The first time life felt truly hopeless for me was in 1990. I’d been forced by circumstances to serve in the apartheid South African army for a year.
I didn’t know what I wanted to study, so I ended up there by default. I was young (18) and naïve enough to buy their bullshit from the apartheid propaganda machine. They told us that refusing to serve, which would have resulted in more than a year of some other kind of community service, would put a black mark against our names, and we’d never be able to get work. In reality of course, those who refused to serve got nothing but respect. But I went there not knowing any better.
It was in the army that I realized this indisputable fact: Most people are stupid. Suddenly in a strange place, I found myself surrounded by thousands of idiots. I remember there was a son of a New Apostolic minister in our barracks – he was friendly and charming and would lead an evening prayer as well as come up with these impromptu sermons… besides the usual feel-good Christian crap, there was rhetoric used to justify the racist Group Areas Act because “we must keep the cultures separate” or something. His hatred for people of colour was badly hidden behind his Christian “love” in a style not dissimilar to American preacher Steven Anderson’s hatred for gay people. Funny how such homophobic views are always held by men who only seem to think of gay men, huh? Almost like it’s self hatred of someone in the closet… But I digress.
Most people just went along with the racist rhetoric there. Idiots. All of them. Then I recall one day sitting in a mess hall, with a army chaplain sitting just opposite me at the table. The bullshit coming out of his mouth was so bland, so dull, I kept dozing off. And some twit kept waking me up. It was terribly annoying.
I’d taken a Bible to the army with me, because someone had told me it was “good to read”. I opened it up to the book of James, and to be honest I don’t think I even made it three pages in before throwing that in the trash. It was then that I realized that even though the racist bastardized version of Christianity bore no resemblance to the real thing (much like current US evangelical Christianity), that didn’t matter, because the religion itself was a bunch of bullshit too. Bullshit everybody around me believed in, because they were idiots. They reminded me of ants, walking in lines like all the other ants, brainless drones just going about their business because that’s what drones do.
Once, after they fucked me around and I missed my flight to go on an eight day pass because they forced me to mow the lawn, I had to enter the office of a sergeant major to get my papers signed. (It was a shared office with the camp’s captain and some other arseholes sitting on the other end. All of them were there.) Their ranks meant nothing to me as I saw permanent force army people as escapists who couldn’t handle the real world. I just walked in casually, and went about my business. Then this idiot corporal started shouting at me, like some character from a movie where they shout in your face that you are worthless and so on, simply because I wasn’t standing at attention. I think I was supposed to be afraid or something. Caught between anger and holding back laughter, I almost spoke my mind. I almost told him that… “No, I am not nothing. I am the only one who matters here, and a year from now I will not remember your names. You exist only to remind me that idiots are everywhere, and I’m sorry but I can not fear a white trash man-child shouting nonsense in my ear. Also I have a headache.” I pictured saying it, knowing that all they could do was make me run around with a sandbag, and maybe do a few hundred pushups and sit-ups. Honestly, in those days, a bit of physical pain was something I enjoyed. I pictured it, but didn’t do it. Instead, after turning to stare at him for an ecstatic five seconds or so that made him shout even louder, I stamped my feet together in an over-exaggerated parody of the style I’d been taught, did a robotic about turn in the wrong direction, and marched out of that office like a storm trooper, holding back the laughter until I was out of earshot.
It was oddly on that eight day pass that I went to the church of my youth and told the priest I no longer believed in god. I was hoping he might say something to convince me otherwise, but he didn’t even try.
In a way, it was good to be an addict for a while. I found someone who I thought was a soulmate in Megan. Someone to get high with me, and drop out of the line of ants. Someone to laugh at the stupid human drones with me. Someone to say “fuck the world” with me and mean it. Because it is miserable being surrounded always by idiots. Sometimes I still feel that way, that nihilism is the only answer. And nihilism can be greatly enjoyable when one is high. The meth served its purpose for a time.
But somewhere along the lines, I changed. I read those stupid Facebook statuses asking what you would do if you could go back to the past and change something. And I realize, even if I could, I would not. I love the children we brought into the world, and would not risk changing anything that might lead to a different present where they aren’t here. I am no longer that person who thinks that only I matter, but instead find joy in seeing the world through their innocent eyes.
That’s why I am so glad that Josh’s sister is back. She wouldn’t exist were it not for Megan’s infidelity, but I am glad she cheated on me. I’m glad because I love Aishah as much as my own son. I regret nothing. And the world isn’t such a bad place after all. I work with some very smart people, and am glad to know them, glad to be a part of their team. Most people are still idiots though, and I have my days, or sometimes months of feelings of hopelessness. But right now, life is good.