Author: LateNightClive

Writer who doesn't write, watcher who forgets to look, and warrior. I mean worrier.

On Friday I’m Supposed to Die

What is death but an escape from life? A last breath to depart a world we never chose to walk, a final look at a life wrecked with pain and strife.

That’s been my mantra as I’ve pondered my time to die. And it’s this Friday. For the last 35 years I’ve scheduled my death. 3 June. The day I die.

It’s the same day my mother died. I was 8 years old. I can’t remember anything that happened on 3 June 1981 prior to the news of her death. I don’t remember anything in the days before. I remember walking down the driveway of our small home, which I think was painted a shade of yellow. A happy shade. I remember the rose garden in the front of the veranda where I spent hours playing by myself, imagining I could fly. Running with my arms open wide between the tall, manicured bushes with their distinct aroma and taloned branches that always surprised me when I made contact.

I remember not knowing why our house was filled with people and wondering why they wouldn’t let me in to say hello to my mother. I usually saw her first from school everyday. I arrived home before my brother and I would sit on her bed and recount my day, tales of games I played with friends, books I was reading, or other nonsense that consumes an 8-year-old mind. This time I was shut out.

I remember walking to the next-door neighbour to phone my father to tell him to come home. I never asked why we couldn’t use our own phone. I remember coming back and waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Asking what was wrong but not really fearing the worst. I don’t recall terror or fear. Or even worry. It felt like a game, I had tasks and I had to complete them, my naïve, childish mind hiding what as an adult would have sent fear and impending sorrow.

I remember directing the ambulance down the driveway, like an aeroplane guided by a uniformed employee. And I remember leaving to go and buy lunch, unaware that I was being sheltered from watching my mother’s lifeless body being wheeled from her bedroom where at 10:30 that morning she had taken her own life.

Empty pill bottles, tissues and letters were left alongside her. Still there when I returned and was finally let into my home. My home, that felt like a tomb thereafter. The house where my mother died. The letters said sorry I think, but they didn’t matter, nor her two rings wrapped in the tissues, one for my brother and one for me. All that mattered was what wasn’t there anymore. She had finally walked away, something she had been threatening to do and no one took seriously. Least of all my 8-year-old naïve and childish mind.

I remember crying, and rage. Ripping up pics of her I had in my room were my first instinct. Then terror. I think I locked myself in my room until my brother came home. I remember seeing him run down the driveway, his 13-year-old mind knowing what she had done, and the fear that had consumed him for months before finally finding anchor. I remember his face, etched with pain, perhaps mirroring my own, as we both began navigating a world where internally we believed we weren’t worth living for.

I remember feeling my world had ended. Not knowing that in the moment of hearing about her death and the way she had died, a new script was being written that would shape my world and the way I fit into it. A world that was now scary, unsafe, and promised devastation where once there had been safety. A world that felt like you could be flung aside in a moment. A world that didn’t really matter what you wanted or who you loved. A world that suddenly felt out of control.

And the only way I could regain control was to decide to die. At 8 years old I decided to die. On 3 June. On the day she died.

I have no idea why I decided that. Perhaps I wanted to join her. A world without your mom seems a terrifying place for a child. A world where your mom can decide to leave you seems unbearable. A world where your mom can never come back seems unliveable.

I don’t blame myself for wanting to die.

But at 43, 10 years older than my mother was when she wrote her last goodbyes to the boys she said she adored, I still somehow believe I should die on the day she did. My death and the choice to end my life seems etched on my soul, and each year that I get past the day seems to be filled with regret, and relief.

I wonder now if she knew what she would do to us. Her death will always leave me with more questions than answers. But at 8 years old she changed me. And at 8 years old, somehow, she passed on her pain as she left what she could no longer bear. And perhaps, each year I want to pass on the pain of her death, because living with it feels too heavy. Too consuming. Too humiliating. Too weak. Too out of control. And the thought of my planned death feels controlled, strong and a doorway to release.

I wonder if she knew she would affect every relationship in my life from then on. That her suicide, a difficult word for me to say or hear, would forever keep me at arm’s length from those I wanted to hold onto and love for fear they might depart and leave me. Not just leave me. Her death left me feeling like I had been disembowelled and left to walk the rest of my days trying to hold my body, which keeps refusing to die, together. Leaking. Hurting. And longing for healing. That every person I’ve ever wanted to adore has the 8-year-old child in me screaming in terror. Fear that they too could rip me apart.

I wonder if she knew that her death would mean mine.

And I suppose that’s why I’m writing this. Because at 8 years old I was a victim of someone else’s pain. And I’ve lived as a victim since then. Disempowered. Terrified. Wounded. Weak. And 35 years later, on the day of her death, that 8-year-old still seems to be the hero in the script of my life, wanting me to write the final page with the ultimate act of courage his naïve, childish mind understands. That child who wants freedom from a world that seems barbaric and torturous, wants out. And each year I have to silence him.

I wonder if she knew that this would be her legacy. Her death.

So I write this as an act of catharsis and also to speak to the 8-year-old who consumes so many of my adult thoughts. To attempt to address his rage, his terror and his will to die. To try to reason with his wails, and calm his childish, naïve mind.

