Tactless Ex-es

My ex will not win any prizes for tact this lifetime. I have suffered enough for his tact throughout our marriage but mostly during the awful times around our divorce. It could have been worse, of course, had I at any point contested the divorce, asked for more child support or a better settlement.

One of his most awful deeds at that time was forwarding the acrimonious emails of his mom and his older sister to my inbox. The emails had been intended for his eyes only, hateful words against me from people who hardy know me, that might have massaged his pride and given him the support he “needed” in a predicament he most certainly asked for. I was extremely hurt by his action at the time-which I assume was his intention in the first place. Nevertheless, this action went unpunished on my side because at the time I still cared, and most importantly I still needed him to look after Robert while I tried to get back to work. To tell the truth I do not believe I could ever punish my ex for anything because I am fully aware of my son’s love to him and I do not want to be the one to demonize his beloved papa for him; soon enough he will get to know him by himself and make a judgment. I will not extend the same curtsey though to the mother and older sister of my ex, I still want nothing to do with them and that relationship will never be salvaged. My rationale is that my son has only one father but more than one aunt and he has a loving grandmother already. Maybe it is also my way to punish my ex indirectly since I cannot get him directly.

Today featured the latest installments of tact from my ex. He dropped off our son with me while I was attending a baby shower with the girls. I noticed a yellow envelope in the front pocket of Robert’s baby bag. I took it out to see writing that looked familiar. On one side of the envelope it said: “From: Duzi* (brown-noser)” the other side said: “To: XXX (boss)”

 

I could not believe my eyes, it was a birthday card I had given him in 2004 or more likely in 2005 (the year I first attempted to split up with him).  What is the purpose of giving it back? I have no idea and I do not care. The card however gave me an insight into the woman I was five or six years ago, feeling the pain, the pressure, the joylessness of my life and still trying and struggling to put a brave face on it, and still loving in my own helpless way. It definitely did not make me miss that marriage.

At the time I was helping my ex run a service station in the Eastern Cape and he was my boss. It was perhaps the toughest few years in my life both personally and professionally. Not even getting thrown out of my home with a six-month old baby comes close, because in the Eastern Cape I was oh, so alone. I had no friends, and no support whatsoever. It is no wonder that in the end I sought the help of people who were almost strangers to me, to make my break and escape.

In the Eastern Cape I visited a therapist for the first time in my life. During that maiden session I poured out my disappointment and grief about a marriage that has never really given me any joy. I spoke of a husband who almost always undermined me. I will never forget the therapist asking me whether there was anything good in that marriage, and me finally admitting that there wasn’t. I haven’t been to a therapist again after that. That session was a watershed experience and set in motion my escape out of that marriage. Soon after that I drove from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town. My ex, having realized that there was no stopping me changed his tact at that crucial juncture and started prying on my emotions my still present love – or dependency, on him.

It was to be the beginning of a couple of years where I remained torn between leaving and staying, and I ended up deciding to stay once our son was conceived. It is ironic that after all that the final decision of divorce was forced upon me, but it was the correct thing to do. I have never looked back. I do not look back unless the memory is forced upon me like it was with this card.

I will just post it here for the record. It meant something in its time, but it is now just a piece of history. All I can say is, why the heck does he return the card and not return the books I gave him as presents all these years, now that would have been something I can use.

*Duzi is the nickname my ex gave me. I never looked it up and now I think he meant doozy.  It is given many meanings in the urban dictionary among them: bizarre, daunting, but also extraordinary. Knowing my ex I doubt he ever meant it in a nice way. It was rather an expression of how odd he found me.

Help Me Out

August will mark the five years anniversary to my arrival in Cape Town, a time when I finally faced up to the fact that perhaps I did not want to go on with the status quo of my marriage. You may say, and correctly that it took me a long time to realize it, but well, that is the way things were.

