splattering, swashing, thrashing…repeating. It’s the wilderness of a human soul that can’t be measured by the square footage of how wide it extends before you can get out of it. Thoughts come like a freight train out of nowhere, an overpowering restlessness in my entirety. How do you cast a net into the sea of abstractness and fish for uncatchable feelings? My head feels like it’s deprived of oxygen, degraded into a dense space with smoggy air, pushing the weight on my forehead, temples, and back of my neck. My breathing feels heavy as if in this moment, the supreme gift of respiration has been diminished to a beg. I sluggishly drag myself from my bed to the florally emblazoned, four-chaired, steel dining table in the corner of my bedsitter, which also doubles as my work space. I feel as if my heart is collapsing into the cavity between my lungs, pulling my chest along with the gravity, entangling into my guts. This feeling…I know it too well.
I have incarcerated myself in a mental cage. I feel indifferent, uninterested; like I am capsizing in my imaginary ocean. I have lost interest in the simplest pleasures, like going for a walk, fetching groceries, or basking under the light of the infallible beacon of sunshine hugging the land without a whim of reluctance. But here I am, lacking the mere interest to draw the drapes.
I am approaching the centennial half mark. A few buzzers are going off of my rapidly greying, fleshly chronometer. I am still single, raising a burgeoning 10-year-old on my own, with no clear plan of action, and grossly unsettled financially. The bells of loneliness, ageing, future, and fate are chiming – and not in unison – frolicking between the polarities of deliverance and damnation. It’s like a crime scene of fear and denial. I’ve been sleeping 12 to 16 hours a day. Day and night have turned upside down as life feels frightfully cumbersome, as if I am askew and can’t figure out what makes sense from all the nonsense. I am desperate for anything to numb the feeling of disorientation that grows inside me like an abscess. The fierce inferno rampages in the night but barely whispers when the sun wakes up. I haven’t been leaving the house, and now I’m not even leaving my bed. I’m losing track of when I last had a shower.
God, I’ve had about enough. I am tired. I am tired of being sad. My whole being feels frazzled from the mental hijackings – the endless stream of the incessant algorithms of a turbo-charged mind with a repertoire of data – past, future and imaginary, all of it incubated over time. My brain feels like a clenched fist with debris gathered at the edges of my psychological world.
It’s as if the universe is mocking my existence.
I’ve built a lot of walls over the years: of smiles and laughs and pride; of glamour, confidence, courage; of emotional intelligence, I hear they call it. It kind of happened without me knowing. It seems my mind created all these experiences and then built a fortress to protect itself from being destroyed by remembering the ones it didn’t like. Apparently, it was for my protection, otherwise I would be dead. Then they slowly started falling apart – what a despicable parade of ego – leaving me in the company of unhappiness that I don’t remember inviting, forcing me to watch the reel of the life I should have had but never did, the doors I should have knocked that closed, the battles I know I should have had the courage to let go but my toffee-nosed pride wouldn’t allow. Now the lessons were coming home into my single-pad idea of a home, dining with me, knocking me down to my knees. The indestructible me was no longer so flair-ful, and none of my previous successes in life or expensive, numb-inducing intoxications or romantic relationships or knowledge or flamboyantly fashioned outward attitude were enough to cure me!
I don’t know if I have the strength to keep dealing with this beast until the end of time. My life feels like an endless catalogue of sufferings, with reprieves of happiness, never long enough to know if it can become an enduring possibility for me, like it seems for many others. I don’t appear to be seducing its wings enough to fly me to the heights of the merry human being I once was. Instead, I feel like an elk that dreads the puma’s next emergence. I have seen many things in my life, and I’ve enjoyed the surges and spins of joys and tragedies, but, there is something about this particular season that has felt piercingly punishing – and forsaking – as if there is nothing more in me and for me.
