The gate outside the house should have been sufficient warning. Large stones and crystals are wired into its hulking black frame. It has all the hallmarks of a passionate amateur in the crafts department, with hunks of quartz and what I can only assume must be other valuable rocks (for folk attuned to vibrations and fairies and things) strung like bound corpses in the metal web of some giant spider. It is equal parts interesting, ugly and weird. Honestly, it’s amazing that the crystals haven’t been stolen. Then again, who touches the property of a person who makes this altar to the Gods of Woo Woo?
Glenn and I are here because of a spectacularly large penis. This needs some explaining, but we will get to that part (and what a man’s part it was). Glenn has just exited the Filigree version of Mordor’s Gate and when he sees me, he starts to shake, which is awkward on crutches. I can see he is becoming hysterical the closer he gets to the car. This sets me off. I am sitting in the passenger seat of his silver Land Rover 4×4, and I feel like a potato in a microwave, the madness building as pure heated hysteria starts to squeal out of me like a high-pressure gas valve. Glenn finally loses the battle to get to the car and ends up dropping a crutch, collapsing onto the pavement, and crawling on all fours to reach the door. Also, technically he is on all threes because he has recently had his leg chopped off – which also needs some explanation – but hold your horses, we will get to all that drama, I need to capture the moment. I can see him scrabbling at the door, which for some reason is both heart-rending and hilarious because it’s like watching the meme of a dog on the trampoline: his laughing face peeking into the window and then falling back out of view. By the time he is in the car we are both apoplectic, he manages between bouts of hysteria to explain his session from inside the suburban Fairy Hideaway, and I am groaning and squealing. I can’t get air, and the moment we calm, he looks over at me and says, Think like a lizard and we re-release the mania. It takes a good ten minutes for us to calm down. Some of the tears which are flowing are also genuine weeping, because well, that stuff also lies close to the surface, threatening to bubble up at any moment, and we are clearly entirely emotionally unstable. At some point we calm enough, and I grab Glenn’s hand and I look at him, and say with genuine love; I am really fucking sorry; but also… I start gurgling like a teenager girl again because I guess we did actually get what we came for. Glenn, forever the optimist, has tears on his cheeks as says, fuck me if that wasn’t something of a miracle. And with that we plunge into the Cape Town summer.
What took place inside those hallowed walls dear reader is truly beyond one’s wildest beliefs, and as I am someone who has been accused (occasionally) of exaggerating for humorous effect, I am stumped because hyperbole is lost when you enter deep into the world of delusion that is to be found in the tribe of tie-dye and dream catchers. So let us return to only three months earlier: I cradle Glenn’s head in my lap. We are lying on tiles of dark and cold slate, blue and black, except for blood that is splattered pretty much everywhere, already changing from crimson to deeper brown. He has been shot, like 8 times. Or 5 times, and there are about 8 different small holes that I can see (it’s from a handgun so bullets have passed straight through him.) One by his knee forms a perfect round hole in the kneecap. His shirt and pants have been cleanly shredded in parts and reveal the surgical precision of the entry and exit holes. They seem weirdly bloodless and clean considering the amount of blood painting the walls and furniture – it’s even on the ceiling. It’s all part of the strangeness of being inside a living, breathing crime scene in real time. Glenn is pointing out the holes to me, and making comments, like He got me in the balls. He is lucid and matter of fact in explaining things, but as the seconds and minutes squeeze through this moment of adrenal clarity, I can notice a weariness edging in. He is becoming more languid, more tired, which is altogether more frightening than the heightened chatter when I walked in. He says he is cold. My leg is cold, he repeats. As he speaks, a female police officer steps around us, she is putting drinking glasses from the cupboard on top of the bullet shells which are scattered across the floor. It’s an odd game of catch, with metal insects that are not moving. They sit on the floor like shiny bugs that can’t escape their glass prisons. She smiles and explains to me it’s so that forensics can retrace the scene. The sheer strangeness of her trying to be polite about using the household glassware while she keeps her gaze from clocking Glenn makes me think she is a new recruit, perhaps it is rude to acknowledge the dying people. I don’t know what the correct response for her is, and I can’t remember saying anything, and she steps away to find some more bullets to play her very elementary game of catch amongst the debris of Glenn’s lounge room. The other body is Glen’s neighbour, Peter? He is lying just a metre away and has also been shot, but just once. It’s from a much larger gun so the wound has exploded out from the thigh, like a meaty Christmas ham (before mom has cooked it). The damage looks much worse to my untrained eye, I think I can see some bone and internal stuff. But he also seems OK and is basically directing traffic on that side of the room, which is an ocean of blood away from our little island of tragedy and madness. His wife is next to him, and his daughter is pacing around them. Every so often his daughter becomes hysterical, and her dad and mom calm her down. There doesn’t seem much room for hysteria here, not that we have much to do but wait for medical professionals. The sound of dogs and a helicopter can be heard. The shooters are still on the property they tell us. It’s just more information as it’s not like we could do anything if they came back, and I guess the police are a deterrent. We wait on the tiles on the floor for what seems an age.
