At the age of 12 I fell out of a tree, hit my head on a rock and lost my memory. I was apparently in a coma for three days. My first memory is opening my eyes and looking up at Mrs. Stirk who was shouting into her kitchen, “call the ambulance, Gillian, and then call his mother”, I heard “His head is bleeding all over me”, as I looked up I could sense Brandon and Kevin on the periphery, and then saw that I was cradled in Shireen’s lap, she was translucent and had rose lips.
The next thing I remember is the sound of my mother screaming, but in the distance, like down a shaft, screaming “Not again”. Later I would be told by my father that this was my third death.
My first was that I had been born dead and they’d had to revive me, secondly when I was five I’d stopped breathing for 10 minutes (apparently) while being rushed to hospital with bronchitis.
Since then I’ve died twice more (though the coma technically wasn’t a death, it was more my mothers fear of another death that makes me lump it in here). Once by design and second by stabbing (not the stabbing over 2 pieces of crack that resulted in the scars on my ass but the stabbing under my ribs for my cellphone that I decided to fight for), that according to the paramedics left me dead for a WHOLE MINUTE! Gee shucks!
There was also the time the cabinet in the hotel room fell on me when me and the Swedish model were trashing the German models room during fashion week 2002 that I felt as though I had died but hadn’t, but I digress...
Firstly I was later told by my mother that all three incidences of death were untrue (Like I said the third one wasn’t real anyway, so the first two), that my dad had made them up, for what reason I am not sure. I was told a lot of things when I was in my teens that my father seems simply to have made up, about being Jewish, about being French, about parking lots, hardware stores, the lack of black people in South Africa (why we never saw any at night), why we didn’t get into the Olympics in the 80’s (The lack of black people who could run or something), so much so that I hardly know what about me is true or not.
The fact that I have no memory before the age of 12 adds to this, the fact that I was born with only one lung (not true, I have since discovered), the fact that so many things about me and my family were different always made me feel set apart, destined for great things (we were part of the royal family but had been kicked out because my great great great grandfather (the French Jew) was caught in a downstairs broom closet with a “chamber maid”), what I didn’t know, could not know was simply this, destiny is something you make with your own hands and if you sit on them and wait, your destiny no matter how great, will be slightly squashed.
According to my mother, the Stirks, my sister and Brandon (Kevin died in a bad car crash sometime in the early century and even that we’ll get to) I did fall out of a tree, I did not bleed, pass out or even go to hospital.
But I remember it all clearly.
We were playing Swiss Family Robinson in the Stirk’s Big Tree and my favorite stubby branch for leaping up a level snapped.
I remember it all as clearly as I do not remember anything before that date.
Not a thing. So the fact that I did not suffer amnesia does not preclude the fact that I have no memory before the age of twelve. I suffer from amnesia through the power of suggestion. And the power of my father’s suggestion was so vast, like gods hand, like clouds racing past as I lay in the wreck of a car in the Free State sun, like all those still moments of disaster in my life that I, to this day, think of in terms of, "I wonder how my father would tell this one".
And since his passing, not having him as a sounding board, no matter how bitter and dishonest, leaves me shouting into the darkness, begging for approval in a world were there shall be no more approval 2.1
Inevitability. Lying here. Full moon. Empty bed. My arm reaching across to your side. Events set in motion by drinking that first sip of gin from Ananda’s belly button aged fifteen, the night my parents were out.
Doing glue in the shed with Brandon and Phillip O. and the shelving system coming down, that night my parents were merely asleep but no more as my father, himself smelling of whiskey helped us up glue splattered from the ruins of his workshop.
The long rich lawns of my youth to the well decorated apartments of my twenties, my early thirties sleeping on pavements and now here in an empty flat, finally shucking off my beast but alone and possession-less, except for this double bed, the events that set it in motion taking photographs with Kevin by the river, the berg weekend with the art class boys and Tracy and Kathryn, Kathryn’s hairy arm’s, the fight with Russell, the photograph of her running over the mountain. Arms dragging over asphalt in my sleep, unchanged sleep alone, back going back over these useless years these useless limbs, unable to prevent the events inevitably set in motion, genetic code or just stupidity, I am stuck in this body in this time in this place, in this boredom like a butterfly still alive in its case. The Girls, I remember.
