I’m in Limbo

Last night in my nightmares, I couldn’t breathe properly. I shifted awkwardly between asleep and awake, laying thinking of one memory in particular that haunts me – my mother on that Tuesday night before I dropped her at the hospital on Wednesday morning; my mother sitting at the dining room table after walking from her bedroom to the lounge, just a few meters being enough to leave her out of breath, sitting there panting with her head in her hands. I laid there thinking that, and then shifting back to sleep where I dreamed that I was the one struggling to breathe. Then I woke confused, uncertain if this was a dream or if I really did struggle.

I’ve started wondering if this was really a sensible time to quit cigarettes. My last smoke was quite late on Thursday night, but the craving has been quite intense since then. But it’s not just craving – I’m angry. This anger flares up in response to tiny things that should be insignificant. I don’t remember ever craving meth like this, but I am craving a cigarette. The part of me that wants it begs and pleads, insisting that all I need is one; that I can bum from my neighbour, Mervin downstairs, who normally bums from me. But no! I shut those thoughts down each time, by playing back that mental image of my mother, sitting there with her head in her hands as she struggled to breathe. I hear her voice, as she called me on her last day, a week ago yesterday, to tell me that they would try to drain the fluid from her lung using a needle. I thought I’d see her later that day. They were supposed to help her, not suddenly kill her! That’s why I’m still in shock. And I think of how she died not two hours later, but also that she might have lived much longer if she’d quit smoking sooner. I need to quit and not give in to any cravings, so that I can live longer, for my son.

So I have motivation, but it’s hurting. The more I think about it, the more it hurts.The grief and sense of loss is otherwise not as bad as it was a week ago. It’s still bad, but it’s OK. But the not smoking thing is really fucking me up. Even my sense of the passing of time is different without nicotine. I don’t know how that can be, but some annoying tasks, such as pulling off from a traffic light… seem to take much longer now. The waiting for the lights to change from red to green… seems much longer than it needs to be. I used to take a lot of smoke breaks as well, sometimes before and after doing just about every little thing. Now I have all this extra time and no clue what to do with it.

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I quit smoking, and some clarification on why I don’t debate theists (again)

Two unrelated subjects today, but both were on my mind as I tried, in vain, to fall asleep last night.

I’m done with smoking cigarettes

I’ve tried half-heartedly to quit before, but was always quick to give up. In fact, I’ve often wondered how it could be that I gave up meth easily more than five years ago, but cigarettes were the one addiction I held onto.

But I think I have an answer: Just like five years ago, when I had motivation, I have motivation now. It’s a week ago that my mother died of complications trying to treat lung disease, most likely cancer caused by smoking. So just like when I quit meth, I am quitting cigarettes “cold turkey”. No pills or cigarette alternatives, no 12 step program – not that they do that for smoking cessation, but I am comparing this to quitting meth… No “just for today” nonsense because this is for life.

I hope this gets easier because I am craving a cigarette right now. But that’s OK; I craved meth for a day or two as well (after quitting at the end of a week), and then it got easy the next week.

Why I’m not going to debate you; the theist who attempted to initiate a debate yesterday

I’m not going to write who it was or quote fully. Long term readers might be able to figure it out, but that doesn’t matter because it absolutely does not apply to that one person only.

First of all, I do not get “defensive when criticized”. It’s avoidance. When you try to push me into a debate, I politely back off. It’s not defensive and I am quite capable of being aggressive as my arguments are good. But I don’t want to. I see no value in debating you after already explaining my position multiple times, only to have you stampede into yet another attack on me while caricaturizing my position.

I am not arrogant about this. To condescend and accuse me of arrogance when I do not believe I have a personal relationship with the creator of the entire universe, is more than a little ironic. Look at yourself a little closer.

As an atheist, I do not say, “There is no god”, at least not as a start to an argument. That’s a possible conclusion. Unlike you, I would never start with a conclusion. I reject the claims that gods exist. I don’t accept them, and I don’t make a counter claim that a god doesn’t exist. To accuse me of claiming to have special knowledge is dishonest after I have explained this literally every time you or anyone else tries to push me into a debate.

