The Shadows of My Past

Some time ago I came across an undated handwritten text in my papers. Even though I relocated a dozen times in the last two decades, I find it hard to get rid of anything handwritten. I have with me all the letters I received since I first left my home country, and every single draft I wrote. There are some of my lovelorn laments, my poor attempts at poetry and even exercises I did from a book on creative writing.

More recently my sister in the old country told me that my old teenage diaries are still there in one of the attics, surprising survivors of damp, neglect and war. One day I might be reunited with them, and I will be surprised at how far I strayed from that awkward romantic teenager I used to be.

Discovering old handwritten notes is very exciting. Sadly, rummaging through older blog posts does not have the same magic. The text that I uncovered predates my oldest blog posts, but is not that much older. It is from around 2005. My ex husband and I were running a Shell Service station in East London, South Africa. We lived in the beautiful seaside suburb of Gonubie. I think the questions and answers come from a self-help book I was reading at the time to try and fix my life and my ailing marriage. I believe I went for my first counselling session shortly after I wrote it. And in that same year, I made my first attempt to extricate myself from my unhappy marriage.

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I would like to think that the quality of my writing has improved since, then but I am not sure my handwriting did. I am surprised at how nice and different it used to be.  I now write more forcefully, my letters loop more downwards (according to what I read this could mean I am more aware of my sexuality than I was then), and I have some more assertiveness to my Ps than I did then. I still have the ambiguity about my I in pronoun, sometimes it is a fat big I and other times it is just a plain vertical line. But that ambiguity and insecurity was way more pronounced in the past, and I can safely say that I have done away with my inferiority complex that was so clear in what I wrote about myself in the past. Here is the text reproduced with all bad metaphors, deleted words and errors. I will keep the original, as I always do. I will comment on it after the note. Keep in mind this was 13 years ago, signalling the identity crisis of my thirties that ended with choosing motherhood, followed closely by a forced separation, and subsequent divorce.

Q1: what is a happy relationship?
(A) It is a space where you are allowed to be yourself where you
are loved for what you are, and where you do not need to make 
apologies or excuses for the idiosyncrasies* of your behaviour.
(B) It is a place where you give and take in equal measure and 
where nobody ever feels taken advantage of
The first part is probably what I lack. The second part is what 
(Ex) feels is missing.

Q2: Do I feel that I have a right to happiness?
Everyone has a right to happiness. Why do you assume that it's 
me who has the short end of the stick? you haven't heard his 
side of the story. However it became clear to me today that (Ex) 
is doing what he wants. 
Perhaps he is not getting what he needs on an emotional 
the relationship level but neither am I. At least in his mind 
he is going in the right direction, in the direction he wants 
to go. He feels that I am just tagging along, hitching a ride 
on his steamtrain without paying the fare.
I don't blame him. I have never given him a reason to believe 
that I want anything other than what he wants.
Yes everyone has a right to happiness, but you cannot create 
Happiness is just a fleeting moment, it never lasts for long. 
When I walk along the beach I am happy. When (Ex) and I share 
a meal in pleasant surroundings I am happy. When I get an email 
or a letter from home I am happy. When I come home after 
a good run I am also happy. I am where I want to be. I love
this place, I don't want to trade it for anywhere else in the 
world.
(Ex) can be a more pleasant person if he wants, if he quits 
trying to beat mould me into his standards. 
I am not a business person. I am too emotional to have leadership 
characteristics. I can't handle stress! 
To him it is all a walk in the park. It is very easy. He is 
the navigator who leads the stranded ship into a safe harbour. 
I am just a panic stricken saylor (sic) who is reduced to a wreck 
at the first sign of trouble and yesterday we really had bad 
problems. I was lectured for the umpteenth time to take get 
a grip. 
I keep feeling so useless and spineless. I am just a weeping 
Next time I will just step aside and let him handle the crisis 
until the storm passes. 
Funny thing I remember just now that I had a dream last night 
-prior to all this problem- I dreamt that I received news that 
(Ex)'s son had drowned in their house's swimming pool. I really 
wish that someone could give me an interpretation for this dream. 
I was trying to break the news to him. 
Maybe I should seek counselling.