Your death, little guy, is not the answer. All you will do is pass on the pain to people who don’t deserve it. People who have tried to love you despite your continued resistance and dismissal. People who kept on loving you despite your wails. Despite you desperation to escape. People who want you to come out of the room into the light and face the world and its darkness head on. These people don’t deserve the pain. Or to be punished as you felt you were. These people want to love you, despite your belief that you’re not worth loving.

Little guy, on 3 June you’re not going to die.

Your mom did and what she did is unforgiveable. Not in a religious sense. But to you. So on 3 June, you need to let older, hopefully wiser me in. And let me hold you. And tell you it’s going to be okay. That your script must change. That you need to let me live. And love. And be loved.

I know you’ll always remind me of my potential pain, little guy. That you’re terrified of what people who say they love you want to really do to you, but I need to stop listening to you, and you need to get quieter. Because what you want to do no one else deserves. You cannot pass on this pain. That would be the real weakness. Protecting them is where you’ll find your strength. Try believing that, little guy.

You need to remember to live. You died when she did. You need to wipe away those tears and start saying: “She died… oh well.” You need to stop making your anger and your fear the script of our lives going forward. And I know you’re just a little guy, but you need to somehow hear this. Because on Friday I want to live. Really live. I want to raise my gaze to the world from Friday on. I want to embrace people and let them in. I want love and be loved in return. I want to feel again. To live. To find the reasons to stay alive, and not wallow in the reasons not to. I need you to let me go. She let us go, and you need to stop holding onto that.

You’re okay, little guy. Look, you’re still here. 35 years on. When you promised you wouldn’t be. And if only you would look you would see so many reasons to stay alive. You’ve had so many moments of complete and utter bliss. Experiences that could have fed your soul if only you hadn’t refused to stop looking at your pain. You need to lift your eyes, little guy. Lift your eyes from that empty lifeless bed and see the life-filled forty-three-year-old man in front of you, who wants to be free. You need to let him celebrate life.

She’s gone little guy… oh well. Now live.


This post was written after reading Matt Haig’s book called Reasons To Stay Alive. This is the first book I’ve hugged after reading. I highly recommend this book, especially if you suffer with suicidal thoughts, depression or anxiety. Hopefully this post will inspire others to choose to live, just as his book reminded me of why I should. 

 

 

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2015 to-do list

To do list for the rest of 2015:

* March: watch husband turn 40.

* April: trade husband in for a younger model.

* April: get nose reconstructed (but make it sound a lot more glamorous on Facebook).

* May: recover from new nose surgery while younger model wipes your brow.

* June: realize that younger model does not really exist and forty-year-old husband is still rolling his eyes at your foolishness.

* July: start counting down to seeing Madonna live on Facebook so that everyone can unfriend you.

* August: beg friends’ forgiveness and ask them to re-add you and leave countdown to Google Plus where no one is active.

* September: turn a year older and beg husband not to trade you in for a younger model. Laugh hysterically at your foolish fantasies earlier in the year.

* October: start tweeting @madonna furiously in the hope that she asks to see you backstage in Prague. You know, for a yack over Evian.

*November: see Madonna live but pay no attention to her as you attempt to prove to all the other gay men in the audience that you are a far more loyal fan.

* December: wonder where the year has gone and start plans to get buff in 2016.

So much to do!

Dear Mr Mandela

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Dear Mr Mandela

You left us a year ago today, and like the rest of the world I was immensely sad at your passing. I was sad for many reasons, among them that we would only refer to your legacy and history, and as the powerful man who changed the shape of the world I lived in. I was sad because somehow we hoped you would live forever – because you represented hope and at times we look at the shape of our country and struggle to find that smiling face of hope. I was also sad that I never got to meet you. That I wasn’t one of those fortunate souls that got to shake your hand, to hear your instantly recognisable voice in person, and maybe get to share a few words with you. Even if they were just about the weather. I’m sad because I couldn’t thank you in person for changing my life.

You see, I grew up as a child in the apartheid era. I didn’t know what apartheid was but I was aware that something was going on. I remember being stopped by two women (who were a tad intoxicated) as I walked to the shop to fetch bread for the family. I was six years old and walking through the streets by myself; not an uncommon thing in the early 1980s. The two women stopped me and slapped me. They said I was one of ‘them’. I ran off as fast as I could. That was my first experience of knowing that I was part of something that was making other people angry. Black people specifically.

I can vaguely remember benches that said “Whites Only” but I don’t ever recall seeking them out or sitting on them. I just recall being a child in a small suburb that was being raised by Selina. She may not have lived with us, but she was my other mom. I didn’t know that I was part of a cog that was denying her the opportunity I was receiving.

I never went to school with people from other races. In fact I remember when two Chinese children came to our primary school, we were all called into an assembly to be told that they were going to be part of the school, and although they couldn’t speak English, they were white. I had no idea why that mattered, but simply accepted that it did. That was the devastating side of apartheid – we didn’t know why it mattered, but accepted that it did.

