Stories we Tell Ourselves

Melancholy: The Album, 2

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Melancholy: The Album
Part 2: Thinking out loud

They say that there is light at the end, at the end of the tunnel
Yet, at my end, at my end of the tunnel, there is no light
And it feels as though my tunnel, my tunnel is a funnel
That sucks in more and more and more darkness
And I drown, and suffocate in this darkness
from which, from which there is no escaping.

And so I fall, clutching, clutching at straws
reaching, grasping, screaming in terror
but no voice, no voice comes from my mouth
and I keep on falling, falling deeper, and deeper
in this bottomless void, as the darkness closes in
a heavy darkness, crushing me, tearing at my essence
threatening to cut me loose, and lose me, forever.

In this darkness, there is no life, no laughter, no love,
no sun, no stars, no rainbows, no silver linings, no new beginnings
only a cold, putrid, clinging sadness that grips tight, sucking
at the soul, numbing out all feelings, erasing joy and all happy memories
in its trance, I am a zombie, passing – through, and passing – by
one day at a time, an hour at a time, a minute at a time… tick-tock
counting down to a melt-down, if there be no rescue, if there be
no one, to reach out, to hold my hand, to guide me through
this darkness, through this blindness, to the light

And to the sun.

Nobody talks about a crazy relative, more so, a close relative. In other words, nobody talks about an immediate family member who is crazy. Or one who is blind or deaf or has HIV or that suicide that happened in the family. Cancer or diabetes is ok, it elicits sympathy and it does not reflect on the family. Let me tell you about African courting in the old days. A relative would be sent to scout out the family to establish if it was a suitable one to marry into – were there crazies in the family? Or strange illnesses? Then, no, you mustn’t marry into that family. Plus, I am told, the mother would seek out a kid from without the family as insurance. Genetic portfolio diversification if you will. Stigma. Discrimination. It smelt so.

We are in the middle of June and the weather is freezing cold. I am in the house, alone; in the background, muted piano soundtrack. All my phones are off. I am just from snubbing my neighbour. He wanted to talk about football, about Christiano Ronaldo, about Spain and Portugal, but I had just woken up and I am all grouchy and touchy in the morning. Thing is I was yet to indulge in my rituals to start the day. Perhaps, there is a bit of my father in me. He always insisted for his mornings not to be disturbed. Money issues or family business being a preserve of the evenings. Don’t give him bad luck in the morning, or something.

I am thinking about death. More to the point, suicide. I am thinking of a classmate, at one point, a deskie, who committed suicide. I am thinking of a neighbour who committed suicide. I am thinking of that student years ago who, coming for the mid-term break from school, hanged himself with his school’s tie. The other two were also males.

See, June is the anniversary of my grandmother’s death some two years ago (I had to look that up and she actually passed mid-May, but it was a freezing May and I tend to associate the cold with the month of June, and death, and darkness and sadness). Her death being one of those that shakes one to the core. Though I had lost a couple of relatives before – a grandfather here, a couple of cousins there, friends and neighbours, she really was special. In the African way of doing things, I was her ‘husband’ – that is, I was named after my grandfather, so I was favoured among her grandkids.

My grandmother, she died at the ripe old age of 102 years. That is, a bonus of 52 years going by the bible. She really had a full life, seeing her grandkids and their kids and grandkids after them. She died a happy person and her funeral was more of a celebration, going by the conventional wisdom in all the speeches that were uttered at her funeral. Still, when death comes, whether to the young or the old, there is always shock even when you can see it coming.

So, today I am also thinking of my classmate, my high school classmate, K, who committed suicide. His was not a full life as he had so much potential to actualise. He was a popular person, a favourite among the ladies when we went out for school outings. His father drunk like a fish. His father could have been a drunkard; things we gloss over. I remember him quipping that his father had been told by the doctor to slack on his drinking as he only had a quarter of his liver left from all that drinking.

K was also a happy-go-luck person and the only time I can remember him being sad, pensive even, wiping away at the corner of his eyes, was once. I think it was something to do with some English assignment which the whole class had neglected to do. A furious English teacher had fumed that everyone came to the school alone and would leave alone. She really did touch a raw nerve there with her implications. Sad thing is I never got to go to K’s funeral.

Now, the mobile phone was becoming affordable in our last year of high school, which meant that not many of us had access to the gadget. In fact, during the school holidays, our rendezvous would be the Kenya Cinema, with half an hour allowance for everyone to arrive before we went to wherever we had planned for the day. So, when we cleared high school, most of us lost contact with one another till Facebook happened where we could reconnect.

So here I am rushing through town on some errand when I happen to bump into B, another classmate. Long time, how are you? I am fine. And how is so and so? So and so is fine, I don’t know where so and so went… that kind of talk. How is K? An uncomfortable silence. You never heard? K passed on. What! For real? Yeah. What happened? Apparently, no one knows the whole story. K came back from college and they found him slumped in the bathroom where he had committed suicide. Those of us who heard about it went to his funeral. It really was hard on the family.

And for a week after that, all I could think of was K. And a guilt that I had not attended his funeral, nor made effort to keep in touch. What was going through his mind when he saw suicide as the only way out? Was there no one he could reach out to? Or better yet, was there no one who noticed a change in his behaviour, his mood, and reached out? Did his suicide catch everyone unawares? Apart from friends and family, where else could he have gotten help?

It would be another five years for me before I reached out.

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