Broken Pieces of a Human: Death and lockdown – I know the taste of sorrow now
‘Social Justice Stories: Viruses, Villains, Victims & Victors’ is the result of an annual writing competition. It is a collaboration between the South African Schools Debating Board and the Centre for Sexualities, Aids and Gender at the University of Pretoria. In her entry, Dimpho Thobela reflects on her experiences during lockdown.
High school pupils in South Africa were invited to submit an entry of no longer than 1,000 words on the theme “The Covid-19 pandemic: Viruses, Villains, Victims and Victors”. It could be an opinion piece, a reflective essay, a short story or a poem. The competition is free of charge and submissions could be in any of the 11 official languages.
One of the entries was from Dimpho Thobela, a matric pupil at Maseala Progressive High School in Polokwane. She is a Christian, an avid reader and a part-time poet. She is passionate about writing and making the best of her life. Thobela said the inspiration for her entry stemmed from her experiences during lockdown. “It was a way of healing, acknowledging how hard it was for me and reconciling those feelings with the reality of the pandemic. Whoever you may be, I hope you feel seen, heard, loved, comforted and accepted. You are not alone. May the freedom, peace and grace of the Lord find you and me as it has found those who have walked before us,” she said.
This is her submission
Broken Pieces of a Human
Her casket looked so smooth and white and pure. Yet we couldn’t touch it. And though we had never really made much of our kinship, I wish her casket had lingered before it sank into that nauseating red soil.
It wasn’t her death that made me lose my sanity, but the suddenness of it all. Yes, I knew that she had died of a heart attack. However, the fact that people were dying by the thousands every day made death seem so common, so easy. Death became a ghastly game of musical chairs and made Russian roulette seem almost like a baby-proofed game by violently redefining unpredictability and overindulgence. Nobody ever told me that her death would be the climax of it all.
That I would begin to dream of bodies hanging like Parisian chandeliers with tired legs and sagging ashy faces. That I’d want to be one of those bodies. These thoughts gather around me like thick dust in an abandoned home. I have no way to escape their choking grasp. I wish I could walk onto the street and hear voices and music all around. I used to say that complete mosaics are boring. What I am is a scattered flower with my petals spreading sweet and fresh scents of magnolia over a dying soil of a world covered by ash. Those were naive lines in ignorant poems. Now when I spend my mornings seeing a nude Nutella-toned body sulking on the floor, I find all those pathetic attempts at artistry disgusting. I know the taste of sorrow now. It’s stranger and more tentative than the taste of lithium.
I take too many sleeping pills whenever I feel overwhelmed because I can’t afford to relapse into self-harm again.
I see people in intensive care on documentaries with the monitors, drips and ventilators helping them to breathe as nurses battle to keep them alive. I can easily see the faces of those who will die. I think about their children. I think about how easily I become brittle when my mother doesn’t come home at night. I spend all night imagining how it would feel and I am frightened. I hardly sleep at night, and think when all this is over, I’ll ask Dr Kruger to increase my dosage. I’ve realised that my teeth have a rusted feel and an acid taste as I haven’t brushed them in two and a half months. I don’t do my homework and instead I spend my days counting pills while debating whether or not I am heavily medicated. And if I am, what happens when the pills run out? As we came back from the funeral, I had a panic attack because I saw her standing by the road. I screamed at Dad because I thought he was going to hit her with the car. Then seven seconds in that image disappeared and there was no one on the road. But that brief image – so Van Gogh-ish – made me panic because she was dead. She had to be dead because we had just buried her.
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We had just buried my grandmother. Dad had to stop the car and I had to lie face-up on a wet pavement, hearing the engine subtly murmur to itself that my gasps were too loud. When dad tried to touch me, I screamed and bashed my head on those grey bricks until my head was bleeding while my mother was crying her lungs out. I had a concussion.
I can’t deal with the isolation. I spend my days bingeing on food and “dark” Netflix movies and I can go weeks feeling numb. Weeks itching because I don’t shower anymore. Weeks watching the sun set, having no idea what I’ve done the whole day. Weeks questioning my worth and my existence. From magna cum laude student aiming for Harvard to an almost dead teenager who hasn’t opened a book in months. So when my teacher sent a message saying tomorrow is the due date for our maths assignment, I lay in bed all day weeping and biting into pillows until I almost choked on chocolate chip cookie vomit.
I take too many sleeping pills whenever I feel overwhelmed because I can’t afford to relapse into self-harm again. I’ve started slicing through my inner thighs, so when my parents check my wrists, they see nothing to worry about. It’s two and a half months into this lockdown and I feel shattered. Everybody says they feel this way too, but I know the extent is completely different. I feel like I’m trapped in a burning house screaming for help, but everybody thinks my crisis is like theirs; a boiling point gone out of control on the stove. Or maybe they don’t.
Either way, the sun doesn’t rise the way it did before. I am simply just broken pieces of a human. DM
Social justice stories: viruses, villains, victims & victors is published by the Centre for Sexualities, Aids and Gender at the University of Pretoria. The official launch will be on 8 October 2023.