My ignorance changed when I went to high school and was taught by an English teacher who had been detained for his anti-apartheid activities and vocal support of the ANC. I started to realise that something more was going on, and that perhaps it wasn’t as peaceful as I assumed. I knew nothing about the violence in the townships, or the horrors going on in our detention cells and the letter bombs being manufactured and sent from Jan Smuts airport. Like a dull ache progresses to a pain more urgent, I slowly became more and more aware that I was living in a country where I was being lied to and sheltered from the atrocities my white counterparts were committing. My elders. My government.

I went to the Market Theatre in 1988 and saw a play that changed my life called ‘Vid Alex’. It was a one man play about a man who recounts what he has had to do to protect his country against the black uprising. He told stories of midnight raids of homes, dragging half-naked men out of their beds to be detained and beaten. He breaks down in tears in the last part of the monologue as he remembers shooting a child, and wondering how he had lost any sense of humanity and mercy. I don’t remember all of it but I remember walking out in shock.

It was just before this time that I first heard your name Mr Mandela. Stevie Wonder had dedicated a song to you and we were no longer allowed to listen to it or own it. Or even see Stevie Wonder on TV. There was outcry when a ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ poster was spotted in one of the children’s rooms in The Cosby Show. Luckily the programme never got banned, but that was usually the government’s knee jerk response. Anything that acknowledged you was usually banned. We were told (I’m not sure by who) that you were a dangerous terrorist that was determined to kill white people and that if you were ever freed, our country would turn into another Zimbabwe – a country run by a government that was giving white people a few days to leave the country before threatening them with violent eviction. We were scared of you Mr Mandela. As a young teenager, I was petrified that you may be freed and hurt us. Imagine my surprise as I began to hear stories about the hurt we were causing you and other black people. I can’t say I did anything about it as a young teenager but I do remember being angered. And imagine my surprise when I saw the smiling man waving alongside Winnie as you walked your first few steps to freedom.

After turning 16 I remember signing petitions against apartheid and forced conscription to the army, and being shouted at by family members when I told them – this meant I could be arrested. That strange military men could rock up at my family’s doorstep and arrest me for treason-like activity. They had my name and address. I could be on some sort of list. I was one of those who then backed down Mr Mandela. I was scared by what my government could do to me. A lot of us were. And perhaps that makes us cowards.

The day you were freed signaled a new start to all of us. We sat in front of our TVs and watched you walk slowly along, waving, triumphantly raising your fist in the air. The violent terrorist of my past emerged as a dignified man, dressed in a suit, with a warm smile for all of us. A smile that never stopped. A smile that won us all over.

Behind that smile was a strong leader that shielded us from so much heart ache. Heart ache for a past that hurt so many, all races, all South Africans, and that could have seen us tear each other apart. We miss having a strong leader Mr Mandela. Perhaps that’s why on a day like today we miss you so much more than we should. We need the hope you gave us, the confidence you inspired, and the desire to see a country united and moving forward with the best interests of all its people at heart. We miss a man with that vision in charge.

Mr Mandela, you changed my world. You changed a country from white to black. You changed a country from war to a semblance of peace. You led me out of a country that had me confused and part of hurt, and made me part of a country that had hope and was a shining example to the rest of the world. You initiated a constitution that removed discrimination, and as a gay man, I benefited from your leadership. I now live in a country where I can be married and have rights others in many other countries are denied.

So today as we remember your legacy, and stand in silence to remember you, I wanted to send you a few words. To show how far we’ve come. And to remember the past you led us out of. I don’t think we always remember where we were, and remember how grateful we must be for where we are.

For your leadership. Your words. Your energy. Your life.

Thank you.

Advice on happiness: 5 things I’ve realised

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Happiness is not something I’ve always been close to. I’ve often portrayed a happy face when inside I’ve been grappling with stuff. And I know I’m not alone. Over the last two years I’ve struggled with unhappiness. After 40 years of seemingly being able to cope, I found myself popping anti-depressants, swigging back Urbanols (they are lovely by the way, ahem…), and drinking way too much wine than I probably should have. I lost my smile. Inside. People still saw confidence, when inside I cried. I can’t say for sure what brought on my darkness, but I can tell you how I got my soul to smile again. I thought I’d share my thoughts on finding some kind of happiness in a life that makes very little sense (to me, definitely, maybe it’s crystal clear for you). As I’ve spoken to friends about what my doctor called depression, I’ve realised that I’m one of many searching. Searching for that smile on our souls. Mine has started smiling again. So I write this to share with others, but mostly as a reminder of how I want to spend the next 40 years of my life.

1. Slow down

Turning 40 shook me a bit. I suppose I became more aware of my mortality and realised that time was feeling like it was going a lot faster than expected. It feels like I was 20 just the other day. Yet I look at the photographs and see a fresh-faced boy with so much hope and anticipation on fading paper. And I realise I’m not that guy anymore. So my response was to speed up. I felt desperate inside. I wanted to experience things, see the world, read every book in the library, be the pop star I dreamt I would be when I was 13, be the best at my job, make a mark, understand, dance, laugh, love, and get it right. Somehow. I need to make it happen faster. The last 40 years have flown by. I might not have 40, or even 20 left, if I do, I felt desperate to make them more than the last.

