A True Story
This is a story that happened in the mid-eighties just after I left school. I was biding my time, waiting for my call-up into the South African Defense Force in July of that year. I had found myself a part-time job in the city centre, and had to commute back and forth by bus from Van der Bijl Square, Johannesburg’s main bus depot. I was staying with my mother in the suburb of Berario, near to the famous landmark of Northcliff Ridge.
The bus was usually quite full already by the time we got to the parking lot on Anderson Street, where one of the regular passengers usually caught the same bus as me. Normally I sat on the top deck of the bus with the rest of the smokers, so I only caught a glimpse of her as the vehicle pulled up to the stop. One thing that I did notice was that she always stood alone. Even if there was a sizeable crowd at the stop, she would still distance herself from them. She also took no notice of anyone around her, and always got on last. She was quite tall, and very thin. I never saw her face, but knew that she had shoulder length dark brown hair that usually looked somewhat disheveled, even though she wore it in a ponytail.
One afternoon our bus was a single decker instead of a double. Luckily it was not as full as usual, so we could all fit in without anyone having to stand. The girl alighted the bus at Anderson Street as she normally did, and sat down in the seat next to the window in front of me. Even though there was someone else sitting next to her, she hardly took any notice. She just stared out the window at the world going by. I knew instinctively that something was wrong, very wrong, but felt that it would be too much of an intrusion if I were to ask her. I mean, if she did not even want to speak to the person next to her, how much less would she feel comfortable talking to me?
Almost a week later, the same situation arose, only this time I was in one of the seats near the back of the bus. Here the place in front of where I was sitting faced me, rather than in the same direction as mine. As it happened, the girl came and sat in the seat in front of me. It was clear by the expression on her face that she was on the verge of crying. Her mascara was smudged, and showed tear marks on her cheeks, despite her best efforts to wash them off. The urge to ask if she was okay became stronger by the minute, kept back only by the fear of how she would react. The bus had just driven passed Wits University when I finally plucked up the courage.
I leaned forward, and asked: “Are you all right?”
She sat up straight, and put on her best fake smile. “I’m fine.” She replied, doing her damnedest to avert my gaze, “Just fine.”
We did not speak a word to one another until I reached my stop and was getting ready to get off. I noticed that she was also disembarking. Usually there was a small group that exited with me, so I had never realised that this was her stop as well. As we headed towards the block of flats where I lived, she at last turned to me.
She said: “Thanks for your concern.”
I responded: “No problem.”
She then crossed the road that passed our apartments, and disappeared into the flats opposite. And so it happened that we became friends over time. I noticed that there were days when she did not feel like talking, and would appear somewhat distant. Some days she would not be on the bus at all., and there were times that I did not see her for a week or more. In general, however, we were on pretty good terms with one another. I learned that her name was Lana Donahue, and that she worked as a receptionist at a doctor’s rooms downtown.
I began to look forward to our trips home together on the bus. Regardless of whether it was a single or double decker, I would sit in the same seat so that she could sit opposite me, and we would talk and make jovial conversation all the way until our destination. I really felt that this was something special. Having had to say goodbye to my high school sweetheart because she was going back to Canada, I had experienced an emptiness that I now felt was being filled at last. Part of me, however, was very aware of the dangers of being involved in a relationship on the rebound, so I had decided that whatever this was going to turn out to be, it would have to develop at its own speed.
One Friday I asked Lana if she would go to a movie with me the next day, and was very pleased when she said that she would love to. Having established that both of us were James Bond fans, we decided to see the latest release in that series, as it was showing at Cresta Centre which was close enough for us to walk there. After our first real date, we spent more and more time in each other’s company, while still keeping something of a distance because neither of us were really ready to go to the next level. The closest we ever came was holding hands as we walked together.
Then, one day, disaster struck! It was a Saturday - my day off, and I was still in bed when the phone rang. Mum was still working part-time at the church bookshop, so I was alone in the flat. I answered the call, and a stranger was on the other side of the line.