It’s easy to isolate a profound experience in your life – or several – as the reason that “changed my life forever”. It’s much easier for the mind to forage and find a culprit for your misfortune in the database of the past. It may not be the truth in actuality, but a reason brings logic and vindication and sanity. I prefer to call it the “black hole” of the mind – a metaphor from the region of space-time where they say gravity is so strong that nothing, not even a particle or light, can escape from it. It’s almost the same way I can’t seem to escape from 2003, the year the voices in my head blotted out my happiness. Some wounds linger longer than others, and the way we remember them takes up a heaviness of energy in our bodies, minds, and emotions. And as days and decades pass, even if the images fade and their recollections become more distant, the memories transmute into blocks of information that influence our lives somehow in the now – whether negatively or positively.
In 2003, something happened. It didn’t throw flares of flames or thunderous alarms as is expected of such ‘announcements’, but life turned very quickly and permanently. Before that, I thought I was in control. A mother is a force that gives you a certain level of calmness, support, and invincibility against life’s problems. A mum is the consummate emotional backbone that gives you the critical illusion of control.
In high school, the first few hours back in school after the holidays were rife with excitement – cliques of classmates exchanging holiday gossip. I’d hear about someone’s mum who’d got divorced, or some girl who’d discovered her dad had a girlfriend, or some other who had a difficult holiday because her, her younger brother, and mum had to move to a smaller home because “mum has been struggling financially”. I used to ask my best friend at the time how her family managed without a dad because I couldn’t, for the life of me, imagine a home without one. As much as I grew up with two mums – my mum and step-mum, in a family of 11 siblings – my family always seemed…stable and grounded, by my idea of what I thought that meant. Polygamy seemed…normal. I wasn’t close to my mum in my childhood years, but in a sudden twist of events, where my dad acquired yet another wife – a third, younger. I saw my mum emotionally deteriorate and slide down the peak. I couldn’t mentally process it, but I think she suffered a lot.
I hadn’t been born when she became the second wife, so I was naturalised into this dynamic. How my step-mum – my dad’s first wife – had reacted to my dad marrying my mum is something I will never fully process because she’s no longer with us, but, I can’t stash under my hat the plethora of suggestive, detrimental incidences that made me think she could not have willingly signed up for this. Nor did she look happy, because she guzzled a lot of alcohol. It’s probably what eventually took her. My family was complex and complicated. We were like a small clan of 14 trying to navigate the polarities of our individualities, parenting, growth spurts, relationships, and the million silent, more subtle nuances that cut across or worked against each other and in relation to larger societal influences. From 14 we went to 17 because the new mum came with two ready-made babies. I mean to say it was apparent she had been with my dad for a good many moons.
My mum was then forced to vacate her home of over 20 years in the city and move upcountry. My dad had just lost an election. He was a career politician and he also served in various capacities in the government of the time. The political landscape that had been dominated by a one-party regime had evolved into multi-partyism. He was one of its many casualties, upended by an aspirational young lad representing the energy of the day.
Some nasty exchanges must have happened between my parents – at least that’s what I assumed by how bitter my mum came out of it – that resulted in her suddenly abandoning her life and being “exiled” upcountry, where we had never lived as kids save for those forced send offs by my dad to my step-mum’s for the holidays. Concurrently, my dad was slapped with a notice to vacate a residential property in a plush suburb that had come with the perks of his immediate former job. Mum always knew this property existed, but he’d dissuaded her for years against living there because “we don’t know with these political jobs how things are going to go or when you’ll be fired over the radio!” I saw my mum cry her heart out daily, until eventually, bags became an indelible feature under her eyes. I could tell the whole affair broke her to pieces, and perhaps even, as a part of a progression of many other entwined events, led to her eventual succumbing to depression and a combination of diabetes and high blood pressure.
