Sugar cane.  I hate the bloody stuff.

Costa Rica and a bus full of happy, clappy tourists; my children are nervous-excited to be going on a boat tour up a crocodile infested river.  They are with their Mama whom they know would single handedly wrestle a crocodile to death if need be to protect them, so nervous-excited rather than scared.  I am staring at the fields of evil.  The tour guide whitters on about the harvest season.  I stare in blind horror at the fields of thick cane; there is a wilderness at the cane’s base which I know harbours snakes, rats and a violent death.  Macabre terrible death.

Before the war I think the sugar cane fields were not a place you wandered into without a machete.  It’s where the boys went to find snakes and huge boa constrictors hid before sliding out to find its prey.   Really, why would a little white girl wander into the cane field when she had a battalion of servants to command?  Instead a child like I would simply demand that sugar cane be brought: we liked to sit on the steps of the verandah and suck out the juice.  The pith inside the shell of the cane makes your teeth feel weird like rubbing them on wool but it’s worth it.

During the war?

During the war a child like me will see these places as death.  They hide enemies who want to hurt me and the ones I love.  They will kill my friends and I will find them with the flies sitting on their grey skin and sticky black wounds.  Eyes open with the milky glaze of death across their once beautiful soft brown eyes with gold flecks.  Now simply dark empty caverns with the sheen of death and the acrid smell of decay sitting heavily on their split stomachs, entrails spread across the cane spears.

Cane fields, over grown and passed the time they should have been harvested are things I remember; they are not memories like “Christmas when i was five” that most have, they are etched on my soul.  There are very few who will understand what that means.

I watched those horror fields pass by the bus window some 30 years later, as the tour guide prattled on.  A darkness crept inside my bones and a pain that knows no end filled my lungs.  I am so very tired of living.  I do not wish to die; I am simply tired of living.

Flashbacks storm my consciousness.  I am trained to stay present.  Pull my brain back to the here and now.  The smell of decay, of death fills my nostrils.  Choking me.  The bus disappears and only the other is before me.  No.  Stop.  Pinch myself hard.  Pain, physical pain brings me back to the present briefly.  Again and again until my legs are bruised and my fingernails draw blood from my wrists.

Staying present.  A battle nobody can understand who has not lived in hell.

Every time I pick myself up and try to carve out just a little piece of joy for me; not as a mother but for me, the woman, the cane fields are always there to remind me that I will never be free.  Is it that I seek happiness in places that are barren?  I try to find it in people I can trust and love safely, but the ones that are trustworthy are so very few and far between.  Most are simply motivated by a need that I fulfill.

When the walls of my mind started to crumble as we drove along the molasses covered dirt road with its ruts and crevices, the drone of the tour guide drumming in my ears, I tried to catch the wisp of happy the danced across my brain.  It was a fleeting flash of childish joy; laughter: mine.  A big brown face I loved smiled down at me and pink palms held my little white fingers, wrapping them in strong brown fingers.  His smell is one of warmth and comfort.  His feet are flat and wide as we walk I like to compare our feet, his toes have little pinky white bits in between the brown skin, mine are just pink and red from the African dirt.  He carries a machete in his belt.

There are words but I can’t catch them.  They aren’t in English.  The child that I was once understands them and prattles in them.  Yet I, the adult, am lost.

Utterly lost.

Every time I pick myself up there is a punch waiting to knock me back down.  I am alone in a world of strangers, no matter how hard I try I will forever be apart, different, other.

I tried to mend bridges with my ex-husband recently.  I feel the sands of time are running out for me; the gift of my trauma is a blood clotting disorder that more and more reduces my ability to fight.  With no stress hormones released, my body could cope but with stress comes a hammer blow that knocks the wind out of me.  I tested the waters by asking him for a small hand with something for the girls, a little thing for him but for me, it would show a willingness to partake in their lives more than the “flip in/flip out live in another country can’t be bothered to remember their birthdays sperm donor” he has been.

He met my request with fury.

He was farcically upset with me for being sick.  For bringing to his attention that with antiphospholipid syndrome comes lupus (they do not know why), and with that comes eventual death.  Either way I’m going to die, it’s just a matter of how soon.  I intend to make it until the girls are out of university and settled, with a strong support network around them.  Something I have never had but something I want more than anything for them.  I’ve tried to manufacture it for them, but have failed.

I fear my own death not because I want to live but for them, I fear their being without my protection.  I am so very tired of living so much of the time.  Sometimes I get angry and I rage at the injustices of the world, when I see those who should be better but aren’t…  I rage and I call them out.  I paint in fury.  Possessed.  But when that rage subsides the darkness comes; it is heavy and smothers me with a certain knowledge that there is no light in the world, all is sordid, mean, cruel and evil.

If it weren’t for my children I would honestly have stopped by now.  There are just so many times the cane fields can be remembered before that is all there ever is.

Kate Gillie
Author

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