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.


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.

My issues; I don’t know if I am depressed or just sad

I wish all my readers a happy new year. We had a good holiday, and although I only took one week of leave, that week was well spent with Megan and Aishah who came to visit Josh and I.

The time spent with them was not without its problems though, and this brought some things to my attention. Maybe on some level I knew that something was wrong, but I didn’t know how wrong it was.

The time spent with them was marred by Josh’s poor behaviour. Not only was he jealous of his sister and the attention she received from me, but he was mean, selfish, and spiteful. His behaviour was so bad, Megan and Aishah ended up leaving and I had to drive them to the airport on New Year’s day, even though the original intention was for them to stay a week longer. Megan wasn’t blameless herself… It felt like she spent too much time on her phone, such that she didn’t spend enough time engaging with us. It’s the little things… when you are present and engage with the people around you, you talk about things, you relate to them, you have a relationship with them. When you don’t, you’re almost not there.

I’ve described myself as happy, even until recently, and now I question that. I was happy three years ago, when Megan arrived in the month that Aishah turned four months old. I was able to quit my meth habit, and have not resumed it. (And never will.) Aishah was a pleasure to raise for those first two years when they lived with us, and she made me happy. She’s intelligent, inquisitive, and a joy to be around. Having her here again for a short while brought all that back, and having them leave took it all away again.

I still have Josh, but he is a difficult child. He’s moody, always complaining that he is bored, and seldom appreciates anything. But he was fine until a couple of months ago. It wasn’t this bad for most of the year, and in fact things were going rather well, which gets me to what appears to be the root of the problem…

Just the last couple of months, Abbi, his former foster mother and my former sister-in-law, has been visiting every Wednesday. She took it upon herself to collect him from school, since she stays just down the road from the school, and this allows him to spend time with his cousins. Then she brings him home so that his cousins can spend some time with my mother – their grandmother. But this is when his bad behaviour started and now it is out of control.

I have a few problems with this: Firstly, I know that she would not be comfortable if I collected her children from school and drove them anywhere, yet she started picking Josh up without consulting me, and assumed it would be OK, just because he stayed with her for a few years. That sets a double standard. And near the start of last year, she once called me to say, “Josh’s schoolbag is looking raggedy and some of the other parents are complaining. It would be awful if somebody called welfare.” So without saying a word, she is giving the children a message, telling them a story that I am unstable, cannot be trusted to drive them, but she is fine. I take things like this very seriously.

Secondly, there is the psychological aspect of this on Josh. By seeing them so often, he is reminded that he used to stay there. It makes him miss them more. That’s how it works. When you don’t see someone so often, you forget. This is also something that makes my getting him back commendable. The psychology of having a child removed normally leads you to forget them, rather than make you try harder to get them back. I got him back in spite of the effect removing him had on both of us. So having him see his former foster mother too often makes him miss staying there. It makes him remember that she was his “mother” for a while. It undoes all the progress that I have made with him. I think mostly it is this that is affecting his behaviour. He was fine until these weekly visits started.

Thirdly, on other occasions when he sleeps over at either Abbi or my brother, he is forced to say his prayers every night. This is also undermining the progress I have made removing him from religion, and is causing him confusion. No doubt they would say that he is not forced to pray, but the fact is, when there, he feels compelled to behave as the other children behave.

Now Josh refuses to listen to me or my mother. If he wants something and I say no, he complains that, “You say no to everything. I want to live with Abbi because she doesn’t say no to anything.” That’s not true, of course. I don’t say to everything, and she does say no as well. Also, whenever I go there, I can hear her voice even from outside the house, shouting at the children, all the time.

And over Christmas, Josh not only got his one gift from me, he received several from Abbi as well as her friends and family members. This, after he already has been spoiled rotten by them. He has hundreds of toys, far more than most people… so many that he does not appreciate anything. I was not brought up like that. On top of that, he was mean to his sister and wouldn’t let her play with his toys.

Back in October when we went to his former foster mother’s house for a Halloween party, I was reminded just how different her and her friends are to me. As a few of us sat outside around her swimming pool, a couple complained about the #FeesMustFall movement, saying some dismissive things about the people who are trying to get affordable fees. It’s easy to be dismissive of people who don’t have anything, who live in poverty, as you sit around your pool on a property that you own. (Or someone else’s when you also own property, but you get what I mean…) It’s easy to dismiss others who have to fight for equality and call them entitled when you have plenty. Those people, those Christian people, are the epitome of white privilege and that is not how I want my son brought up. I always feel totally out of place around such people. I do not belong there, and neither should my son.

It’s OK to have stuff. It’s not OK to think that you are entitled to it. It’s not OK to be dismissive of underprivileged people. I would prefer to give most of his toys away to the needy, but he seems to be too attached to them at the moment. Attached, and yet ungrateful.

Another interesting thing happened at that party… At one stage the children were splashing too much in the pool. Then Abbi threatened them (light-heartedly) and said that all the children could get a hiding just like her children. Interesting, because at court when I got Josh back, my brother tried to prevent it, by claiming untruthfully that our mother, who stays with me, is abusive. He even told Josh and me that if ever our mother hits Josh, he will call the police and get a restraining order, because spanking a child is illegal, and get Josh removed from me. Double standards much? Josh has told me that both of them spanked him, and when he got a demerit at school, Abbi’s father once made him choose between being hit with a belt or wooden pole.

