I go through January anticipating death. In February, my heart races. By March, hope rises. In April, I begin to rise. And, by May, death starts running around my head searching for home. My home has graves. Graves inscribed with summaries and similar surnames that say nothing:
Nguku Ngunda, 1902-1992. Rest in Peace. We loved you Tata
Johnson Muthui Nguku, 1960-2000. We Loved you brother.
Dorcas Ngithi Nguku, 1920- 2010. We Loved you Mama.
Priscilla Mwendwa Nguku, January 2007; Joseph Mwendwa Nguku, April 2012 ; Anne Syombua Nguku, April 2013; Elizabeth Nguku, January 2014. GRAVES.
Graves of memories of lives once lived. Graves of pains never spoken. Graves of absence. Unmarked graves of children dead before words could be mastered for comprehensive euologies. Children buried in a hurry to wave away the arm of death. Deaths silenced to avoid a dwelling of a kind. Deaths unable to produce spirits and send ghosts. The death of a newborn remains a causal rumour. A curse. Prayed away.
A quick websearch for ‘Grave’ avails five definitions (Copied as they appear).
(‘Grave’ is not a word to search meaning for. ‘Grave’ comes down to us with a conspicuous linguistic ease):
noun: grave; plural noun: graves
a place of burial for a dead body, typically a hole dug in the ground and marked by a stone or mound.
“the coffin was lowered into the grave”
Origin: Old English græf, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch graf and German Grab.
( Reference to ‘a dead body’ is made in the first definition. There are no names given here. There is no mention of life. No relation. No importance. No traces of life. A body. Just a body. No one speaks of my orphaned cousins and the debt I continue to pay because I feel somewhat guilty for their parents’ deaths. May be because my mother is alive. Because I am older. Because i am guilty. A body does not mean that someone’s life has been disrupted by its dying. A body is a shell. A body has no meaning of its own; only meanings ascribed to it. A body lies there. Dead. My family continues dying and the graveyard at home only has bodies. I think of decomposing. Smells and sights. Insects and bugs born in these bodies. I think of an Archaeology of a family.
I am back in Nairobi. I continue to search for a house near a morgue. Or a cemetery. My friends do not believe me. I want to be haunted. No one understands. Perhaps to be haunted would be an exercise in exorcism. To live amongst the dead would slow down my everyday dying. My family will not allow me to dig up the remains of my dead relatives. An overwhelming desire. A morbid obsession).
adjective: grave; comparative adjective: graver; superlative adjective: gravest
giving cause for alarm; serious.
“a matter of grave concern”
Origin: late 15th century (originally of a wound in the sense ‘severe, serious’): from Old Frenchgrave or Latin gravis ‘heavy, serious.’
(In the second quarter of the century I attempt suicide. Thrice and in the everyday I starve. I want to starve to death. My partner threatens to have me locked up at a psychiatric hospital for six weeks till I can eat (again). I have lost weight and I am no longer desirable. I no longer desire people and things. 45 kgs, my doctor tells me, is too little for my height. She says it almost like I care.
On the day I come home, my mother cries. I suspect she suspects that I might have HIV. It’s South Africa anyway. I don’t ask. She never mentions. I think of South Africa and sex I shouldn’t have had with people I should never remember. My partner constantly talks of breaking up. I want to. We both can’t. It is a relationship of pity, sympathy and shame.
Friends talk me out of suicide. They say I am being selfish. This is the most selfless thing I have ever done, I think. I stay alive. I carry with me the shame of failure: an unsuccessful suicide. Repeatedly. I live. I continue to live for nothing).
verb: grave; 3rd person present: graves; past tense: graved; gerund or present participle: graving; past participle: graven
engrave (an inscription or image) on a surface.
fix (something) indelibly in the mind.
“the times are graven on my memory”
Old English grafan
‘dig,’ of Germanic origin; related to German graben
, Dutch graven
‘dig’ and German begraben
‘bury,’ also to grave1
(“We loved you” marks a tense. Past tense. “We Loved you” said on stones crafted in the art of a generic dying. I have written eulogies that morphosed into elegies; obituaries detailing obequies; paragraphs read as stanzas. Praise poems. I have told jokes at funerals, and relived memories of, the dead, going into graves as bodies. Dead bodies.
