Regina found us wasting moonlight under the kibanda that was by day a grocery shop, but moonlighted as a hiding spot at night when the house became too stuffy. Being an elder sister, she immediately concluded that our seclusion from the gloom in the house was inspired by the need to mourn in seclusion. This was over a decade ago, so of course I cannot quite remember how we moved from talking about school to talking about William, but what I can never forget is her saying “By the way, you boys, let us get into an agreement, right here, right now. If anybody needs to cry, cry now. Let us not burden Karua with sadness after the burial because she has too much stress.” Or something very close to that. “Sawa?“ She asked. Dee did not answer, perhaps because he saw the absurdity of treating grief like a commodity that you can get into contractual agreements on. Ati do not cry too much after the burial, or even at all, as if this was a piece of steak that you could decide how you want done; rare, medium or well done.
Of course at that time, I knew exactly what my sister meant. That is why when she asked “Sawa George?” I nodded.
But this is not really about William. God knows I have plagued you with enough posts about his absences. This is about me and my emotional upbringing and how I do not know how to handle people who are dealing with serious shit. Because after that little conversation with Regina and Dee, I cannot remember really talking about William with anyone, regardless of the kind of number his passing did on me. Most of the talking that we had was with relatives on the day he was returned to the soil, but we all know all those promises of solidarity that people make when trying to console the grieving are at best, empty. When they say, “I will be here if you ever need anything. Just call me,” it is because that is something they have been trained to say. It is reflex. It is something my people are supposed to say, but not mean.
That pep talk was pretty much it for me. And so I coped differently. I dealt with it by locking it away and only remembering him every year between Feb and March when I come to mourn on this blog.
And that is how I handle everything else, really. When I am mad, I seldom shout or talk. When I do, I am not really mad…just kidogo pissed. When I am deeply hurt, I hide myself away from the crowd. I lock myself up and handle it the way I have always handled everything; by myself. Anyone who tries to infringe on that space never comes out unharmed. Sometimes, I write.
Lakini because God is a comedian with punchlines that nobody ever sees coming, he paired me with a girl who likes to talk. She likes to talk about everything. That is how that talk show started anyway; and she lets loose. To her, the formula to a good relationship are 3 basic Cs – Communication, Cuddles and Contraceptives. In that order. The only thing Jaber will not tell you is her MPESA pin. I can spend literally the whole day with this woman, and then when I get to bed, she will ask me, “So how was your day?”
“What do you mean? I was just here with you.”
“No, like how was work and stuff.”
My day is fine and when it is not, and I feel like you should know, I will let you know. I do not understand how she does not understand this after all this time. When we meet for lunch and banter, do not ask me to tell you when I get home. I won’t. When you ask me how I am doing, and your name is not Jaber or James Mbugua, Just Fine is how I am doing.
This thing about being honest and open about my daily and deepest struggles is not something I was nurtured to do. Growing up, when someone had decided to swell, we did not ask what was wrong. We tried to make them laugh. Or we left them alone. Or Got mad at them. Or sometimes even, mothers would beat you to snap out of it. “Oh, so you want to be sad? Okay, let me give you something proper to be sad about! Omosh, pon na boka!” Though, to be fair, such incidences were few and far between. When nothing else worked, we prayed.
So to me, having a heart-to-heart conversation is so alien it seems like an affliction. The other day Chester Bennington from Linkin Park died and I had no idea who he was. Like, I knew of Linkin Park, and that it is a soft rock band, but past that it did not even register. When Chester Bennington began to trend, we were in a club and I turned to Jaber and asked her “Who is this who just died?” She knew I could not get it even if she tried explaining, so when we got home, she played Numb and said “That…that is Chester. He is the lead singer.”
“Oh…him.” I knew his voice from the radio but it meant nothing to me past that.
Yet reading through my timeline, people were gushing all over about him and it was all just too strange to me. He was being elevated to some messianic status. Like a savior of sorts.
Kumbe he was.