This made me unhappy. Somehow what I had experienced was immediately negated. The books I had read felt irrelevant. The times I did sing in front of a crowd (ha!) were forgotten, and the success I had achieved in my life and career especially seemed worthless. Wanting more meant I had only had less. There is nothing wrong with wanting to experience more, but my fear of not living a life that was full made my life feel empty. I slowly came to see: Getting older means realising how fast time is going. I also realised this means I need to slow down. Not speed up.

I’m trying to give myself the gift of slowing down. Savouring the moment and accepting that this is probably it. I probably won’t be a pop star (ha!), I may never write that book I promised I would, I may never see the places I’ve dreamt of seeing. And that’s okay. Because I’ll enjoy what I do get to see. I’ll enjoy the relationships I have, and not dream of better ones. I’ll enjoy the job I have, rather than forcing myself to think I should have more. I’ll enjoy the places I get to see and the people I see them with. And I’ll love where I am. Because it’s all I have. Dreams are good, but they can’t define where I should be. They should just be my guide. And this led me to number two

2. I am enough

I spend a lot of time comparing myself to other men, especially. I am aware of how much more masculine they seem, if they have bigger muscles than I do, more money, more. I compare myself to people on Facebook. I see them showing of the best of their lives, and often walk away feeling less than. I now force myself to say “I am enough”. There is power in words. I may not have big muscles, but I have a big heart. I may not have a lot of money, but I’m pretty darn well-off inside. I may not be the most masculine guy around, and that’s okay. I need to stop saying that others have more and I have less. We’re different. And that’s good. And that’s okay. And that’s enough. And this led me to number 3.

3. Embrace the differences you see in others

When I wasn’t comparing myself to others and feeling less than, I was judging their differences. Possibly as an attempt to hide my fear of being perceived as less than. I saw men less masculine than I was and scoffed at them (inside). I judged men more masculine than I was and called big muscled men ‘gorillas’ and other negative things. I saw people less successful in life than me and judged them, probably to remind myself that I was somehow better. Comparison created less than feelings, or desperate attempts to prove why I was more than. I now choose to see the differences in others with clarity. Without judgement. Without my low self-esteem tinted glasses. Because if I embrace the differences in other people I allow myself to be different. I don’t want my differences to others to be a bad thing.  I can stop feeling bad about being different, by embracing that others are different to me. They have different values, different goals, different ways of showing their love, their anger or their pride. And that’s okay. If I want to be okay with me, I have to decide that others are okay too.

4. Find something that gives you hope

A few years ago I moved away from the Christian beliefs I held very dear as I grew up. I began to question the existence of God, the validity of the Bible and the need for other Christians to speak into my life. Where I am in that journey is another discussion. But in moving away from a belief in a higher power, I moved away from hope. You see, a belief in a deity allows us the possibility that there is more. That life is not just ours to control That our children are protected when we’re away from them. That we can be kept safe when we feel danger is imminent. That we can perhaps live beyond the life that we’re experiencing now. And when I lost my God, I lost that hope. And I felt sad.

What I realised is that you have to find something to hope in. Whether it’s the law of attraction, energy, the universe, God, or that you are enough, you have to start speaking hope into your life. I don’t want to dictate anyone’s value system, but I believe that we can find power in hope. It’s often what heals people from terminal diseases – the hope that we can be better. I can’t tell you where to find hope, but hoping in something more than just where we are provides a different outlook to where you are going.

5. Sometimes you just have to live ‘as if’

I recently described my life as if I was waiting in a train station. For many years I’ve been waiting for the train to arrive. At times it has arrived, but I’ve spent the first while trying to throw my baggage on the train rather than boarding it. I realised that I need to live as if I’m on the train. Sometimes the most powerful way to stop feeling sad is to live as if you’re happy. Sometimes you need to fill your life with good people even though you may not feel up to it. You need to live as if you can and want to. Because I know how isolation can make you sad, event though it makes you feel relieved momentarily. Sometimes you need to get to the gym and work out as if you’re fit and beautiful, because sometimes that’s the only way you’re going to get to the gym. (And we all know exercise makes you feel better.)

I’ve realised that happiness is something you choose. And I choose to be happy and live as if I am. And somehow it’s working. I do feel happier. I do feel better. Happiness is something you work for; being sad is sometimes easier to slip into.

So that’s what I’ve realised. Some of it at least. And I hope you’re managed to see some happiness in it too.

Over and out.

Why it’s time to delete Facebook

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Facebook makes me feel crap. And yet, day in and day out I find myself logging in to see what my 650+ friends are up to, talking about, sharing with me and posting pictures of. I’ll confess, it’s pretty much the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before I go to sleep. It’s been important to me to know that Friend A has had eggs for breakfast because they’re on a high protein diet, and that Friend B is sipping cocktails in Thailand while I sit in my office looking at my view of a wall and air conditioning equipment. It must be important, or else why do I keep going back?

Yes, yes, there’s that whole fear of missing out thing. I recognise that. I’m very aware that there may be a photo posted of me that I never know about. You know, that dreaded photo where I haven’t raised my chin fast enough and the whole world will see photographic evidence of my seven chins. And there could be that lurking invite to some fantastic party that’s only being organised on Facebook. And the guy who went to high school who was so hot but now so fat – what if I miss out on him?

