“I will always love you. But I must go now. I’ve left a letter for you.”
Swiftly glancing at the above SMS, my first reaction was one of pleasure. It was a note reassuring me that he cared about me. But something didn’t quite seem right and so I stopped the car to re-read it.
Time stood still as the full implication of its content hit me like a punch in the solar plexus. Immediately my blood froze in my veins. Gasping out “Oh Lord” I turned the car around at once to begin the long journey of over 100 km to the East Rand town where my closest friend of the past seven years was staying.
It was not the 11 September but the 28 April, but for me, the darkest day had come.
The day had begun fairly normally. But just before 2 pm everything changed. I was about to go on chef duty at the country lodge where I’d been working for five months. It felt a good deal further than a mere 27 km from the nearest city. In the heart of the bushveld, I slept in a pleasant room under thatch and sometimes saw zebra as well as a porcupine just outside my bedroom window. Although I was having several problems with the pressure of the job there, I was enjoying the quiet environment.
The three and a half kilometers of bumpy dirt road seemed even longer than usual as I sped over the hill toward the main road. Somehow the sincere prayer in my scrambled mind enabled me to retain my sanity during the mad drive southwards.
The most miraculous thing of all was that in another five minutes I would not have received the message until late that night as there was no cell phone reception at the lodge itself. There was reception around the staff residences but not at the dining complex on the lake, about a kilometer and a half from the houses.
In my desperate haste I had forgotten to bring petrol money along and realized that my tank was almost empty. Fortunately I had a VCR recorder in the trunk of the car, which I persuaded the nearby garage just beyond the intersection with the main road to take as surety in lieu of cash for the time being. Then I raced at top speed the 100 kilometres towards my friend, using my hazards and trying the whole time to get through to his cell number without success.
About half an hour later I received a call from his brother saying he was not at his house in the other town towards which I was headed, but at the “park where we always walked the dogs, by the dam.” This was once again miraculous, as when I received this message I was almost at the point where I’d have to split off towards the town where we had stayed, not very far from this dam.
I met up with his brother at the dam and we teamed up to search for my friend’s car. On the way I began to panic and lost control of the steering, wrecking my car on the rocks next to the dirt road around the dam, and had to leave it where it was and climb into his brother’s LDV. We eventually found the old white car on the other, more wooded and lonely side of the dam among tall weeds and at that point I began to panic big time. I was shaking with fear at what we might see. His brother said “Thank God, he’s alive” and I looked to see him sitting dazedly in the front seat, but the window was broken and there were shards of glass and he was bleeding. When I asked what happened he said he had locked himself out of the car and had to break the glass to get back in.
Once we had established that my friend was OK I chanced to glance towards the back seat. Our beloved little biscuit coloured dog Gina, who had always accompanied my friend on his visits to the lodge, was lying there dead. I fell to my knees in the grass and wept my heart out at the sight. However, she had given her life so that my friend could live. He told us that once he had shot her because he didn’t want anyone else to be saddled with the responsibility of taking care of her, something changed inside him and he decided not to take his life. I cried all the way back to his home while on the back inside the canopy. We left the old white car with its sad bundle to be collected the next day.
To show my state of mind at the time, about two days after the incident I chanced to see a black bag lying in the garden and my immediate thought was that Gina had risen from the dead, as we had buried her in the garden, carefully placed in a black bag.
My fondest memories of her are her love of chasing balls, and the way she howled to the accompaniment of Khatchakurian’s Sabre Dance.
Giving it thought many times since, I was of course convinced that she was indeed a Christ-like figure because she had to sacrifice her life so that my friend could live. The sadness of her passing will always be with us both, but at least the greater sadness, which would probably have caused a permanent meltdown in my mental state, was averted.
I was no longer in a mentally sound enough state to continue my chef duties at the lodge.
Not long after the incident, during which we spent a few days together at my friend’s brother’s home, I managed to get a temporary position at a show kennels / breeder just outside the city. This was therapeutic and enjoyable as I had around twenty American Staffies and twenty English Bulldogs to look after and to exercise.This enabled me to utilize my love of dogs and improve my confidence around large ones that had the desire to fight one another to the death given half a chance.
After this did not work out because of my inability to fix broken cages and perform other “handyman” skills, it was decided that I had to return , the PTS (post-traumatic) stress as well as guilt and loneliness was so great that when I returned to my parents to stay for some months until the future could be determined more fully, they were of the opinion that my behavior was “certifiable”. My parents were extremely concerned about my mental and physical state at this time and my mother even suspected at the time that I might have AIDS. Luckily, at a much later stage I was able to reassure her on that point.
Never before or since this time have I experienced such darkness of the soul and such crushing loneliness. Certainly this was a very dark time of my life. The nights were so bad and I battled with insomnia for the first time. I’d frequently wake up in the middle of the night with a shrunken sexual organ as well as the feeling that my entire body was shrinking from my feet upwards. I’d wake up in a sweat at 3 in the morning and be unable to urinate as my penis was so shrunken. I would stand there in a state best described as a “nothing” or virtually catatonic state.
I also experienced a number of severe panic attacks at this time. During these incidents, I felt as though my spirit was floating away from my body, leaving just an empty shell. It truly felt like I was dying. I felt that I needed to hold onto my stepfather’s leg on at least one occasion, whilst screaming at the top of my voice.
If I were not for taking up children’s fantasy writing at this time, and being permitted to use my mother’s computer (which she uses almost exclusively for playing Solitaire) for an hour or so per day typing my book chapters I think I would have gone off my rocker and been unable to cope with life anymore. Writing was therapeutic and gave me a creative escape route. I could join a bunch of anthropomorphic animals on a foreign planet and share their myriad adventures.
It was only after my diagnosis with Asperger Syndrome some four years later that all the curiously shaped pieces of the puzzle began to click into place. I am truly grateful to my friend because it was partly due to his detailed and enlightening report on my idiosyncrasies that the psychiatrist was able to make her diagnosis.She cracked the code!
Now, ten years after the incidents described above and six years after my diagnosis with AS, I sleep extremely well and have managed to make peace with all the different oddly shaped jigsaw pieces that are part of my makeup.
It has certainly not been easy to write this; hence the long delay between my previous post and this one. But I felt the need to share it for the twofold reason of putting this incident behind me once and for all while realizing that a number of good things came out from it, as well as to encourage all those who are battling with depression and tragedy in their lives.