Since I was also indoctrinated in my youth, I understand the theistic perspective. When the arguments used always caricaturize my position, and with the type of arguments used, it is clear exactly how many theists think:

  1. You believe you “know” god exists, but won’t admit that.
  2. That is, every argument starts with the implicit assumption that god exists. Everything else (that isn’t about some straw man of atheism) is then using motivated reasoning to continue believing what you already believe.
  3. You assume that atheism is some kind of polar opposite of theism, so you project this opposite claim that “there is no god”.

Since the theist not only starts with his conclusion, but also argues against himself in the form of a twisted projection of some kind of assumption of what atheism is, and ignores everything I say, there really isn’t much point to debating.

Even when I did debate in the past, it was never to win. Watch or read any debate and pay attention to those who observe and support the debaters, not only the debaters themselves. In almost every case, both parties believe they won, and both groups of supporters believe their candidate won. Belief bias is strong.

I go into a debate with an open mind, and am always willing to learn. But there’s nothing to learn in debating someone who begs the question, someone whose premise assumes his conclusion to be true. You’ve lost before the debate has even begun. That wasn’t always a reason for me not to debate, but years of wasting my time have made it so. I used to debate anyway, ask leading questions and try to get my opponent to reveal their assumptions, bring the intellectual dishonesty in their arguments to the surface so that others might see it. But that got boring when every theist debater made the same assumptions and used the same arguments, while none of them are self aware enough to realize the assumptions they make. Or honest enough to admit what having faith really means. (Faith is belief despite no evidence. If you are truly honest about this with yourself, you would realize that it is not something that you can rationally debate.)


Edit: Typical… This cigarette craving is driving me nuts so I forgot to include one of the points that whirlpooled ’round my head last night as my insomnia dragged me over into the new day… Lastly, I am not insecure in my beliefs, unlike some people. I’ve written about this many times and that need for my point of view to be understood is less urgent than it used to be. There are years worth of material going back on this blog and anyone who wants to know my personal view, anyone who actually knows me in real life, can read it here and understand it better than I can ever tell you in words.

So don’t try to force me to debate, please. Save your arguments from ignorance and your circular reasoning and your gaslighting of my life and my beliefs or lack of beliefs.

I am not strong

I’m hardly coping with the loss of my mother. The last couple of days my brother helped out, first with sorting through her things and then with the unpleasant process of meeting the undertaker so that her body could be released, and organising the cremation. He made it clear that he’s doing this to Josh and I, not for her. Their relationship had deteriorated beyond repair, sadly. I’m not going to write anything further about that (It’s nobody’s business), and I do appreciate the help he and his wife have been the last couple of days.

But as for me – I am lost. My relationship with my mother was not that great until she moved in here in 2011, but since then we have grown close, closer than ever before. I downloaded series to watch with her and Josh; I took her to the movies; I discussed every little detail of my life with her. Sometimes I didn’t like her advice; sometimes I didn’t take it; sometimes we argued, and sometimes I took her for granted. But she was there for me. In the years of 2011 to 2013 when I was still struggling with addiction, she stood by me. (OK, she had to because she was staying in my place where I paid the rent and bought the food, but still.) She supported me emotionally when nobody else would. She was my only support. And now she’s gone.

Just the night before I took her to hospital, I called her to see a funny video I’d found on Facebook. In the last couple of months, we watched Westworld Season 2 together. She was looking forward to the final season of Game of Thrones.

She was my rock. She did more for me than anyone ever has. I depended on her for so much. When everything else was shit and my life fell apart, at least I had my mother to stand by me. And now she’s gone.

“Be strong”, people say. I probably shouldn’t criticize… Of all the things people say, that’s probably the best one. But it reminds me of when people congratulate me on getting out of some terrible situations in my years of addiction. “You’re strong”, they say. But I am not.

I am not strong. I am weak. I got through addiction and through some abusive situations, that seemed quite hopeless, not because of strength, but simply because I had to. I chose to live on, to drag myself through another day, then another, another, and another until it didn’t hurt as much any more. I persevered because I had to, not because of being strong.

How fragile is human life?

Yesterday my mother died suddenly. I’m not coping with the loss very well at all.

This has all been a shock. Two weeks ago, I dropped her off at Edenvale Hospital before going to work. It was just supposed to be a checkup, but I found later that day she’d been admitted. She had an enlarged heart due to fluid on her lungs. They also picked up something on her chest but didn’t know what it was, so she was scheduled to go to Johannesburg General hospital for a test, a bronchoscopy. But things did not go as planned.