He said: “Mister Biggs. This is Carl Strauss, I’m Lana’s neighbour. I’m afraid there’s been a terrible incident. Lana had to be rushed to Sandton Clinic in the early hours of this morning.”
My heart sank down into my toes!
“Why? What’s happened?” I asked, half of me not wanting to know the answer.
The reply totally stymied me: “She tried to kill herself!”
“What!” I stammered, “How?”
“She slit her one wrist.” Came the answer, “It’s not the first time either. I thought you knew.”
“Knew what?” I enquired, still in a state of shock.
“Lana suffers from SID, or Self-Injuring Disorder.” The man explained, “In other words, she’s a ‘Cutter’.”
“I know what SID is, but why?” I asked.
“That’s not for me to tell.” He responded, “It would be better if you heard it from her when the time is right.”
Even though I was a self-professed agnostic at the time, I remember saying a prayer as I left to catch a bus to Randburg, and then walked the distance from the bus terminus to the Clinic where Lana had been admitted. It was then that something dawned on me that I had never really noticed before: Ever since I first saw Lana, she always wore long sleeves. Regardless of how hot or how cold the weather was, she had a long-sleeved T-Shirt on or a jacket. Now I knew why. She was hiding the scars on her wrists!
When I arrived, I found out which ward she was in. I went to the gift shop and bought her a small bunch of flowers, hoping that they would cheer her up a little, and went to visit her.
The moment she saw me, Lana burst into tears, and stammered: “I’m so sorry Tristan. I should have told you earlier. I didn’t expect you to find out like this.”
I did not reply. Instead I sat down beside her bed, and held her as she wept. Only once she had calmed down did I respond.
“It’s okay.” I stated softly, “At least you’re still alive.”
“I never meant for it to go this far.” She admitted, “I guess the knife was just too sharp, so it cut too deeply.”
I was going to ask her why she did it in the first place, but then decided that I would wait until she was ready to tell me herself. For now I reckoned that she needed all the moral support she could get. When it was time for me to leave, I asked the sister on duty if Lana’s parents had come to visit. Her response left me with more questions than answers.
She replied: “No - and I don’t expect them to either. The only other visitor she has had is her aunt.”
I had never really asked Lana about her family, so I had only assumed that her parents lived elsewhere. She also did not speak of them at all. The only thing I did know was that she used to live in Pretoria, and had gone to Pretoria Girl’s High School.
Lana was discharged from hospital a week later. She phoned me the day before to inform me, and to enquire if I would not mind asking my mother to come and collect her to bring her home. Without really thinking about it, I asked and my mum agreed. She knew that Lana and I were close friends, and that she had been in hospital, though I had not told her why. The following lunch-time, we went to fetch Lana. She still had a dressing on her wrist, but it was covered by her gown, so mum could not see it. I had said that she had accidentally injured herself, and that was why she had been rushed into the clinic.
A month after the accident, we had gone to the Jo’burg Zoo, and planned to have a picnic at Zoo Lake afterwards. We had walked quite far, and were sitting on some steps having bought a cold drink, when she took my hand. As soon as I looked at her, I realised that something was wrong. Although she was not crying, the look on her face was almost the same as the first time I ever spoke to her.
She breathed deeply, and then spoke: “Tristan - There’s something I need to tell you ...” I tried to respond, but she stopped me, saying, “... Please don’t interrupt me. Once I have finished, then you can respond - okay?” I just nodded, and she continued: “I need to explain why I suffer from SID.
My father was very well off. He owned a chain of gun-shops in Jo’burg, Pretoria, and in the Eastern Transvaal, but he allowed his money to turn him into a real bastard. He drank a lot, and became really nasty once he had too much booze on board. In fact, I suspect that when my mum fell pregnant with me, it was not out of love. I have always thought that he sexually assaulted her, and that I was the result. Of course I have no proof, but his behaviour towards me, almost since as far back as I can remember, has led me to believe that he never wanted me in the first place.
