My parents raised me to be ok with being different, awkward, or being an artist. My parents supported all my sport experiments and to have such support was unheard of at the time. I looked like a girl when I was younger and I had soft features as well, one could have easily mistaken me for a girl, but I never heard any shaming coming from my parents with regards to how I looked and what interested me. Dealing with my father’s death was the worst thing at the time because I had experienced him the most compared to my siblings, at the that stage they were too young to understand most of the things. Alas, I still had my mother – my beloved mother who was going through the most but who wasn’t at our household, she had lost a lot of weight and we didn’t notice until later. I can only imagine her world at that point, with three kids to raise without this man to help, I can imagine the shock, as well, of dealing with boys because my mother didn’t deal with certain things until my father died and now she was forced to figure out how to deal with two boys who are going through their own emotions. Honestly, I don’t know how she did it, how she survived that phase and how she made peace with her heart, how she dealt with us? Added to all that, my mother was not much of a talker either when it came emotional expression, she always kept things to herself.
I always thought it was because she was an only child, but later I got to understand that it was more because of her background; how she was raised and also the relationship she had with my grandmother. My grandmother had to come looking for work in Johannesburg leaving her back home to be raised by aunts and uncles who didn’t treat her well. My mother had a tough life when you listen to her story and the things that she endured, she learned at an early age to stand up for herself and protect herself – she had this fearless persona that I never understood where she got it from.
My mother would walk to church at night on her own until I made sure that I took her there, I had to force her to inform me about her movements. According to her, who would dare touch her? My mother was tiny, she was a size 5 shoe and basically when my sister was 14 years old she was already taller than her. With all this happening, atleast I had my mother and we had each other – just the four of us. We made it work. Now that I think about it, a lot of it is starting to make sense right now. After school we discussed what I needed to do with myself with regards to higher learning and I indicated that I wanted to do Graphic Design and they asked how much the fees were, I said R25k per annum. My grandmother suggested that I do a catering course instead because it was only R5k per annum, she didn’t understand this drawing on computers for R25k. My mother didn’t say anything – I can imagine she just thought that this would be easier with her husband around because this is yet another conversation that she wouldn’t be included in; money for school.
I have only seen my mother cry once and that was at my fathers funeral, but I am sure she cried more afterwards – just not in front of us. I understood that for some reason why I never saw her cry was not because of weakness, but more for us than anything else. There was a story that she always told me about when I was born and my father’s aunt suggested that she raise me because my parents were young and they were working, my mother responded by saying that if she were to live under a bridge, she will be under a bridge with her son. My mother had a tough life, but the one thing that she was proud of was us, her children. There was something that she had done right by us – we were fed and sheltered and healthy. I will never understand the bond between a parent and a child until have one of my own. We had my mother and my grandmother – my grandmother would pass by our house around 4pm everyday before she went home, she would leave as soon as my mother got home. My grandmother was a clean person, so by the time my mother got home everything was sorted out. On Sundays I would go to my grandmother’s house and check up on her and get her groceries from the shops. I got really close to my grandmother, I really thought that if ever she passed on then her death would affect me more compared to my mother. I think that was a defense mechanism I used to downplay the importance or impact of my mother’s death. To me, my mother was gonna live until she reached 90 years old, she would live to see my kids go to varsity. My father was a mistake, my father’s death was never supposed to happen so God needed to give way more years with my mother. At that point my mother was treating me like her husband yet I’m just her son; I remember she saw me with a girl once and she got upset – I don’t think she herself understood why she was upset, but she was. Well that relationship lasted four days, I don’t know if also that decision was influenced by my mother being upset or not, what I didn’t understand at that stage was that I would always be her guinea pig. Anything she experienced with her children would start with me and as much as it was difficult for me, it was gonna be difficult for her as well. And thats why she stopped talking to me for a month when I moved out at the age of 22.
Writer: George Gladwin Matsheke