I think I have to put a stop to those weekly visits. They are causing chaos.

But more than that, there is my feelings, my feelings of loss and despair after Aishah left. It brought everything back, the heartache of losing her after initially raising her for those two years. She isn’t even my biological daughter, but I love her just as much as Josh. She is very special to me, and this has brought my lack of happiness to my attention. I thought I was happy. Now I’m not so sure. I’ll have to see how things go, if my feelings improve in a couple of weeks. If not, maybe I am clinically depressed, and maybe I need help.

My emotional rollercoaster

These days I normally tell people I am happy. I’m three years clean after all – I have my son back for nearly a year now and all is well. It’s mostly true and I am happy, but it’s more complicated than that and I have written about it before. I feel it’s time to do so again.

This time I’ll wind back the clock a little further. I don’t know how to avoid this post being too long though. I’ll try to be brief, but too much brevity will result in glossing over things that had significant impact on my life.

Let’s go back to 2010. I’d spent 4 months in rehab, and upon coming out Megan followed me in. She was there for 3 months. Our son Josh was with my brother and his wife – a private arrangement. Three months later, Megan joined me in a sober house where I was living temporarily, and two months after that we rented a place, the place where I am living now – a 2 bedroom place because Josh was supposed to come back to us then.

Our relationship was not normal. I need to point this out or else again give the impression that everything was her fault. We were not having sex, because I rejected her every advance, every day. It’s hard to explain, but due to what happened before, I couldn’t. I figured I would get over it eventually, but “just for now” I couldn’t. So in September 2010, 2 days before Josh was supposed to come back to us, she disappeared. My brother and I went to every hospital looking for her, and he suggested what had happened, but I didn’t want to hear it. She had run away to Cape Town. (We are from Cape Town. I stay in Johannesburg now. Rehab was in Natal, followed by a relocation.)

So I was broken up about that, was borderline suicidal, and thus didn’t get Josh back as planned. Megan relapsed, but I convinced her over the phone to stop and stay clean for a week, then return to Johannesburg and test negative for meth. (Not too bright on my part.) After she returned, she tried to talk me into using (which she had already been doing without success for a few months). And this time I gave in. So at nine months clean, I relapsed, and we both used for a week. I managed to stop, but it was too late. My family involved child welfare, and even though we had already stopped using, they interviewed Megan while I was at work, and concluded that she was on drugs (she wasn’t) and could not make any decisions by herself… And thus the arrangement with Josh in foster care became more official. Not “finalized” yet but that happened later.

After that, she convinced me to use again. And I figured that since they were treating me like I was using, even though I wasn’t, I might as well use. I wanted to anyway. And that was that.

Then Megan liked playing with my phone… The app everyone used was called Mixit, and she met a guy through that, and started cheating on me before leaving me for him. He was a Pakistani, and abusive… At one stage she begged me to fetch her from the police station when she was staying in Springs because he had hit her. But every time, she only stayed with me for a couple of days, then went back to him for weeks or months, and over a year the last time. She used to come back and promise not to leave again… then I’d go to work and return to an empty apartment because she’d left me while I was at work.

I was a wreck then. I was using meth every day, and every night. I had voices in my head most of the time, often Megan’s voice telling me that she loved me. (Something the real Megan hadn’t said for years, but the one in my head used to say it all the time. I’d be at work or walking across a parking lot, and suddenly freak out because I’d heard her whisper in my ear, sometimes in company. And it was getting more difficult all the time to shut the voices out.) I knew the voices weren’t real, but I saw a pattern… every time, just before she would call and come back to me, the voices would “peak” and I’d hear her crying and begging me to help her… then she’d show up in real life. So I was delusional, thinking that we had some kind of psychic connection and belonged together. Meanwhile I was incapable of being there for Josh, although I did start paying his expenses. And I saw him now and then, by staying clean for a week here and there so that I could test negative for meth and be allowed to visit him.

Meanwhile Megan had converted to Islam and gone to Pakistan with her new husband. After she found that he had full blown AIDS, which he refused to treat because he was in denial, she came back again, leaving him on his deathbed. Not to me at first, but eventually, having given birth to his daughter. (I don’t pity him. At one stage, one of the many times she came back to me briefly, he called me and gave me a long lecture about how I should control her, not unlike a similar conversation from another guy that she cheated on me with before all of this. It seems that abusers love to tell me how I should treat women – and abuse them just like they do. It’s unfortunate that she would leave me repeatedly for an abuser, and I don’t know why she would do that, but the “fix” is not to become abusive myself. Anyway, that guy was an idiot and I’m glad he’s dead.)

Edit: Worth adding, and I don’t know why or how this happened, but in the last six months before she returned and I then cleaned up, my meth use, which was more than ever before, more or less stabilized. It doesn’t make sense, but the voices stopped – except for when I stayed awake for several days at a time and became paranoid while coming down. But I slept an hour or two every night, so I didn’t get into that state anymore. I was still high all the time (because that’s how I used – that’s how it goes when you’re a meth addict), but was coherent and was thinking clearly. So in that last six months, I was functional, I was a team leader at work with two developers working under me, and in fact I was doing most of the work. I wasn’t normal by any means, but for that brief period, my drug use was under control. I didn’t want to use anymore, but procrastinated every day. “I’ll stop tomorrow”, I thought; but tomorrow never comes.