By the time I turn 30 I know I hate my name. I begin shedding off all the Englishes that my name writes on my face. In Idutywa and Ngqoko I am renamed. (Who shall write my eulogy?) I do not want to be buried. I continue living sinfully. I stay sinful to discourage the Church from claiming me and sending my soul to the torture of an unknown heaven. I loathe my family. then I love them. I imagine the funeral of a body that lives in the past. A past in which my present is erased. Dead. Given names engraved on a grave made in standard size. Misgendered to save the family from the shame of my living.
At 32 I start drafting my euology. The draft funeral programme has too many queer speakers. I shorten it. I write a memo to be circulated to NGOs so keen on hijacking funerals. I pack sex toys in one drawer and put a cousin’s name to avoid embarrassing my mother on the day she comes to clear my flat. I write invitation cards to my funeral and laugh uncontrollably. Psychosis).
verb: grave; 3rd person present: graves; past tense: graved; past participle: graved; gerund or present participle: graving
clean (a ship’s bottom) by burning off the accretions and then tarring it.
Origin: late Middle English: perhaps from French dialect grave, variant of Old French greve‘shore’ (because originally the ship would have been run aground).
(My brain starts bleeding. I start falling deeper into a hole. At 30 I drink everyday. At 30 and a half I carry whiskey to the office. I lose it. I withdraw, slowly then faster. I treat diseases with new diseases. I wear pyjamas all day. My partner wants to see other people. I sink. I break and repair.
Later, I nurse the hangover of a relationship gone bad. I quit dating. I quit sex. I quit everything. I break and mend a dysfunctional life. I continue being angry and find a drunken young man with difficulties finding more than two adjectives to describe me. He doesn’t know me. Yet.
A yearning for a solitude of a different kind. My body exits my mind. I float on memories of pills hidden in drawers and notes from a psychiatrist for airport officials. I remember the diagnosis:)
1. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy:
“He remembered that during his epileptic fits, or rather immediately preceding them, he had always experienced a moment or two when his whole heart, and mind, and body seemed to wake up with vigor and light; when he became filled with joy and hope, and all his anxieties seemed to be swept away for ever; these moments were but presentiments, as it were, of the one final second…in which the fit came upon him. That second, of course, was inexpressible. Next moment something appeared to burst open before him: a wonderful inner light illuminated his soul. This lasted perhaps half a second, yet he distinctly remembered hearing the beginning of a wail, the strange, dreadful wail, which burst from his lips of its own accord, and which no effort of will on his part could suppress. Next moment he was absolutely unconscious; black darkness blotted out everything. He had fallen in an epileptic fit.”~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot, 1868/9.
(At 29, the psychiatrist explains: Seizures in temporal lobe epilepsy include simple partial seizures, such as auras, and focal seizures with complex impairment in consciousness, otherwise known as complex partial seizures. The most common auras are déjà-vu experiences or some gastrointestinal upset. Feelings of fear, panic, anxiety or a feeling of a rising epigastric sensation or butterflies with nausea are also other ways in which auras present in medial temporal lobe epilepsy. Some people also report a sense of unusual smell; this may raise a possibility of a hippocampal abnormality or a tumor in that area.
She thinks I might also have an ancestral calling to become a traditional healer. I tell her my story on ukuthwasa in the Eastern Cape. I continue to search for my father. I then give up. Momentarily. The mood and dream diary stays unfilled through October).
adverb: grave; adjective: grave
(as a direction) slowly; with solemnity.
Origin: Italian, ‘slowl’.
(I quit medication. I stop telling people that I have Bipolar Syndrome. I stop explaining myself. I shut down. I shut people out. At 32 I spend days going through blogs written by friends who periodically exit public life. I continue slowly, then faster, then slowly. Again).
“A manic episode is characterized by extreme happiness, extreme irritability, hyperactivity, little need for sleep and/or racing thoughts, which may lead to rapid speech. A depressive episode is characterized by extreme sadness, a lack of energy or interest in things, an inability to enjoy normally pleasurable activities and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. On average, someone with bipolar disorder may have up to three years of normal mood between episodes of mania or depression”.
I start writing poetry and—
quit all the pursuit of happiness.
Will you say that at my funeral?