I did not know it then but I was crazy with loss. I kept expecting my mum to walk through the door at 7pm as she used to daily upon closing her newly-opened medical clinic and unleash goodies from her ginormous mummy handbag – like nyama choma wrapped in foil or a six-pack case of Guinness beer (two for her and the rest for me because she was always full of surprises). I was the regular recipient of her mummy-coddles, which didn’t come without its inflated sense of entitlement, which I carried like a medal for everyone to drool over. My mum was my show, my microphone, my confidence and my style. I stood tall over her unwavering stage. I didn’t realise how much I glowed in her fragrance and what it meant to be without it.
I read somewhere that when you’re insecure, you tend to jump ship a lot. I didn’t understand how a mother’s uprooting could root out my insecurities and how my personality evolved overnight because of grief. I didn’t know when I became a hermit, or if it’s that everyone left me. Or that as time and my perceptions of reality got shattered, I made myself into a person that has been left. I’ve tried to figure out how the arithmetic of my last 19 years worked out to this interesting kettle of fish. What I know is that my palate of grief led to isolation and great mistrust for human beings. I concluded, in my grief, that folks tend to become indifferent when someone is in trouble, broke or depressed. That people don’t want to hang out with “people with issues”. Because in the darkest period of my life, my friends and family were nowhere in sight. Of course in any one person’s life, multiple things are happening at the same time. I thought I factored that in…as not an excuse. I learnt to rely on myself fiercely. That transaction yielded tremendous separation and loneliness.
Perhaps it explains the touch-and-go nature of my relationships. I make friends from whichever point I am in my life – never permanent, ever switching. My WhatsApp can confirm that I only have text and, faintly, call friends. No carry-forwards from my seasons of childhood, high school, college, or professional career. Maybe one or two but well, the bonds are flimsy. At times like this, the vacuum multiplies the superficiality of these interactions that I cling to, perhaps, to keep from going off the edge. But then as I said earlier, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m telling the truth, or if it’s my truth or if it’s the story I’ve created in my mind about things that are supposed to be part of the natural and impartial process of life. I’ve been alone for so long that as much as every phone ding potentially means I’ll be a fragment less lonely, it also reeks as an excuse to live.
In Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, she writes that “Grief turns out to be a place we don’t know until we reach it. We know that someone close to us could die. But we do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind, nor can we know the unending absence that follows the void, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaningless itself.”
Everyone has a breaking point. It’s like you’re speeding in the dark, not seeing what’s up ahead, anticipating something terrible. Sometimes I’m almost certain I am nosediving into a coma. You’re losing touch with the world, with yourself. Your insides feel as if they’re radioactive, except you don’t know if or when you’re going to detonate. It feels like the end. I don’t know how I manage to go on. I don’t think it’s will. Or plain old courage. I think it’s some sort of cosmic intuition that tips the drifters in my brain back into the arena when they threaten to waft beyond certain limits. I think maybe it’s the invisible hand. People keep telling me I’m strong. I know I’m not! Yet, I am. I break. I break. Break after BREAK. But I keep not tipping over. Maybe I’m just a deep-dyed die-hard, with hell still in my head.
It looks like a ten-year-old becoming a caretaker. A child who’s supposed to be left to be a child taking over the business of taking care of you. Amani sweeps, cleans, swills the laundry, and fetches the groceries. I can’t count the number of times I’ve slept and woken up in the middle of the day to that moreish yet simply constructed combo of toast and fried eggs with that freshly brewed, sizzling cuppa masala tea that I constantly crave. On other days, when I can’t get out of bed, he passes by Talasira’s rickety, iron-sheet-sheathed kiosk by the roadside to fetch chipo mwitu..
We’ve become her regulars.
I don’t know if he realises it though. If his ten-year-old brain decrypts depression. I watch him watch me and wonder what he is feeling. If he is feeling. What is going through his little mind? Is he feeling puzzled? Confined? Restricted? Frustrated? Is he giving up on me, like me?