And that brings us up to date, more or less. I cleaned up the day they arrived, in September 2013. I’d reached a point where I needed a prod to motivate me to stop using, and this was it. Megan’s little girl gave that initial motivation I needed to stop. I love that little girl. And that’s where my sadness comes from now. They stayed with me for nearly two years, and in that time Aishah and I became close. I treated her like my own daughter. The other night, I was sitting on the balcony at home, and I looked up at a neighbour’s balcony, on which there was a child’s chair. It made me remember the day I bought a chair for Aishah. She was only just over a year old. But I brought it home and told her, “This is your chair. Aishah’s chair!” and she was so excited… She carried it everywhere and sat right in front of me on it. Then the next day she discovered that she could stand on it to reach stuff of interest.

That’s just one example. I can’t write more without becoming overly emotional. Aishah gave me reason to live again. Josh couldn’t because I didn’t see him every day. But his sister could. For two years I was not only happy, I was joyful, ecstatic even. And we did get to see Josh more, since we were clean and took part in two programs that we were required to do in order to get him back. But there were always things to be used against us, contrived reasons that the foster care, which should never have happened at all, dragged on and on.

And then, Megan and Aishah went to Cape Town on holiday. But she didn’t tell me that she had no intention of ever coming back. Let that sink in.

They came back to Johannesburg a couple of months later and lived with some family friends of Megan, without even telling me straight away. And after that, we did see Aishah regularly again. At one stage I took both children to an indoor trampoline park every week, and last December I got Josh back. But at the end of April, Megan and Aishah went to Cape Town for good.

So while I am happy to have Josh back, I miss his sister. I don’t think of her all the time and cry on my drive to work (because I used to take her to and from crèche every day, and we’d play these games where she called out “Bus!” or “Truck!” after I taught her the words)… not anymore. But I do think of her every day. Again, I can’t say too much on this subject, because the tears will flow too fast and leave me incapable of writing.

And recently Megan asked if Josh could come to her for a week’s holiday… I don’t have a piece of paper saying I have sole custody, although she agreed in court for him to come to me. So really, the same person who could go there “on holiday” with no intention of coming back, thinks that I can trust her enough to send our son there all by himself, on holiday. It really gets to me. But what gets to me most is how much I miss my little girl.

Edit: I do trust Megan now. I really do. But that doesn’t matter. If Josh were to go to Cape Town alone and anything happened, there are a few people who will say “I told you so”. And although I can trust her, I don’t know if I can trust her family. Megan is very impressionable… for years she listened to everyone except me. She will take advice from an imbecile before she considers my view. I recall once begging her for three hours not to leave when she decided to leave in the middle of the night. (We were both high.) She conceded that everything I said was true, and then left anyway.  And when she went to Pakistan, those people told her that once you convert (or “revert” as they call it – they do believe stupid shit) to Islam, you can’t deconvert. And she believed them. For nearly two years she wouldn’t let Aishah eat bacon, for goodness sake. I do not know who she has been speaking to in Cape Town, and what kind of “advice” she has received. So while my heart may say I can trust her, my brain cannot take that risk. (And as illogical as it is, I do still love her and would take her back if I could. I must be a glutton for punishment.)

Why must I be happy and sad, all at once?

A couple of days ago, it was my son’s eighth birthday. We had a great day, and I made my focus for that day, as well as the days around it, to give Josh the best possible birthday I could. And it went well. He wanted a Kylo Ren mask, one that cost quite a bit, but uses batteries to change his voice. I gave him that and a Darth Vader costume, and the combination is pretty cool.

His sister, Aishah, and his mother, Megan, also came over for the day. But this will be the last time we see his sister for a while – I don’t know how long. They are leaving for Cape Town on Tuesday and may never return. She doesn’t understand of course, and every time she speaks to me on the phone, she exclaims “We going to jump on trampoline”. (She’ll be three in May.) I’ve been taking the two of them to an indoor trampoline park just about every week, and it’s all she wants to do. We are still also very close, and in fact the last couple of times she was with us for the day (without Megan), every time she thought I might be taking her home, she’d cry, “Don’t want to go to mommy”. Now I won’t see her anymore and I’m very sad. I don’t think Megan realizes just how close her daughter and I still are. After all, I brought her up for most of the first two years of her life, and it was only a year ago that mother and daughter moved out. Aishah still calls my place home. Also, I couldn’t get recovery right until the day they moved in on 4th September 2013. That was the last day I used meth, and I knew it that very day.

So while Josh’s birthday was a good day for him, it was a day of mixed emotions for me. This was his first birthday spent living with me for many years… The last one was when he turned one year old.