The first one to talk to me on inbox is a friend from campus who I thought I knew well. You know? Like I know he is from Kisumu and …you know? …stuff. We began talking and I could tell that Chester checking out like he did, had cut him to the quick. Chester had saved him from doing something many people would have called stupid. Because he was just a fresha and nothing made sense to him; even his own very existence. He was talking to a therapist who gave him Xanax that must not have helped because he complimented it with Valium. Then things were OK, but only for a few weeks, before everything reverted to normalcy. To him feeling like ‘I couldn’t do it anymore. It felt like I was removing myself from my body as a way of coping.’
He kept listening to Linkin Park, Breaking Benjamin, Asking Alexandria, Bring Me The Horizon, Five Finger Death Punch and Suicide Silence. I have no idea who these guys are, but that is not what is important. What is important is that they all made things easier. They kept telling him, “You will be okay.”
Because of the person I am, someone who does not share, I find myself at a loss when someone who needs to share shares with me. When someone tells you that there was a time he felt like offing himself, what are you supposed to do? I have no clue how I managed that conversation. I did, somehow, taking long breaks in between responses just to measure my words.
When the conversation finally went cold, I went back to YouTube and listened to Numb all over again. Not the one with Jay Z. The original.
But him I can understand, because I have known him for a while. The one that got me really scared was when someone, a lady I barely know from the internet, sent me a message. Of course in the spirit of exchanging the normal pleasantries that can be managed between people who have only met on Facebook, I made the mistake of asking how things have been with her. I expected the kawaida “Niko tu sawa.” Instead, she said, “I have not been well lately.” And right off the bat I knew I probably should not have asked.
A visa denial had triggered a clinical depression. Before all that, there had been a man. A man, much like the many that many women have had the unfortunate luck of meeting. A man with another woman. A man with no explanation for cheating other than his fists. Then there is our woman with a disfigured face, a skin that used to be fair, yet is now peppered with spots of black and blue. There is a crack on a hospital ceiling for weeks.And a court case that does not go anywhere. Followed by a therapist. And pills. And pills. And pills. And then there is a trip back to her childhood in Muhoroni, with her dad driving her to places south of Lake Victoria. Then there is no more dad. Just loneliness.
And then there is me.
Me on the other side of the chat wondering what to say. Wondering how ‘strangers’ are supposed to be comforted. And where they get the courage to open up to people so easily. People they should not trust because, who ever trusts anyone or anything that they haven’t looked at in the eye?
To be honest, I was not going to write about this. I had considered it last week when it was still a trending conversation, before Uhuru snubbing the presidential debate took over the interwebs, but then ruled against it. That meant me admitting my inability to let people in, which makes me feel too vulnerable. Until I found myself at a dinner table. Around me, Jaber’s close friends. It was not meant to be an intervention, but then after the food had warmed our insides and alcohol hung gingerly in the hands of those who were not on driving duty, that is what it became. Jaber has infected her friends with this ‘talking about shit’ shit. She spreads it like a flu and she is patient zero. We were asked “So what is going on with you guys?” The session I dread. Public speaking. For someone who always has too much to say online, I detest the spotlight. I am too shy to open up to people, kwanza when I don’t know them like that.
I had assumed it was just for people to say what is new and, you know, the light commentary about what is going on in their lives. Nope. Guys dug deep. When it got to me, I said “Jaber will speak for the both of us,” and because she knows I hate my shit being out there (the shit that matters, anyway) she simply glazed through. Thankfully.
But I remember sitting next to this girl, this one who is always bubbly with a smile that dims her eyes and pronounces her cheek bones, and listening to her talk about a heartbreak. No holds barred. Uncensored. How she blinked when she spoke and her face dropped. How time stood still and many of the guys in the room, searched for places to rest their eyes because seeing her like that was too unbearable. She spoke like she had been needing to for a while.
I stared at my glass long after she had kept quiet and everyone had started consoling her, thinking about Chester in his final moments. That man died long before he committed suicide. I wondered whether before he made that decision, he had needed someone to talk to, anyone who would just listen, the way that dinner table listened to the girl with a broken heart. I remember wishing that I could do that sometimes. Let my tongue and heart loose. And just talk.
Yet, I choose to remain a prisoner of words I should have learnt to set free.