This may or may not end up as the longest and most tangential piece I have written on this blog so far. I won’t know until I finish. What I do know is that I do not intend to stop writing until I feel like I am done. Bare with me, I am not entirely sure where I’m going or how I am trying to say what I am about to write.
So before this swelling dam of emotions bursts here goes.
I was packing some of my things earlier and I came across a scrapbook whose pages I haven’t flipped through in a long time. Its a scrapbook that my cousin put together, during my month in hospital after my stabbing in 2009. Most of my memories of that period are hazy as I was often groggy from all the different medications I was on. What I do vividly remember is that I was hooked to so many tubes and wires. I had tubes in every single opening in my body. Yes … Every. Single. One!
Anyway my dear cousin diligently catalogued all my visitors in that scrapbook. She took photos of everyone who dropped in and made sure they all left messages of support. That scrapbook is now an invaluable memory bank that allows me to piece together the genesis of my journey to full recovery. Flipping through it, it takes me a moment to reconcile the reality of the images.In one photo with the caption “OK, this was a real scare” I look like I had just tried to steal Mike Tyson’s tiger and paid for it – brutally. Reading all the messages of support – I feel winded for a second. There is something about handwritten words, they have more character, they feel more tangible, more physical, more firmly rooted in soil – even more genuine.They strike a deeper chord.
I am reminded that I stared death in the face. I am a survivor. Surrounded by my family and friends I slowly began the journey of turning that tragedy into triumph. I carried with me the warmth of their love, thoughts and prayers with me into my second coming. This is encapsulated by a poignant and introspective message that my cousin Rumbi wrote “By getting your second lease on life , you have given us ours. Its clearer now for us to see what really matters and how much. Its all in perspective. Please get better soon so we can laugh at your MJ dancing video.”
All this happened in my twenty-fifth year in this game of life. Twenty five saw the dawn of a new era in my life. It was a year of upheaval, trauma, healing and rebirth. Twenty five was the year that could have viciously defined me as a victim. Instead it turned out to be the year that I slowly and painstakingly began an active journey of really defining myself. My brief dalliance with the angel of death was the timely catalyst for this process. It wasn’t a simple process by any means, quite the contrary. Over the next two years after that it just felt like was in a perpetual flight response. I ran. Its still hard for me to reconcile my own reasoning for running. What was I running from? Where was I running to? My unknown known.
Occasionally I have tried to cajole and bully these very thoughts into submission. Desperately trying to arrange them neatly between empty beer bottles. Dutch courage for all its previous exploits has been no match for the might of this particular army of thoughts and emotions. But as the cliche goes, the pen is mightier, so this time I will let it take over.
I was running from myself. I was running towards myself. I was searching for my story. I was running in my personal library. I wanted to read all the books as well as live the stories. I ran home only to be shocked by an incongruous mix of stagnation and regression tempered with realisations of how much I had changed. No one and nothing prepares you for life after a near death experience. The general consensus is to make the most of it, but what does that mean? Did I deserve a second chance? Having a second lease on life turned out to be quite a daunting prospect for me. Amid all the hoopla surrounding my miraculous recovery, I was silently battling my own demon, my unknown known. In front of my friends and family I would act all nonchalant – (just smile and wave). The nagging question still remained unanswered though, what was going to be my purpose ?
The smile and wave charade perfected “He is back to his old self” was the general consensus from the critics. “I am a pretender” I thought to myself, an uncomfortable but frank indictment. A definition of myself that I needed to desperately shake off, but I couldnt because this cocoon of pretense that I had woven as like an armour. It helped me hold the frail vestiges of my dignity securely in place. For a long time during and after my recovery I would candidly recount the details of that fateful September night in graphic detail airbrushed with a heroic panache and delivered with a flippant condour. It might seem a bit morbid but looking back at it now I realise that I was searching for the sign posts that would show me the path I would take going forward. (To which the savvy observer will point out, wasn’t that looking for another definition … call me Mr Contradiction). Even the huge intricate scar, an indelible tattoo of my experience was a map whose contours I could not read. So I ran nowhere in particular … fast.
To be entirely honest the guilt of not having a ‘purpose’ after having survived almost crippled me. It’s not that I underestimated the gravitas of getting a second chance. I just did not know what I was going to do with it. I had no real plan. All I knew is wanted to move as further away from my past as quickly as I could. I didn’t want to be defined as a victim, that I was sure of. So I just ran to purge myself of the guilt that was slowly festering within.
I was raised on a culture of not talking. My parents talked, I listened. My teachers talked, I listened. The church talked, I listened. From an early age my parents, my teacher’s and the church defined me. My parents expected that I would turn out to be a Doctor. My teachers said I was clever, therefore they liked me. I was a teacher’s pet. Ten years old and at a boarding school in the mid 90’s my matrons defined me. In high school while other boys were trying out liquor and vomiting seven days brew in the bathrooms I was attending Scripture Union. When other boys were weaning themselves of their teens I was reading myself half blind. Post high school I was a belated teenager, paying a hefty price for my precariousness. In university, as one of only a handful of black students my race became yet another definition. My relationships with women and in particular their expectations of me also defined me.
Don’t misunderstand me, its not that I didn’t learn from any of these definitions. All the time I was gradually learning, maturing and growing. I was not entirely lost. I had a healthy degree of authenticity. What I was yearning for and moving toward was my own voice. In my twenty fifth year, fast tracked by external circumstances my time came, as it always does. I looked at the backpack of definitions I had been carrying all my life, some of which I still used occasionally and some I knew I had to let go.
I put down the backpack filled with a myriad of other people’s definitions of me that I had been carrying my whole life and with a conviction beyond my own understanding, I carefully unpacked it. I emptied out the regrets, lies, pressures, fears and misconceptions into the bin. My backpack now much lighter I ran, in the pursuit of Tafadzwa-ness.
For the first time in my adult life I have been truly alone. Not lonely, but alone. More Mr Solo Dolo than Mr Lonely. I have found comfort in my solitude. I have had flashes of loneliness, reminders of my fallibility. I am still human after all. I have embraced that loneliness. For once in my life I have sat with it. I have turned to my words. I have written my way around it. In the process I have made a promise to myself to never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for my own unfulfilled yearnings.
Over the last few months I have been purposfully flexing Peter’s Pen. With an uncharacteristic quite determination I have punching out word after word. I am writing a memoir. After almost three years of running I finally stopped. I am retracing my journey during all those years of running. I am moonwalking with my muse. That is my immediate purpose.
During this time I have shut myself out from the world for extended periods. I have quickly learned that writing a book requires a doggedness, selfishness, lucidity of thought and discipline. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up with white-hot ideas and I reach out to scribble something down. In the morning I read it and begin to doubt myself again. I leave my writing and walk out to once again immerse myself in life. I go out and harvest the truth of other voices and taste the wine of other experiences. When I am away from this story I feel the conviction to go on with it. I have the confidence that I might pull it off and say something valuable. But then I come back and drown in the fear that I might not be understood. That it will just be a masterpiece of narcissism.