Time, in retrospect is fleeting. However, in its presence, it is glacial.
My dad’s brother Frank was a friendly, quiet man, even though life hadn’t dealt him the fairest hand. At least that’s how I would tell his story.
The day his children died seems like so long ago, and it would be 20 years before he followed suit. Those twenty years must have dragged by for him… though at his funeral, I couldn’t help but think of how just the other day, we had buried my cousins.
In the early 90s, I was around 8 years old, I remember playing in the lounge when the house phone rang. My dad, a young and healthy 40-something ran to the phone, smiling at me as he answered.
His facial expression was fleeting.
Even as a young child, I sensed that something had changed in the atmosphere. Death had always tickled my senses.
Growing up, my mother never really mixed with my father’s side of the family. I am sure there were many reasons for this, but I never questioned why we mostly spent time on my maternal side for special occasions. Regardless, my father’s brothers and sisters had all spent the day together at my aunty Jean’s house one day in December. The children were all playing and from what I have been told, the day was pretty festive.
At around 2pm, they were alerted to a fire on the property. At first glance, it seemed that my Uncle Keith’s car had been set alight. Chaos ensued, as expected, but nothing had prepared them for the realization that my baby cousins, Tracy and Kurt were missing.
During the frantic search for the children, and trying to douse the fire… two tiny figures were spotted in the flames.
The brother and sister were trapped in the burning vehicle. Tracy was sitting on top of her brother, trying to stop the flames from burning him. Her doll, held up to her tiny 7 year old face, as an attempt to shield herself.
I am not sure at what moment the fact that the matches that they had been using to light their cigarettes had been taken had dawned on them, but it was an integral part of solving the mystery of who exactly had set a car alight, with two children inside of it.
The family mobilized, calling the ambulance, and fighting the flames.
Tracy and Kurt were laid out on the grass, bodies fully burnt, black.
Both children were however still alive, and as the story goes, conscious.
I remember being told that Tracy had asked for an ice-cream as she lay there, obviously dehydrated.
Most of my information is hearsay, however, and many versions of this story exist. I am merely relaying the story I heard the most over the years.
Tracy and Kurt were rushed to Red Cross Hospital and put in the intensive care unit.
In the days that followed, a somber mood befell the Genever family of Symphony Avenue, Steenberg.
Tracy died first.
The next morning, she fetched her baby brother.
It is believed that while the family was partying, Tracy and Kurt, known for their mischievous antics, stole the box of matches from the table at which the adults were sitting.
Unfortunately unsupervised, they found a secret spot to play with fire in their childlike curiosity… the back seat of my Uncle Keith’s car. They locked the doors and struck matches… most likely in awe of the sparks that ignited from mere sticks. To innocent children, pure magic.
The one who had struck the match must have burned, and dropped the lit match on the seats which set the car alight. Now trapped in the flame, unable to unlock the doors, Tracy tried to protect Kurt, and climbed on top of him, where she was found moments too late.
For them, in that car… time must have dragged by as no one came to their rescue… no matter how loud they screamed.
To the adults on the outside, there wasn’t enough time to save them.
I can’t remember if I saw my uncle at their funeral. I remember lowering the children into their graves at Capricorn Cemetery. And over the years, their grave site grew forgotten, as no headstone was ever placed over the sand.
My uncle and his wife were soon divorced, not without their fair share of rumors circulating their split… although no explanation is needed that neither of them were ever the same after the incident.
My aunt moved out, and I never saw her again. My uncle went through the motions of depression, and after years, started to rebuild his life, from out of the ashes.
In the beginning of this year, just before I gave birth to Scarlett, my uncle – who had since remarried and had three more kids – died after a long battle with cancer.
As we sang hymns and celebrated his life, I felt a hand on my shoulder as I exited the church.
His ex-wife, who had seen me last when I was nine embraced me, with tears in her eyes. It took me a few seconds to recognize her.
After the funeral the family spoke about their encounters with her that day, and how she had said she felt remorse for the way she treated Frank after their children died. She had wanted to make a mends many times over the years, but pride and fear had always convinced her that ‘tomorrow’ would be a better opportunity.
She didn’t know that the next time she would see Frank would be in his casket.
When Scarlett-Grey was 2 weeks old, I sat in Dr Rapiti’s office for a psych consultation, almost in tears.
“Doctor, I don’t know why I am so anxious. So much has happened in my life…. I have my own home… I have a husband… my child was born in wedlock… why do I still feel this constant anxiety now that I have given birth?….
… “I just feel like I’m drowning.
The good doctor looked at me.
“What happened that makes you feel like your post natal depression is coming back?”, he asked.
I hesitated. I didn’t want to admit the thoughts that had been running through my head since I had brought my daughter home a week ago.
But I knew if I didn’t confess, I wouldn’t get help.
When I arrived home with Scarlett, after my ordeal at the hospital, I felt many things… mostly tired. Once I had been able to sleep off the residual exhaustion and trauma, the pit of my stomach vibrated a constant dread. It was subtle at first… but I immediately recognized the feeling.
And it was even more debilitating when I would breastfeed.
I felt trapped.
Being back from hospital with a newborn had made me mentally regress to being a 21 year old, that was now not allowed to go anywhere. I remember feeling guilty at the thought of wanting to be with my friends. I have never made a secret of the fact that I didn’t want to be Sidney’s mommy.
I remember the first time I was told to breastfeed him at the hospital. I looked down at him as he sucked my breast and I felt nothing. I don’t know if it was a combination of being absolutely terrified to have a baby at 21, or if I genuinely was incapable of love, but I knew I didn’t feel motivated enough to even try and nurse him.
But, as most young mothers… I didn’t have a choice.
