I May Be Drowning, but I’m Also Swimming at the Same Time: My Interesting Life on Making New Friends or Acquaintances


Opening Comments: I chose to attach a picture of myself taken in 2011 on the 15th of August. I was at my grandmother’s (my mother’s childhood home). My hometown Volksrust was blessed by snowfall that year. First we had a full on snowstorm on the evening of the 25th of July. Then it tried to snow again in August but it was mild. And to the vigilant ones yes, the picture was taken four days before the 15th anniversary of my birth. I hope the read is not too much. Dig in, and enjoy. If you are reading this from a phone I am so sorry. I’ll try to write shorter posts next time.

To some of the people who know me, and to those I have deeply conversed with, know that I carry a hurt with me which happened years ago but refuses to just go away. My split with my then circle of friends and a mixture of other things I went through over the years have made me generally distrustful of people. I need extra effort and investment before I can fully trust a person, regardless of what type of relationship I may have with them. Usually it’s all in the name of self-preservation, the aversion to anything that might bring me the same kind of pain I experienced previously. For most of the time my personal tendency towards introversion has for as long as I can remember made me my best form of company. Since it allowed me to accept and grow my introspectiveness, or even constantly try to reconcile all of the experiences I have had. Despite all of that baggage over the years I have made the greatest of friends and met many similarly great acquaintances (something felt wrong when I used this word, but I did not have another one). Well this is how I rank human interactions or the attachments we create with other people:

  1. Stranger – someone who you have never met before nor have ever spoken to.
  2. Acquaintance – someone who you have met, spoken to and see them regularly (I’m sure there is a better English word for this).

Now after these two categories that’s when things get interesting, because through constant involvement and similar effort expressed by deeper and more meaningful conversations, going to the same places, the amazement of finding out you have the same interests. Or even better, when even though you are both polar opposites but you somehow click, mesh and connect. The next ranking, is the crux of my problems. As it starts going deeper to a level beyond superficially knowing a person. It is exactly at this point that I cannot make the jump just for anyone, as I see this as a very important rank, one that not just anyone can enter. Which brings us to:

  1. Friend – someone you have met, spoken to, see them regularly, have deep and meaningful conversations with. You both more or less know everything there is to know about each other. You support each other when either party is ailing or is need of help. Laugh together in good times, cry together during sad times, and celebrate each other’s achievements whether big or small. And most of all, at all times you tell each other the truth no matter how hurtful it may be (but a tactful telling of the truth usually gets the job done). All parties involved within the friendship ensure the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing as well as growth of the people they are friends with. [Side note: My definition of a friend can fill a whole chapter, so for the purposes of the blog I will end it here. Also it’s not the definition everyone uses].

Which is why the jump from acquaintance to friend is monumental for me. A) It is not anyone who can be my friend. B) The word FRIEND (UMNGANI in my home language) carries a lot of substance with me, I do not just throw it around carelessly, and I do not just label anyone with it. I can tell you about the amount of times that someone or anyone has come up to me and said “Sthembiso, you are my friend!”. They say it boldly without batting an eyelid, and I go back to my filing cabinet (in my brain) and look at what I define as a FRIEND, which is what I wrote in the previous paragraph. For most of the time, they do not fit the category. Heck they do not even fit the acquaintance category, because almost usually you will find that there’s certain qualities that they possess which do not align with mine. Despite there being the case of OPPOSITES ATTRACT. The old physics laws of protons and electrons interacting and creating a flow of charge. Yes, that one. What also adds more salt to injury is the fact that my assertiveness skills are not that up to scratch, and most of the times I go along with the ruse waiting for it do die its own death. As cruel as this may sound (I also realised this as I was writing this) I do it, I let people think we are friends whereas we are not. I have never and I do not think I will ever have the guts to say it to someone’s face that I AM NOT YOUR FRIEND. Which then brings me to the blog post itself. And it goes like this.

“It was two days before my 15th birthday in 2011. Many things had been happening in my life in the course of that year, and in the following one many more were going to unravel (We lost our grandmother the following year). One profound thing that is worth mentioning though is that I finally gathered the strength to pull myself away from a toxic friendship which cost me five years of my life I will never get back. It had been a long time coming anyway, in my young naivety I did not notice the toxic nature of the friendship. It was riddled with periods of quiet and peace and sudden escalations, which were always so mentally taxing. The initiators would easily leave the drama as soon as they created it, and the few of us would be left to pick up the pieces. What I can say though is that the type of plot twist or escalation that transpired in that year is like something you would watch in a movie. With that plot twist and escalation fresh in my mind, I woke up one day and decided I was done, so I ripped the bandage from the wound. It may have torn away with some flesh, but my will to care was just gone, I felt numb. When realisations were made that I was truly leaving some begging was done, pleading of cases, explanations, but I remained unshaken. I just did not care anymore. I had had enough I wanted to breathe again, the suffocation had reached its end. As a result then afterwards I held everyone at a distance, I just could not trust people in the same manner I did before. Try as I might to get to know new people, let them into my space, as if by involuntary reflex I want them to leave again.

