The purpose of this story on limbo is not to make you feel sorry for me. If sympathy is your default setting, stop. I don’t want it. I just want to write through this.
I don’t remember a time that I didn’t want to run away from home. My skin and bones never felt like my own; it was always burning and blistering into different directions. I once looked up at my mother and didn’t know who she was. We were standing in the kitchen, the taps dripping at intervals into the red bucket under the sink, and for a brief moment, her face was unfamiliar to me. How would I ever know her, I wondered, before I started to plan my escape.
I think I’ve always been in limbo
My first attempt at escape happened when I was nine. My heavily pregnant mother was going to spend a few days in the hospital. My brother stubbornly refused to be born (perhaps a premonition of all the other things he would rebel against in future) and as she went past her ninth month of labour, she moved into the hospital. I saw that as my chance and ran down the road to a friend’s house, where I stayed until mother and baby came home. My father sat in stoic silence through all of it; smoking his pipe by the kitchen door.
I escaped for real when I turned 13. My father tried to hold on to me, but I was out the door before he could put down his enamel coffee cup.
Public speaking paid for my tuition at a boarding school 50 km away.
For some reason, despite my chronic shyness and propensity for spewing profanities at adults when they came too close, I out-performed my classmates and became the best ATKV-orator in South Africa when I was but a scrap of a 14-year-old. It wasn’t long before the need to escape came back though; I didn’t belong in a fancy school with neatly-dressed, church-going children of farmers and doctors and magistrates.
When I was 18, I was in a toxic relationship that bore no label (ironic eye-roll) with a tik-addict. In one part of my life, I was succeeding beyond expectations: five As in matric, 92% average, bursaries rolling in by the bus-load. In the other part, I was tied to a human downward spiral; I was weak, impressionable, sure no one else would ever love me, even though he didn’t.
My escape was swift and ruthless; I got on that Greyhound bound for Grahamstown and never looked back.
Home for a time
In Grahamstown, I finally felt at home. It still is, to this day, the one place where I can be myself. The place where I am at my most productive, my most creative, the best version of me (if you can look past the cigarettes and alcoholism that marked, or marred, my early twenties).
I haven’t had that feeling of limbo in a long time. Perhaps because I married a good guy, spent time overseas, and haven’t suffered heartbreak quite like this since high school. Even my own stint in hospital didn’t feel quite as emptifying as this. Brief visits to Calitzdorp made the old feelings flare up; the need to put foot on the accelerator and drive into the nearest dam; flashes of dis-belonging like hot flushes in December. It starts under your armpits and rolls down your back while your heart pounds in your head: get out, get out, get out. It’s all you can see, think, feel until you burst open like a cockroach under a heavy heel.
I had a good job in China, but I wanted more, wanted to be a writer. Then I got a job dreams are made of, and I signed the contract, handed in my letter, and came back to South Africa to prepare for the next journey to the Middle East.
And then the magazine closed down.
Without warning; without regrets.
The phone call came before Christmas, and now, here I am. In a skin that’s not my own, in a place I can’t control; a feeling that is all-too-familiar. I’m in limbo once again, reconnected with an old friend, living out of a suitcase.
Limbo remedy: Simon and Garfunkel, Homeward Bound