Let me tell you about Carmen, her 17 year old gawky body swaying as we passed the vodka bottle around, fresh from our triumph at the Smirnoff fashion show, pumped up on seeing our big shiny new computer graphic introduction on the big screen, me and the blades boys carry round a crate of vodka, dancing dancing, me just in from Jo’burg having shot the Orlando Pirates in an Adidas commercial, ready for the edit, dancing with these beautiful people at this forgotten nightclub, already doing hits of smack on the corner of credit cards and it was 1997 and the future was mine.
Except for Carmen, she was Dan’s that night, then winter and she was his all through to summer when he slept with her friend Jade and got caught, me and C. were playing on the PS2 fighting games, when she realized what was happening in the bedroom, all of us high on something, probably coke at that point and I drove her home, it was late October, in Dan’s little white corolla, as we parked outside her house I felt like a teenager an unseasonable mist rolling in and she cried as she told me her stories, which are hers, belong to her and I will leave alone, but I promised her sanctuary that night, as I was setting out to betray her, but first going back I must tell you of the first time I saw her, knew I’d be with her. But then I thought, I must HAVE her. Everything was to be possessed, and now I lie here possession-less, full moon empty bed.
There have only been three women in my life, a hundred girls, fifty sluts and a couple of whores but only three women. The choices we make are what define us and the choices I’ve made that have left me here alone for a third time define me inevitably.
PAUL NEWMAN AND A RIDE HOME.
Well all this recollectings got me thinking, like when I was a kid all books were about truth but nowadays it seems that lying is pretty much in vogue. But the way I see it, lying is really just another way of expressing something that can’t be by the facts. Like in that song, “My Lie’s are only wishes”. Like that short film I made, “Wet Shorts”, is based on something that really happened to me, the film about the guy who discovers he’s having sex with his cousin, well that really happened to me, except it probably didn’t, it just sorta sprung up like a story I was telling, like even after I discovered that I wasn’t Jewish (even though my sister claims we still were once) I carried on telling people I had been. Anyway it was a story I traded for a couple of laughs and it seemed like a good idea for a movie, like writing this down seems like a good idea to do with my life now that I’ve given up on love and drugs as a way to the divine (or to waste time). So I guess I should start with my earliest memory. Before the falling out of the tree stuff that is.
I’m very young, I’m hiding in a cupboard, we are playing hide and seek one of my girl cousins is there with me. It’s hot, stifling, muggy Durban. I don’t want to be found. After a while she cries out, “We’re in here”. It’s the same cousin I bump into later that I turn into the story that becomes that film.
In my Grandfathers yard there are chicken coops, with bird shit in them, down by the garage, there is also a huge frangipani tree, pink, smelling of pink and we climb it all the time. Me and my cousins. I remember my grandfather’s second wife (the non Jew) Alice making me toast and egg soldiers for Sunday breakfast when we slept over. I remember him shouting, where’s my coffee, bitch!” and meaning the bitch part, she just sighs, stubs out a cigarette and it’s like a 50’s roadhouse for a split second (as I remember it, not as it was).
I remember his office about the garage and the nigger begging for money that was a piggy bank and made of metal that I wanted. The smell of cigars. I wonder how much of the stuff my dad told me about him was true.
I’m young, maybe ten, we are in the lounge, me, dad, granny and gramps (not Alice and grandfather but my mothers parents) and Auntie Ginny (Who was actually my godmother and used to be a fifties cabaret singer called Virginia Lee, we had loads of her records and they were filled with pictures of her in glamorous ball gowns on hotel steps, all Bond women like, not like the little women in slacks who slept a lot we had with us now). I am performing in front of them, corny jokes from school, they are all laughing and saying don’t stop but I run out of jokes and run out of the room feeling useless.
I get to school early, standard four, so like grade 6, I must be 11 (if I finished when I was 17? Does that make sense?) And somebody has written “FUCK” in big red letters in spray paint on one of the classroom doors. I remember being picked up and whisked away by one of the teachers. Later, when I have a class there, the door is gone, replaced by a non-green one.
I remember in school thinking I could be a superhero and writing about it. I’d write about it again in high school. It was the flying thing, the ability to get away, to escape, that really appealed to me.
I remember the smell of the woodwork room mingling with the teacher’s cigarettes and wondering why I couldn’t do home economics like the girls.
I remember coming home, my dad having abandoned the boat he was building to go find Aunt Ginny in town again, as he told it she would drink too much and think she was back in the fifties and take too many pills and go to those old hotels and demand to sing and she would end up on the beach, that’s where he would find her he said when he got her back in and into a bed. My sister was living upstairs already, we had a big house and a big yard and an avo tree and orange trees and Ginny was sleeping in my sister’s old room.