Perhaps he can’t understand it fully, but his nonchalant quips suggest a sense of perception. “Mum, at least wake up and shower. This is the third day and you’ve not gotten out of bed.” When on occasion I catch him drifting and prod about what’s on his mind – holding my breath for a mortifying reaction, like “I am so bored” or “You’re such a let-down of a mum” or “Why haven’t we gone to America yet?” (Yup! His dream to live in America is real!) – he isn’t thinking about any of that! “I’m just wondering when we’ll have WiFi?”
It’s his lightness and is-ness that continually disrupt my delusion of how far removed I am from the way he sees and feels and interprets things. He’s somewhat aware of my energy. He hugs me, kisses me, tells me not to worry and that he’ll take care of things until I feel better.
I can no longer hold the weight of the dread inside me. What could I possibly tell my little boy about the blues? What conversations can we possibly have about how mummy is feeling and how there’s nothing in the world I wish for more than for this to go away. For me to go back to being his competent, present mum!
Before I know it, the monster in me takes on a sardonic countenance: erratic snaps laden with steely silences. Amani seems bewildered. He doesn’t know what to do or say to me. I’m flagrantly projecting onto him. Resisting and resenting him. There isn’t a word or an action of his that isn’t repulsing me…and he’s met with a clapback of stinging sarcasm.
“Mum, what’s the spelling of ‘refrigerator’?”
“Exactly as it sounds! What do you think?”
I didn’t want to see my son; anything but him near me. I secretly wished he’d disappear. Or die. When the thought occurred at first, it terrified me that I could dare cross such an unmentionable boundary. But the more he criss-crossed my space, the more I wished it could be true. I wondered why he was here, why I brought him into this world, why he was such a burden and why he couldn’t be more useful to me in my darkness. In lighter moments, when the demons subsided and I was a lot more myself again, I’d literally joke with him about what I’d been secretly thinking. “But how would it be living by yourself, Mum? You wouldn’t miss me?” I’d grin wryly and then want to drown myself in a lake for even remotely entertaining such an idea. And yet in spaces of deeper awareness, I knew in my heart that this nonsense had absolutely nothing to do with him, only me. And I prayed to God to take this evil wish far away and vacate it from his memory.
The toxicity is diffusing towards him. I can see his spirit breaking, his aliveness ebbing away. That sense of childhood lightness, without the issues of life, of adulthood…I’m robbing him of that.
One day, he gets ill, complaining of a headache. It’s 12pm.
I tell him how I hate people who pretend to be sick. I don’t attend to him for a while, until later when I realise he actually isn’t waking up, so I check his forehead for a fever. He goes down for the rest of the day, night, and the next day, with no appetite or drive to sit up. Inwardly I wish he would stay incapacitated for a while longer so I can just have my peace.
I am rollicking over not having to hear him speak. One more ten-year-old conversation and I’ll simply go mad! Our day-to-day conversations revolve around his obsession with some online gaming platform called Roblox, and of a gamer and YouTuber called Funneh. Sometimes, I think that if my heart had hands, it would probably gag him permanently so he couldn’t speak one more word. He spends his days chattering about everything that’s in his head. He’s growing up faster than I can keep up with, his thought processes are evolving, his views are expanding; convictions, strong. He is observant, opinionated, doesn’t say yes if he doesn’t think it’s so. We’re competing about who’s right, he has an answer to everything. Oh God! I miss my seven-year-old. I wonder if I am planting all these triggers. This helplessness to help him grow as a healthy, productive and bountiful flower of this civilisation makes me want to scratch the skin off my face. Sooner or later all this nonsense is going to affect him. I can feel it.
I’d never felt such resentment towards my son. And he’d never looked so ugly in my eyes. I couldn’t understand this disgraceful wickedness creeping over me like a worm in my skull, and that it wasn’t just ephemeral. The more I slept and woke up, the more it seemed to multiply and augment into more ugly layers.