Neither did my mother, for that matter. She hardly ever held me, or even told me that she loved me. I always felt that I was nothing but an embarrassment and a nuisance to both of them. They hardly had anything to do with each other, never mind me. That was until my dad started taking his drunken rage out on me that is.
I think I was about three years old when it all began to go pear-shaped. I can’t remember exactly how it started, but he used to come home blind drunk, and if I was anywhere in sight, he would fly off the deep end at me. Once I was able to make it to my room and lock the door before he got to me, but he bashed it down with his bare hands. The last thing I recall was feeling my head explode when his fist connected with my face. I reckon this scared the crap out of him, because the next thing I knew was waking up in the hospital. They took some x-rays, and they showed that I had a broken cheek bone. Of course his explanation was that I had fallen off the swing outside, and I was too damned frightened of him to argue, especially as I couldn’t remember very much anyway.
Meanwhile my mother became more and more distant. She kind of disconnected herself from what was going on around her. So much so that I felt that it was no use trying to broach the subject of my father with her. If she had any feelings at all, she locked them so deep inside her that nothing could get through to her. Soon my parents had no contact with each other at all. My dad moved into the spare room, which was opposite mine, and that was when things went from bad to worse!
Not only would he come home pissed out of his mind, but he also drank alone in his bedroom, only coming out when it was time to eat or to go to the bathroom. Mealtimes were the worst! He would come in, reeking of alcohol, and then insist that we say grace first - as if that meant shit to him! The meal would be had in almost total silence, and then he would go back to his room and carry on drinking until he passed out. My mum would park herself in front of the television, and that was that. The maid would have to clear everything away and wash the dishes the following morning.
In a way this routine made it easier for me to avoid him, to begin with that is. I tried very hard to tiptoe passed his door whenever I came out of my room. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and then there would be hell to pay! He would burst through the door, and before I could get away, his fists and hands would beat the shit out of me. But that was not all! Soon he used to come into my room, often breaking the lock in the process, and force me to undress. I had to sit in front of him with my legs open while he jerked himself off. I used to have to watch him until he came all over the sheets.
Things got really fucked up from then on! Soon he was no longer satisfied with seeing my privates. He would tell me to stroke myself while he was doing his thing in front of me. When that was not good enough, he came up and rubbed himself against me until I could feel his gism trickle down my midriff. More than once, he stuck his finger into me. It hurt like fucking crazy! And when I went to the toilet, I found that I was bleeding. Still I was too damned terrified to say anything about it. I mean, in those days you never even heard of child-abuse being reported, or even talked about.
One day I went to school with two black eyes, and the teacher realised that something was wrong. She phoned Child Welfare, who started a proper investigation. The result was that my father was arrested for child-abuse. The court case was absolute fucking hell! What was worse was that my dad’s defence tried to say that I somehow egged him on, and that it was actually my fault. But dad made one big mistake: He threatened to kill me in the courthouse, and that made the judge realise just how bad things were. He’s still serving out the sentence that they handed down to him.
My mum blamed it all on me of course, and accused me of making the whole thing up, even though it was the school that started it. And then she met Jake Donahue. I hoped that the nightmare would finally be finished, and that we would be a proper family at last. For a year or so it seemed as though my dream had come true, but then it started all over again. This time it was full-on rape! I was twelve the first time it happened, and when it was all over, the bastard had the nerve to tell me that I deserved it! The only response from my mother was that she insisted that I wear make-up the following day to school, so that she ‘wouldn’t be embarrassed’! Never mind that I hurt like hell from the bruising that he had left, not to mention feeling dirty and downtrodden! She was more interested in saving face. For the first time in my life I really fucking hated her!