From where I am sitting now I shake my head in wonder. How on earth was I bullied to think for nine years that I was to blame for all the ills of this relationship. How did I ever accept the verdict of my husband and his judgment on everything when I was an adult with a healthy common sense myself. It all goes down to upbringing and culture. My mother – bless her and keep her healthy- is the most wonderful woman in the world but by her example she encouraged a subservience to the male head of the family, and unfortunately for myself and my sister we did not have any other examples to a healthy balanced relationship. If you add to that the fact that my ex is 13 years my senior with that much more experience than myself, a female who had a very sheltered upbringing, you may understand where my feeling of inferiority came from. Regardless, of the reasons I was intimidated into thinking that it was always me to blame until East London.

I am often reprimanded about my fondness for East London, a sleepy town in the Southern African province of the Eastern Cape. Admitting that you lived there is apparently extremely uncool.  East London to me is the place where I finally rose up emotionally to my chronological age. It was a long, long time coming.

I will always remember East London for its rolling dunes and beautiful beaches, for the twin rivers that border it and for the simple uncomplicated people who live there. One day I will go there again with someone I love whether it is a partner or a son it does not matter, but I would like to show someone what I found there… I found myself.

It was a long journey that I made alone, without the help of a mother, a sister, a trusted girlfriend or even an agony aunt, but I did have a therapist. It was back in July 2005 that I saw a therapist in East London, I tried desperately to speak to someone and even in such a sleepy hollow as this town -or perhaps exactly for that reason- therapists were booked for months in advance. This one had a slot after two weeks, maybe she was not that good. The only thing I remember about her place is the cream-colored couch and the light pastels of her consultation room. During the hour session, the woman did not speak much she just listened and commented and in that hour I articulated all the negative feelings accumulated throughout six years of marriage. The therapist made the appropriate noises and comments throughout and pointed me to the road that I have already glimpsed when I phoned for an appointment. It was not love that I was living it was an act of willful manipulation. It was time for me to break free and I did.

One month later found me on the shores of Cape Town. A few miles away from the Cape of Good Hope, and to me it was Good Hope. I had a lot of time to reflect on my past life and to think about the way forward; what I really want for my future. I could not, or was not allowed to severe my marriage completely, because at the time my husband  kept trying to win me back, for the wrong reasons now I know. It was the first time though since coming to South Africa where I lived according to my own rules, without having to defer to his every strict edict. I had a great time and indulged in simple pleasures that were not allowed at home: Staying up late, sleeping in, reading in bed, chocolate, cheese and many other treats and junk foods that were extremely frowned upon in my married life. I exercised when I wanted to, and rediscovered the simple joy of doing things for pleasure, not because I needed to break a sweat or do a chore. I also enjoyed the company of Spliff the cat, who shared my bed on some cold winter nights, another no-no in my husband’s dictionary.
The people I shared a house with – two singles dealing with their own problems with relationships and life- gave me plenty of insight, advice and anecdotes, and together we formed an unlikely but rewarding friendship. I enjoyed their company, more so because they also fell on the disagreeable side of my partner’s rules, he had something against overweight women and gay men.
Along with all these personal benefits, things were slowly going my way on a professional level. I bought a computer and worked on my first large freelance translation project, while I also attended interviews for jobs in Cape Town.

Still, no matter how successful I was, or how much I rationalized my relationship and analyzed its glaring flaws, there were many hurdles to conquer mentally and emotionally. I was helped along by a song that came out that year: All These Things I have Done by the Killers.
I would wake up at night sometimes to listen to FM radio on my headphones and would start humming along to the beautiful melody and the lyrics. Unlike the hopelessness of Losing My Religion, somehow there was an underlying theme of hope in this one, and the person crying for help, finds or at least expects to find a way out.
The best part for me was the refrain of : I’ve Got Soul But I am Not a Soldier. It translated my exact feelings: I do have a heart and emotions and I am capable of love and hope, but I will not continue this endless battle of my marriage, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The video of that lovely track, and the lyrics are below.

