I remember exactly how the house looked the day it happened. It was clean, as always. My bowl wasn’t in the sink. I miss arguing about the dishes.
My dad left that day. He came back, but he never came back.
It was like every time you’ve driven past a horrific accident on the road thinking thank god that wasn’t me – but today, it’s you. Today, you are the casualty.
That is the more eloquent way of telling you that, when my mother found out about my dad’s affair, what really happened was that she stayed in her room and cried and cried and cried. After that, she was catatonic.
However, the affair is the story you have heard countless times. The "other woman" is like an inevitability you’ve accepted – one that must be part of every wife’s life at least once "unless you’re really lucky". So I can’t tell you that story.
You already know that story. This story belongs to me.
My eighteenth year was my best year. I played first team hockey, I was the deputy head girl, I had an abundance of friends, I was always smiling, I maintained an A+ average, I went to every 18th birthday party, I didn’t drink but I had ridiculous amounts of fun. I went on hockey tours, played provincial hockey, I went to church nearly every Sunday. I did public speaking and frequently placed in the top three. I was the first of all my friends to get a license. I had never kissed a boy and I was slightly overweight.
My parents came to nearly every single sports event. I was a cheerleader for the athletics team. I was an unstoppable five-foot tornado of love and success. I won one of the biggest and best awards that one can receive at my high school. The trophy was almost my size.
I had always been deeply afraid of failure, as I had somehow measured my worth against my achievements. I was good at most things. Not the best, usually second best, but still (forgive me, I am definitely tooting my own horn, here).
So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up one day to find my mom catatonic in her room before she had to take me to school. I had heard my dad slam the door. My brother drove me to school that day and we just made jokes and listened to music. It was about a week before my final matric exams.
My mom’s sister passed away and my dad was nowhere to be found. He even skipped the funeral. I very nearly failed some of my exams. Still, I thought I remained unaffected because now I was a grown-up and I was meant to be able to handle it, wasn’t I?
He had left my mom, but he had also left me. What was it about me that was so unloveable?
My dad rewrote the constellations when he left and nothing has ever been the same. How can the first man who breaks your heart share the same DNA as you do? How can it happen?
We had to move. We lost everything: no home, no cars, and no money. We were all separated, and I was alone for a long time. Just alone. I was young, and alone, and depressed.
I want to believe that I too, could hurt someone this badly and they would not reduce my entire being to that one catastrophic mistake. I want to believe that they would remember all the good things too – the time I was a hero. I would want them to keep a place for me.
So I will always keep a place for my dad, because I know that black dads have a painful history in South Africa, and after so many years of having to survive the catastrophes of apartheid, they were not necessarily always taught how to love "properly", because of all the surviving and providing that had to be done.
I know this now. And I know there are good black fathers, like my dad was for most of my life.
Some of the men I have loved since then are all people I knew would not stay with me. I was so sure, that if I loved them hard enough, deeply enough, if I was the ride or die, that they would stay (that is probably the most poetic way to tell you that I had "Daddy Issues" but I’ve had therapy and I’m okay now).
My dad’s absence has been strong and warm. It has taught me how to be without, how to miss. If I could list all the moments of emotional trauma and abuse I experienced in those years, the list would be endless.
The dark clouds win on some days, but on most days they lose, because I am stronger than they are. But I miss my dad always, even when he does make contact with me. I miss him even in the moments when he is speaking to me.
* A pseudonym was used to protect the identity of the author.