You are writing this letter to your younger self, hoping that he could have been less stubborn. You thought your stubbornness was the best quality about yourself. How you must perpetually have the last word in an argument. You liked that a lot, this idea of you proving you are the smartest and should be revered. But you are now learning that the loudest and most assertive of voices are not the ones that are always fixated on proving their wit; or presenting a questionable facade so that they may be accepted. Perhaps you needed to know that you should have listened more. Not because you were an unruly child; not because you refused to listen to others. But you should have listen to your heart a bit more. Like the time you shoplifted with friends when you were just ten-years-old and were scared for your life. You did that because you wanted to be accepted. You wanted to prove that you were also street-smart. That your word could be the last one. I wish you listened to heart when it told you that maybe you should have stayed with your sisters and played house with them. Maybe you could have done what you did most Sundays after church: wait and wait, for your father to come home. But you had grown tired of hoping that he might decide to show up. Though this was the loudest of prayers you made in church, the promise you made with God, your father stopped showing up. Maybe you should have stayed home. Maybe that one-room shack was a home.
Remember that cold and windy autumn afternoon in 2003, when your second-grade classmates from Mam’ Popi’s class insisted to walk you home; but you ran off because you were scared that they may find out you lived in a shack, that your mother saves five-rand coins to get you peanut buttered brown bread and milk from the feeding scheme near by— you should have allowed them to walk you home. You should have walked with them, laughing at their jokes, listening to their stories about their fathers and nice Range Rovers and trips to Durban that you wished your mother could given to you. But I know you were scared. I know you have always stayed scared. You were scared to admit to yourself that you are poor. You thought it was your fault that you were poor. You thought that somehow, the God you believed in, wired your life and punished your mother with lack.
` But your mother will move heavens to feed you. Sometimes you will see her eat nothing so that you and your little sisters can go to school fed and feeling well. I want to apologize to you for wishing yourself away. I want to apologize to you for blaming yourself and your parents for how life panned how. I am sorry for all the days you starved yourself in school because a pap and spinach lunchbox seemed like an insult; that you did not want to be remembered as the person who brought that kind of lunch to school, though many people ate that; that maybe, what goes into your stomach matters less when you can spell better than most second grade students. But who cared? Who still cares?
I am sorry for the days you allowed your “friends” to send you around— to buy them lunch and then get pieces of it. I am sorry that you wished to be like them. That one day your mother would have enough so that you, too, could send others around, those that had less, and give them little pieces of what you ate— not as a sign of gratitude or empathy, but to assert power. I am sorry you thought of giving as something to gloat about. Something to feel good about. I want to tell you that you can give, and always give, because you understand that others have less than you, and it is not their fault that they have less. I want to tell you that giving should be done because we want to achieve justice, not because we want to feel good about ourselves.
When you turn eighteen, memories of that fire will still eat you up in your sleep. Academia calls it trauma. But you would have not found words for that October fire. How it ate away many things that seemed like home. How each hot October morning, since that 2006 morning, seeps your heart into darkness. When you are old enough to afford alcohol, your mother will not understand why you drink so much in October. How you lose yourself beneath that brown bottle. Of course you do not do it in front of her, it will weaken her already troubled heart. You will not talk about that fire. Your mother will not want to talk about it. You will not want to bring it up, lest you are willing to pick her up from the dark hole that fire sets her in. Your younger sisters know about that fire. It has become an open-secret. Something you all know happened, how it happened and never sure why it happened. You will be terrified to tell your sisters about that fire. That fire will open up many thing you thought had been buried. Like memories of the place where the fire happen. But, how do you bury memories, as if they, too, are unwanted children. But you share that with memories of that fire. This common understanding of being unwanted. Of all always looking for a place to call home. For what is home, to a little boy, looking for many places inside themselves to want to hide into?
When you turn sixteen, you will be confronted with the reality of your mother dying. She will come home with a thick envelope, large scans harbored inside, like the secrets she carries. She will not say many words to you. She will lay on her bed like she did on days when she felt like the world was on top of her, and the oceans inside her were tying themselves into knots and then churning. When the night comes, when she had already grown tired of crying into herself, she will break into a loud helpless wail. As though begging the heavens to take away the agony and angst inside her. You will join her in the chorus of gibberish wails. She will do what she does best on days when all is heavy: be a mother. Your mother will not die. Your mother has not died. The cancer inside her failed to overcome her. You will want to thank your God. The idea of your mother dying terrifies you less than the idea of your father dying. If your mother dies, you will have ways of grieving her. Of places to go to, that remind you her the most; meals to cook to feel her air; and perhaps, prayers to mouth because you’ve heard her say them about her mother. You have not been able to see your mother grieve her father. Your father dying will give you no reference place for you to mourn the dead. Your father is alive, but much closer to Gods than his own children. You will want to shake off this feeling. This reality of him dying. How will you bury him? What memories of him do you carry if not of the times you wanted to him to be present. But you will not have stay mad at your father. You will grow to understand that he was not around because he had not seen anyone stay alive for him. You will think of him as an old man traumatized by his orphancy. Yet, you will be terrified of making those excuses for him. This idea that he did not stay because he had no-one staying for him. You will wonder if your mother’s love was not enough. Then you will realize that love may stay but the loved may want to leave to where their hearts desire to be.
I am writing this letter to remind you of all the places you learned about love, shame and grief. You will be twenty-two -years-old, in America and you will want to relearn all these. You will learn that love is about committing to the cause of growth, commitment and care. That when you love someone, you commit to actions that enable mutual growth, commitment and care. That you begin loving by loving your darkest wounds into healing. That scars are markers of a past pain, but how past pain does not make current love. And when you learn about shame, you will learn than it is not your fault that you were born into poverty, and when you stay in poverty, after doing your very best to stay out of it- fuck capitalism! Poor/needy are not brands you hang around your neck for the pity of those born into material advantage, but a map into how to undo set paths and roadmaps meant to limit you. You are still unlearning shame. On grief: you are heading into the fifth year since your grandpa passed away. You will still try to write a poem that can best capture the void in your heart. You are truly scared of death because of the things it makes you feel and the numbness that rushes through your body, yet you can’t put words to it. You will learn that grief will trigger your depression and anxiety. You will learn that some days you be on top of the world, and the next minute, the worlds are splitting themselves inside you. You will blame demons because that’s how you learned how to evade things and give them names not belonging to them. Other times you will blame boys that don’t stay because you have found a place inside them to bury you grief. But you will heal. You will be healed.
I am learning to love the man you are becoming; in his broken state, I am learning to choose him and want to be with.
Kabelo, at twenty-two