Hardly a week went passed that my step dad didn’t sneak into my room and have his way with me. I began to understand why my mother had switched off so badly. It was better than the pain and torment of living with an abusive partner. More than once, he even suggested that I let him make me pregnant! I mean - how fucking sick is that! His reasoning was that he didn’t have any kids of his own, and that my mum was too old to give him any. For fuck’s sake - I was only fourteen at the time! The last time I refused, the bastard beat me up so badly that I spent three days in hospital.
By this time, my marks had dropped at school, and I had already started showing signs that I was suffering from chronic depression. The worst was the nightmares! Even when that brute didn’t come and rape me, I struggled to sleep because I was haunted by the most terrifying dreams. I used to wake up in a cold sweat, not daring to scream or make a noise for fear that he would wake up, and then there would be fucking hell to pay!
I also began mixing with the wrong crowd at school. We used to bunk classes and sneak into one of the old store-rooms to smoke cigarettes, and sometimes even the odd joint. I knew that I was only screwing up my life even more, but at least for a moment I was able to free myself from the fucking hell that I had to endure every fucking day.
By the middle of the following year, I had had enough! Not only that, but the abuse became so bad that I was shit scared that he was going to fucking kill me. My mum’s sister - Mandy - lived on her own here in Jo’burg. She was married once, but her husband was killed in South West. She never re-married, but she was more of a mother to me than my own mum, so I decided one day to run away from home and go and live with her. She always suspected that something was wrong, but up until this point did not get involved. Almost as soon as I arrived, I told her everything. At first I was afraid that she wouldn’t believe me, but then she went to the local cops and applied for a restraining order against my step-dad. This took some doing, because she wasn’t my legal guardian, but it went through anyway due to circumstances. The worst thing was that my mother never even bothered to find out where I had gone!
From then on, things started to get better. But the depression had set in for good, as had my addiction to certain drugs. I started clubbing at a young age, firstly because most of my friends were older than I was, and secondly because I was able to pass as an eighteen year old quite easily. We knew all the places in Jo’burg - especially in Hillbrow - where we could sneak off to smoke the odd joint or two. Even though it helped for a while, the after effects were dreadful, and made the depression even worse. That was when I started cutting.
Once I did it in the bath. I cut myself so badly that I actually lost consciousness as I lay there in the hot water. If my aunt had not found me, I would probably have died. When I recovered, the doctor who looked after me asked me why I did it.
I replied: “Because I have prayed so many times, begging God to just take it all away. But it’s as though he’s not listening, so I have to take matters into my own hands.”
The shrink had no fucking idea how to respond to that, that’s for damned sure! Of course, in those days they had no idea what Bipolar Disorder was. They thought it was a form of Manic Depression, and couldn’t understand why I could feel so cool one day and want to kill myself the next. The drugs they gave me helped keep me on the level most of the time, but because my condition was caused by a traumatic experience - or in my case a whole fucking lot of traumatic experiences - they only worked on the physical imbalances, but not on the psychological. That’s why, even now, they can’t really treat me properly.
And it’s also the reason that I get so down that I start cutting all over again. I know that I’m putting myself in danger, and that one day I might even end up dead. But I can’t control myself! When I’m in that place, it’s almost as though I want to punish myself for feeling so low. You see - whenever I said anything, either to my mum or my step-dad, they would somehow twist the whole thing so that it became my fault. I guess that when my life gets all screwed up, I still think that I’m to blame. So now you know. If this changes the way you feel about me, knowing that I’m damaged goods, I’ll understand. All I ask is that you’re honest with me.”
At first I was too shocked and overwhelmed to respond. I buried my face in my arms and shook my head in utter dismay. I knew that child abuse was rife, but had never expected that I would actually meet someone who had gone through the hell that it causes. I could not believe that a father could stoop so low as to inflict this kind of suffering on his own daughter, and that a mother could turn a blind eye to what was going on. My family had always been very close, so this kind of thing was somewhat alien to me. After a long time I gathered myself together, and put my hand on Lana’s shoulder.