I can’t help thinking back to the day he was born. It was a long day… We were still living in Cape Town. I’d lost my car and took a train from Muizenberg to Cape Town, then walked to the office in Long Street. As I walked, at about 8:40AM I got the call that Megan’s water had broken…

I rushed to catch another train back. Then I had to wait, because our friend David, who was also a meth addict, had driven her to the hospital. Eventually I got there too. It was False Bay hospital in Fish Hoek. But things were not going well. Megan was not dilated enough to give birth. And she also couldn’t manage to breathe “properly”. The person handling it was worried, saying that the baby was in distress, was not getting enough oxygen and that they were not equipped to cope with the complications.

Megan was out of her mind at the time, and kept saying, “I feel like I need to popo”. I don’t know if the lady helping her could see it, but I could see what the problem was… She was too high on meth. One of the many little-known side effects of meth is that sometimes, you lose the ability to finely control muscles… it could be any muscles, but in her case, she was unable to push, was not dilating properly, and was too panicked to breathe correctly. I felt embarrassed and worried about our son. (But mostly I felt worried. Lack of oxygen could lead to brain damage or death.) Megan was only eighteen. I was 36, and it was my money that purchased the drugs she’d used.

Eventually they called an ambulance and we were taken to Groote Schuur hospital. Megan gave birth to Josh there, at about 7:23PM. It wasn’t necessarily that they did anything differently there (apart from being more patient), but more relevant was that enough time had passed, leaving Megan exhausted, but no longer high. Josh was born naturally, but with a fractured clavicle. (Collar bone)

I can’t remember clearly, but think they were both kept there overnight. Then I returned the following day, thanks again to David. But there were complications getting Megan and Josh checked out. It took hours, all the while I had to listen to David talking rubbish as he ogled over teenage girls. He was also very high. So it took several hours. The nursing staff couldn’t find the doctor to sign the release documents, and wouldn’t let them out without those documents because of Josh’s injury. Eventually it was evening again and I had to wait until visiting hour, then took it upon myself to take the documents, and search the hospital for the doctor on duty. (She was one floor down in the nursery dealing with an unrelated emergency.) Long story short: I managed to get the document signed, as well as a referral letter to sort out Josh’s injury at Red Cross Children’s Hospital. But David had run out of patience waiting, and had abandoned us at the hospital. Eventually we did get home thanks to a lift from someone in Megan’s family, but the whole experience was stressful, and all our fault for being addicts in the first place.

After that, things went well at first. Josh was bottle-fed because we couldn’t stop using meth, and were concerned about breastfeeding him. But after a few months, I became the primary parent, the one who bonded closely with him. Since he was bottle fed, I could do so. Megan looked after him in the day, and she bathed him, but eventually it became my job to feed him at night and get him to sleep. Eventually she and I drifted apart, and she wasn’t even around many nights.

Things got worse. Eventually we lost the house, and ended up living with a drug dealer, with whom she was sleeping – but I didn’t know that at first. But she didn’t know she was doing him any harm. She thought she was still a good mother. She stopped looking after Josh during the week and placed him in crèche, even though she wasn’t working. I remember one day I got home from work when Josh was just over a year old, and he was still at crèche. Megan and the other guy had not collected him even though it was after 6PM, while they scored some drugs and lost all track of time. They used to lose track of time and disappear for two to four hours. Later she reprimanded me for fetching him from crèche, as if I did something wrong… as if it was OK for her and the scumbag to fetch him, but not me.

This hurt, because she didn’t understand that anything was wrong. I was in denial at first, trying to make things work although they could not, but things only got worse. By the time Josh was about 16 months old, despite doing all I could, I had no choice but to admit that Josh was unsafe with us, and had to be removed. And so he was. It was not a formal arrangement, but he was safe with some family of mine in Johannesburg, who were kind enough to take him in. The process involved someone from child welfare, even though the area was not under their control (as the area we lived in fell under another local government department) – so this required my involvement. I met the people, then drove with them to collect Josh, who had just undergone an operation for an inguinal hernia and was recuperating with Megan’s mother at some family of hers in Grassy Park. (He was there because Megan suspected I was up to something, which I was, as it involved many phone calls with my relative and child welfare.) Then they took him to the airport, and he was flown to Johannesburg with my relative. The child welfare people were helping though, and it was not a formal arrangement.

On some level, Megan still blames me for doing that. For removing him. For taking him away, even though all I did was cooperate with others for him to be taken away from us. Yes, I was a meth addict too, and was not blameless for the situation we were in, but in her mind, all the bad things were my fault. (But I should emphasize that this was not without warning. As the situation worsened, I’d been warning her every day for six months that I’d have Josh removed, even before my relative called me with his idea. I just didn’t know how it would happen, and for most of those six months I was in denial, hoping that the situation would improve. But it didn’t.)

She isn’t like that anymore. She is a good mother to her daughter, or at least she is trying. But every year, I reflect on those things. And for this first time this year, Josh is now with me, and though I have done well, if we had both been committed to him six and a half years ago, we could have come right without all the pain that followed that time. (I had a plan back then. I saved up for a deposit and rent elsewhere, so that we could get away from where we were. But that plan to get out of that horrible situation failed after Megan’s friend Fabrice scumbag stole my money. Then a month later he was in jail for shoplifting, and she stole my money to pay his bail.) We could have worked on our relationship and our son’s future together, and things could be very different now. I’m also sad about Aishah leaving, because I love her like my own daughter. But I’m too sad to express much more than that (about her) right now.