When there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son
One more son
If you can hold on
If you can hold on, hold on
I wanna stand up, I wanna let go
You know, you know – no you don’t, you don’t
I wanna shine on in the hearts of men
I wanna mean it from the back of my broken hand

Another head aches, another heart breaks
I am so much older than I can take
And my affection, well it comes and goes
I need direction to perfection, no no no no

Help me out
Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out
Yeah

And when there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son
These changes ain’t changing me
The gold-hearted boy I used to be

Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down

[x10]
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier

Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down

Over and in, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done
All these things that I’ve done
If you can hold on
If you can hold on

I read in one interpretation that the lyrics are written from the viewpoint of God. Speaking how people turn to Him only when they need help, which makes sense. However, like any work of art this song evokes different feelings, images and memories in different people. The message for me was hope, eventually I shall prevail, or find help, I have what it takes.

In April 2008, I moved with my six-month old son Robert to the same house that welcomed me when I first arrived in Cape Town.  I was determined this time to finish what I failed to do almost three years ago.  The circumstances this time were more difficult than the first time around, but on some levels I was much happier. I never took walks alone to the beach anymore and wondered about my future, I never worried about what I would do about love. I had all the love and the future I wanted in my son. When my song played, there were two of us to dance to it.

Cyber Snobbery

One of the places I frequently hang out on the net is Facebook. It is a social networking site, with many infantile applications, games and time-wasting activities, but for me it is useful for connecting with long lost friends and relatives, as it gives me their latest news, photos or random updates.

Last week I was sucked into a Facebook craze. I filled out names of Five Cities Where I Lived, and was later bombarded by requests to fill in five all time favorite movies and books, five greatest fears, five addictions, five bla bla bla bla bla, and it never ends.  Needless to say that I could not be bothered, and dropped out of this FIVE-itis almost immediately, but I had already filled out my five cities.  I lived in more than five different cities, from large to small to insignificant desert outposts, so  I chose the ones that where important to me, or the ones that presented landmarks in my life : Aleppo the city where I was born; Vienna where I had my first brief -and unhappy- encounter with the western world;  Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, where I lived independent from my family for the first time, and Johannesburg my first point of contact with South Africa. Now I was left with one slot and the contenders were : My current city of Cape Town, Abu Dhabi where I lived as a teen with my family, and East London my second stop in South Africa. There was also Al-Ain and Ruwais in the UAE, but the latter thankfully does not qualify as a city.  I left out my current city, because I thought the question was applicable to the past, and chose the place that was most important in my life : East London.

Perhaps I should not be surprised that I received a comment from one of my friends on Facebook. She said : “I wouldn’t tell people about East London”. You see East London is a sleepy hollow, a very laid back backwater town of South Africa. It is neither hip like Cape Town nor Savvy like Johannesburg. It is not even as Cool as Durban or Port Elizabeth. Even its inhabitants jokingly call it “Slummy”, so  why should I out myself by saying I lived there? In this age of cyber snobbery where everyone has to be smarter, cooler and more with it than the next Facebook friend.

Now, I really do not care about being a snob. I love the Eastern Cape. I do not find any problem in saying that I lived in East London, and to be more accurate (and even more of a country bumpkin) in Gonubie. It is one the most beautiful places in South Africa and if I wasn’t married to the wrong man I would have been very happy to continue living there. In fact I often think that if it wasn’t for want of good jobs and good schools it is the perfect place to bring up young children.

East London has the distinction of being South Africa’s only river port. It lies between the Nahoon and Buffalo Rivers and has a great expanse of beautiful white beaches and the best weather in South Africa. Its people are friendly and kind and stop to talk with you, and it has a low crime rate. In fact I would prefer living in East London over Johannesburg any day of the year, no matter how cool, hip and with-it Johannesburg was. I guess I am a country bumpkin after all.