My response was: “It doesn’t change my feelings for you, except that I think I understand you more than I did before. Like I know why we’ve stayed friends, even though both of us would like this friendship to become something more. I realise why you sometimes seem to be even more distant than others, and why there are days when you don’t even want to talk to anyone. I get that now, but it doesn’t mean that I think you’re damaged goods. A lesser person would have given up a long time ago, but you survived. That makes you so much stronger than most people.”
She eventually managed a smile and put her hand in mine, saying: “Thanks - I appreciate that.”
It was already getting late, so we did not finish our tour of the zoo. Instead we had a light meal at the restaurant, and then caught the bus back home.
The following month I was offered a job working as a stable manager outside of Pretoria. The owner had recently begun the construction of a luxury hotel, later known as the Lynnwood Inn. The land upon which the hotel was being built was once a farm upon which his father had raised Arab horses, one of which was the famous Raffeeq, a stallion that had won countless rewards all over the world. By the time I started working there, Raffeeq had died, but one of his progeny was still stabled there, along with his own offspring. The older stallion’s name was Genghis, and his son was called Fyhem. Both of them were worth close to a million rand each, so it was rather like looking after a Porsche or a Ferrari.
It had always been my dream to work with horses, having ridden for most of my life. In fact, my ambition was to become a professional rider, or even a trainer. So when I was offered this job, I jumped at the opportunity. The current owner of the farm was named Pedro Nikolias. His wife used to run the stables, but she was three months pregnant, so they needed someone to take her place until she was ready to take up the reins once more.
Even though we lived in different cities, Lana and I saw each other regularly. Either she came and stayed with me and my family in Pretoria, my father having moved to Silverton when my parents got divorced, or I would visit my mother in Randburg. Lana and I would arrange to get together from there. Although we remained the best of friends, our relationship still flourished in its own way. So much so that many of the people we knew thought that we were lovers.
But then the dreaded day arrived when I had to begin my national service. I was lucky enough to have my call-up postponed from January 1985 to July of that same year, due to my contracting hepatitis two weeks before I was scheduled to report for duty. Otherwise Lana and I would have never met.
All of the young guys from the same intake, who lived in Johannesburg, were told to report to Sturrock Park, so that the trains could take us to the various army bases throughout the country. Mine was the infantry camp at Phalaborwa in the Northern Transvaal. My dad took me, and Lana came along to see me off. Both of them waited until we were told to say goodbye to our families, and congregate in our various groups, depending on where we were being deployed. Lana held onto me like she did not want me to go, while my dad stood there, his cheeks streaked with tears.
As I turned to go, I waved to the both of them, and said: “Vasbyt guys! I will see you soon.”
Once a week during our basic training, we used to have to fall in on the parade ground so that the officers could hand out our letters from home. More often than not, they would instruct us to do twenty push-ups for every article we went up to receive. Those who were savvy enough asked the folks at home to send their letters in one envelope, rather than one at a time. My mum would include the post from Lana in her own. I always looked forward to post-day with great anticipation, not only because I could catch up on the news from ‘Civvy Street’, but more importantly to hear how Lana was doing. I found that I missed her the most, and hearing from her always cheered me up.
Then came our first pass. I had been able to phone Lana and my family to inform them that I was going to be in Jo’burg for the weekend, our pass being from the Thursday to the following Monday night. My mum informed me that she was going to be away for that week-end, as she was visiting my sister in Cape Town, so I decided to stay with Lana in her flat. That weekend was very special, as it was the first time I ever saw Hillbrow at night. My school was not far from there, so we used to visit during daylight, but it was the night-life that was legendary!
We went with a group of our mutual friends on Saturday night. Although the atmosphere was unique, so was the sense of danger. Rather like certain places in New York, Hillbrow was as well known for its crime as it was for its nightclubs, so it was advisable not to visit there alone. We started at the famous Chelsea Hotel, and ended up in the Warrior’s Cabin. I don’t recall much of the visit because I over-indulged more than a little, but the following morning the sick feeling in my gut, not to mention the feeling that someone had thumped me over the head with a mallet, were painful reminders of the night before. It was not so much that I had consumed more than I used to, but because I had not touched alcohol for three solid months, and my ability to hole my drink had been diminished.
