When I was growing up my mother used to tell me that she was saving up money so that when she gets to her retirement age, she can have herself moved into an old age home because she knew I wouldn’t look after her. Thinking of it now, the frequency of the conversation should have been a sign, but I didn’t know it then. It was usually a conversation brought on by my lack of desire to do chores of any sort, so my inability to do physical labour as a depressed teenager defined my humanity – or lack – thereof to my mother.
We’ve had a difficult relationship since my teens. I lived with my grandmother for my founding years so maybe we missed a connection from that, but I would visit my parents for the school holidays and it was always the best thing about being a child back then. Knowing that the school term would end and I’d be on my way to Joburg, it helped that the parent’s house had electricity, a bathroom and an indoor landline. These were privileges back in the days of apartheid. We were what would have been considered middle class. My father having a government job had given him access to a home loan. He paid for it until he decided that he was done, but even before he left he was always absent. He was often heard – not seen – and the parenting was left to my mother. I’m sure some of the resentment sparked from there, so when my dad decided he was done with the marriage and pursued his infidelities, choosing to leave in my early 20s, I had to take that over his responsibilities as the firstborn. It plateaued the relationship between my mother and me. However, I thought my showing up for my mother would show her that I was worth her love or her approval at the very least. I was buying acceptance and the price kept getting higher but the returns were minimal. And it did nothing but make my mother more resentful.
I’ve had dresses handed down to me.
When my paternal grandmother passed, people shared her material keepsakes according to rank. My dad kept the house and he lived there until he made too many enemies to stick around in the village. He had burnt the bridges with my mother and the mistress he had left her for, but he was still the one whose name was on the title deed of the house he bought when they got married so he moved back in with his many bags with things he has collected over the years. Sleeping in my childhood bedroom because the marital bed was out of bounds and having to make compromises with my mother in order to be able to coexist under the same roof, the dysfunction is still continuing as they wait for one of them to die. Theirs is a mixed bag of reluctant settling with silent bullying and passive-aggressive navigation, something I had to unlearn after leaving the family.
A piece of cloth shouldn’t have so much significance.
I put the nightdress off, hang it on the walker and take pictures of it, making sure to hide the side with the years-old stains, folding it in half and hanging it again, trying to decide how I want the picture of the night dress to look. Getting rid of it will really be about closing a chapter and I can finally get a new, appropriately seasonal one; hopefully, that comes with good vibes. I’ve had a onesie in mind but the whole idea of having to take everything off to pee won’t really work in winter, so I’m parking the idea for now.
The only time I’ve worn PJs was when my ex had a pair. They were very comfy and the relationship allowed for sharing of clothing items among other things. I often wonder if he threw them away when he moved, or if they got lost with my clothes and shoes after a series of my own relocations. For once, I have to go out and decide what articles of clothing I would like to rest my body in. Or since we are living through a pandemic: spend most of my waking hours in since “real clothes” are not really practical. The heat and limited social outings due to the pandemic mean that I have to get specific outfits made because clothing is not often designed for people who are in wheelchairs, so I pack the idea for now.
I remember my grandmother used to say that if I didn’t work enough, I would be a slave to my friends for the rest of my life. It sounded so ridiculous to me that friends would want to treat me like that. I think she had a better chance of warning me against family being the ones that treated me the way they did. Ironically, it’s because of my friends that I can try at life again. Secretly, I always wonder when my friends will get tired of showing up for me. My mother never understood why any of my friends liked me and she used to ask me how I made friends because I was “this person.”
Having lived through an airborne pandemic in the last three years has forced a lot of us to have uncomfortable conversations that would have been considered inappropriate before this time; when everything is uncertain and terrifying, while we are expected to go on like nothing out of the ordinary is going on. One of the conversations for me was about who would “inherit” my daughter if anything happened to me. This was when I was at the worst of my Disability in 2016. I had friends offer to look after my daughter because we thought after 6 months my life and mobility would be back. Six years post disability and they are still parenting her and I’ve often thought how if anything were to happen to me, I’d still want her to be with them as she is my one most prized possession, for lack of a better word. I can’t trust my own family with her life and I think that is one of the biggest tragedies that I’ve had to make peace with. Fortunately, because we have an open relationship, she knows why I feel the way I do. I don’t have anything materially worth inheriting and her being the heir to what is currently nothing, means that one day she will go through my measly stuff too and I often wonder if she will have the same attachments to my clothes or what they meant to me when I was still around. But there is comfort in knowing that the one thing I can do is write and I think I write well, so that is one gift I can give her. Hopefully my words won’t cause her the kind of emotional turmoil that I’ve had to contend with for the past couple of weeks because of a nightdress I took from my mother. I wonder if she would have given it to me if she knew that we would never see each other again. She has a lot of stuff that she always spoke about how it should be divided, what gets used on special occasions etc. always with a caution about how I wouldn’t look after them properly and they were better off with whatever relative. I mean looking at life now, I agree that I would have no use for them. Our relationship can’t be salvaged by trinkets.
So I woke up this morning, lit up my joint and made a cup of tea, thinking of all the things I could do to keep myself occupied while I paced up and down my flat, glancing past the nightdress that is still on the floor since I last left it there, a reminder that whatever happens, at the end of it all, I have to clean up after myself and make sure I live in a well-cared-for space. So I take the night dress, fold it, stick it in the bin with the rest of the trash for the night and take it to the bin collection room.
It’s a new month and I think it’s only fair that I start it with a clean slate, and I really need a new nightdress.