We have a random and frequent “I love you” ritual between us. But lately when he says those words, I want to roll them up, toss them into a deep well. I fail to understand how I can’t see my son without a negative emotion attached to it, and this becomes another kind of torture. It makes me question my disposition through all of this, and I badly want to convey to him that this isn’t me and that I am out of line in every way. But when I turn and call his name, he is already deep asleep. As if the devil mocks me, I fall ill the second night. Some freak fever, around the time the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus is spreading. The same night it takes me down, the universe miraculously delivers my boy from his own affliction as if it knew that, for the next five nights, I needed saving.
And the sweet angel takes care of me. Again.
I vanquished alcohol from my life three years ago. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I’m always sober. I don’t use any kind of recreational or suppression drugs either, or indulge in mindless sex like I used to. They were my make-up of unworthiness. I subdued the mother dragons and brought them under my heel. It seemed from there things would be a lot easier. But turns out, I was three down, a gallon to go!
My thoughts are morphing again into chaos. I need to egress the pressure off of me. Like the spout of a pressure cooker letting the steam out. I can’t grab a drink. But I can binge.
On films. On literature. On food.
Food has been the cradle for my see-sawing moods. I reach out for popcorn. Then snack on a banana. I don’t feel full so I slice off a piece of the off-the-rack heart-shaped Madeira cake. An hour later, my eyeballs roll to the shelf. Yeah, those biscuits are still where I left them. I douse them with a healthy portion of that custard that has been on the shelf for three months, I think. I watch a movie. The characters just grabbed some burgers at a drive-through. I’m hungry again. I devour a slice of toast smeared with a thick layer of margarine. I don’t even know if the food is reaching my stomach or just stuck in my gut. In the evening, I rustle up a spicy dish of vegetable rice, fill my plate, again, and then wash everything down with two generous mugs of steaming ginger tea, back to back. I catch myself thinking, Where in the world did all the food go? Before the stroke of midnight, the beast demands a consolation bite. I obey. And happily chomp on an apple. The beast is finally satiated, but the light in me goes out. I’m bloated. I’m not sure I can refrain from the efforts of nature to produce…y’know, wind.
So, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a case of the lesser of three evils. But I’ve heard it going round, “Everything in moderation.”
I’d lost about 25 kilos of weight back in 2019 when I resided in an Ashram in the southernmost part of India, some 30 kilometres from the city of Coimbatore, in Tamil Nadu. I lived there for almost two years. It hosts the Isha Yoga Centre, which offers yoga programmes. I’d heard of this place by some coincidence and was lucky enough to escape from my life and go there for a bit. By that time, I’d reached a point where I was feeling irretrievably broken. I was sold by the catchphrase: Competent, capable but lost? Join ‘Sadhanapada’ at the Isha Yoga Center for seven months! Oh yeah! I was in! Their approach was to bring wellness to the body, mind, and spirit through the process of raising consciousness – through yoga. The founder, Sadhguru, holds that our psychological reality has no existential basis except that we create the mental drama ourselves, unconsciously. So the consciousness process aims to set this anomaly right.
I’d heard of yoga before and seen the versions on YouTube, where people coil themselves into noodles or withstand astronomical bouts of heat or have goats climb all over them. So I was a bit sceptical. But when I researched their website, the idea rested a bit easier in my psyche. And it was much more than I could’ve expected when I finally got to physically practise, mostly through guided sessions in the mornings between 5.30am and 10am. At first, it was extremely gruelling. I was grossly overweight so I couldn’t sit on the ground without wincing and fidgeting. My feet swelled a lot and my back cracked with pain. The prospect of just sitting still, in any posture – with my eyes closed – was far-fetched and frustrating! The only times I’d ever sat still in my life were when I was watching an intense, action-packed thriller – like The Dark Knight – with a big-ass bag of popcorn, glued to the screen with such intensity that I couldn’t afford to tilt my face for a microsecond lest I miss a micro-iota of the adrenaline-gushing action! Plus, my eyes were wide open!
