On Apologies

What is the point of reaching out to someone to apologize, say, emailing them and explaining why you hurt them, the motivations for your actions?

I feel putting it in writing is taking better responsibility for your behaviour. You could always do it in person and it is recommended you do by way of manning up and because your written words could always be used against you.

Admitting how you fell short is an integral part of an apology. I can say it to myself, but I feel putting it out there in writing gives it legs, a way of being accountable.

Although, I often wonder whether it means anything to say you were wrong, to own up to your decisions. In hindsight, I may not even have a logical reason for writing down my apologies. I could be trying to make myself the victim of someone else’s tragedy, one I caused, to make myself feel better or I could be painting the other person as a monster to remove myself from how I treated them.

Sometimes I am not sure. What is the point of apologizing if it does not take the pain away from the people you hurt? I often feel we do it for ourselves, selfishly, to make ourselves feel better. That is not an entirely bad thing, but I feel the bigger goal of saying sorry is to make things better for the aggrieved.

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Where my relationships are concerned, I never made a conscious decision to become one thing or another. It seemed to just happen as I stood at the conveyor belt of people I used and who used me, and in the shared darkness in which we hid and sought warmth. Each heartbreak and disappointment, theirs and mine, ours, each tragic occurrence, was impetus for the next one. By the time the waves of agony reached epic heights, by the time the lies and empty promises rolled off my tongue so smoothly that what was left of my heart did not miss a beat, I had no conscience left.


 


We often, unwittingly, view relationships and the people we get into them with as escapes from ourselves, as cures for the maladies we carry within us.

We distract ourselves with enraptured hearts, lining the messy nests of our emotions with sentiment and unnameable, unknowable things, things which we nonetheless can see and touch, that have textures soft and rough to our feelings, which shield us from our ourselves.

Like gossamer in hell’s heat – love, its imitations, and inverses are hell – the shields from our personal darkness eventually melt away, leaving us as naked as before and more bereft and further from ourselves. We lose ourselves escaping from ourselves, cut deep grooves inside of us to fit people and their expectations, and then one day wonder where we went, what happened to us.

Somehow we fail to see what we want is already hidden in our individual weeds (cliché). We need only reach within, withstand the thorns growing around our souls and find those things which make us whole, which enable us to repair and reconnect with ourselves. To do this, we need to be alone.


 

Beer and Chocolate

How much of your behaviour is dependent on what is going on around you, say in your work or personal life? You might say a significant portion. What if you are highly self-aware of your thoughts and emotions, what if you are more often than not acutely know what is going on inside you? Any excuse suddenly seem banal, disingenuous even.

I have been thinking about this for a while, about whether I can attribute the ways I act and react to the externalities of a dynamic job or the residual fallout of an ended relationship. I cannot seem to reconcile within myself how I behave is not linked to what is without, but what is within. Asked another way, where in this am I taking responsibility for myself?

The hard part is communicating this, that I shift blame from myself and blind myself to, well, myself, and then to ask for what I need: space to sip on the truth which burns like cheap vodka going down. Work was not rough today. I want to be alone and drink a beer and eat chocolate, as overly spiced lentils simmer on the cooker. It is not that I do not feel I will be good company. It is that I want to wake up alone, sit alone in my very quiet house, and stew in my thoughts and drown in my funk by myself, however dangerous it might be. I am not pushing you away. I am reaching for myself. I am reaching for the self I have lost and forgotten when I am with another person, the self I am when I am not with you. Not you, but you, the ubiquitous you.

And this is the main question: who am I when I am not with you? We define ourselves through other people, with other people, see ourselves through their eyes, measure ourselves against them, so this is somewhat expected, that you tie yourself to those around you, family, friends, colleagues. However, you can only look outside yourself for so long. To use a cliché, what you seek is inside you, and to a degree, people are a distraction. There are things you will learn about yourself in social contexts, there are things you can only learn alone. The work of forging an identity is a solitary task, as are some aspects of repairing yourself. This is the task I am undertaking, consciously and otherwise, as I drink beer and eat chocolate.

And then nothing

I picked up half a kilo of fish fillet on my back from Guka’s funeral and finally made a fish curry. Courtesy of a Shalimar pre-prepared spice pack, it was delicious, albeit a bit overcooked, and went well with coconut rice.

There was no weight lifted off my chest, there was no salvation from my own twisting mind. The only sensations were my hunger sated and a slight heartburn because I tend to go overboard when spicing food.

This was supposed to be a momentous occasion, the final wave goodbye to the hurt I have been nursing, a celebration culminating in the preparation and consumption of something that could never be shared.

We attach meaning to otherwise meaningless things. I know this better now because of how disappointed I was. A stupid expectation was crushed by the sublime uncaring nature of reality. It was just fish.

Death and Other Things

I did a brave thing today: I viewed Guka‘s body. He seemed frail and at peace. I reminded myself, what remained was a shell. Regal in a navy blue pinstripe suit and a crimson KAMA tie, he looked like I imagine he would have looked had he had the kind of wealth and money to be a man of material renown. 

My heart did not flutter, my eyes water. The closest I came to grief was a quick clench in my chest when I saw one of my aunts quietly weeping after seeing what was left of him. His stillness, eyes and lips sealed shut forever, his shrunken form must have been all too final. 

I laughed with Papa and one of his friends about the absurdity of life and death and how tears will not change anything. Looking back it seems callous to be flippant at such a time. I am his grandson, named after him and in some ways I am him. I should be more heartbroken. 

We had seen his death coming for a long time. Most of us had silently acknowledged his eventual demise. He was old and sick and had given up holding onto his life. Something went out of him, and he was a shell long before he was in the coffin. I imagine he had had enough and was done with it all. His agemates have preceded him. One of the preachers even joked how he would not be alone wherever he was going. 