They let her come home, and she was scheduled to go for the test this past Tuesday. I dropped her off at 6AM, again at Edenvale hospital, and their “messenger” as they call him took her to Johannesburg General hospital. But she hadn’t been told not to eat breakfast, so she had to return home. The messenger berated her, bullied her, telling everyone it was her fault. This was the second time he did so; the prior week another test had to be aborted because of a seafood allergy (which she had disclosed) which left her sensitive to the drip. So on Tuesday after making her walk from one side of the hospital to another (It’s a huge hospital.) because he parked on the wrong side, he let her wait three hours for the transport to go back to Edenvale. Is this how you treat a 70 year old woman who is struggling to breathe because of blood clots on her lungs? is it fun to bully an easy victim?

So on Wednesday, I took her back to the hospital again. They took her back to the larger hospital, where the bronchoscopy had to be abandoned because of a complication caused by her reaction to the medication. But I wasn’t notified. After work on Wednesday, I went to Edenvale hospital, but nobody knew where she was, so I then had to go look for her at Joburg Gen myself. It turned out she was in ICU, where she stayed overnight. After that amount of stress and no sleep, I stayed home on Thursday – I could not go to work in such a state of mind and without having had any sleep.

But on Thursday she was OK. She felt much better, was happy and in good spirits; she even joked with the staff there and made friends.

I went to work on Friday, dressing smarter than my usual jeans and t-shirt because we had an office year end function that afternoon. I planned to attend, and then leave early because visiting hours are 3 to 5PM.

She called me around 10AM to let me know that the bronchoscopy had not been done. Until then, we thought it had and that we simply had to wait two weeks for the results. I was under the impression that she was coming home. But instead, another procedure was going to be done where they would drain the fluid from her lung sing a needle. I asked if she would be anaesthetized but she told me she didn’t know because they had yet to explain it to her. I wished her luck, not knowing that this was the last time I would speak to her.

At 11:55AM I got the call to get to the hospital as soon as possible, but by the time I got there, she was already dead. She had again reacted badly to the medication, went into respiratory arrest, and while they tried to resuscitate her, went into cardiac arrest. They did resuscitate her after 30 minutes, but did not manage to wake her, and after another 30 minutes, and her not responding, they gave up.

The whole thing has been a nightmare. It happened too quickly, and I am shattered. My son and I have depended on her for so long now, but that’s not the worst part… I’ll find a way to cope with all the tasks that need to be done, but so far, I have not been able to make myself go through her things. Apart from her room, her toothbrush is still hanging in the bathroom, as is her towel and her toiletries. Her writing pad is on the dining room table, and I cannot bring myself to disturb those things. It seems sacrilegious somehow.

This is so much more difficult because of her staying with my son and I. In the years before this, we were not so close. But now, having her stay here these seven years had brought us closer together, and I was closer to her now than ever in my childhood.

How fragile are we, that life can so abruptly end? No time to say goodbye or even, “I love you, mommy”. There’s a part of me that fears that it is somehow because I didn’t tell her that I was worried in that last phone call, that somehow if she knew how much I cared and how worried I was, she might still be alive. I know it’s not true, but this part of me believes that if I’d said, “Please don’t die” that maybe she wouldn’t have.

How does it feel to burn out?

It seems close.

Work is a nightmare. Today I lost my cool and called somebody an idiot. Not to his face, but still… I was helping him with something – explained it to him four times and still he didn’t understand. Each time I returned to my desk, only to read yet another asinine question on Slack. I have little patience at the best of times, but today it was thinner than usual. So without considering it, I turned to my closest colleague and said, “You know what the problem is with [Redacted]?” Pause… “He’s an idiot.” I tried to take it back, suggesting that maybe the idiot is me, but it was too late. The words were already spoken. Words I did not mean.

My mother has been on oxygen since Wednesday. I didn’t even know until today. She told me the enlarged heart is not serious, and she only has a mild infection on her left lung. They’re treating it like pneumonia. In other words they don’t know what’s wrong. And there’s something on her chest but they don’t know what it is, so she’s going for a scan at another hospital on Monday. I don’t think she sees how serious this might be.