Luckily we did very little the next day, so I was given an opportunity to recover before I had to report back to base on Monday. We said our goodbyes, and I hitched back to Phalaborwa.
The next time I went on pass, I was devastated to find that Lana was nowhere to be found. We had arranged to meet at Jo’burg station because I had come down on the train this time around. When I arrived, I found that she was not there, and when I phoned her house, there was no answer. Only when I got hold of her work did I discover that she had gone down to Knysna. Later I found out that this was one of her favourite places, and that she used it as a sort of refuge whenever she felt depressed. This was mainly because there was a sort of hippie colony in the Knysna forests, and she could go there and smoke weed with little chance of getting caught.
As a result, I was unable to tell her that I was going to Walvis Bay for further training, and would not be back for two whole months. When she found out, she wrote to me, expressing her regret at missing the opportunity for us to get together before I left. She also promised that she would let me know where she was going to be when I came down on pass. Lana said she would leave a message with the landlady at the flats, and gave me her phone number so that I could find out.
The day we arrived back in Phalaborwa, Oscar Company was informed that they were going on leave for seventeen days. I phoned missus Hutchins, Lana’s landlady, to find out where she was.
“Miss Donahue is not here young man.” Came the reply, “She’s down in Knysna.” She gave me a contact number down there so that I could find out exactly where she was. I informed my parents that I would not be coming home this time, and although they expressed some disappointment, they accepted my decision.
It took two flights and one bus trip to get to Knysna, but the experience was well worth it. Because there was no real accommodation available at the commune, we booked a chalet at Brenton on Lake for a few days. For the remainder of my visit, we camped at a site near Brenton on Sea. The views at both places were breathtaking, and it was like waking up to a little piece of paradise every morning. Of course the company made it even more special.
During our time together, I felt that we had grown closer than ever before. It really seemed as though we had made it to another level, a feeling that reached its peak the last day before I was due to report back to camp. We had been swimming for most of the day, but as the sun was setting, the water became too cold. So we dressed again and walked along the beach, watching the sky turn gold as the sunlight faded. We were nearly back at camp when Lana turned to me and put her hands on my shoulders. There was a smile on her face, and a twinkle in her eye that I had never seen before. We embraced, and our lips came closer and closer until they finally met. Both of us laughed as though we were surprised that our relationship had come to this point. Although neither of us said the words, we knew that we loved each other.
I returned to base with a new sense of hope. Hope that my life would be more complete once my national service was over. Hope that then Lana and I would be able to plan a future together. All I had to do was to get through the last year in the army, and then I felt that all my dreams would come true. This was fuelled by the letters that I received from her, the contents of which seemed to have changed for the better. It appeared that her condition had improved, even to the point where her doctor no longer considered her as being a possible suicide case, and had taken her off some of the anti-depressants that he had prescribed for her.
One incident that through something of a spanner in the works happened when our company had just about finished a stint in the townships.
They were troubled times in South Africa, when the anti-apartheid movements had taken to the streets in places like Soweto and Alexander, as well as many other areas. I remember patrolling through one of these shanty towns, and realising that our presence was not helping anyone. Instead it was adding more fuel to the fires that already threatened to burn out of control. This was our first experience with active service, and was a real eye-opener, especially because we lost two of our comrades when the vehicle was pushed over into a river by a mob of rioters. The next shock was when we witnessed a ‘necklacing’, in which a church pastor was burnt to death along with one of his female congregants.
By the time our tour of service was over, everyone in Oscar Company was on edge and looking forward to spending some time with their families before we went up to South West Africa. As soon as we returned to base, we were told that we were being re-deployed immediately, and that our leave had been cancelled. It broke my heart to tell my folks, and especially Lana, that I was not going to see them until God knows when.