Ten minutes was all I could bear, at first. My mind and body were in total discord. Soon I could make 15/20, then graduated to 30, and after a couple of months, with my body a little lighter, I could sit still with minimum distractions for an hour, an hour and a half, even two on a very relaxed day! This was over a span of one and a half years in the Ashram. A big part of the programme was volunteering. We were offered a chance to participate in a number of activities, usually intense in terms of physical exertion and hours. I cleaned floors in basketball-court-sized halls, laid carpets in massive auditoriums, and helped manage crowds in the temples, especially during big festivities – which are countless in India! I worked in the farms and served food to tens of thousands of visitors who thronged the location all year round. The long walks between any two places within the 150-acre property at the foothills of the Velliangiri Mountains were in themselves enough to pound the weight off of someone. The meals were also highly sattvic. I carried these practices and qualities with me when I came back to Kenya in 2021. Soon it would be apparent how much easier it was to hold the practices in the supportive atmosphere of the Ashram than in actual reality.
I had landed there with 105 kilos. I came back with 80! Can’t say the same now, but I guess that’s the whole point of the story.
Coming home was like stepping into a movie version of Toxicity Reloaded. I felt that the profound transformation I had undergone in India had prepared me to handle any adversity in ways I didn’t know I could before. And it probably did. But I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me ahead and the eventuality of my yoga practice tempering out because of it. I mean, I’d lived through the classic family soap opera for most of my life – the litany of conflicts, sibling rivalries, rumour mongerings and cold wars, discrimination and over-inflated egos. I’d left all this behind if only for that much-needed period of self-inquiry. Everything I had imbibed was flung into the ring of fire.
When I landed home in March of 2021, I travelled straight from the airport to the village. Before leaving for India, I’d given up my rental place of over five years in Nairobi. My younger sister, Tapioka, helped move all my stuff to her place in the village. It was temporary, until I came back. So there was really no place to land in Nairobi unless I rented an Airbnb, which I wasn’t interested in because I was dying to see my son, whom I’d left under her care during my absence. He was seven at the time.
Hardly two weeks after my arrival, I got into a tiff with one of my younger brothers, over some matters of wealth and inheritance, which happened to somehow feature as part of our catch-up after such a long time of not seeing each other. We’d met for tea at a local restaurant near Dad’s home, and afterwards, he took me on a tour of Dad’s farm to spill the updates. He disclosed that Mzee, about to turn 84, was finally subdividing the land and had initiated the legal process to allocate the pieces to his kids. We were twelve in total, by three mums. Two were now deceased and the third had eventually deserted him for reasons one could only speculate were related to his political star fading.
Sitting on the farm, towards the right side behind Dad’s lofty residence was a brand new house that appeared to be almost completed. It was Mizizi’s. Dad was putting up a structure for my brother. I congratulated him and mentioned, in passing, that I’d maybe crash there for a little bit as I figured out my next move.
It was very relaxed and casual, our interaction that day. I didn’t for the life of me imagine what nightmare I was courting! Our conversation landed on Dad’s lap the same night, as twisted as a kite’s tail in the wind. The story became that I actually came back home to claim my inheritance and sell whatever of it I could – the land – and also demand transference of a certain commercial property that belonged to my late mum, so I could start collecting the rents, since the old man was now growing frail and would soon be incapacitated. According to my brother, it was time for the old man to relinquish them. The truth is that that conversation actually happened, those aspects were definitely discussed, and some suggestions were exchanged between Mizizi and me on how best to make use of the inheritances once the official processes were complete. And also, “Do you think it’s a good time to also bring up the story of Mum’s shops with Dad? I mean, we’re really close. I don’t think he would refuse!”