And there’s that whole keeping up thing. I’ve phoned friends who I’m connected to on Facebook and we’ve had nothing to talk about. Every time they mentioned that they had been sipping cocktails in Thailand, I would respond by telling them I knew and that it looked amazing. I would let them know that I now had seven chins and they would stop me mid-sentence to tell me how they had seen that photo before I got the chance to untag myself. There’s no more news to share in real life. It all happens on Facebook. I can’t possibly miss out on that can I? I mean then we’d have to speak!

And then there’s all those networking and celeb opportunities. I can see Tori Amos in her specs, uploading a selfie before she sings Selkie. Selfie- Selkie. She’s so clever. And the big brands who invite me to Like them so that I can maybe win a new car by Like-ing them. And those cat videos. Oh I can’t possibly miss those. By the way, did you see the one about the cat saving the kid from being attacked by a dog. Apparently this proves cats do care. Thank you Facebook. And the 344 friends who shared the link.

I know there are all these positives to Facebook. And I don’t want to quit because Facebook has all my data. They really can have it, with the picture of my seven chins. It’s not that. It’s just that everyone looks like they’re having a way better time than I am. A few months ago I met a friend in Cape Town for lunch. She’s a real friend and a friend on Facebook. The first thing she said was, “Wow, you look like you’re having an amazing time. Really living life aren’t you?” Apparently this is the impression I had given her through my Facebook feed. I thought about it and could see how it made sense. Here I was posting pics of me smiling at my husband lovingly, or lying with the dogs in my lap, or at the beach in Cape Town , or dancing the night away at a party where everyone looked like they were having a good time. I didn’t post the pics or statuses about the argument I had with the husband about who was making dinner, or shouting at the dogs to stop barking at the birds while I was having a nap because I had been to a party, which I hated but smiled when the camera came round. I presented the best me. That’s what people want to see don’t they? Or maybe that’s what I want them to see. I don’t post about popping my seventh Urbanol for the day because work is stressing me out so much. I post the after work pic where I’m raising a glass of wine (which I promptly down) to celebrate the end of a severely taxing day.

Facebook is our best selves. Our gorgeous children are on display. Our work promotions are announced for all and sundry to Like and comment on. Our parties are shared for all to be jealous of and be left wondering why we didn’t crack the nod. Our weight loss is shared with glee, while our seven chins are hidden behind selfies of us staring up to our smart phones which are practically attached to the ceiling to get the best angle. Our trip to Thailand is on full display for all to oooo and aaaah over while our credit card bills remain hidden in the pile of debt on the kitchen counter. Facebook only gets our best. Because we want people to see the best in us.

But that just leaves me feeling crap. And inadequate. I hate that I wasn’t invited to the party. That I can’t afford to go to Thailand. That I have seven chins when Friend 446 looks so fantastic in all of the eight selfies they’ve posted of themselves. I feel less than because you show me the best of.

I think it’s time to go back to being real. To finding out what’s happening in a person’s life because they’ve called me to tell me. To see the photo’s of their trip to Thailand because I’m visiting, and hear the horror stories about delayed planes and druglords attempting to smuggle narcotics in their bags when no one was looking. To see the baby when it’s not smiling or looking cute, but crying or having its shitty nappy changed. I want to be reminded that we’re all real and not everything is amazing.

It’s not any one on Facebook’s fault. It’s mine. It’s not you. It’s me. Really. I’m just looking for something more… And that’s maybe why it’s time to delete Facebook.

Lost and Found – a story about adoption in South Africa

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I have a sister and a brother. But I had only known my brother. For as long as I could remember I knew my older sister was out there and that my mother had been forced to give her up. At a young age I knew having a baby before you got married was bad. Punishable. A sin. And meant a life of regret. That’s how it seemed at least.
 

Mom would drive through the streets looking for her. Looking at the face of each young girl as they emerged from school, with their smart school blazers, long skirts and socks up to their knees. Each little girl represented hope. Hope that she would find the young girl seven years older than the youngest boy in the back seat of the tiny blue Fiat with dog hair filling the rips in the pleather seats.

She would drive in silence. Scanning the streets of each suburb. Looking. Slowing down every time she neared a girl around 12 with dark hair. I wasn’t sure what she was expecting. Or what would happen if she found her. How she would even know. I never knew because I didn’t really know why she was looking. Perhaps looking made her feel less aggrieved, less guilty for abandoning the daughter she clearly still loved and longed for. Maybe looking made her feel better, and gave her hope in a situation she had always seen as hopeless. So I never complained when my mom piled my brother Wayne and I into the Fiat to go on one of our searches.

I never really knew what drove my mom to that ultimate point. I still don’t understand what made her take her own life. Why ingesting lethal doses of sleeping tablets and tranquilisers seemed like a more viable option than living. Living to see me grow older. Why I wasn’t enough. Yet, I knew that giving up Deborah – the name given to my unknown sister at birth – was traumatic for her. It was one of the many demons that haunted my mom, forcing her to disappear.

