A very dear friend of mine died on Sunday. Cancer. I’ve tried to write about her but I cannot, as yet. Every time I try, I well up and feel futile. So, I’m sorry, Bee, this post is not about you. There will be one, but not today. Today’s post is about me.
When I was about nine, I went with my dad to the shops one day. As was pretty normal back then, I stayed in the car and he went in to pick whatever it was we needed at home. As I was sitting there, a kid walked past, stuck his head in the window and said:
“You’re so fat. You are an ugly girl”. He then swore at me in Afrikaans and ran off.
I didn’t know the kid, I never saw him again, but I think the shock of it stuck with me. I have a good idea as to why this happened to me (considering my parents’ heightened profile in the neighbourhood, to put it diplomatically, along with the bumper stickers that adorned our car) but, it has stuck with me.
I have always believed him. I am not here to blame him, though. For all I know, he was some bored kiddo who didn’t like English girls. That’s irrelevant today.
The years of my life between the ages of 9 and 13, are blurry in my memory. So much so, that I cannot tell you about a birthday, who I sat next to in class, who my teacher was (I only know, thanks to those lovely class photos we all hoard away in photo albums) and I absolutely cannot remember any significant events from that time. I know that there were many, and I know that they happened, but I cannot tell you what they were or are. By contrast, I can remember my 13th birthday like it was yesterday. I can remember my early childhood like I can remember what I had for lunch today. There are absolutely no defining reasons that I can find for that gap in my head. When I was in therapy, years ago, my therapist tried to make me think about this time. She got absolutely nothing out of me, and I still cannot remember a thing properly. I have learnt to be okay with it. It bugged me, for most of my twenties. When I was really ill with that kidney infection that, when mentioned, makes my BFFs quiver in fright, I tried again to think about it. Still nothing. In the quiet of bedrest and fully focused on just getting better, I could not find 10 year old me, anywhere. I still cannot, but I know she’s in there somewhere.
Why am I talking about this? Two reasons, really. When I was 13, I had my first cigarette, and I remember it so damn well. When I was 13, I wrote my first poem. The two events are very, very closely linked in my head and, as a result (also because of the way my parents were, hehe), I am petrified that I cannot write without smoking. I have always been scared that I would not be able to find the words if I did not smoke.
I quit smoking once, when I was pregnant. As those 2 lines appeared on that pregnancy test, I snubbed out my smoke. I have absolutely no idea when I started again, but I do know it was on the same day my dad died. I remember getting the phonecall, putting my baby down in her cot, and walking outside onto the balcony to yell at the world, and smoke. The only thing that got me through the first five minutes of knowing my dad was dead, was that cigarette.
Cigarettes and I have had a deep and real affair. So much so that they feel ingrained into my identity. In my head, I see myself as a stereotypical keyboard basher, complete with mad hair and a billion ideas floating around the air, with cigarette in hand.
I can’t be that person, any more.
Why can’t I be this person? It’s as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone who knows me well. I have become frustrated with the process of being that person, and, through an off-beat weird thought, I’ve taken up running as a hobby.
I have never, in my life, done any sort of sport or exercise with any level of interest, spurred on by myself. In fact, as a kid, I refused to learn to swim (I have my reasons why…), I used to actively attempt to avoid school on PE days, and I just plain abhorred the idea of actually exerting myself for the purposes of anything other than getting up to turn the telly on.
But something changed in me, in that weird thought. Something changed in my head, when I started to enjoy my morning trot. Now I want to go further, not necessarily faster – I am not an animal that’s been built for speed. But I do want to go further. My smoking interferes with my ability to go further. So I want it gone.
Just like with this running-walking malarkey, I’ve adopted a measured approach. I know that this kind of perspective on it, works for me, because exactly the same approach is what got me off my bum to walk-run 500metres two months ago, and now I am averaging 2,5 kilometres on my regular little expeditions around the neighbourhood. I just made small goals, for myself, and then achieved them, and now I make more small goals.
But the thing that still frightens me the most, is the not-smoking-while-writing. It feels so foreign to me, like I’ve not done this before. It feels like algebra and calculus mixed together and, guys, I use a calculator to do basic sums. But, I challenged myself recently to write a short blog post without smoking. I did it, and it’s here. And it was HARD, because it was emotionally difficult content.
My second little challenge to myself was to write a longer blogpost and not smoke while doing it. At 1012 words so far, this is where I am. I have not smoked or stopped to smoke while typing this post. It still feels weird but, I know that if I can do this, I can start to delete the little “oh I need a smoke” moments from my day. And I want them gone, one by one. I know I’m not ready to let go of all of them but, if I can eliminate the ones where I smoke while I write, or think about writing, I can delete half of my daily smoking. Oh, and please, don’t tell me I should go work where I can’t smoke. I just end up spending less time at my desk working. Trust me, I’ve tried this.
But why is this post called “the girl who did everything wrong?”. Heh. You see, lovely readers, I have always believed negatively of myself. It didn’t matter if I was winning an award or rampaging through a nightclub at 2am. It didn’t matter if someone applauded when I said something, or if I was being dumped unceremoniously via text message. I have always, somewhere, believed I am unworthy of the good things, and deserving of the bad things. So much so, that, at one point in my life, I’d all-out refuse to do something that made me happy, because I was petrified that something bad would follow it. Even now, as I type that, I feel like I’m taunting fate. But the thing is – I’ve always believed I was the girl who got everything wrong, because she had no idea what she was doing but, did it anyway. Like I had it all backwards but was determinedly pushing forward anyway.
You might think I sound like a crazy person right now. I’m okay with that. My uniquely branded level of crazy is not something I am ashamed of anymore. I’ve discovered something, in this funny 360 kickflip of my life…nobody has it completely sewn up. No one has their life fully in control and everyone has a certain spark of madness. Sometimes it overwhelms our lives, sometimes it serves as a little spark of inspiration.
And that little spark of inspiration I had one weird morning when I decided to go for a run, is what got me here. It created within me a desire to change. Those little sparks of inspiration started long before that, I know, because I became determined to change my life a while ago. I was sad for so long, guys. So sad I didn’t even know my sad. I can see my sads now, in hindsight. I still have them, every now and then. But they don’t scare me anymore. They don’t make me feel like I have everything wrong anymore. They’re just there, every now and then, much like when you find yourself staring at the expiry date on the milk carton and think “ag, dammit, this is off”. My sads are just a part of me, just as my smile is.
My ultimate point to this post? Is that I used to be the girl who did everything wrong. Mostly towards myself. Nowadays, I want to be the girl does what she can, right. I started that process years ago, and nowadays I feel like I am doing the right thing with my life. I’m not claiming to have everything right. I definitely do not. I’ve just learnt to understand that I have to fail at certain things, I have to say no to certain things, so that I can be better at the things I want to be better at. The changes I act on right now? They’re part of this process.
All I can hope is that, somewhere, 10 year old me is smiling.
[1602 words. Not a single cigarette smoked].