Yesterday my class went on a walking tour of Cape Town. My chest hurt for most of the walk. We visited places and spaces that I pass by and through on a daily basis. The roads and the buildings were so familiar to me. The routes we took were ones I knew. Before I reached the end of a road I already knew which shop would be on my left, and before I reached the top of the stairs I already knew which road I would come out into. My chest hurt for most of the time.
Our first stop was on the grande parade. Almost an hour before I had walked through this space to get to the meeting spot, a book shop 10 minutes away. I stood at the foot of the statue’s stairs. Someone stood on the top step, speaking about the landing on Jan van Riebeeck and colonization. It was a retelling of the history of the initial settlement, or the specific space of the grande parade itself. I’m not too sure now. I stood listening, though just barely, I was constantly thinking of Ishtiyaq Shukri’s quote “the past is eternally with us”, and I could not help think about how the past was with me as I stood on the grand parade. Layers down from where I stood was the same soil that the colonizers stood on. There was the same view of the sky and there was the same rocks that made up Table Mountain.
“The past is eternally with us”
I kept thinking about the cycle of existence. Why? I’m not too sure, maybe because I was passing through the same spot I had been nearly an hour before. Or maybe because it was 2015 and I could stand on a spot that settlers stood on in the 1600’s. The standing made me dizzy. The walking was fine. The stopping and standing, while having to listen to the history of a space made my head spin. Not so much the history seminar. Much more the standing.
I hoped food would help, and water. When I had it, it helped, for 5 minutes. And I felt faint, again, like the ground was lifting up trying to greet my face. I continued walking. Through the Company Gardens past a fountain that no longer had the golden fish I used to enjoy looking at. There was a bench.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Yes, yes, I just feel slightly faint, but I’m fine”. My lungs were starting to burn and my legs were lame. My stomach hurt.
I excused myself to leave early.
I had my ventilator in my bag but as a general rule I refuse to use it in public. The moment you use it in public people look at you the way they look at sick people. Their eyes saying: “shame, it’s going to be okay”.
I remember yesterday because today is so different. I am in my room, in my house. My ventilator is on the glass table next to my bed. In the open. Exposed. There is no one I need to hide from here. Here, there is no one I need to hide my ventilator from.
I sit up because I can’t breathe. My chest begins to pain. It pulls tight.
I reach over, put the ventilator to my mouth, and I press down. Once. Twice. I can breathe again.
I think about how strange and accurate the term “pulls tight” is. My chest pulling tight can be pictured as someone having multiple strings attached to my chest, next to my heart, centered, all in a circle. Someone starts pulling the strings. Slowly at first, then suddenly all at once. Pulling the string makes the circle smaller. Tighter. Breathing is difficult. My chest is pulling tight.
I think about dependency. How I need something from outside of my body to help the inside of my body function better. I think about my grandmother. I think about the dependency she had on others. The dependency on doctors, on medication, on chemotherapy. All the dependency that eventually failed her.
What would happen if my ventilator failed?
Existence is a cycle.
“The past is eternally with us”.
But, I’m just a Cape Town local dreaming about a stronger heart and a better pair of lungs. Having late night contemplations about cycles and existence and a favourite quote from a brilliant author.