In that moment I would want my lonesome, my solitude, my own peace, my space, which I can predict and control. If I dare say, being by myself is the only thing that guarantees me sanity, it’s what allows to function on a day-to-day basis. The one thing I know though is that, almost always it is not the poor human’s fault, as they do not know about any of my life experiences. As such they know nothing about all of this exhausting administrative work I do daily. I recall sometime this year I was speaking to someone who I normally see around my university campus, in all honesty this would have been one of the few times I would have had a long conversation with them. This person was just telling me of how they wanted us to become friends, but because they did not know a proper way to engage with me, they gave up trying. I sat there just staring at this person in the eye, coming to the realisation that all of these years I have allowed myself to lose countless friendships or interactions in general with people, because of an isolated event? I just went silent for a while going over these six years from 2011 till now, trying to see if there were other people much like this person, who also wished to create friendships with me.

I finally came to the conclusion that there were many such people. At this point there was nothing I could do, it was all just spilt milk. I was just too self-involved to actually notice that people were reaching out to me, trying to connect with me. More especially when I moved to Pretoria, I just feel like slapping myself in the face for the indifference I showed to people that side, and now I am no longer there out of the experience I think there is nothing much I came out with. Do I think about doing it over and fixing a few things? Yes, in every waking day, but also I convince myself that those events will all eventually lead me to a better destination. Easy come easy go, difficult come will also be difficult to leave right? Currently I find myself in a new place Rhodes University or Grahamstown, with a new set of people, and a new set of social dynamics. My greatest fear now that I think about it is that this is happening all over again, the cycle is repeating itself for the second time now. My time is almost up in this place and I have not lived. I am constantly on guard, making sure that no one blindsides me again, that no one has the upper hand on me. Now if you think about it, if a security guard is on duty they are expected to always be on the lookout, and not be distracted by anything else. And that’s me, my life is speeding past me like a maglev train and I am just a security guard who is on an unending shift. For that reason, people give up trying, because it is better to waste your energy on something that will bear fruits than a working yourself to the bone on a barren wasteland.

As an individual you reach a point whereby you realise that there is only so much persuasion or convincing you can exhaust on a person. You make peace with peace with the fact that no amount of subtle ques or diplomacy will change their will. So you give up, let sleeping dogs lie. Because by doings so you will be absolved of any accusations that may come your way mainly because you genuinely tried. But your efforts proved to be futile. I think this is how most people who have met me have felt, the defeat, the helplessness, constantly investing your energy in trying to form a friendship with this person who is so distant and so extremely aloof. In their leaving they flock with those of their feather, which I do not blame them because as a person you should allow no one in this world to make you feel as if you are an option or your efforts are useless. Now that I think about it, my mistrust of people in general has lead me to lose any plumage that might link me to any kind of people or birds in this case.

One thing I know about myself is that once I do something or if it happens that I become more than strangers with anyone I commit myself wholeheartedly. I ensure that I am always present when I am needed, in good times, bad times or in even neutral times when there would be nothing of importance happening. The level of commitment I express can be compared to the depths that a ship anchor plunges down to hold a ship still in position, stopping it from drifting with the ocean current. I can say I put my very self into every kind of relationship I make with people, it would be fair to conceptualise this as a form of childhood naivety. In that by now I should know the fickle nature that all of us humans have, the unpredictability we all have within us.

What gets to me the most is the fact that you would think that you created something solid and of substance with someone. Gone all the way with them, achieved a level of depth that will put the Marianas Trench to shame. Interestingly enough you find that they haven’t even reached the beachside with you, and you are left carrying the remnants of this non-existent friendship. When it happens that they show their human fickleness, you get brutally slapped out of your “dream friendship”. The kind of slap that leaves a handprint on your cheek. Upon waking up from your dream, you ask yourself a billion questions about what went wrong, is it something you did or said? Could you probably stop and fix this wrong thing(s) you did? But dololo! You did nothing, you are told nothing, and you are not given any valid reason as to why did things suddenly change. But what you must just have to do is to suck it up and move on with your life despite whether you got your feelings hurt or that you will be stuck with countless unanswered questions. So you might as well as forget about trying to voice out the amount of hurt this brought you. The smallest peep results in you being irrationalized and told you are being overly sensitive and dramatic, which is a pattern you know all too well, you have seen it for the past five years. So you just cut your losses and leave with your tail between your legs. To continue the trajectory of your life you add that to the extra pieces of mental baggage that you already carry, you enlarge the capacity which holds that baggage. And end up with a repository of unresolved feelings.

