The moment I heard the news of my father’s death, my window opened. It was like opening a wood-framed window that had been closed through too many alternating wet and dry seasons, so that the wood of the frame had become warped and swollen. After the many years it had been left securely closed, the act of opening it created a kind of tearing wrench, like a firmly stuck window that finally gives up its grip. A searing pain tore through my body, and a huge unnamed blackness billowed out of the darkest recesses of my memory. It filled my mind like a sort of ethereal malevolent monster, unrecognised but terrifying. Back then, I didn’t know what it meant or that it had sat there, sealed behind that jammed window for decades, since my pre-teen childhood. Immediately after the initial wrench, my mind and memories around my father went back to the dead blankness that had existed at least since my father left our family and our home, when I was 11. I remembered almost nothing of my time with him, barely even his face. Other than a very occasional sort of Kodak Instant snapshot, blurry and indistinct like the technology of the time, there was nothing – no memories, no feelings. When asked how I felt about the news of his death, I answered almost honestly, “nothing”. I didn’t reveal that instant of almost unimaginable pain, nor the single repeating phrase that came in its wake, carving a groove in my mind: “He can never come back. He can never hurt me again”. At the time, the thought made as little sense to me as did the pain. I knew he had hit my mother many times in his drunken rages, but I had no clear memory of him even disciplining me physically, let alone baseless senseless violence against me. It turned out that I had a lot to learn about the mysterious workings of the human mind and its equally mysterious layers of protection against the past.


If this causes you distress, please contact one of the following support organisations (in South Africa, 24/7):

  • Lifeline South Africa  0861 322322;
  • South African Anxiety and Depression Group (SADAG)  080 012 1314