This reflecting back every year used to be even worse.  And our first failed attempt at recovery needn’t have been a failure. That’s the worst of it. At the end of 2010, we had relapsed, but only for one week and then managed to clean up. This was before our son was in a formal foster care arrangement. The people who had been helping us did something out of spite. After a one-sided argument one day (where I wasn’t arguing), the following was said to me: “Get the fuck out of my house and take your son with you.” Then child welfare was called. The social worker, named Sandra, interviewed Megan while I was at work. Her assessment stated that Megan was unable to make any decisions on her own and she assumed that Megan was using drugs. But she wasn’t! That was the basis for him formally being removed, an assessment that erroneously assumed that we were using drugs. I should have fought it, should have insisted on drug tests, but I didn’t. Of course that had positive drug test results from our week-long relapse that had happened a few weeks before, and maybe negative test results wouldn’t have mattered to them, but I should have tried. Either way, the circumstances around our son being removed were unethical… At the very least, it was unfair, manipulative and deceitful on the part of people who supposedly cared for our son.

We returned to active meth use only after that. That is a huge regret for me. If I’d fought it, I could have been clean from December 2010. But I didn’t. At the time, I gave up. And so it looked like the unfair accusations made against us at the time were true. Further, for a couple of years I had to deal with a social worker I could not trust, since her very first report was biased against us, and all subsequent reports were based on her initial assessment, which was wrong.

After that, even though Megan was just as committed to Josh as I was, since she was no longer living with me for a while, her honesty counted against her. One occasion she was visiting, and Sandra happened to visit us. When pressed for her feelings, Megan stated that she felt like she didn’t have a son, and felt like giving up on him. That may sound harsh, but that is honestly how she felt. I felt almost as bad, but didn’t say it. The truth is, when your child is removed, so is your very reason for going on. And he was removed officially when we were clean and sober. When you don’t see your child every day, you forget. You lose all those special little moments with them, and you forget what it is to be a parent. That’s all that she was trying to express, albeit poorly phrased, and for that, another assessment was written that stated Megan was no good for our son; that she was a bad influence on me, and that it would be better if she were not in his life. I seriously can’t stand Sandra… To this day I cannot stand her. In my personal meetings with Sandra, she told me that I was angry with Megan because of the past. I wasn’t angry – I was hurt. But when somebody tells you how you feel, and refuses to listen to your own words, what can you do? It wasn’t until the case moved from Child Welfare to Social Development that we were treated fairly.

All that really changed when I cleaned up for good was that a child was once again in my care, although it was Josh’s half-sister. And from the day she was there, I no longer used drugs. Even 19 months or so later when Megan and Aishah left, I still didn’t go back to drugs. Nothing will ever take me back. So it is, in my mind, a fact that if Josh had not been removed at the end of 2010, we would have been fine. It didn’t work out that way, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Every now and then, someone feels the need to remind me how much I was helped, but nobody ever talks about this. Nobody ever talks about the fact that Josh was in foster care for far too long, and should never have been in formal foster care to begin with.

All the same, my relationship with those people is good now. I have to acknowledge that they didn’t know I was clean… didn’t know I was capable of staying clean… and I had broken their trust back then. So maybe I got what was coming to me? I’m not sure. At the end of the day it’s difficult to be grateful to people who helped my son by taking him away even though I was clean at the time. He was taken away to spite me, not to help him, or so it seemed at the time. But I don’t normally bring this up, because it will not do any good. All of us are on good terms now. Perhaps the malice towards me back then was simply because I was misunderstood and had not earned back their trust. Maybe they genuinely wanted what was best for Josh, and didn’t realize that they were making a mistake. But that doesn’t take the pain away, and doesn’t bring back the years that I lost with my son.

The bottom line is, I should be happy now. And I am. My son is back with me, and I am raising him as best I can. He is happy to be back. But I’m also sad at the same time. Real life isn’t simple, as it is in fiction. There is no black and white, only shades of grey. Nobody has pure and good intentions, and what might seem clear to people looking on from the outside is often far from being clear at all. There were so many things that went wrong on the way here, and some of them, some of the worst of them, were not my doing. I paid not only for my mistakes, but also for some things for which I was not guilty, and I’m still dealing with the psychological consequences thereof. I’m struggling to deal with these strange mixed emotions, with being happy and sad all at once.

I should live in the present. My relationship with all the people involved is good now. Let bygones be bygones. Although it didn’t seem so at the time, they really were most probably trying to do what was best for Josh. And yet I don’t always believe that last bit… My mind has the habit of going back, of reliving past pain. It’s a good thing in a way, because I won’t make those mistakes again, but reliving pain is not pleasant. Life is difficult enough without having to relive every painful event over and over again.

Sometimes I feel like I can’t take the credit, and don’t deserve the praise, for being clean

I tell people about my former meth addiction. I can’t help telling it because it was a huge part of my life for a long time. Also it’s often a way of making conversation. (I don’t know why it works that way but it does. I start chatting to somebody I’ve never met before; they offer some information about themselves, and somehow it always works out in context to be useful to mention my former addiction in the part of myself that I offer the conversation. I do so without any reservation about the stigma attached to addiction because I can be charming enough to make anyone look past the negative side.) Their response is always the same: Congratulations and praise. But I don’t feel like I deserve it.