Unsurprisingly, I contrast the events of the day with my recently ended relationship. The two are as far apart as one can get, whether we are comparing the durations of the two associations or their individual attendant emotions. Yet, as I am often reminded, grief is grief and griefs cannot be compared. 

I feel as I should carry myself with more gravity about Guka‘s death, give it more weight than a lost love. The thought does not escape me, the reaching for some kind of sense in my personal chaos, that they are similar: they are deaths of a kind, losses of people and things we cherished and never imagined would be gone. 

The sadness I feel is more because of loneliness and aloneness, she is not here to comfort me during this supposedly trying time. I thought we had forever. With Guka I was more sensible. Death, real death, life loss, has a way of beating naivety out of you. 

Two of my friends called to ask how I am doing. I told them I was fine, and I am, the pain has not hit me yet. I tell myself this is a lie, however, I cannot seem to convince myself to believe it. I might not ever cry and allow myself to miss Guka. I hope I do, to prove to myself I am not a psychopath, that I loved him more than I let on. 

Compare this with how easily my tears flow and emotions run deep for her. Not quite odd. I cannot bring back Guka, no matter what I do. She, however, can come back, by some miracle. This is what terrifies me: she is within reach and at the same time without. 

We had talked about boundaries before we broke up. She wanted to be left alone. I have done a very good job yet in my idle mind an idea flowers: what if I tried to go back and she welcomed it? Not likely. She is proud and unforgiving. I would not be able to handle another rejection from her. 

For the umpteenth time, I cry for her and let those tears stand for all the things I have lost. The tears flow inward of course. I am good at pretending to be well. No one will know what I am really feeling. 


I wear the same clothes for every formal occasion: slim-fit khaki pants which I got lucky buying second-hand and in which I look good (I always seem to buy clothes which are too big, too small, dowdy, or for women), a shiny, delicate purple shirt I got as a graduation present from one of my aunts (she got lost on the way to the funeral and called me. I hung up and told her to text), and a pair of slip-on office shoes which are a size too big, curling upward and making my gait clumsy. I wore this ensemble, with the slight difference being I ironed the shirt and pants. 


My sister’s boyfriend came for Guka‘s funeral. He was with his father in the wider neighbourhood. We were to meet up a few weeks ago, however being the busy man he is we did not. He felt bad about this and gave me a thousand bob, two beers he said, by way of apology. I took the money. I am broke as fuck. I had also talked to Mum about the state of my pocket. She said she would sort me out if she had been paid. She had. She did. Another thousand. 

Another cousin of mine gave me five hundred and reminded me of a time I came through her. I glow with gratitude. Emboldened by my success, I wonder about asking Papa. Nah. His time will come. If I ever ask him it will be for bigger things, not a K or two to keep me going for the last week of a tight month. I could not even contribute to the monies for the funeral. This crushes me. 


One of my cousins came with a friend, a girl of Indian origin. I snatched glances and often stared at her during the sermon. Later, I asked my cousin for an introduction. We laughed about how my cousin had told her friend there are good men in the family, that she would not come out empty-handed. 

I had spent a large part of the afternoon debating whether I really wanted to talk to her, to find out more about her. In the end, my curiosity won, with the undercurrent being I should not use this as an opportunity to prove to myself I am still wantable and attractive, I am not the monster I often see myself as. I would not use her to avoid dealing with my own emotions. 

We chatted for a bit: she went to high school with one of my sisters. She sells mitumba in Gikomba and speaks fluent Kiswahili. Then a darkish thought: I wonder what it would be like to have sex with her. The sex I am having now when I have it is devoid of emotion and almost mechanical: release, not connection. I fucked away all my connectionness over the last one and a half years. 

We exchange numbers, and I wait impatiently for her to reply to my first message. She does. My heart or whatever else has replaced it, the hole shaped like my ex and the dashed hopes of my life, gives a jolt. I can see myself as the insecure hungry lost boy, hankering after affection from an attractive stranger. I hope my near-desperation comes across as interest rather than conquest. Then the dark thought returns, what does Muhindi pussy taste like? 

I tell myself this is all it is, just wanting to be friends. I see the devil in me grin and whisper “You want to fuck her. I shiver. I am better than this. I can seeI do see, women, as more than objects. Yet, the thought of her straddling me in sexual ecstasy warms me


And soon it is all done: Guka is buried next to his wife, my grandmother. Her cemented-over grave was washed the previous day. You would not know this, not with the blanket of fine dust covering it. I laugh with Papa about this. He smiles and does not seem to share my mirth. 


Lunch is served, and as usual, it is bland and not enough. Papa ends up getting only rice. I go to one of my uncle’s house where the clergy is eating and take one of my cousins along. We did not want him to leave hungry, despite the short drive back to Nairobi. I wolf my food down and immediately need solitude. I continue acting. There will be time enough to indulge my daydreams and drown in whatever passes as sorrow for me. 


Another uncle’s house. Quiet. Solitude. I find my bag moved from the sitting room into one of the bedrooms. I pick up Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. I am about to finish reading it. I smile wryly at the title: is this what is waiting for me? 


Why are we attracted to the wounded? Why do I gravitate to the hurting and broken? Why do they to me? I think about this as I catch up with the travails of David Lurie. Some of the darkness I see in him, I see in myself. He seems to be finding catharsis. I hope I will too. His daughter Lucy has also been through rough times of her own. She also seems to be pulling out of her darkness. Defiant, she will not break. I envy and admire her: her obstinacy reminds me of my ex. I hate her: her obstinacy reminds me of my ex.