“Sometimes death can leave you so 
broken, so shattered and damaged, 
so twisted out of proportion,
leaving you to pick up parts of yourself 

from the floor and limp along 
as your “whole” self.”

This is a post I didn’t want to write. That’s a lie. It’s a post I had no idea I had to write. But about two weeks ago I read the most beautiful piece by a fellow blogger that spoke to me so clearly, almost audibly, that I knew this was what I had to do. The way my every cell tingled was an indisputable, neon-coloured sign that there was a demon that I hadn’t dealt with. I’m still confused as to whether it was her etymological prowess that drew me in, so much so that I could feel myself walking in her shoes, seeing through her eyes, listening through her ears, or if it was her raw, unencumbered honesty, her courageous heart to face the demon that had anchored her soul and navigated her life for so long. Immediately I felt such empathy for her pain because her inner turmoil was so familiar. If you haven’t read it yet, here it is. What stood out and replays in my mind is this: “… my story would bring healing to others… you need to acknowledge the issue and want to change otherwise it’s just a complete waste of time.”

Writing, journaling, painting, drawing is a catalyst for healing. There is something about putting down your pain in a visible form, staring it in the face that takes real bravery. I’m stalling because even though I had prepared myself for writing this by saying it out loud to Will on Saturday evening as I cried my way through This Is Us, seeing it in black and white, while reparative, will make it unbearably real. But here it is… I feel responsible for my father’s death. For 15 years, I have felt responsible for my father’s death. 

There it is, out loud, the metaphorical Band-Aid ripped to reveal my most painful wound.

To be clear, this isn’t the story of a young womxn who lost her hero - who had a father who carried her on his shoulders, taught her to drive and coached her through her matric exam angst - ripped from her life. My father wasn’t a saint. He wasn’t a good husband and was as far removed from being a good father as one can be. He flitted out of my sister and my lives with the cavalier attitude of a touring rock star. Still, he was our father, the only one we knew.

Our last conversation was so beautiful. With all of his flaws, he called us every day to hear what school was like or what we ate. Our telephone call started the same as every other call, with 20-year old me rolling my eyes, wondering why dads wanted to know about our lunches in all its mundane detail. What else could be in a chicken and cheese Gatsby, dad? But after we chatted about my plans at university and future career, he said, “I love you.” Not in a Bye -I-have-to-get-back-to-work kind of way, in a sincere way. We both paused; so much was unsaid in those few seconds. I responded with a, “Love you too,” and for the first time in my life I felt that ahead was truly a time for healing. That I was entering the next phase of my life and he was going to make up for lost time. That he was going to be the father I needed.

I inhaled the familiar aroma of sea 
and salty air as we pulled up to our home, 
returning from our vacation with family.
I hurried up the seventeen ox-blood steps
veiled in familiar fine beach sand –
a trademark of Cape Town’s summer winds - 
armed with a suitcase packed with holiday tales 
and a list of what I ate that day.
But almost instantly this life filled with possibilities was flipped into a tumultuous storm 
as my cousin emerged white as sheet, “Uncle Stephen is dood.”

The smell of death hung thick as blackened smoke
and clung to the curtains, unconcerned with the damage
it was causing. By his finely pressed work suit hanging
on the door, my father had been gone for three days.
There were no signs of struggle, or pain or effort
to reach his phone. He had suffered a heart attack
and died in his sleep. Peacefully. Yet death had left
destruction in its wake. We had lost our father
and with him, a second chance.

By the coroner’s calculation, he had passed away on the 31st of December. That morning I had begged my family to cut my holiday short so that I could enjoy a New Year’s party with my friends. After some light coaxing, I decided to stay. And with it, came this catastrophic guilt. I should have gone home. I could’ve called an ambulance. I could’ve administered CPR. I should’ve been there to remind him to take his medication. Why didn’t I? Why didn’t I go home? Over and over.

My heart had been sealed off to my dad long before his death. After the umpteenth disappointment of him not attending any of my recitals or taking me for piano lessons or teaching me how to breaststroke to name a few, I had grown cold. I had built up impermeable walls so that he could never hurt or fail me again. Now, he had left us for good, the final… abandonment, crueler than all the others. The drawbridge was up, the locks had been turned and my heart was now finally shut for good. Through all the shit, he had been my comedic sidekick, the one who shared my sense of humour, taught me to pronounce “schedule” and now, he had left this imperfect earthly vessel.

