This will be too long for one post. The introduction alone is as long as my usual posts, so I’ll break this into two parts.
2006 was a weird year for me. I’d been using meth for about a year. I was living in Marina da Gama in Cape Town, and was in too deep with a meth dealer named Aldino (who everybody called Dino, or “money-eyes”, thanks to his green eyes). He often crashed at a house half a block away, that belonged to another meth addict named Nick. One night I met a “girlfriend” of his, named Megan, who stayed there for the day. (The name might be familiar to regular readers of this blog. Will get back to her shortly.)
Dino would manipulate me by giving me large packets of meth, considerably more than I was accustomed to using, and insist that I pay later. Thus I owed him thousands of Rands. Then he’d get me to be his personal chauffeur, driving him to a god-forsaken place called Bonteheuwel, which he pronounced Bontiville, to pick up his “wife” and mother of his two children, who was living there with his parents. I hated going there, but felt trapped, and would often be there in the middle of the night… the only white guy in that terrible place.
One night as we arrived, another man who had been there with his wife ran off, so Dino shot him out the passenger window of my car. I was shocked and terrified, asking myself how I, a middle class white guy, a nerd and computer programmer, could be in this predicament. I didn’t want to be an accomplice to murder. (The man lived though. Apparently Dino was a good shot, to hit a moving target when shooting from a moving car, but the wound was not fatal.)
One day while I was at work, I received a call from Megan, asking if we could meet that night. She was only 16 and I was 34, but somehow we had both left each other with quite an impression in our only meeting about a month before. It wasn’t a normal date… We met at the local Spur restaurant, then went and bought a lot of meth and went back to my place, and she moved in.
We weren’t actually having sex. I was torn between my need to save her somehow, to save this beautiful “fallen angel” as I saw her, and my attraction to her. So it was bizarre, this beautiful crazy girl sleeping next to me, then sloshing about and singing in my bath, naked with the door wide open, as I resisted my sexual urges. And she was incredibly beautiful then… She’s mixed race, what we call coloured here in South Africa, but looks Indian, and at 16, she was the picture of perfection in my eyes. One of the prettiest faces I’d ever seen, and a body to die for.
While we were lost in our own world, using and talking all night, Dino got somebody else to pick up his “wife”. And when she told him that she was pregnant with somebody else’s child, he murdered her in front of Nick, with a bullet to her head. But about Dino… He wasn’t all bad. He’d grown up dirt poor, and lifted himself from poverty the only way he knew – through gangsterism and drugs. He’d grown up Catholic and was a former alter-boy. He was charming, intelligent, and handsome, beloved by many women because of his piercing green eyes. He was also a dreamer, and had told me of his plans to get out of that life and buy a house for him, his wife and his two children. So on some level I understand what happened… When she told him, she took away his dream, and he was high on meth and buttons (mandrax) as usual. Dino was also the most dangerous and unstable man I knew, with a violent temper. I’m not condoning his actions… far from it. What I mean is, I understand his rage. I was afraid of him, and when I heard the news, all I could think about was the poor stupid girl, and how on one occasion she showed me a soccer ball she’d bought for her son at the flea market. What gave her that fatal courage to stand up to him? She didn’t deserve to die. I was afraid for Megan, afraid that Dino would find out she was staying with me, though we kept it secret for the first month or two…
Megan and I had an argument… I can’t remember what it was about… It could be one of many things. She’d stolen money out of my wallet, sold a few of my possessions, and she was angry with me because I had told a friend about her. One night she tried to run my car off the road by grabbing the steering wheel, as we drove home. In a reflex I punched her in the face and she let go of the wheel. But I had never hit a woman before (nor again). The guilt I felt was immense, even though it had been purely a reflex and one that probably saved both of our lives. So I kicked her out of my apartment, at least for the time being. Meanwhile, Dino, who was on the run from the police, was harassing me for the R2000 I owed him. I was justifiably afraid, and add to that the paranoia that comes with a meth high. (I can’t believe this was only ten years ago.)
I was looking for any means of escape, any way to get away from all the madness, even though at the same time I was worried about Megan, not knowing where she had gone. Then at work, I was invited to attend a Christian weekend retreat. The invitation came from the system architect. He was a highly intelligent man, whom I respected. I wasn’t calling myself an atheist then, although I no longer believed in god… But the offer came, I suppose, because it was obvious that I had a problem. It was difficult then, to show up on time for work. I slept once every few days, and had just gone from using a quarter gram of meth alone, over three days, to using far far more with her, every single night. I was in bad shape and everybody could see that. They didn’t know how bad… nobody did. So I don’t know how much of his motivation was to save me, or if there were discussions at work and this was perhaps a last resort… an attempt to help me rather than me losing my job, since I had done some good work there.
So I went.
From one set of crazy people to another.
Since I was there without meth, things seemed surreal at first. Here I was, with this odd man, driving there as he told me about a Christian children’s book that he had written. He was born into evangelism, but I would soon discover that most of the other attendees of this weekend retreat were a different kind of Christian to any I’d known before. They were converts, people who had found Jesus in adulthood. People who had been through or done terrible things, people who were broken, and had found a fix, a cure, in Jesus. (The pun on “fix” is intentional. More on them being high on Jesus in part 2.)
They were warm and welcoming, not at all interested in hearing my story, nor in telling me theirs. (For the best perhaps; else I’d have written theirs here.) It was all about the message of acceptance and forgiveness… But more on that later.
… To be continued.