I struggled to focus at work today. Again. I was pulled in every direction. Again. Two disasters averted today, one of which involved preventing duplicate transactions from being sent out, by updating some data the last minute before the daily run. Nobody thanked me for averting this disaster that wasn’t even my responsibility, but I was reprimanded for something that went wrong in a deployment on Monday. Pressure pressure pressure. All the time. I can’t take it much longer. Something needs to change or I need a break.

Fuck this Black Friday, especially when I only get paid in a week.

I’m worried about my mother and it’s really quite difficult to focus on anything else. Now I hear my son is being bullied at school. I used to fantasize about being bullied, so that I might be able to bloody my fists on some fool’s fetid face. But nobody ever did. Still it’s hard to relate. Josh won’t listen to me – I tell him to either fight back or tell the principal. (I did both at his age.) I can’t help him if he won’t listen, although I am proud of his ability to taunt the bullies verbally. It’s a step in the right direction.

All I want is to be happy. It isn’t happening at the moment. Tomorrow’s another day?

Oh Aishah, you leave me breathing like the drowning man

Dreaming like the drowning man… I thought I was finished writing about this, but I am not.

On Sunday, I dropped Josh off at his cousin’s birthday party, dreading the drive there because he and Aishah slept over there that last Friday night on 7th September before Aishah and her mother left. I didn’t want them to go, didn’t want to be robbed of that last night with Aishah, but Megan had arranged the sleepover, not I, and both Josh and Aishah wanted to go.

I spent most of that Friday night playing Diablo, even finding a Puzzle Ring with my hardcore character, a character I let Aishah play sometimes. She loved playing Puzzle Rings, which open a portal to a realm with treasure, and loved fighting the monster named Greed at the end of that level. She also insisted on leveling up my gems for me when my character had gems to level up. These are things I forgot to write last time. I saved that Puzzle Ring for her, intending to let her play it on the Saturday, but there wasn’t enough time. Driving there brought all that back.

After dropping Josh off, I went to Norwood Mall to get some cold medication from Dischem. That was a mistake. I’d forgotten that the last time I was there, it was with both children at the end of the month. Aishah wanted to climb up onto the counter so she could see. Then later on, Aishah wanted to go into the toy shop, not really a toy shop but a shop called the Crazy Store that sold toys, among other things.

When I got back to the car, I could not hold back the tears. Why must I be so sensitive? I am struggling to come to terms with this. Each day I think of her innocent loving smile, and how she asked when I could swim with her. Each day, I am the drowning man.

I would have left the world all bleeding
Could I only help you love
The fleeting shapes
So many years ago
So young and beautiful and brave
[Excerpt from: The Cure – The Drowning Man]

Then yesterday, Josh found a glowstick he left in the fridge, left there since his school Valentine Dance earlier in the year. I still sent a photo of him to Megan, with the purple spray in his hair, and she replied excitedly, “That’s my son!”. And now I’m blocked, effectively meaning she’s blocked him too. How did it get to this? I don’t understand.

How did we get this far apart?
We used to be so close together
How did we get this far apart?
I thought this love would last forever
[Excerpt from: The Cure – Apart]

Today I ran out of air time and data, an accident due to Josh having the XBox on while I shared my connection and used it on the PC… then the XBox went ahead and tried to update Assassins Creed and ate all my data as well as air time. And it occurred to me, the only person I ever called (unless I used my phone for work) was Megan. That call I made every day… she was the only one important enough for me to call. Now I call no one.

Sorry about this dreary post. If you haven’t heard it, I suggest listening to The Drowning Man, one of my favourite songs of all time.

Why Aishah is important to me

Let’s try this again… Hopefully this will be my last post on this subject for now, and I will try my best not to write bad things about Megan.

Background: Megan is my ex, and the mother of Josh, my ten year old son who is with me. Aishah is Megan’s daughter, so she’s Josh’s half sister. In September 2013, they moved in to my apartment, and on that day, I quit using drugs. (Meth.) Somehow the beautiful little three month old baby girl was my motivation to be clean, which has left me feeling guilty for years because Josh didn’t motivate me the same way.

I waited a year, and then with one year’s sobriety I took part in the two programs that were stipulated by a court order to get Josh back, as he was in foster care. I took Megan along and we did those two programs together. Eventually I did get Josh back (on 15 December 2015), but by then Megan had moved away. She only stayed just short of two years, then initially stayed close by for a year before moving to Cape Town.