At the end of 2010, I had been clean for nine months when Megan left me (by running away unexpectedly) two days before our son was to be returned to us. Then she did return in a month, but only after relapsing. I relapsed with her for a week, then managed to stop. Subsequently we had been clean for a month, and our son was placed back with us briefly. But certain people called Child Welfare, and based on an interview with Megan while I was at work, he was taken away again, this time in a formal arrangement, because they assumed that she was using drugs. But she wasn’t. (Note: I am not blaming anyone other than us.)

At the time, I saw no hope. My attitude may have been childish, but I thought that if we could be treated this unfairly, treated as if we were using when we were not, then we might as well use. So we did. Our relationship was also falling apart. Megan had cheated on me so many times before that, and I needed more time to get over it, so I rejected her sexually. I still loved her, but wasn’t ready for sex.

All she had to do was wait, give me time. But she didn’t. Instead she found someone else, and for a couple of crazy years, she went back and forth between him and me. Not really with me, but with my drug habit. She’d leave me for months at a time and not use drugs with him, only to return for a few days, use meth with me, and then run away again without telling me while I was at work.

It happened several times. I’d be depressed and obsessing about our failed relationship, go crazy with hearing voices, especially hers, yet be unable to stop using because it took the worst of my pain away. Then she’d return, and I’d hope that we could be a family again, dream of us cleaning up together and being happy, then after two or three days she’d leave without warning while I was at work. I’d come home to an empty apartment, then get even more depressed and use even more meth. My meth usage would escalate, months later the voices would reach a crescendo and then she’d return, promising not to leave this time. And I’d convince myself that I could believe her, that it would be OK, but it wasn’t. And so the cycle repeated, with me only dimly aware of the passing of time (for nearly three years), and the possibility that if I continued that way, I might lose my son forever.

I was a wreck. As much as I wanted to stop using, I could not, or so I told myself. Getting clean to get my son back didn’t seem to be working, especially since I spent most of my time crying about my failed relationship with Megan, moping around in self-pity and unaware that much of my depression was a side-effect of the meth. (When you come down, the brain is starved of dopamine, which causes a feeling of sadness. But it’s drug-induced, not real.) I just couldn’t get recovery right. I’d stay clean for a week, test negative in a drug test, see my son for an hour, and then end up buying more drugs on my way home. There seemed to be no end in sight.

Eventually Megan returned, with the other man’s then four month old child (the man had died tragically). I picked them up, drove home, and used as much as I could in the bathroom while they sat in my room. Then I threw all my remaining drugs and drug paraphernalia away. I stopped purely for practical reasons – because I could not use and tweak all night with a four month old baby sleeping in the same room as myself.

That was in September 2013. And somehow this time, after a couple of weeks clean, I realized that I did not want to use meth any more. So I didn’t, and that was that. No rehab, no program, nothing that I did was the key to my sobriety. Just wanting to be there for them was enough… Putting other people before myself. Aishah and Megan at first, then later our son, Josh, and others.

After that, my relationship with our son improved, and ultimately I got him back. (Through the court and social development… I’ve written about this before – it was a lengthy process that I won’t elaborate on in this post.) But I still feel guilty. Why wasn’t the mission of getting him back enough for me to get my act together in those three years? I let him down; I let everybody down then, and I don’t feel like I deserve any praise for quitting meth. It’s like I cleaned up by accident. Furthermore, although I often tell of all my failed attempts to clean up in the context of cleaning up being difficult, the last time it wasn’t. Sure, I had cravings and it was weird getting used to being normal, not tweaking, but there was no difficulty. On the contrary, having made the decision not to use any longer, it was easy from the beginning, and it’s gotten easier with time. Instead of feeling good about that, I feel bad. If it was so easy once I made the decision not to use, why couldn’t I make that decision years before?

(At the end of the day, I am terrible at explaining what worked for me and how I stayed clean, even though that’s often what people want to know. The simple truth is, once I made the decision not to use drugs, and knew in my mind that this was the final decision, staying clean was easy. But it sounds unbelievable. If I tell anybody who is still using drugs that all they have to do is decide to stop once and for all, they’ll tell me to fuck off. I can’t even say that you need to make that decision and have motivation, because for nearly three years I had motivation in the form of my son, and it wasn’t enough. It seems there is a difference between thinking that you have made the decision and really making the decision. Again, if I tell people that, it won’t mean much to them.)

Megan and Aishah left almost a year ago, but by that point I’d been clean for long enough to be able to stay that way without them there any more. But this was after bringing up her daughter for about 19 months. They’ve been visiting every two weeks or so, and Aishah and I are still close. But at the end of this month, they will be moving away, probably for good, and I will miss my little girl so very much. Josh will miss her too, but he doesn’t understand that she will probably be gone forever. He doesn’t understand the finality of this move.