After a brief rest at camp, we boarded the Hercules that flew us to Ondangwa, and then on to our first border camp at a place called Eenhana, situated about nine kilometres from the border between South West and Angola. We remained there until October of that year, after which we finally were allowed to go home for fifteen days.
The first part of my visit was amazing! Lana and I finally finished out tour of the zoo. We went on a number of very special dates, and I really thought that everything in my life was just perfect. Perhaps too perfect!
At the start of the second week, it seemed that Lana was having one of her relapses once again. When I called at her flat, she was sitting on the floor in tears. I asked her what was wrong.
“I feel terrible!” Came the answer, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Where do you feel sick?” I asked.
“I have a pain in my stomach.” She explained, “It’s not like a period pain though. I’ve never felt like this before. My guts have been acting up for some time now, but I put it down to the medication. That normally stuffs things up a bit, but not like this.”
I helped her to bed and made a hot-water bottle. She told me where she kept some medicine that had helped before, and I brought it to her. After a while it seemed to help a little. I phoned home to say that I was staying the night with Lana, just in case she needed me. Her apartment only had one bedroom, so I had to make do with the couch. I thought that Lana had been able to get some sleep because there was no sound from her room, but when I went to check up on her the following morning, I was in for a horrific shock! She was lying unconscious on the floor, and the smell of puke filled the room.
I called for an ambulance, and the paramedics arrived about fifteen minutes later. They rushed her to the Milpark hospital, where she was immediately taken to the resuscitation unit. After half an hour of chaos and tension, she finally regained consciousness, much to the relief of the staff on duty, not to mention my own.
Lana was admitted, and her doctor said that she wanted to run a battery of tests to find out what was wrong with her. In the meantime, I had to report back to base for our last border duty. This time we were stationed in Ondangwa itself. I had trained as a Sapper, and it was our job to sweep the roads using mine detectors in search for land-mines and other explosive devices. It was a risky job, but gave me the satisfaction that I was doing something useful towards making a difference.
In the meantime Lana’s condition worsened, and she had to be rushed to hospital again. It was while she was there that she received the devastating news: She was diagnosed with phase three ovarian cancer! With it came the danger that the illness had already spread to other organs in her body, so she had to undergo emergency surgery to have the effected ovary removed. That was when the doctor’s worst fears were realised. The cancer had gone into her liver, pancreas as well as both small and large intestines. Even though the root cause had been eradicated, the condition was too widespread. The only option was chemotherapy - and quickly!
When I heard what had happened, I begged the army to let me go home to see her. My requests were denied, and I had to stay for the remainder of our term of duty. Every day I feared that I would receive the news that she had passed away, and it drove me crazy! Things were so bad that I was removed from the platoon and confined to base. And still, in spite of my serving no purpose there any more, the bastards still would not let me go. I was reminded of a fellow soldier with whom I had done my basics. Tony’s fiancée was involved in an accident that left her in a coma. He applied for compassionate leave, a request that was also denied. He went on pass two weeks after she had succumbed to her injuries. My biggest fear was that the same kind of thing was going to happen to me.
Three months later my two years national service was finished. The whole passing-out parade, and the fiasco that led up to it went by as somewhat of a blur to me, as my only thought was to see Lana again. My father drove me back to Jo’burg, and I went directly to her apartment.
What I saw there shocked me to the very core! Because of the chemo, Lana had lost all of her hair. She wore a beanie to cover it up, and her complexion was ashen. She had dark rings under her eyes that had sunk back into their sockets. As she looked at me, there was no sparkle in them any more, and when I took her hands, they felt as cold as though they were already dead. Gone was the warm, funny, slightly goofy person I had left six months earlier. To say that she was a mere shadow of her former self would have been an understatement!
She was also dreadfully thin, having lived off diet milkshakes since her therapy began. Her aunt had offered to look after her, but Lana was too proud and stubborn to accept her offer. From the moment I saw her, I realised that the treatment had failed, and that she was now terminal! I spoke to her doctor, who informed me that they only expected her to survive another two months at the most.