Three hours before this carnage I had cancelled a date. Well, that was strange enough. I never cancel dates, being somewhat of a desperate serial romantic. I was finishing my Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Parkhurst, and had a date planned (funny how I have no idea or memory of who that might have been). Glenn was having a drinks evening with his neighbours to celebrate moving into his brand-new house and I had recently returned to Joburg to start a fresh life in recovery. I had reached out to him even though we didn’t really know each other well and he, a being of unfaltering positivity and generosity, had invited me to become his new house guest. We had just moved into the new place, a small, modernist house out in the “country” on a grassy plot beyond Fourways. I was doing my 90 in 90 (ninety meetings in ninety days, but I was likely at about 180 at this point, true to my addict nature I reasoned that if one a day is good, a double dose is better!) Post the NA meeting, I recall thinking I should get back, not have a late night. It’s a long drive and by the time I get to the dirt road where we turn to the new house, I can see police lights coming up behind me. They speed up, pass me and then veer off to the right. When they turn off, I remember as clear as day thinking, they are going the wrong way, Glenn’s house is this way. I am sure they are going to Glenn’s, and more than that, that they have taken the wrong turn. I do not for one instant believe in any kind of supernatural gumpf, but this is the thought I had, and the only explanation I can offer is that perhaps I always think the worst, all the time, and this time the wheel of fortune had spun and landed on the most disastrous of outcomes.
As I get closer to the house, I can see the police van that veered to the right, coming in from the other side of the property. There are loads of police lights around the house and my phone rings. It’s a Nokia small screen, but I see the name, GLENN, on it. I answer. It’s Glenn’s neighbour Gill. Brett? Yes, I say. Brett, Glenn has been shot.I’m here I say, as I pull in the driveway. The line breaks up and Gill tries to get better reception. I’m here Gill. I’m here. She can’t hear me though. He is asking for you. I can’t make myself heard on the line. I’m here. I repeat it a few times, but the reception is terrible in the dip where Glenn’s house is nestled, and ironically, I can see Gill. She is standing near the patio looking at the phone, trying to reconnect to me. Police are everywhere. I get out of the car and walk into the scene. I don’t remember the exchange Gill and I have. We have never met before, and yet, now we collide together through this shared catastrophe that strips all the bullshit down to the bone. There is a presence and immediacy that is difficult to describe. It’s so viscerally different from the day to day auto-pilot of experience that it seems unrecognisable as reality. Every sound, every visual, everything is experienced in such high fidelity where the smallest details are magnified a million fold. I walk inside and Glenn is on the floor. He greets me like I have just come in from the gym and we will natter on about boys and protein shakes. I take him in my arms, his head in my lap. Peter is talking to Gill and their daughter starts to yell and cry, and they calm her. And we wait. Seconds trickle by. The helicopter tries to land outside, and it can’t, they can’t risk hitting fences, it is the bushveld out here. So, we wait for an ambulance. The only thing I keep saying to Glenn is, I love you. Which seems woefully inadequate and unhelpful, but I really don’t know what else to say. I am not thinking he is dying, but some part of me must know that is a possibility. I am not sure what Glenn needs to hear, because saying, it’s going to be OK, seems patently untrue. The sheer lack of any kind of control is so wildly obvious. We are all in uncharted territory.
The ambulance arrives. Paramedics, movement: I am in the way. They move Glenn off on a stretcher, I think his neighbour gets in a different ambulance, that part is mixed up. We need to follow, so I get back into my car and we follow to Sunninghill hospital, which is maybe ten minutes away. At the hospital I speak to a surgeon, and I want to tell them to hurry up, it feels like they waste time on even talking to us, surely every second counts? Later I would find myself believing that if he had just spent less time talking, then Glenn’s leg would never have had to have been lopped off.
Hospital days blend. I spend time in the canteen and eat white bread and ham sandwiches. People I mostly don’t know arrive and we are quiet and scared. On day two or three (I forget now), his parents are there, and his leg has turned black. They need to cut it off or his kidneys will fail, as it is poisoning the whole system.