He also doesn’t understand how hard I tried, and failed so many times, to clean up for him, and how guilty I feel that I was able to clean up because of his little sister. Although I am doing well now, I still feel like a disappointment. It’s all good now, and to be honest, we are closer without Megan around. He has no bond with her, and in fact his behaviour is bad even when she visits. It seems that he is better off without his mother. But he does love his sister.

We’ll be fine. But I do still feel all this guilt, and the sadness that Aishah will be gone from us soon. This photo was taken by Josh last weekend, when she was sitting with me at my computer:


Aishah, I love you and wish you could stay here with us. I will miss you very much. You changed my life. You are a beautiful and extremely intelligent little girl, and I would never have thought that something so good could come out of your mother’s behaviour. As much as she killed the person that I used to be, you brought me back to life, and I really wanted to be there for you for your whole childhood.

This post was scheduled to publish several hours ago, but I delayed it… I’ve been trying to figure out how to write what I wanted to write without saying all those bad things about Megan… But I can’t describe that last part of my addiction without it.

My intention wasn’t to make her look bad (and myself look good or more virtuous), not at all. She is not a bad person. I’ve always known that. I knew that when we met ten years ago. I was 34 and she was 16. I was an adult and she was only a juvenile. Not an innocent though – far from it. She’d had a troubled background and had run away from those in her family who cared about her, and was involved with a lot of shady people. She was with a drug dealer, a dangerous character at that. And all her “friends” were out to exploit her, treating her like a whore. But I could see though her and always knew that she was a good person.

So I stole her away from that drug dealer, and within a month he discovered that his other girlfriend and mother of his child was pregnant with another man’s baby. So he killed that girl with a bullet to the head, and went to prison. I wanted to save Megan, to take her away from all that, and I did. I never meant to fall in love with her, but it happened. And things went great for a couple of years. We did mean to have a child. We both wanted that. I thought that it would change us, give us a way to stop using drugs. But instead things turned bad… I remained focused on our son, and she… didn’t. After that we drifted apart, and for too long I didn’t realize that.

But all the bad things she did, she did because of her addiction. She is OK now, but it’s too late for us, and too late for her ever to repair the damage she did to her relationship with our son. But it’s not too late for her to be there for her daughter, and returning to her family in Cape Town is possibly in both of their best interests.

She also blames me for having our son removed initially, because I was part of that process. She will always remain in denial and will never realize that it was for the best at that time. So I’m feeling down after all of this, all these years of trying to make things work. I’m saddened that her daughter will no longer be near, and I worry what will happen to Aishah in future. I worry about things that are not in my control and that I cannot change.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

Update: Modifying this online with the wordpress editor in my browser earlier screwed with the line breaks and paragraphs. (I should stick to Windows Live Writer.) Fixed.

This maddening post has been tumbling around in my mind for nearly a week now. Never quite forming words, nothing coherent anyway – only fragments. Yet it begs for release, to be expressed, and since writing is my therapy, I will grant its freedom. Maybe this fragment of The Sisters of Mercy’s A Rock and a Hard Place, from which I borrowed my title, will help glue my fragments together:

A rock and a hard place await for for me
Between the devil and the deep blue sea
Everything I ever did right or wrong
Hid out of sight where I belong

And I didn’t have the heart to tell her why
And there wasn’t a part of me that Didn’t want to say goodbye but

Cause and effect go hand in hand with
The devil may care but I don’t mind and
I Thought she’d never quite understand so I
Left her there that night but will she
Find me? I don’t think so, no
When you go, you go alone
And I’m gone….
Far away
Far away
Far away

I have shifted gears again, out of writing about atheism and back to my personal shit. This is probably boring. You have been warned.

Almost a week ago my ex spoke to me on the phone. She told me that she wants to chat, in  person, the next time we see each other. (When is undefined but probably over a weekend.) “There’s a lot going on here” and that her aunt wants her to move to Cape Town but she wants to stay in Johannesburg to be close to our son. “A lot going on” is a precursor for “There’s trouble here”, which most likely means that wherever she is, she has messed up the relationship there and it won’t last much longer. (Because that’s what she does. Let’s just say that she is difficult.)

So what might this mean? Maybe she wants to come back. Again. Her timing for leaving couldn’t have been worse. She left right after we had a meeting with social workers (regarding the court case about our son) where she said that she wasn’t leaving. Then she showed up at the court case, and it’s very clear that my chances of getting our son back are very much better without her around. (My chances are 100% by the end of the year, without her.) Not only that, but he doesn’t even like her.

We used to have a wonderful relationship. It was the two of us against the world, and I loved her more than I could ever love any woman. She had this weird habit, when she was pregnant (and she was huge), of sleeping literally on top of me. I sleep so deeply I would never have known, but she used to tell everybody about it. (Maybe it would’ve been less endearing if I’d ever woken up like that.) We had the most amazing sex right up until the night before our son was born.

But our romantic relationship ended in 2009, when she was more interested in partying with someone else at night and leaving our son with me, than being his mother. I have tried to make it work since then, tried so many times that I lost count. But the last (almost) two years, even in bed we were adversaries, enemies in the eternal battle for the blanket. Never won, never lost, but always fought valiantly.

