Essay 51: The Laws of Gravity
Back in my old neighbourhood. My old street, even. There are other parts of Cape Town I have lived in for longer, other parts where important things happened, but this is the spot marked x for me. If I was a dog and I got kidnapped from Cape Town, and it was a big miracle because even though I got driven to Joburg I still managed to find my way home, this is the street I would come back to.
Before, I lived in an old house that always had a lot of sand on the floor. My bedroom had a non-working fireplace, and a sort of crypt-like walk-in cupboard. A walk-in cupboard! What a place is this life! I was so proud of it. I woke up every day and thought would you PLEASE get a load of me. There was an extremely spiky palm tree just outside my windows, which grew in an unhealthily vigorous way, and every so often I would have to go in there with the kitchen scissors and cut the fronds back. I’d never wear the appropriate clothes for such a task, wouldn’t even wear shoes, and I’d finish up all scratched and irritable. This refusal to be prepared is characteristic of much of my behaviour at the time.
My cousin had the upstairs room, which was always hot enough to make a person believe they were actually in the sun, but which also made you feel like you were maybe in Greece, and maybe you were Leonard Cohen’s girlfriend from a long time ago, or something. We had a succession of zesty housemates, some nice, some horrible. We had a cat with a bad personality for a while, and then a pig, name of Holly. Opinion was divided as to the coolness of Holly, but when she was very small it was like being friends with a celebrity. People would come over to the house and lose their minds at the sight of her. I was once tanning on the front verandah, and Holly ran over to me all hopped on something, just very excited to be alive, and she came and stood all over my stomach, and I had little hoof marks there for a long time. Two dogs lived with us for a while, one was small and allergic to grass and had the spirit of an old woman, and the other one was like if a deer and a dog had a baby. She was great. Once, I was in my room, and I heard a knock at the door and I opened it to find the deer dog standing there, dressed in a blue man’s shirt. Little toenails poking out. She looked amazing.
Living in that house was like having a fever for two years. It felt like there were sparks shooting off me. I was only ever very happy or very sad, and everything made me laugh. I brimmed with confidence at all times. I do not remember feeling doubtful or uncertain about anything. This probably made me quite trying to be around, as well as a little bit cruel. I understood, in theory, that other people were the centres of their own universes, but I struggled to really believe it. I got used to the idea of myself as someone who broke people’s hearts as a matter of course. This did not trouble me in the smallest degree. I quite liked it, thanks.
Now, I live in a flat. It has two balconies and a lot of light, and a sort of doll’s house-ish feeling to it. My bedroom is big and square, with windows that want always to be open. After the first night in the new room, I woke up and felt sparks shooting off me. I don’t have this in any other place.
Things are different, though. There is a new tree with a very particular smell. I am not at liberty here to describe it, except for the key words “grassy” and “bleach”, but please know that it is potent. If you would like to know what the very particular smell is, you can email me. The house I used to live in has a new sassy industrial style number on the gate, which I imagine was a present. I imagine a man in extreme jeans making it in his workshop in Woodstock, and then giving it to his girlfriend, and she has to smile. She hates it, though. I hate it too.
It’s been six years since I lived here last, and I am different too. Some things happened that changed my idea of myself, and of the way the world worked. I have emotions other than “ecstatically happy” and “devastated”. I no longer think of myself as the kind of person who actually cannot prevent herself from stomping on the heart of whoever has the misfortune to come into contact with her. I am, furthermore, no longer brimming with confidence. Three people died, all very young. In each case, I thought they were going to be all right until long after it made sense to do so. It was going to be all right because it had to be – there really seemed to be no alternative. That three young men would die of things young people weren’t supposed to die of was intolerably sad, but also incorrect. It seemed disrespectful of the laws of gravity as I imagined them.
I used to believe that nothing bad would happen, so long as I was around. I understood tragedy in theory, but I struggled to really believe in it. Someone once told me that I had a charmed life, and I believed this until long after it made sense to do so. My life is perfectly fine, and in the sense that I am a middle-class white person and a full beneficiary of all the privileges attendant upon that, my life is top notch. I have a quite groovy time, mostly. But my life isn’t charmed. I have messed up in all sorts of ways, and ther are some things I haven’t been able to fix. People died in ways that young people are not supposed to, and my belief that it wasn’t fair did not change a fucking thing. These are some of the things I learned. I woke up this morning and felt the sparks shooting off me, but they don’t travel as far as they used to. The laws of gravity work the same for everyone.