I remember sitting around the wooden cabinet with the record player in the sun drenched afternoons with my mother and she played me the records she had sung on before she met my dad. She had had some song get a lot of airplay and was going to be famous but one day she walked into a kosher butcher and my dad was working there and all that stopped. She became a housewife and Judith Allen slipped away into Judy Young and she became forgotten except to her.
Sometimes on the way to school in the big old Valiant she would sing along to Elvis songs on the cassette player and smoke and I could feel her want to cry, “I’m In Love With The Girl Of My Best Friend” she would play over and over again, and once, she turned the sound down and said, “don’t end up with some one you don’t truly love”. But I was too young to comprehend it and even now wonder if I dreamed it.
I remember watching Winnie the Pooh on 16mm projected onto a sheet flapping in the wind on the back lawn at Elizabeth’s place, playing on the Apple Lisa at the Bolstridges, running from the back gate of the school to the top gate, after Cindy Bolstridge, chasing her to school, shouting “I’ll sue you, I’ll sue you” and having no idea what I meant.
These are the only memories I can dredge up from before I fell out of that tree. They are all hazy. Everything else about my early childhood is secondhand from stories my father told me later, most of which have turned out to be lies anyway.
After falling out the tree, we continued to play at the Stirks. “Clod Wars” (throwing sand clods at each other) and “Gearbox is burning” which involved starting a fire under a box and then pretending we were all in a car and the box was the gearbox, when it caught fire, the first one to notice would shout “Gearbox is burning” and we would all try beat it out before the lawn caught fire with stuff from the Stirks shed. That was one of Kevin’s favorites, which now that I think about it might be ironic and sad but is just well, not.
Kevin had the best hair, lived across the road but down one and was older than me but let me hang out with him and the older kids, by then “Cum on a biscuit” had become his favorite game but he never let me play, and I certainly didn’t want to watch. That was around the time he was starting up the band, “The Celtic Rumours”, and I was their number one fan and behind the scenes guy, essentially the roadie, but only when they played somewhere my parents let me.
Even though by then when they thought I was sleeping over at someone after church youth group, I was sneaking off to town to be barman at a nightclub.
Wait, I’ve skipped so much.
Give me a moment to straighten this out; I’ve skipped to 15, left out falling in love with Vern before she moved to New Zealand and some other stuff, it’s all equally important so let me try get it straight.
God Point me like an arrow.
What have I begun, so much to transcribe, the note on tomorrow or the written in a dream in blunt pencil, and I think God, you Bastard, but then like the octopus under the sea thinks of me, how can we conceive of God, what point is there. It’s Jesus I struggle with, a benevolent God I can accept, so maybe I am Jewish.
The couple in the lift, having a loving argument about the validity of surveys and what that means And I’m thinking I must call Andy and get him to send thumbs so I can put it in next and I think that I must tell him that whether when I was on drugs, or on the street or in the malls, typing into the computer or writing in pencil in newspaper margins, or even just talking to junkies round the scrub fire late night, I am always telling stories, that is my inheritance, I am the story teller. That is my existence from whatever source. I got the gift from my father, who lied to me and he lied to hide his shame (whatever that was), and I can hold no blame for that, for making me this way, stories to protect and to guide, as he tried to protect me from the failings of his family, himself, this country then.
Because of that I was coddled in my beliefs and because of that I fell hard and therefore I am this, a liar a thief of facts, a storyteller who can no longer tell the difference between lie and truth and can only tell my own truths, an unyielding, unsheltering truth. We are born in mystery, live in it, die in it. And it does not matter. Because you cling to your paper thin memories that change with the suns reflection and I will cling to mine and on these little boats we pass through time
What have I done, it would be so easy to transcribe in random from notebooks and scribblings. To drop in poems typed long years ago. but my life can no longer be approached as a ramble, I have randomized through it bumbled letting it teach me all it can and through it I have come to this point, the point of setting down.
Not that any precise chronology will make an ending but through my fumblings only the order can show the things I have come to see. Though it felt order less, I was always a tourist guided by an invisible hand. Now I feel that hand I must honor the journey it took me on.
And leave nothing out, so it will be tedious and I must start with my first life, my teenage life and I need a little time to spread it out and put it down in sense of time. So I will break from you here and lay it all down, my early embarrassing misinformed confidence.