In this last time together, my feelings were about her daughter, and I do still miss her terribly. All I wanted up until two months ago was for a family with both our son and her daughter. But everything is different now, and taking her back would involve, besides having to hear from too many people how stupid I am to do so, the risk of not getting our son back at all. It’s not fair to be the one that she always returns to, not because she loves me, she doesn’t anymore, but because it never works out anywhere else. Of course I may have read too much into her single statement. I don’t know.

Edit: Fragmented is right… I forgot one of the most important parts. A few years ago, when we were still in love and fighting the world together, we had a mutual fear regarding our drug use. In her words it was the fear “of going mad” caused by our meth use. We’d talk about it for hours, and I promised her that I would always be there to take care of her, no matter what. And that is my dilemma. When I made that promise, I meant it, and I still mean it, even though she has long since forgotten. In a way, her behaviour is the result of her worst fear coming true. The problem is that she doesn’t know it. In her “madness” she forgot how she really felt about me and our son, and for a while back then, she treated someone else like he was me, and me like a stranger. For a while, it was like she reversed those roles completely, but I still feel committed to the promise I made years ago. I am still the same person, sober and older and wiser (and I’d like to think better) than I was back then, but the same person anyhow. I still feel the same, and I still feel responsible for her, because I promised her that I always would be. It’s hurt me to keep my promise, but I have kept it all this time. Much of the time, I still think of her as she was, not as she is. And I have never once in these last six years even spoken to her about that promise.

“A promise is a promise” is a lyric from one of our favourite songs from back in the day when she was still the person I fell in love with. (Placebo – Broken Promise) But is a promise still a promise when the person you promised it to has changed so much that they are no longer that person, and they don’t remember how important it was?

I am still sad

Time makes it easier and most of the time I no longer feel overwhelmed with such sadness that I can not function, but it is never far from my thoughts.

To recap, my ex left about a month and a half ago for a holiday, then one evening called me to ask if she could collect her things. That is, it was all a lie and she never intended coming back, and she has taken with her, her daughter who I brought up for most of the last two years.

It is difficult because my son is not with me most of the time and my life had come to revolve around that little girl who I love as much as my son. I can’t drive to work or home from work without thinking of her, without thinking of the games we played as I drove her to or from crèche each day. It started as my innocently pointing out a bus to her one morning, and became a game of spotting the busses and trucks that she played every time in the car. I can’t go to the shopping mall without remembering the games we played there. She would run around in the aisles and I’d surprise her by going the other way and meeting her in each aisle. Then she’d run all the way to the children’s’ rides, which she could find from anywhere in the mall. I can’t get home from work without thinking about all those times I played with her in the evenings.

Her mother is too stupid to know just how selfish and narcissistic she is, and does not realize that what she is doing is in the best interests of neither of her children. I did not intend to become so attached to her little girl, but it happened, and this isn’t a one-sided love either. I miss my beautiful little girl and I’m sure she misses me too but is too young to express it. And she will probably forget our times together, but I never will.

It’s not all bad. I will see them again. Next weekend, my ex wants to visit when our son is with me, and we can go out together. But it won’t be the same.

So most of the time I don’t feel utterly lost anymore, but it does come back when I least expect it.

The other day I received some unexpected inspiration. I have a new Facebook friend who I met via one of the atheist groups I belong to. Her little girl was very ill and passed away shortly after her first birthday. My friend takes it so well, describing the joy and happiness that her little girl brought her. She even posted a video on her Facebook timeline showing her beautiful little girl as she blew on her face. I don’t know how you can cope, dear friend, and admire you for it. I couldn’t even watch your video, and have taken over ten minutes to write this paragraph because I have to stop every time I break down in tears. But I admire your strength, especially because it is something I do not have, and hope that your life can have other happiness in future.

I do not know why I am so oversensitive about all of this. After all, the girl I miss is still alive; she is just not here. But it’s just the way I am and I can never change that. It would be easier to be a clichéd male who isn’t sensitive about these things. I’ve had to hide my sensitivity for so many years – I’m the guy who doesn’t watch sad movies because I cry like a girl if I watch them.

Also, I have gained a greater understanding of what it is to be attached to a child, even if that child is not your own, and have come to appreciate the effort of my son’s foster parents as I never could before. I can also assure them that even when he is back with me, they will always be a huge part of his life and never need to worry about it being otherwise. But still, I miss my little girl, and wish I could have done something different to change what has happened. And I wish that my ex wasn’t such a fucking idiot.

Feeling numb

I’m feeling numb. After a good day spent with my son yesterday, I am still suffering with the sadness I’ve felt lately. It can’t be helped – there are a hundred and one different reminders of the little girl I grew to love and whom ‘round my life revolved. Everything is different now and I have all this time that I used to spend with her. Today I went to Edgars to buy a new pair of jeans, but everywhere I go there are others who have children around her age. Every child carrying a balloon is a ghost of her memory and every ghost of every memory is a wave of teary-eyed pain and melancholy threatening to drown me in a sea of sorrow.

I wrote this post intending only to share these mind-numbing videos I’ve been watching – more ghosts from my past when I listened to such music. Yet the words that flowed by accident above sum up my mood so much better.

Anyway, I stumbled onto these via reading a fellow atheist’s shares on Facebook.