The Bureaucratic Weight of the Past

There is no escape from the past. You will always snag a part of yourself on it, and get dragged into the depths from which there is no escape, and you will drown.

I was reminded of this today. There I stood at counter 4 at Home Affairs in Randburg, waiting to submit my application. I’d spent a running total of more than 11 hours queuing by then. Two hours wasted at two different branches because I had meetings to get to. Then three hours to pay. Then another five hours to get photographed, only the system went down after that so I had to come back, for another of queuing (two, by the time I left). The system resets if you don’t get everything you need to do in one day.

And there it is: according to the screen, I am married to a man I divorced more than five years ago. The man whose surname haunts my current passport, the one I need to replace. He has moved on. I, as it turns out, will not be allowed that freedom.This, despite presenting my divorce decree all those years ago, despite getting married again and filling in forms and doing it by the book.

I thought I’d moved on. Remarrying tends to lull you into that assumption. But there’s always bureaucratic ineptitude to remind you that you will never get away from something you thought was a bad memory, one that faded with each passing day. My second marriage was ostensibly recorded with Home Affairs, but it seems not to have registered on the system. Am I bigamist then, in the eyes of the government? Are we not actually married now? Is my husband married to me, but I’m married to someone else, and if that’s the case, what does that mean?

What?? I don’t know what to think.

I should have known.






Thoughts on not attending a wedding

I was meant to go to a wedding in Cape Town today. I did not. It was a wedding I may or may not have helped paid for; I can’t be sure.


Yesterday I cancelled the flight. I don’t think I’ve ever cancelled a flight before. Moved out, been bumped off, missed, unable to fly because of a volcano in Icealand, cancelled because the CEO in the meeting was killed in a freak cycling accident – all of those things, yes, but not actually cancelling a flight for something personal.

There was a time when this visit would have been the happy ending to a Hallmark story about how an act of kindness led to something more. There was a pleasing narrative arc to it: in the beginning, a kind man helps a stranger having a meltdown over parking money; the stranger offers to help and the kind man takes her up on his offer. The stranger helps pay for a wedding and gets invited to attend. Two different worlds are brought together by a chance encounter that adds up to something more meaningful.

But real life seldom follows a script, and a week ago I did something I’ve done only once before: I blocked a number.


I had begun to dread the texts that would arrive from it. The good morning how are you’s that I began to suspect were only a lead up to what this person, the kind man’s wife, really wanted, which was more money. I am so stressed, she would tell me. I am so worried about the wedding I can’t tell you. We need a fridge for all the catering and new bedlinen for the wedding photos.

How much do you need? I’d ask, and pay the money over. Some R28,000 in the space of two months.

If I didn’t respond immediately, there would be frantic queries as to whether I got the message, or was “cross for” her. It got to the point where this was making me both miserable and – potentially – broke – and it had to stop. I find it very hard to say no to people who ask for help, but after paying the equivalent of my monthly income in such a short space of time and then being asked for money for food because people were going hungry, I began to wonder where all that cash was going.

Yes, there’s a context: R28,000 is a fortune for them, a month’s salary for me. But still, the pleasure at being able to help turned to resentment at being taken for granted, and it was downhill from there. She tried her luck once too often, and any emotional attachment I felt to her evaporated into anger.

I think we were addicted to one another, she and I. We texted each other every day, asked each other how we were. I knew about her blood pressure problems and hospital visits and how she suffered from depression. About watching TV on Saturdays and how the front gates were stolen and how her granddaughter loved chippies. She knew that I was busy at work, or spending time on the weekend with my family. I confided my own experiences with depression. Once, we spoke on the phone. “Oh Sarah,” she said, “I am so happy to hear your voice. I can’t wait to meet you.

I was addicted to the temporary high of being able make someone happy – I always gave more when I was depressed – and I suspect that she was addicted to the source of money that would arrive every time she asked for it. I felt less like a friend than a human ATM, as a Facebook comment described it. At some point it had to stop, and the only way to treat addiction is to cut off the source of that which enslaves you.

I did tell her that I was tired of being asked for money, that it sometimes felt that this was the only reason we had any contact. She knew she was taking a chance by pressing me for more. She was probably frantic when I didn’t respond that day, or the next, and the next. I hope she has accepted that I am gone from her life, and that the money was nice while it lasted, but that’s it.

I don’t know whether the kind man who helped the stranger knows about any of this. I am sorry it has ended this way. I was excited about the prospect of meeting him again in happier circumstances. I’d scripted it in my mind; there would be music and happiness and dancing and I’d get back on that plane, satisfied with the strange and wonderful turns that life can take.

I could write about class, and race, poverty and power, because she and I are in very different circumstances, and to ignore that would be to forget that I have options and she, probably, does not. Maybe some time I will. For the time being, though, this is a story about two people in different worlds who were brought together by chance, and parted by human fallibility.