“Nou wie moet formula koep? Jy werkie”. That was the attitude that most people spat at me. It was an accurate observation, but hurtful nonetheless, that people assumed not having money meant that I also didn’t deserve my basic human right to dignity.
My lack of chastity automatically qualified anyone to say anything to me… even if it hurt me or humiliated me. And since then, I associated having a baby with being trapped and disrespected.
And then, four years later, I had Rose.
And the same thing happened.
You see, when Rose was born, her father raped me two weeks post c-section. I was still bleeding, and healing and my cervix hadn’t had the allocated six weeks to close. My parents and son were upstairs, and I didn’t alert anyone, because then I would have to admit that because I hadn’t listened to them, and I had allowed this man back into my life… I was now again… a victim.
I immediately didn’t want Rose to be near my breast… the embodiment of her father. I wanted to take back my body and the space I was entitled to.
This time, I had just been retrenched from the company I had been working for, so again I found myself at the mercy of others.
I did however find a job fairly quickly.
I also sunk very deep into PND and had my lowest moment when I super-glued all the windows of my father’s house shut, because I swear a voice was telling me to throw Rose out of it. I wanted to see if she could bounce.
Fast forward past the next four years of medication and self-loathing. I am fairly convinced that I will never have to experience the pain of childbirth, newborn babies and PND again.
I leave my abuser.
I take full responsibility for my children.
I find the Lord.
I get a great Job.
I find success in my writing.
I meet my husband.
I buy a house.
I finally have my ducks in a row.
And he wants a baby.
The next nine months have been documented in my previous blogs…
…and as if no time has passed, again I am home alone… with a newborn.
To summarise, the urge to shake my daughter to death and put her in the oven isn’t one that I would like to wear on my sleeve. I constantly have the daydream where I forget her in the car. I keep seeing myself drop her from the bed.
And the worst part of it all was challenging myself to breastfeed her.
And I promise you, I tried.
I tried to tears.
As I sat with my two week old, she suckled at my then bleeding nipple. And I felt nothing but terror.
Everytime I would allow myself to ease into the feeding, I would feel the walls closing in on me. I would fall asleep and be back in my childhood home, held hostage by my lack of monetary value.
I would wake up in a full on anxiety attack.
“Riyaahd, I don’t want to breastfeed Scarlett” I finally admitted, a little too loudly.
My husband looked at me, completely confused as to why his wife didn’t exhibit natural maternal characteristics.
I argued my case, that both my other children had been bottle fed babies and were thriving … they were smart … healthy…. alive.
I think that I was more trying to convince my guilty conscience, instead of sway my husband.
In all honesty, he is a very supportive man and told me that I was to do what was best for me.
That same day, he took me to Dr. Louw in Kromboom who removed my stitches, and prescribed Dostinex to stop my breastmilk production.
This, paired with my regular dose of Prozac left me feeling optimistic at how I was going to handle being the mother of a newborn, again.
Two weeks passed, and I had mostly started to ease into my new yet old life… when I noticed that Scarlett wasn’t really herself.
I told myself that I was being paranoid.
And then I dreamed it.
As usual, I found myself in my old home, going through the motions of feeding, burping and swaddling a baby. The dream is always vivid, and I am very aware of my surroundings. Outside my window, I can see the swimming pool, and I notice that there is a party being set up in our yard.
I feel a sense of jealousy, and think “Why did I have a baby? Now I can’t attend the party.”
I take the baby, and go to the garage, and get into the backseat of my old car.
Riyaahd is now in the driver seat. Well, whoever it is has Riyaahd’s body, but doesn’t have his eyes.
I say “We don’t live here anymore. Take me to our home”, referring to my current address… but he says he isn’t taking me anywhere. I belong in my old house.
I recognise his eyes.
Those are Lyle’s eyes.
I get out of the car and run down the outside stairs to join the party and I realise that I am no longer holding my baby.
I look up and there is no one at the party.
I am standing alone at the pool.
And in the pool, my three children are floating.
Scarlett opens her eyes, and they are blood red.
When I woke up, it was around 1pm. I had dozed off while working, and realized that since 9am, Scarlett hadn’t woken up.
I felt very unsettled.
I picked her up, and gently tried to wake her. Her eyes opened, but she wasn’t moving like she normally would. Scarlett wasn’t making her usual noises.
I offered her a bottle and watched as she weakly suckled at the teat.
Panic shot through my entire body when I lifted her to burp her, and without vomiting, all the milk ran out of her body…
I called my mother to fetch my other two kids. I called Riyaahd to tell him what was happening. I packed a bag and drove to Dr Rapiti’s office.
They were closed till 5.
I stood in the parking lot, just knowing that I was running out of time.
Red Cross was way too far, so I sped to Mitchell’s Plain hospital.
When the doctor saw Scarlett, fear again grasped my entire body.
“Are you breastfeeding. Mommy?
“”No”, I felt the need to avert my eyes.
After the examination, she and two other doctors entered the room. My mind told me that they were going to bring up that I was a psych patient, and had hurt my child.
“We are very worried. We need to do a full work up. Lumbar Puncture. And she needs a drip”.
My first instinct was to say no.
I had heard many horror stories of lumbar punctures and paralysis and infections and my anxiety and guilt just knew that my baby was going to die because I was too selfish to breastfeed her.
The doctors wouldn’t let me leave, and after 15 minutes of what wasn’t my proudest moment, I agreed to let her go with the physician when she said, “Mommy, your baby hasn’t woken up once since you got here. Something is wrong”.
I heard Scarlett scream from the waiting area as they pricked and prodded her tiny body.
When I finally went back in, they handed her to me and said “We have called an ambulance to take her to Red Cross. We just found blood in her nappy”….
TO Be Continued