Have you ever found yourself homesick for a place you’ve never been?
I decided to take in a boxing match on Sunday with a friend. It’s not like they show you in the movies; there aren’t crowds trying to get into the ring, shaking their fists in the air as drops of blood splatter the camera lens. But I like it.
One of my trainers was contending for the South African welterweight title and we all stood up to sing the national
anthem, which I haven’t done in a while. I still know all the words – not just the Afrikaans ones.
I sat behind a group of people wearing supporter shirts and screaming my trainer’s name with such passion I can only assume they were his family.
Sometime during the day, I got hit by a wave of nostalgia.
Don Draper in Mad Men had the following to say about nostalgia:
“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound’. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards … it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”
As I sat there watching men trading punches, a sliver of a memory flashed in my head – like a tension headache that doesn’t know its place – of my dad sitting on his bed watching boxing on our small black-and-white television. He’s wearing shorts and his wavy brown hair is unkempt, his beard a few days old. It’s his favourite day of the week – Sunday – when he can smoke a joint; watch men beat each other to shit, and rest from a week of picking up other people’s trash.
I want to watch Dawson’s Creek, but I bite my lip and lower my gaze. I pick at the split ends of my dirty blond hair on my lap. Eventually, I slouch outside to play Power Rangers with my dog, Wagter.
What would he think today if he knew that I was learning to box?
I don’t think about him often but on Sunday I did.
You see, hearing my trainer’s family speak Afrikaans reminded me of my childhood, but with one big exception – their love for him would knock you out.
I never felt that. I was a national debating champion in grade eight, did you know that? Maybe my parents were proud, but they didn’t come and watch me. I did everything on my own, alone, and I learned to live that way. To bow my head, to do as I’m told, to look away in shame for wanting affection, attention, praise … safety.
Who am I to want such things?
“A place where you were loved” – do you know how hard it is longing for something you’ve never had? It’s like when you lose a limb and you can still feel it’s there; only in my case it was never there to begin with.
I don’t belong to anyone.
I see the people at boxing and I envy them. They’re part of a tribe; they belong to each other. They’re not perfect but they have something I can’t even fathom – love, acceptance, belonging.
I don’t even have a language.
And yes, I have wonderful friends and teachers and a family that’s taken me in as their own. This isn’t about you, and I hope you know that.
Sometimes, I just feel sad.
It’s an old wound that aches in bad weather.