I knew that attending the wedding and meeting the family would been doing the equivalent of mainlining a narcotic. This developed into a toxic co-dependent relationship remarkably quickly, and ending it was necessary for us both.

I expected to feel terribly sad about this. Instead, all I feel is I strangely relieved that our friendship is over.



You are not OK

Sometimes you will forget. Sometimes, in the lucky times, you will forget yourself. You will forget where you come from. You will forget that you do not deserve to be loved, because the sins of your father and mother and their fathers and mothers are so overwhelming, so manifold, so ingrained, that you could crucify yourself and it would make no difference at all. What is done cannot be undone, and reinvention is a myth embraced by those who choose not to see. You are forever marked. Your veins blue in your pale skin will forever betray you. You can only love when you forget that you exist, and when you remember, things fall apart.

My Heritage

A great-grandmother in the Boer War concentration camps.

Cornish, Scottish, English, French and Dutch ancestry.

Awkward politeness and difficulty with hugs growing up.

Not wearing earrings.

Playing the piano.

Genteel racism.



White guilt.

Fart jokes.

Being pale and blonde.

A posh private school accent.

Excessive niceness and fear of conflict.

A horror of cigarettes and any form of smoking.

Asthma, a high IQ and bad skin.

Lots and lots of books.

Classical music.

The Anglican church.

Cassocks and surplices and Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer.

Christian National Education.

Voting PFP, then DP, then DA.

KOO tinned spaghetti. Lived on it.

Pronutro, boiled eggs and Marmite soldiers.

Nursery rhymes and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

White swimming pool fences and the smell of chlorine.

Saying “I’m going into Soweto” or “into Alex”.

Being very conscious of prices in the supermarket, and always looking for the cheapest.

An obsession with not wasting anything, including the last of the toothpaste in the tube.


Not knowing how to blowdry my hair.

Top Gun, Airwolf and an obsession with military aircraft.

Going to university.

Turtle doves and dry winter grass.

Gun shots and hijackings.

Loving cats and horses.

The bush.



Lucid Dreams and Bad Memories

Music is a portal to memories. Tonight on the way back from the airport, I listened, again, to Lucid Dreams, track 10 on the Franz Ferdinand album Tonight. It’s a long track, over 7 minutes, which resolves into a long jangling riff described on Wikipedia as “a huge jam (revolving around an arpeggiated synth line created on a Minimoog Voyager)”.

Lucid Dreams is October 2009. It’s the silver Polo I hired after my husband and I agreed to get divorced. It’s drives to Rooihuiskraal to meet the hot retired shrink who left the NHS at the age of 34 to teach step aerobics and write a novel inspired by Ayn Rand. It’s suicide threats and threats of lawsuits from my ex. It’s the metallic taste of despair. It’s the beginning of the long dark trek through hell: first one year, followed by another, and another.

I have so much to be happy about now. So much has changed, but beneath it all lurks the sadness I can’t ever escape. I once wrote that I thought that the sadness had gone to the marrow, that I was no longer capable of feeling anything else.

Those memories are fresh still. They will never not be there. I could so easily end up there again, and I am terrified because I can’t bear the thought of going through it all again.

I just can’t.

My favourite #SoMuchAmaze photos

I’m finally getting around to uploading the photos from my birthday party and impromptu wedding reception #SoMuchAmaze and here are some of them.

Doge photobombs @shortypam and my favourite Scientologist, Puneet Dhamija, who I met years ago and persuaded me to visit L Ron Hubbard house in Johannesburg.

IMG_2498Say cheeese

IMG_2495Here’s me in a wedding photo from 2001 photobombing my mom and my friend Juan, who started off baking me a cake and ended up organising almost everything in under 10 days.

IMG_2332My mother-in-law with #BestBeloved





My favourite wedding photos

Because we eloped, our photographer cost more than the rest of the wedding put together, and it was worth it. These are some of my favourite wedding photos, posted so I can link to other blog posts.

Here we are with our witnesses Danie and Marietjie (who we found via Twitter) and our celebrant George and his girlfriend Brenda (Danie put us onto George). It rained for much of the morning – almost unheard of in Clarens in August – but as the Italians say: sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata.

Wedding group photo

I wore the opposite of white. Both the dress and the coat were bought on sale at YDE. The flowers cost R35 a bunch from Pick n Pay.Wedding the look with smile

Naturally, the first thing after I did the deed was post the news to Twitter, which has been following my story for five years.Glen-Green-Weddings190

Posing with the B&B owner’s Austin roadster.Glen-Green-Weddings234

We saw zebras on our first date on February 13, so naturally we had to pose with these cushions.


Paying George with a bottle of Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon.Glen-Green-Weddings206

Kicking the ball for Holly the border collie. I love the fact that she ended up being part of the wedding.Glen-Green-Weddings086