At the age of eight, in 1981, saying goodbye to my mom at a pauper’s funeral where it was acknowledged how sad it was that her suicide meant she would never see heaven, I secretly promised her that I would find the child she so longed to meet. I would tell Deborah how loved she was. How she was longed for. How I wished she had been a part of our lives. That she wasn’t just one of my mother’s many sins.

 

Andrea had always known she was adopted. She can’t remember how she was told, she just always knew. “Initially I didn’t understand what it really meant, but I knew the word ‘adopted’ made me different to other children, and I didn’t like that,” she says quietly.

Andrea was adopted by a couple living in Boksburg in 1965. They adopted a sister Karen two years later. Surprisingly, the topic of adoption was a taboo subject in their home. Perhaps speaking about it would raise too many questions for the adoptive parents to answer. And perchance their children would begin a search to find the mother or father who hadn’t chosen to love their children.

While she was forced to remain silent, Andrea had a million questions about being adopted. The burning question – where did I come from? “As an adopted child I was very conscious that I didn’t look like anyone else in the family. People used to comment on it, and I used to hate it. I kept feeling that if I could go back where I really came from, I would be happy. I kept wanting to be fetched,” she says. Looking down at her hands while trying to get the words out, or right, she adds, “Although my adoptive family were the only family I had ever known, I always felt like I wasn’t really a part of it; that I was watching my life from outside of myself and that one day I would be ‘rescued’ and taken ‘home’.”

Images of orphan Annie sitting on the ledge of her window singing a prayer for her parents to fetch her may offer a romanticised version of a child longing for her birth family, Andrea’s experience of being adopted represents an internal battle of a child in turmoil. A dichotomous inferno of feeling grateful for parents who chose her to love, raging against a burning desire to know where she came from, who she looked like and the deep seated desire to understand why she was rejected. “In theory, adoption is ideal. On one hand you have a family who want a child, and on the other hand you have a child that needs a family, so logically it should be a match made in heaven. But it’s not. The reality is that you can’t transplant a baby from one mother to another and think that life goes on as normal for everyone, because it doesn’t. On some cellular level that baby knows that something is different. And every adopted child I have ever spoken to has battled with feelings of alienation, displacement, a fear of being different and issues of abandonment. I am nearly 50, and I still fight those same battles every day.”

Anys Rossouw, a Pretoria-based psychologist says in an article about adoption that the feelings of disconnectedness and abandonment are not unusual for an adopted child, “This is why so many adopted children think about finding their birth parents. And not necessarily because of a bad relationship with their adopted parents. They just want to know: where do I come from.” She also explains why adopted parents sometimes feel betrayed by hearing their child wants to know about their birth parents. “These parents have often waited a long time for a child, have been excited, prayed, planned and been through a large number of processes. For so many parents, the child is a miracle and a dream come true. When the child decides to find his or her birth parents, it’s often difficult for the adopted parents and they experience a range of emotions, insecurities and fears,” Anys adds.

Andrea did try to find her birth parents in the late 1980s but the adoption files had just been opened (the Child Care Act 74 of 1983, which regulates adoptions in South Africa, made information more available for children to be reconnected with their birth parents). Andrea’s experience was a frustrating one though. “The process was so long and complicated, and the adoptions agency in Pretoria were not keen to give info to an adopted child. Initially it was to be for birth mothers only. I also knew very little. I knew the hospital I was born in and my birth date, but that was it. I was too scared to ask my adoptive mother as she saw my curiosity as a sign that she wasn’t good enough as a mother. It was very difficult. ”

“The adoptive parents are often very afraid,” explains Anys. “They are afraid of rejection and that the child will choose to bond with their biological family and not love them any more. They can also feel that the adopted child is not demonstrating loyalty or appreciating what they did for them for so many years. They are angry that they have done all the hard work raising the child and now someone else might simply step in and ‘steal’ them.”

Andrea was acutely aware of her mother’s feelings about her curiosity regarding her birth family. Her mother actively discouraged her search for her birth parents and shortly after starting the process, Andrea gave up. She never tried to look for her birth family again.

 

I would lie in bed and wonder what she was doing. If she looked like me. If she was even still alive. I would imagine what she’d look like. Dark brown hair like my mom’s, with blue piercing eyes? Maybe she would even have the same small beauty spot on the left side of her face that my mom had. Maybe that would help me find her. Or maybe she looked like her dad. We never knew who he was. My mom never spoke of him. To me at least. All I knew was that he hurt her, abandoned her and left her to face the wrath of a staunchly Catholic family who saw her pregnancy as an embarrassment to all.

I wished I could find Deborah. I had no idea when or where she was born. I knew it was in the mid-1960s and that was all. And I had my mom’s name. How would I even start?

A friend, the only person I knew who had been adopted, had tried to find her birth mother and discovered she had died fourteen years earlier. She was devastated. She told me she always used to think that on her birthday her birth mother had to be thinking of her. And now she knew for the last fourteen years, since 1986, she had been deluding herself. I thought of the sister I had lost and what might happen if she discovered our mom was dead. Had been for the last 19 years. I didn’t want her to think she hadn’t been thought of.