A week and a half after I got back, Lana slipped into a coma again. They took her back to Milpark, where she was admitted to the ICU. To honour her last request, we bought her a wig and put it on her head so that no-one could see that she was bald. Although she came round briefly, Lana never really regained consciousness again. But she was awake enough for us to at least talk to her, if only for a short time before she slipped away again.
Almost exactly six weeks after she had been admitted, Lana Donahue passed away. Somehow she knew it was going to happen a few days before, because in one of her lucid moments, she said goodbye to her aunt and I, and asked that we do not come and visit her again. Even though I knew it was inevitable, the news still came as a terrible shock to me. I guess there was still a part of me that held onto the thread - no matter how thin or how frayed it was - of hope that somehow she would pull through.
It was no surprise to anyone that neither Lana’s mother nor her stepfather bothered to attend her funeral, even though Aunt Mandy had invited them purely out of courtesy. The only members of her family were Mandy herself, and her brother-in-law. I had met him briefly one afternoon when I went to meet Lana. He came with his wife and two sons. Altogether, there were only ten people there, including a few members from the church where the service took place.
Mandy was a staunch Anglican, and had tried to seek counselling from the local priest for Lana. Although she never admitted it, Father Craig’s advice and sympathetic ear had been of some help to her, and she respected him for trying at least.
He resided over the funeral service, as well as the burial itself. I half expected him to give us some form of pseudo-spiritual message, and was pleasantly surprised with the sermon that he delivered. Naturally he knew something of Lana’s background, and thus was able to offer a great deal of comfort to those present - something that I greatly needed.
This is the gist of what he said: “Often we see death as a terrifying enemy. Something to be avoided at all cost. Not that we should be so morbid as to invite it in any way, but for those who are suffering, perhaps we should see it as an act of divine grace instead. Lana’s life was a long tale of one horrific experience after another, the details of which I am not at liberty to relate. But those who knew her would know what I am referring to. That being said, should we not rather be grateful to the Almighty that her suffering is now over?
For those of you who don’t know: Lana suffered from cancer for the last year or so of her life. When she was finally diagnosed, it was all but too late. The disease had spread through most of her body. Prior to this, she struggled with bipolar disorder as well, also a most devastating condition. Now that she has left us, should we not rejoice that all that torment and illness no longer has its hold on her?
She is now at peace. Although it is not easy, let us not mourn her passing more than we should. Rather let us remember her with fondness. I didn’t know her very well, but of this I am almost certain: That is what she would have wanted us to do if she was still with us. So then - let us honour our sister’s last request.”
She was laid to rest in West Park cemetery. Aunt Mandy’s two nephews placed white roses on top of her coffin, and we all threw flowers into the grave before it was finally covered up. I was the last to leave the ceremony, and I cried until my eyes stung and my throat hurt.
I only went to her grave-site four times after that, but her memory has always haunted me since that fateful August day. Round about the thirteenth or fourteenth, I begin to feel the old sadness creep back into my soul, and I become more than a little touchy. For years afterwards, I could not speak about Lana without bursting into tears, and even now - now that I have nearly completed this story in her honour, I feel the old lump form in my throat and the heaviness in my heart.
This tale is not to mourn her death, as much as it is to commemorate her life. As tragic as that life was, Lana Donahue was both a fighter and a survivor. She was forced to bear far more than an average person would be capable of. I write these lines also to honour anyone else who has gone through the same torment. To say that you are not alone. My prayer is that you find the courage to endure whatever it is you are going through, and that one day your nightmares will end. May you find your silver lining!
About the Creator
I was born in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) and currently live in South Africa. From an early age, I seemed to have a knack for poetry. I have written a number of stories, poems, and several novels, ranging from fantasy to non fiction.
The story is enjoyable despite is a sad story. The writer express every bit of the story. Well done.