It wasn’t a secret that my dad and I were extremely close over the years. There was a patch where we fell out fiercely because of some of his personal decisions that caused a lot of grief to my mum, but after the exit of the third wife years later, things became a bit more fluid and uncomplicated. Unfortunately by then, my mum had died. In recent years, he’d also become very ill with a vascular condition that wasn’t getting resolved locally, and I arranged for a trip to India, where he was treated meticulously and got his peace of mind back. This deepened our relationship. He also financially supported me around the same period and for the next couple of years when I lost a fortune in bitcoin investments and was struggling financially. He stood by me every inch of the way. I had been perched on him financially since 2018, including my personal trip back to India and up till my return. He knew I was depressed and sensed that I needed some time off, so he gladly financed the entire sojourn and stay. I’d be naïve if I didn’t muse over the possibility of this act being a courtesy because I stepped in, saved his life. But he also saved mine.
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Aida,” Mizizi said. “You might actually ruffle Dad’s feathers!”
And just like that, I never got ‘my day in court’ to defend myself against his allegations or explain how the conversation actually happened. Still, I couldn’t understand my brother’s motive. I didn’t get why all of a sudden he was so wicked, as if I was taking something away from him. We had been extremely close over the years. He had a notoriety for not finishing anything he started, including academic courses or jobs, and he was also a “certified” kleptomaniac – he stole from Dad, Mum, me, anyone. Through the years, I had accommodated him in my home even though I was conversant with his nature. He stole and sold my shoes, handbags, clothes, bedsheets, jewellery, car rims, and side mirrors. Even kitchen utensils! He even once stole my credit card and wiped it of $500. He was accustomed to a life of handouts, and we were all used to it, including my dad, who was his principal enabler. I can’t begin to mention the number of times he was detained in police cells for petty crimes. But no matter how much he fucked up or drove the old man up the wall, the two had a twisted bond that I never understood. I thought sometimes that it was my mum’s ghost that haunted him, and he guilt-tripped himself into spoiling the boy.
Without a moment’s notice, my dad disowned me. He sent me a text in the middle of the night telling me that whatever I had come back home to do, he could not be a part of it. That his properties belonged to him and him only, that there could be no further conversation between us and that this would be his final communication to me. I was so shocked at first I thought it was a joke, and that it’d go away after the old man calmed down. He wasn’t joking. And it didn’t go away. I didn’t even manage to give him his goody bag full of gifts that I’d brought him from India. And when I attempted to send a messenger to take the stuff to him, he sent it right back.
It’s been 12 months now.
Funny, the build-up to my trip home had felt strangely full of dread. I didn’t know what it was, but something inside me was tense and I had been nervous at the thought of coming home. Even as I boarded the plane – which I also have a moderate fear of, so that didn’t help – I couldn’t wrap my head around this uncomfortable feeling. Of all the things I could have imagined would happen in my life, falling out with my dad in this way was never one of them.
And just like that, I was out in the cold. And stark broke. And that’s how I started writing stories. Fear, in a way, propelled me.
When it seemed like all the consciousness work I had done had earned me a time out from the theatrics of life, it took one singular event orchestrated by Mizizi and sealed by my dad, and my leaving behind every single item of material significance resultantly– 30 years’ worth of accumulations – for me to realise that on the stage of consciousness, as long as I am in this body, I will striptease with my generational entanglements till death do us part. Some call them curses, some call it Karma. Either way, there’s only so far I can distance myself from it.
I can’t say I’ve mastered the formula of the wilderness and its trail of bodies. But the journey from unconsciousness to consciousness has been an interesting one. I can’t imagine how life would be without that awareness. All I’ll say is, such a practice, if you have one, is like praying. It helps immensely to bring calm, clarity, and peace in the middle of chaos. It’s not a magic pill, but the baggage begins to feel lighter. Sometimes, of course, I want to pluck out my insides and throw them in the Tsavo! I don’t want to feel this pain. I can’t unpack what I’m feeling. I think, surely my heart will give out. The divide is widening between the self-hating, self-sabotaging, frightened me and the me that always looks like she’s coping, doing her inner work, smiling, hiding the reality of the pain and sadness, and being strong. I’m beginning to wonder whether or not I need another kind of therapy. I’ve never been even remotely receptive to this idea. All these years, I’ve coped alone. I’ve hit rock bottom and bounced back, alone. I survived an attempted suicide. Depression hasn’t killed me. I’m still standing. But standing on what? For how much longer will I be able to keep the wolf from the door?