Death has a way of removing all the filters you have when viewing the world, your rose-tinted glasses are strewn in shards across the floor. Immediately and without my knowledge, I divided my friendships into people who knew me before my dad had passed and after. I guess subconsciously I was afraid they’d notice my transformation. And earnestly, I had no idea what changes it would bring. “It”. Funny that death and its aftermath can be reduced to two simple letters. It. Before his passing, I had been the luckiest bastard I knew. The kind you could ask for Lottery numbers. I hadn’t broken a leg, had flu just once, I won almost every competition I’d entered, including a jar full of 777 jelly beans, I was accepted into university having shoved my portfolio through a slot less than a few millimetres wide at 3:01pm, and on a few occasions I had escaped death. Now the rug had been pulled out. And in the coming years, I would exhaustively jolt across to every corner of said rug, securing it to the ground never to be pulled again. I kept wondering what horrors lay silently, waiting around the corner. The free-spirited, extroverted, fearless person I knew was replaced by a controlling, anxious shadow of who I used to be. Kim was dead. Out came the disguise and when you wear it so many times the lines between the camouflaged you and the real you become blurred. I lived in fear that one day someone would peel away at it and expose the real me. The one who wasn’t strong and bolted up. I somehow felt that my every move controlled the outcome of my family’s safety. I say “felt” as if it’s in the past. My mom and sister had to let me know where they were at all times, and text me when they “got there safely”. I took the role of guardian, protector, watchdog, keeper. It was my duty to say, “Call me when you get there.” It got to a point of switching on their bedroom lights every night to check that they were still safe, still breathing, still there. Really, that was the tip of the iceberg.

My relationships with men could be described as nothing less than sociopathic; I mimicked emotion, unable to feel again. Love (from them) and the slightest sign that they had any intention of leaving or hurting me were both met with the same unwelcome, frosty reaction. Too often a, “This isn’t working out. Cheers!” The day I chose to look at my life, I was sitting in a tub, letting cold water run over my burning body covered completely in hives. It was my first anxiety attack. A guy I had been seeing hinted at getting married one day and this was the result of my crippling fear of commitment. Guy, I. had. been. seeing. Note: Not boyfriend. Not partner. Not person I loved. Not dating. Guy I was seeing. I would be damned if anyone I cared about came close enough for me to love, only to abandon me. No, not again!

And then I met Will. I want to let him know that apart from his amazing mind, his caring nature and his Taye Diggs smile, he was stable; my lighthouse, my true North, my pillar. Someone who could anchor the other side of the rug. Through all my damaged craziness, he stayed and stood, steadfast. And slowly, brick by brick, he removed the barricade around my heart. Slowly the old Kim returned. Until we lost our son – named after my father in one of life’s tragic ironies. Until my daughter Lily’s surgery where I couldn’t control the doctor's every move. Until my second daughter Ila stopped breathing. Through driving to the hospital, through my pleas with a god I no longer believed in, I felt myself say, “Here it is. Did you really think it would be that easy? That you deserved a happy ending? That you could come away from this unscathed? That your luck had returned? That you already had your share of cosmic tragedy?” So my nights are now mostly filled with checking on them.

Often I want to speak to my sister; I want apologise to her for always wanting to be in control of her every move, for always guarding her heart and her life. For vetting every friend, every boyfriend too harshly, for trying to influence her studies so that she wouldn’t end up in a career that would damage her, for insisting on driving her to every party, for staying up all night until she returned home, and giving her a tongue lashing for not letting me know that she had a lift home, for trawling through Neighbourhood Watch sites before helping them decide which area would be safe enough to live in, for holding them hostage under my roof where I can keep them safe. I want to tell her the reason she’s wound into a rigid ball of tension is my constant pressure and need to protect her. I want to tell her that the reason she doesn’t ever let her guard down, whether in friendships, whether allowing herself to love again, whether taking chances in life stems from the same fears I had or may have inflicted or projected. I want to say that I'm sorry I failed you, Koeks, that I admire your strength, that I'm sorry if there's even the slightest chance that I f*cked you up in any way instead of protecting you. I want to explain that fear of abandonment and how it consumes you, how it affects how you live and love. I want to tell her why she’s built a wall around her heart. But I’m too much of a coward. Without chatting about it, we discovered that we both have a recurring dream. We walk through our childhood home and though nothing happens, it's as chilling as a nightmare. We simply walk around. I go in search of my childhood drawings, a symbol of a better time, a happier time. She doesn't search for anything. I assume there was no happier time for her. Dreams can be so telling, it can unearth buried bones, confined to the corners of our subconscious minds. 

“Bravery in life shows up in
our every day lives, when people
have the courage to face and live their truth.”

What stood out mostly in Shante's, the above blogger’s story was this: “I need to be more than anyone else believes of me. I must be enough this time. I mustn’t ever let her down… We’ll never reach our full potential if we keep running from ourselves. I think we’re all trying so hard to survive that to do so, we bury our feelings so deep that we’ve become detached from actually living. We squash ourselves into a mold so tight, we forget to breathe. Every day we set ourselves up for the greatest show on earth... the show where no-one sees that we are hurting. And it’s so tiring.”

One of the most helpful things I’ve heard was this: Memories and traumas are stored in more than your brain, they’re stored in every cell of your body and, good or bad, will eventually escape. 

Survival is a funny thing. Our first reaction is to bury any and all emotions, feelings and trauma, and distract ourselves constantly. But our bodies purposefully store our every reaction so that we can avoid that pain in the future. Ever wonder why a smell or driving past something triggers a memory? 

We live in a world of distractions because it’s uncomfortable to sit still, be vulnerable and deal with your truths. But until you do, you will never be free. What’s your demon?


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