Healing at last


It’s a muggy, overcast morning on Cape Town’s Muizenberg beach and he has come prepared for rain. Baggy pants, bright blue sweater, hair sticking out from his hoodie.

He introduces himself as Bartlett – that’s what Justin Nurse (33) is calling himself these days. After his daughter’s death Bartlett became his alter ego, part of a creative rebirth that led to poems, lecturing at universities and working on an album with top SA musicians.

The new identity has given him a new grip on life. Bartlett discusses Justin Nurse. It’s better that way, he says. “Bartlett talks about Justin’s heartache, Bartlett is facing life head-on, Justin and his tragedy are in the past.”

It’s 18 months since Vanilla, Justin’s blonde cherub of a daughter, burnt to death on her second birthday when the family’s Honda Jazz burst into flames.

“To see a child die is a brutality that can only be compared to being in a war. No one should experience something like that.”

He, his partner, Camilla, and daughter Willow went travelling in South America for six months. Returning to South Africa was like the aftershock of an earthquake. The reminders in Cape Town were too much to bear.

They moved to Johannesburg where Justin started working in Danny Jordaan’s Soccer World Cup media team. Two days later he overdosed and fell into a coma.

Justin admits he created chaos. “Camilla . . . it was too much for one person to bear.”

But things are better now. “We’re healing at last. We’re trying to make sense of things. I’m confident we’ll manage.”

Justin is inherently a happy person. His future was always clearly mapped out. “But when you lose your child in such a grotesque way it shakes your being. Suddenly you have nothing to believe in.”

Now Bartlett has become his hard-assed alter ego and he’s going to stir things up. “It’s time to make a noise,” he says. “Humour is a weapon.”

The razor sharpness is back. His shop, The Business, opens in Muizenberg on 1 May with an exhibition by students from the AAA advertising school where he taught. It’s going to be a gathering place for artists who can rent space and exhibit their work.

Read the full article in YOU, 14 April 2011.

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