So who in their right mind would go back to something which has been one of their greatest source of pain? What I can say is that had this happened when I was older, my life would be different, and I would have probably known a larger group of people than I currently do. There are some days where it does get very lonely (yes loners or onkom’idla yodwa do get lonely sometimes) but I cannot thank those people enough for showing me how horrible and nasty humans can be. Especially considering the drama that I have been spared in the past six years from a potential overload of friends or humans in general. I can safely say I am sans headaches free of them. And I am currently living my life like it’s Golden exactly the way Jill Scott said we must live it in. Pure bliss.

Though I cannot say the same about the state of affairs on the familial side, but all I can say is it is FIREWORKS, nuclear even. The kind of fireworks that are fired on New Year’s Eve and with the kind of weapons that brought us Hiroshima back in 1945. As for the story behind the familial fireworks, that may or may not be a story for another day. But just know that families are usually always the first ones that show you exactly the type of people you will meet later in life. The friends, consolers, and those who you can trust. While on the other you can see the very opposite and those could be the backstabbers, the pretenders, the users, the bullies etc. No matter how unbearable they may be or however bad they may be, they are your mess. You have to learn how to live with them, because believe you me if you struggle to live with your family peacefully despite all the bullshit they may put you through. Then good luck trying to make a life for yourself outside from them, because they are the ones that build your interpersonal skills. They equip you with skills of how to deal with every different type of person. I mean that’s the whole reason they are there. We as families help each other grow, we teach each other, learn from each other, help each other grow, in either good ways or bad ways. In as much as your family (or mine in this case) can be the epitome of trash or a parasite or user. They are still yours, they are a part of you, your bond with them is the one that will truly be broken by death. So I also give my own family their own space, and I do not allow them to influence my family beyond the point they should. [Side note: My definition of family is not according to European definitions of a nuclear family. My definition of family includes all branches of my maternal (Vinkhumbo) and paternal (Ngwekazi) family extending many generations before me].

I am sure you are reading this thinking that I am going to drop a mixtape on my family, lay down the gauntlet on them as the English would say. No, I won’t do that, but I will admit that there are days where I just want to shut them out of my life completely, mute them and drown out all of their noise. Reach a place where their opinions of me do not matter, to not allow them to put me back in the kind of head space I was in that February in 2012. Instead to leave them and be by myself and build a life for myself using all that they taught me through their words and actions, to further build myself as a person. Funny enough I always say to myself running or excommunicating one’s family is like a dog (or any animal with a tail) trying to outrun its tail or even live without it. But we all know that in the same way that the tail is the extension of a dog’s spinal cord, our families are an extension of ourselves, we project each other to each other. We are as bad as the “family villain” and we are also as good as the “family saint”. Which reinforces a notion I always have when there is an honest shocking reaction to something that is abnormal which a person may do. In that I am of the notion that in whatever thing that another human may say or do, you yourself who reacts negatively to that deviant act are capable of doing the exact same thing you view as deviant. [Side note: In a future post I will speak about my family and their influence on my life, both in the past and present. I will try to be as objective as possible, but somethings should just stay in one’s chest].

The original blog post was supposed to be longer (I am sure for some even at this point it’s still too much reading), but for the purposes of being to the point as much as possible this will be the last paragraph of the post. The main intentions of the post were to broaden the glimpse people have into my life, or maybe take ownership of the narrative that people have of me. To try and steer that narrative in a way that resonates with the way I see myself as. Because in as much as we may try we as humans understand each other in warped ways. In that we come to know each other from our own stereotypes, and almost often, not matter how long we may have come to know each other those initial stereotypes or first impressions do not go away. If I am being honest that is the whole aim of this blog, or why I write. What I fail to vocalize or show by actions I compensate through expressing myself in the form of mental imagery, through words, amagama. Can I call myself a wordsmith? I don’t know, the readers of my writing will be the judges of that”.

Do not hesitate to comment, like or even share. Thank you.

Just like uMkhul’ uStephen Bantu Biko I will write what I like, you may not like what I write. I will still write nonetheless, because by doing so I will be passing on his message to generations that will come after me. Who will also write what they like, so much so that in the grand scheme of things we will not have other people telling our stories in their distorted narratives. We will own our stories.


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