I have come across a journal I kept a number of years ago. It was the year 2006, and at the end of it, my firstborn was leaving the little enclave of Pietermaritzburg for Rhodes University in Grahamstown. I did think at the time, that this was a subject that should be noted, as so many mothers go through this process every year.
I have an unusually close knit family, and the ties between Mom and daughter and brothers is fierce. Having lived alone and fought huge financial and emotional battles we are even more united than the norm. From around September of 2006, I started referring to Christmas and anything coming up as “the last time that Kim will be with us,” I even bought very elaborate Christmas decorations for “Kim’s last Christmas.” In hindsight so ridiculous, she wasn’t dying, she was going to spread her wings and fly. The year ended positively, she smashed every distinction possible, as she has continued to do, and we had a beautiful close and special Christmas. My mind however was full of the end of January and Orientation week at Rhodes. I unfortunately, have the disposition for living in the future, I’m always thinking about what is coming up, what I’m going to do, and failing to be present, and in the moment and in enjoying totally what I have at hand.
At that time, first year students were not allowed cars, and so we had organised to fly from Durban to PE, hire a car, buy what she would need in Grahamstown and motor the rest of the way. I had never been to this part of the world, not even to PE, wasn’t sure of the road at all, we didn’t have google maps then, I was absolutely terrified of the trip, of leaving her, and how she was going to cope or more so how I was going to cope. Emotional goodbyes between the siblings, left me shattered the morning of our trip. I put on a brave face, you’d swear I’d done this kind of thing on a weekly basis. We landed uneventfully in PE and started our road trip.
Her welcome at Rhodes was phenomenal, her residence, Oriel was beautiful and so fitting with her personality, so I will not go into every one of these details. I was checked into a B&B and she was staying with me until we had sorted out her linen etc for her very sparse little room. Every minute that ticked past with her, sounded like Big Ben in my head. As you do in childbirth, I can still remember every pain staking second of trying to make moments last, but also being particularly sensitive to the fact that she needed to be in her Res and part of the group from day one, so that her transition would be easier.
The last night in the B&B with her, I remember going to the bathroom, just to compose myself, and I managed to dry sob, my whole body wracked in pain. I was to drop her to sleep her first night in Oriel as my flight left early the next morning and I still had the hour drive to Grahamstown ahead of me. We bravely happily ate some supper together at the local (I don’t recall even eating, it was just a motion) and then it was time.
The hired little golf chugged up the Oriel Hill and I parked outside. The silence between us was deafening. All that remained was for her to get out and make her way into her new home. In one movement she somehow manoeuvred herself into my lap and we clung like that until I just couldn’t anymore. She spilled out of the car, walked up the stairs, gave me her furtive little glance, face awash and with a brief little smile was gone.
I lay awake dying to make contact, but holding it all in, I got to the airport the next morning, sunglasses plastered to my face and continued to sob all the way to Durban. I watched a movie with Diane Keaton recently howling with pain, and it brought me back to this time.
We are 10 years on now, it is all history, we all survived, but my god, I remember that pain like it was yesterday.