Recently they stayed with us again for just over three months, with Aishah now five years old. These are some of the many things that Aishah did, making it impossible for me to stop thinking of her:

  • Every day, she waited for me to come home from work.
  • In the first two weeks, we had a “bring your kid to work day” at work, so I took both Aishah and Josh. They had worksheets they were given by the receptionist, who Aishah called “teacher”, having all the other children follow suit.
  • For weeks, Aishah would carry on writing on those sheets, saying she was “doing homework”. She stashed them under the bed, where they were forgotten.
  • Every day, she’d ask me, “Are you going to work tomorrow?” and try to convince me to stay. We used this opportunity to teach her the days of the week. She knows them well now.
  • Even though she’s old enough to eat on her own, she’d insist I feed her, or wouldn’t finish her food.
  • Every night, she’d insist that I brush her teeth, or that she brush teeth with Josh and I.
  • After they were here for a month or so, she decided that she preferred to be bathed by me, not “mommy”. Actually it was like this for most things while I was at home, even brushing her hair.
  • She’d sit beside me when I played Diablo 3 on the X Box One, demanding that I “Sit back” so that one arm could go around her.
  • She played too. At first, she had to “finish all the bounties (in a town)”, and then she learned about key wardens and infernal machines, which she called “keyboards” and “machines”. She could navigate to any act to find the key warden, play it, and then go back to Act 1 to open the portal to the infernal machine. She also played standard nephilim rifts, but didn’t quite master the greater rifts which have a time limit. Sometimes some of the maps would confuse her or some of the monsters would frighten her, so she’d want my help. Also every time I levelled up, she insisted on putting my Paragon points on for me.
  • Every evening I play Diablo shortly before we all sit down and watch whatever series we are watching. (I’m a creature of habit.) While I play, my mother makes me a cup of coffee. Aishah loves coffee and would often drink half of mine. Megan did not like this, just like she didn’t like me giving Aishah soda at night. I don’t see a problem with such things… Sugar rushes are a myth, and if giving children what they want, but not doing so excessively, makes them happy, why not? After all, a happy child is… happy.
  • Sleeping arrangements were awkward, since my mother has the children’s room. My room has a queen size bed and a single bed, one for Josh and one for me. At first, the plan was for me to sleep in the queen size bed with Josh, so Megan and Aishah would sleep in his bed. But Aishah wanted to lie next to me. Both children wanted me to turn to them, so to compromise I’d lie on my back, with one arm around each of them. Then they’d fight over who could put their hand on my chest. Another compromise – they’d each get a turn on alternate days. After Aishah fell asleep, Megan would move her to the other bed; then she’d sneak back to me in the middle of the night. Last night I slept like that, reaching out my right arm to where Aishah used to be.
  • I’d take both children to the park, and Aishah would love me to push her on the swing.
  • Every day, she wanted me to play hide and seek with her.
  • When I get tired over weekends, I put my glasses on the table and lie down. She’d pick them up, bring them to me, and say “Put on your glasses”, meaning she wanted me to play with her. Other times when she was tired, she’d say “Take off your glasses” and then take them off and put them on the table, showing me that she wanted me to lie down and nap with her.
  • Every day she asked when it would be warm enough to swim. I took her to the pool, and she’d just play on the steps, waiting for the time when I could swim with her, but they left before that time could come. Even on the last day she asked me about this, and I had to tell her that she wouldn’t be here. (It is warm enough now.)

Those are just some of the things that I remember. No doubt I have left out many others. I literally can’t do anything without thinking of Aishah, and it breaks my heart that they left so soon.

For reasons that I can’t understand, I’ve been blocked on Megan’s phone now. Before these three months, we used to call them every night, so that I could speak to Aishah, and Josh could say goodnight to his mother. Now he can’t. Effectively she has blocked her son too and it breaks my heart.

Here is Aishah playing on the steps at the pool:

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And here she jumped on my shoulders while I played Diablo:

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She was settled and happy here, and our bond was unbreakable. I love Aishah. I can’t look at these photos without crying, and I can’t fathom why this bond had to be so abruptly and cruelly broken. It’s not right.