I called the Registrar of Adoptions in Pretoria and spoke to Mrs Wenstra. I explained about my sister, my mom, and how she longed to meet her. Mrs Wenstra told me that she could only give the information to a birth parent. After a while she gave in, perhaps sensing the honesty of my plea, and said I could write her a letter with the details I knew and fax them to her. She would then see if she could pull anything up in the records and would give me call. I wrote the letter, dated 12 September 2000, and faxed it to Pretoria.

The following day, I was surprised to hear Mrs Wenstra’s voice on the line when the call was put through to me. She had information, and had in fact found my sister. She allowed me to ask a few questions, but would only reveal what she could. My mind raced. After years of so many questions I suddenly had none. I asked when she was born. 14 September 1965. The next day. The same day as my brother. I would later find out that my mom would always give him a special extra gift on his birthday at 3pm. He never knew why.

I asked what her name was now.

Andrea.

 

She recalls the day she was found like it was yesterday. “I remember my mother phoning me at work the day after my birthday, telling me I needed to sit down as she had had a phone call from the Registrar of Adoptions. I had two brothers that were looking for me. She said that my birth mother was dead, but the youngest of my brothers was trying to find me,” Andrea says with a slight smile on her face.

She was surprised her adopted mother had shared the information, finding out only later how much she had grappled with whether she should or not. “She gave me the lady’s phone number and said I could contact her if I wanted to. She said it was her duty to give me the information, and it was up to me what I did about it. She said that she wasn’t comfortable with it and if I did get in touch with my brothers then she wanted no part of it.”

Trembling, Andrea headed to a coffee shop near where she worked to take in the news. Was her fairy tale of being found really coming true? After pulling herself together she called Mrs Wenstra at the Registrar. “She asked me lots of questions about my background and told me a bit about my birth family. She said she had a letter from my youngest brother and that he sounded like a really genuine young man, so she decided to take a chance on this case and put us in touch. She faxed me a copy of the letter and I remember that I read and reread it over and over and over again. It felt unreal. I was so happy that my family ‘wanted’ me.”

 

She responded to my letter. Photos dropped out as I unfolded the pages. Computer printouts, pixelated, but clear enough to see the immediate resemblance between her and I. And our mom. Long dark brown hair framed her round face. Her eyes were darker than I expected. But she was definitely my mother’s child. And my sister. I trembled as I held the photograph, not sure how to take in the face before me. I felt an immediate love for a stranger I knew nothing about. Blood. Mine.

 Nephews. There were photos of my nephews. Two young, beautiful blonde boys, snapped while sitting in the kitchen sink, smiling mischievously. Their names and ages were written on the back: Christopher (4) and Matthew (2). Good Catholic names that would have made their grandmother proud. If only she could have met them. 

 The letter was dated 26 September 2000, a mere 13 days after I began the search. I held my breath as I read the first words Andrea had penned, breathing life into this person I had dreamed about finding for so long.

“Well, if somebody had told me a month ago that I would be writing a letter to one of my brothers I never would have believed them… but here we are. I feel I have lived a lifetime in the last two weeks with emotions ranging from shock to disbelief to excitement. Somewhere in each adopted child is the wish to find or to be found and yet it so seldom happens. As far as difficult letters go, ours to each other must rate top scores.”

 I cried as I read the first lines. I was experiencing the same shock, disbelief and excitement. When she wrote about my mom, our mom, I struggled to keep my emotions in check. I was overwhelmed by the thought of finding my sister. In the same breath, I was acutely feeling the loss of my mother and feeling the need to mourn all over again.

 “I have wondered on and off through the years about my birth mother and whether or not I had any siblings. I would like to know as much about her as possible. I was very sad to hear she had died. There is so much I would have been able to tell her, and maybe it would have been able to put her mind at ease to some degree and let her know that I am happy, and she needn’t have worried.”

 I’m not sure I had ever longed to have Mom alive so she could hear those words. They would have healed her. And perhaps made her more alive.

 

She mentions the first letter she received from her brother with grin on her face, “It still makes me cry when I read it, which why I don’t. The letter is locked away with other documents for safekeeping.” With her youngest brother living in Cape Town, communication first took place via email and then over the phone.

“What really comes to mind is my first conversation with my youngest brother. He emailed me pictures of Mom and I was actually able to see her for the very first time. He sat in Cape Town and I was in Jo’burg crying into the phone as I opened the pictures one by one while he spoke me through them. There is one where she looks so much like me I thought for a mad minute that it was me.”

 

I was desperate to meet her. Being able to chat over the phone wasn’t enough. I had a picture but still no real person to put to the soft voice and the surprisingly loud laugh that sometimes emerged. Our conversations were long. Emotional. I always fought back tears. Wanted her to know how excited I am without placing any pressure on her or assuming some kind of relationship that could be deemed inappropriate for strangers.

 Living in the other side of the country was frustrating. For the first time in many years I was desperate to head home, back to Johannesburg to meet her.

 

Andrea and her youngest brother got to meet in the flesh three months later. They were both on holiday on the KwaZulu-Natal coast and decided to meet halfway between their holiday homes.

