I totally just used a Tolkien plug.
For some reason, this post intimidates me, so I’ve been putting off writing it. I can’t explain why, I only know that every time I sit down to type this, I feel the need to run. Let’s see if I can get through it today. (At the time of typing, this is the fourth legitimate attempt.)
Fair warning here, emotional stuff may follow. I know what I feel, but I don’t know how to transfer it to written words. When I write these things, my cousins always send me messages like ‘today’s post made me sob again’ so this is the part where you can go get a tissue, just in case. I’ll wait for you. 😛
After 11 months of living in Germany, we went back to sunny South Africa for our first visit.
The flight wasn’t the best, with Kayla’s airsickness ending in vomit over the seat and air-hostesses who did their best to avoid helping us clean it up. We didn’t eat much, we didn’t sleep much and we were generally smelly and gross when we touched down in SA. If you’ve been around me or the blog, you’ll know I hate flying.
This being said, chatting to random South Africans on the airport was amazing and lifted my spirits. South Africans are still some of the friendliest people I’ve ever come across.
By some miracle, I managed to keep the tears at bay upon greeting our folks. Sure, my eyes were wet and my heart was a rubber ball hopping in my chest, but I managed to keep from bawling. I still don’t know how. The sheer amount of emotions assaulting me at that moment would probably have had me on my knees at any other given time. Sorry for being so dramatic, but I am a writer, after all. 😛
Anyway, sitting in the backseat of my father in law’s car, driving to their house, was poetic. I’ve always tried to avoid referring to South Africa as home and I didn’t see our visit as a homecoming before getting on the plane. In that moment though, in that car on the highway, I couldn’t deny I was going home.
The people we go to are what I now define as home. The place has nothing to do with it. Still, I cried when we got there.
Then stuff just went on as if we’d never left. We spoke to people we hadn’t seen in almost a year as if we’d never been apart. We fell into routine as if we’d never left that routine. Our room was still our room. Our dogs were still our dogs. Our place was still there.
Three weeks flew by. Being back with family and friends was amazing, but it was also an emotional roller-coaster. Saying ‘hi’ to all of them was a high point (punny), but you can imagine how many tears were involved in the ‘goodbye’ part.
Before we left the first time, I wrote this post. My biggest fear then was being forgotten or replaced. Seeing everyone again made me realise nobody had been forgotten and nobody had been replaced. Do you know what that means to me? How that makes me feel? We still have a place in the lives of so many precious people. That’s incredible on so many levels. It means everything to me.
Having to leave them all again was heartbreaking.
I’ve now held my new nephew. I saw him take his first step. I was awed at how much our daughters have grown, changed into little girls from pudgy babies. I was a witness to two of my favourite people’s vows, a private and personal moment, bared for us to share in. I held Kayla’s hand as she climbed her first tree in my parents’ backyard. I laughed and schemed with friends and cousins. I watched as Kayla formed a bond with her cousin that I know will be as strong as the one I have with mine. I breathed the smell of freshly sawed wood in my father in law’s garage. I was there, making memories with the people I adore.
Now I’m back again.
We didn’t get to see everyone, so that adds to the heartache. Saying goodbye doesn’t get easier. It still leaves a raw place in the back of your throat from swallowing back all those tears and, in my case, failing. Even when we were back in Germany, happy to be back even, I still had this dull throbbing ache in the corner of my mind – a pain caused by missing people. It isn’t gone, even now.
When you have a creaky step in your stairway, you learn to step over it in time, right? When there’s a pothole in the street you drive down often, you learn to avoid it. When you miss people this much, you learn to ignore it. This would have been easier if my kid hadn’t grown up so much.
Last time we left, Kayla wasn’t yet two years old. She was overwhelmed with excitement to see her daddy again and that same excitement was what got me through the first while. Our family was whole again. The honeymoon period after the move helped too. When the reality and the incredible loneliness finally kicked in, it was about three months after we’d left.
This time, we knew what to expect. I was ready for the emotions and I knew how to deal with them. I didn’t expect Kayla’s reaction though. Now, at almost 3, she understands what we did too.
I had no idea that she would be so adamant about going back to South Africa. At this stage, three weeks back in Germany, she tells me a minimum of ten times a day that she wants to go home. When she sees someone we love’s picture on my phone, she says she misses that person, and that they’re far away. From there it escalates to ‘I want to go home’. Telling her that we are home makes no difference, even when she’s in her room, surrounded by her things.
Above all, she wants ‘to go to Oupa and Ouma’s house’. She misses both sets of grandparents so fiercely that she’s been making up excuses to go back. Some of the toys they gave her have been used as scapegoats. She’ll get this horrified expression over one of the gifts and say that the toy belongs to ‘Oupa and Ouma’, then she’ll demand that we take it back. The first few times this happened, we could tell her that we’d have to fly to SA to return the gifts. She doesn’t like flying at all, so that would quiet her down. Now, she wants to pack and get on a plane.
I don’t blame her, because ignoring what I feel is more difficult this time too – even without Kayla’s constant nagging to go home. Little things become bullets through the heart.
We have so many new random reminders of our visit to SA scattered about the apartment. The hat my brother gave Kayla, plopped onto the carpet in her room. The colouring book Liani sent, that keeps my mind and hands occupied when I feel sad. The containers full of cookies and rusks sent by my in-laws. A bag of popcorn and spice, already halfway consumed, in the cupboard (thanks for the comfort food, Liz). The big ‘K’ Tanja drew, stuck on Kayla’s door. The quiet time book and dollhouse my mother and father in law made, never out of my view in the living room. The shoes Rita gave me (I wear them almost every time we go out now) for her wedding.
And that’s what Kayla wants to go home to. The people. Our people.
You are the threads that weave us. You make a colourful part of the bigger picture, a story that inspires and hurts and shines – like the best kinds of stories. You make us feel, so intensely, that it burns and wrenches, but also makes us smile and cry joyfully. Some of you roll through our lives like thunder, others lap like gentle waves, but each one of you has marked us forever – for the better. We are who we are because you are with us. Even if South Africa may no longer be our home, never forget that you are. You’re our home.
We love you.
And we miss you.
Just so you know, this is attempt 7.