Q3: Do I think that I wasted my life
No. Where do I see myself in the next 5 years?
In five years time I will be fourty ! Scary thought ! Ex's 
version of the answer: (The Service Station) will be running by 
itself or with the help of a manager and we will have time to 
relax, travel and generally put our feet up.
My answer: The pessimist in me would say: We will be still working 
at (the Service Station), earning a good but not great income. 
Things will improve, perhaps the house would be furnished by then
and perhaps I will have a corner in the house to write or to 
translate and generally do things that I sometimes like
The problem between our two answers is that his tries to be 
inclusive while mine is exclusive -it is always just me-
This is one of the major things that are held against me in 
this relationship.
The first question (Ex) asked me when I told him that 
I wanted to go back to school was: -where does this 
fit in our future plans? or was it that No
I lied I read about a competition for Arabic translators 
for the UN and suggested that maybe I should apply ! 
I don't recall the incident that sparked this reaction. 
It is either one of the two !
No, I don't fancy working in the UN. Especially not in 
New York City or Geneva. But it might be interesting say 
to work in Kenya, Addis Ababa or Beirut. I have never been 
to Beirut can you imagine?

I think part of the problem in our relationship is that (Ex) 
is much older than me. In his words he has "been around 
the block a few times". Me I have Just rounded cleared the first 
doorway! It is not that I don't want to settle down, 
It's only that I feel that I will never get a chance to see 
all these places with him. He'd already been there, done that, 
worn the T-shirt.
So, this still leaves the question unanswered. 
Where do I see myself in five years time? 
That depends largely on whether my vision or his will 
come to pass. I have been proven wrong many times before, 
so maybe this time it will be the case as well. 
I would really like to raise my intellectual level 
up a notch in the meantime. 
Not that I have anything against the people I work with. 
They are real people, with real problems, which make 
mine seem very insignificant trivial. 
Yes, just imagine my complaints against that of our 
cleaning lady whose husband is always drunk, 
has no job and will probably give her AIDS before
too long. Yet she is still blessing her life and taking 
to reading the bible in her lunch break ! 
Faith is a wonderful thing ... If you have it !

Q4: Do I think I wasted my life? Do I want to 
waste the rest of it?
I will answer this one with a little bit of humour. 
The last time I checked I wasn't on the roster for any 
divine mission. When I go to sleep, my dreams are the simple 
hallucinations of an overtired mind. 
I never had a revelation yet. 
My sister and most of my schoolmates are good wives 
and mothers. Compared to them I am a phenomenal breakthrough 
and probably an experiment that went horribly wrong. 
On a more serious note though, I will be thirty five on my 
next birthday. I would be lucky if I still have the 2nd half 
of my life to look forward to.
People my age are already where 
At my age people are normally where they want to be 
for the rest of their lives. The fact that I am not 
is not a compliment on my character. It is actually 
a disgrace; I am thoroughly ashamed of this.
Still, my history has been one of lagging behind. 
Perhaps I will catch the last train out?
I don't know ! I have lost the way to the station. 
Why can't I just be content with running a petrol 
station? Why do I have to so snutty (sic-want
to say snooty) and think that I deserve better? 
You really shouldn't encourage this vein of thought. 

My heart aches for the writer of these pages. She was surely trying too hard to be what she felt she was duty-bound to be, at the expense of what she truly wanted. She asked too many questions about what was wrong with her, and rarely questioned the attitude of her self-centered husband. She asked for so little, and even her legitimate desire for motherhood and family was kept well-hidden from herself. A psychologist would have a lot of material to work with with. Even a layperson can recognize the broad themes of denial, self-blame, lack of confidence and total unawareness of self worth.

Over 13 years have passed since I wrote those words. And no matter what life has thrown at me since then, I am grateful that I have left that insecure and self-doubting woman-child behind. My journey to a fulfilling life started when I finally recognized there was nothing wrong with me. It is true that separation from my spouse was forced upon me, but it was, after having my child at 37, the most fortuitous turn of events for my intellectual and personal development. When I read these words now, I can smile and be proud that I have outdone my poor predictions of 2005. Five years after writing these pages I was on my way to realizing most of my dreams, even the unspoken ones.  Now I am finally where I want to be for the rest of my life. I work in Kenya. I translate, I write and I do the things I like. I also get to travel and see the world. Most importantly, I have a family of my own. I am a mother to an intelligent and sensitive child, and I raise him away from the prejudices and cynicism of his biological father. I teach him to appreciate the beauty of our diverse world and the joy of simple things. I aspire to give him the tools to lead a joyful life. I have found more joy in my own life since I left the constant gloom of my marriage. I am mostly content living on my own terms, and can take full responsibility for my happiness and misery. My present life has followed from the disappointments of the past, and I am glad to report that the unhappy writer of these pages has redeemed herself.

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