“We met at the Steers in Ballito, can you believe?” says Andrea. This was the only landmark they both knew. “It was so weird because we’d been talking and emailing up a storm, and suddenly it was going to be face-to-face. It never crossed my mind that we wouldn’t get on – and I was just so excited to finally meet him. I remember hearing him before I saw him – this excited scream as he came rushing through the door. And lots of hugs. It was just so amazing.”

 

I stood outside the entrance to the Steers for what felt like an eternity. I was so excited, but surprisingly petrified. What if she didn’t like me? What if I didn’t like her? What if she was nothing like Mom? She was already there. I could see her through the entrance. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew it was her. My sister.

 I took a deep breath and ran in. I remember seeing her face for the first time and recognising that same mix of delight and fear, like a blind date no one else has really ever experienced. Where you know that you love this person, but don’t really understand why.

 She stood up and threw her arms around me, and we hugged. A lot. And then we sat down, with flabbergasted customers and waitresses looking at us strangely. We sat down and for what felt like a lifetime, we just looked at each other. There was much to say, yet in that moment silence was appropriate. She was there. Years of searching, driving, praying and pondering was sitting in front of me.

 “We were both trying to talk at the same time. I was vaguely aware of people just watching us, and the staff standing with their mouths hanging open. I found out so much, but not enough. I could have sat there forever and by the end of the day I felt I’d known him my entire life. It was very difficult to say goodbye,” says Andrea. “I still maintain that Mom was there and knew that her dream had come true.”

Now when we’re out together, people immediately know we’re siblings, and I can see her face light up as they place us. She’s not like Mom, or at least what I can remember. She’s loud, and funny with a sharp sense of humour. She loves to travel. And eat. And drink. She’s clearly my sister.

 I wish my mom could see us together, talking about her, and laughing at the idiosyncrasies we have in common. She would have liked Andrea. I know she loved her. She gave up both of us and I suppose Andrea and I will always have that in common. Yet, we both celebrate her. And know we’re her legacy. What she left behind.

 “I wish I could have met her so I could say to her ‘I KNEW you were coming’. Just like the fairy tale. I sometimes talk to her in my head and I hope she knows that I don’t blame her for anything. I understand how things were in 1965 and why she did what she did and the pressure she was under to give me up. And it’s okay. I’m okay with all of that,” says Andrea, looking likes she’s struggling to hold back tears. “The fact that while I was wanting her to find me, she was looking for me, is something I hold onto.”

 

 

Ex-gay no more

For years I called myself an ex-gay.

I described my attraction to men, my same-sex, as sexual brokenness. I spent hours in support groups with other ex-gay men, wishing we were straight. I spoke to church leaders. Hid my desires in the dark. I spent countless hours praying to be changed. And I spent as many being prayed for by others who believed God would change me, prophesying about my victory and the wife who would soon be ministering by my side.

I called myself ex-gay.

I was a youth pastor, telling people every day about a God who could perform miracles, but went home every day not sure that the God who performed these miracles saw fit to perform one in me. I prayed for sick people believing they would be healed, yet never saw healing in my life

I still called myself ex-gay.

I joined an organisation in Johannesburg affiliated to the international organisation called Exodus. Here other ex-gay men, some married with children, walked victorious in their heterosexuality, ministering to us, telling us we could be healed from our sexual brokenness.

We were all ex-gay.

There came a point when I realised that I would never be straight. And I walked away from the Church, the people I had loved while there, and the God I had believed would save me. I was broken. Not just sexually, but emotionally. After 10 years of desperately trying to please the God who said my sexual orientation was a sin and worthy of death, I walked away.

I am gay.

I’ve written often about my ex-gay journey. Part of it was illuminating – I discovered a lot about myself by admitting things I had always hidden. Yet other aspects were soul-destroying – I repressed all the things I had admitted to walk victoriously. I hurt people, and people hurt me. I was shunned by some members of the Church, while as many have embraced me.

I will always be gay.

Some believe God created me as I am, others believe He can still change me. I no longer believe. And losing my faith was heart-breaking yet incredibly freeing. I write all this because I feel a freedom now I’ve never really experienced before. I rushed to write this because my emotions needed to be expressed. A catharsis.

They were always gay.

Exodus International is closing down. They have released an apology to all those who have been hurt by their ministry. And the president has come out, admitting that he is still gay, and never acknowledged this while in the ministry. I have heard of leaders in Exodus leaving and apologising before, but this move, and the move to close this once highly politicised and vocal organisation, has affirmed that I did the right thing.

I was not bad.

God didn’t heal me because of me. For so many years I felt excluded from the Christian community because I knew I was gay. I then felt excluded from the ex-gay ministry because I was never not gay. I now know that I was just honest.

Religion’s view of homosexuality does not just hurt gay men. It hurts women. I have seen so many hurt by men who have repressed their sexuality to please their God and His followers. I have seen relationships implode and children’s lives shattered by the revelation that the father was gay, or still gay. Exodus needs to apologise to those women. Not just those men.

I walk victorious, because I am, well, who I am.

I am not sexually broken. I never was.

I am not ex-gay. I never was.

I am gay. And free. And hopefully through the closure of organisations like Exodus others will be too.