I watched a sermon by American preacher T.D. Jakes recently. I’ve increasingly developed a liking for him. He was talking about the “inflection point”: a point of no return from your old, recurrent patterns. I wanted to know how to inflect this depression that had become the source of my disintegration. I remember waking up around 7am the next morning and spending an unusual amount of time in meditation. I asked God, my soul, my spiritual guides – the divine collective by whichever name they went – for a sign! A sign for my inflection point. I remember feeling like I couldn’t take this hemming and hawing any longer and I just wanted a different outcome. A permanent one!
Days went by.
An ex-school mate who’d recently lost her husband from Covid-19, and whom I’d contacted in recent days about writing a piece on her loss, reached out unexpectedly with a surprising voice note. A prayer specifically. It was as intense as I remember her personality being back in the day, and she wept with every blessing she enounced over my life. Chills ran through my spine because besides having high school in common, we weren’t actually that close. Yet every word she uttered struck the specific cords of my troubles. It was as if she had been entrusted with the premonition. Every word she transmitted vibrated with the explicit and compassionate consolation of the divine. I was baffled.
I shed the dread in that moment like scales of dead skin. Once the first tear broke free, the rest poured like an avalanche. I could feel a lump in my throat, the kind of feeling you get when you know you have been putting up with some things for a while. It was a release I hadn’t experienced in the last God knows how many years! Then I remembered the last time I felt good. It was when I was in the Ashram, away from home.
When my world turns dark, I want to hide from everything and everyone, and when the light fires me back, I want to voraciously take back all the emotions that I wasted before the waves submerge me again. The light has unpacked my darkness. I feel a lot less burdened. At least in this moment, I’d like to believe that this sharing is a small progress and part of the process. I feel strongly that my tribe is out there somehow relating. It can be a matter of life and death for someone reading, in this moment. I’ve personally been saved by a handful of gems that helped me ride some criminal waves, so I can’t begin to imagine that someone somewhere is sitting in a corner of their living room, or bedroom, with the drapes drawn, all alone, without an avenue of expression to let this corrupt, vile, destructive sickness out of their system. I can’t imagine all this poison being inside me without an outlet. So – I don’t write this lightly! I’m certain that my soul is transmitting these words for something unquestionably bigger than me. Because the soul sees what everyone wants to hide. I’m still struggling and screaming underwater, but it feels like blowing bubbles. I hope that for someone, somewhere, on this earth, it creates a little breathing space.
It may seem as if because I’ve been depressed for so long all I want to talk about are sad things…and that maybe I’m not trying to get well. Please…no. First of all, as long as depression is happening, you can’t experience life fully, or be fully involved with what you’re doing. It’s like eating crumbs when you’re starved. It’ll satiate you, but it doesn’t feel like abundance. I see this depression as a step on my staircase to wherever I’m supposed to be going or whoever I’m supposed to be. I will climb it gracefully – I don’t wish to skip any step. Secondly, I am more grateful than you’ll ever begin to know and thank the heavens, daily, for cherry-picking me among an eligible 7.9 billion mortals to have this experience. To feel it deeply. To write it, deeply. To purge, deeply. I would drop dead if all the ghosts left because once you conquer them, what else is left? We all are dealing with contrasts on a daily basis – sifting through what we don’t like, what doesn’t make us feel good or causes us to feel sad – in order to fine-tune our humanness to feel joy and to be fully alive and present in every moment.
It’s easy to take life for granted when you refuse to choose, moment by moment, to live. Some way or the other, whenever you feel you’re capsizing, a rafter is floating somewhere close by. And somehow, you have to sense it and keep saving yourself.
Aida Muturia is a writer with a previous professional career in journalism, public relations and communications. Her first essay ‘Suicide by Instalments’ was published in the Atherton Review and featured in the Daily Nation.