As vivid a memory as the night of the shooting is, the weeks after are merged together in a blur of small pieces: conversations, more white-bread sandwiches with ham (or other nasty hospital canteen food) and lots of people who I don’t know or fail to remember. I lose track of the days or weeks that we live at the hospital. I move next door, to Gill’s house, and Glenn’s place simply stands empty. The last time I visit the house to fetch my few belongings it occurs to me that I never actually got to live there at all. When I arrive, a large van is parked outside, and I walk in to greet a family – literally two parents and their children – who are kitted out with brushes, mops and scrapers. The boy is around twelve and the girl seems even younger. Each of them is busily scrubbing and brushing the face brick and tiles to remove the spattered dried blood and gore. Everyone is very polite and greet me; they are clearly Afrikaans, as they call me Oom which means uncle and always makes me feel grotesquely old.
I pile all the clothes and items I have in the world in the back of the car and as I pull away the young girl looks up from her brushing and waves at me. Of all the horrors, it’s still the most disturbing image of the entire event. A child whose job it is to clean up the maelstrom of body fluids.
I make a new arrangement to move out of Gill’s house and into two old friends of Glenn’s: a young married couple that offer their cottage to rent. I accept, but I forget that I have no furniture. I move into their completely empty cottage with it’s cold, white ceramic floor, with only the cushion from an outside garden chair to sleep on. This is my bed for the next few nights. It’s bizarre. I have started working again and landed a job with the SABC promo department. At night I sit alone on the floor.
Glenn improves and we decide it is easiest if he stays with me, we can live together as we both navigate uncharted waters. We have his bed and some furniture moved in. And there we sit, like visitors lost in a new land. Picture the recently drugless and the newly legless. Years later, when I watched The Lord of the Rings movie and Galadriel hands to Frodo a magical vial and says, May it be a light for you, when all other lights go out. I knew exactly what was contained in that magical glowing bottle. It was the same light we two brutalised boys had found in our friendship when life amputated whole parts of us.
That Christmas we decided to make our way to Cape Town for a well-deserved holiday break.
Enter into the story, let’s call him Bob. What a specimen, a giant of muscle and bearded gorgeousness. I first saw him as I walked into the gym in Somerset West, I was staying with my parents. We cruised, and swapped numbers. It took days before we connected. I now realise I likely followed him like a puppy, all wagging tail and bright eyes. Bright, fantastically handsome, and then, ah, endowed with what can only be described as something any man would be proud to have on display. Sex was hedonistic and fun and easy. And only once. As I said: the infatuation was mine. Bob was not exactly ringing my phone off the hook. However, post sex we chatted, and my whimsical urban tale of drugs and disabled friends had Bob reveal that he saw a woman who was brilliant at working with trauma and pain. I can’t remember the details here, but I gathered she was fairly pumped up on fairies and chakras. But why not? Bob recommended her, and anything that man said I would have done. What can I say? Cock-struck.
And so, we come full circle. To Glenn and me, outside the gates of wonder. I go in first. The house is large and has the look of money somewhere in the family history. The door is a heavy dark wood and inside there is a Hogwarts vibe of rich carpets and rows of books in rooms with chandeliers. There are also a few giant crystals here and there. And Julia. A middle aged house frau with frizzled strawberry blonde hair. The feature I think that stands out most is her intensity, an unwavering eye contact that is slightly unnerving. On review, it is perhaps the look of someone who believes, and I mean deeply believes, that they have access to “the Secret”. The kind of look that is reserved for the mad and the religious, which honestly appears indistinguishable to my eyes.
She leads me to her treatment room, a small space in yellow, and we sit down opposite each other. As with all esoteric beings, money is a subject both dirty and abhorrent and Julia therefore needs to deal with this unfortunate reality quickly so we can get on with the higher order calling. She is both clearly awkward and yet adamant: pay first! I do not begrudge anyone earning their living, but it does seem strange that people who are ashamed of charging make it such a fraught exchange. I hand over a hundred and fifty for my session. Immediately we are back to the lightness of the spiritual, and so we dive into the deep end, with me explaining my well-trodden addict story of woe, blah blah.
Finishing my story, Julia smiles and says conspiratorially (which I take is her favourite modus operandi: this is a woman who would be convinced that Bill Gates has nano-particles in the vaccines), Are you OK with sound therapy? The way she says it, I feel like I should be more familiar with the concept, like when the radiologist wants to use an MRI or the butt doctor wants to stick his camera deep inside your colon. There is medical precedent. I try to look comfortable, and say, Well sure, why not.
She stands up and approaches me. I am waiting for her to produce the instrument by which the sound therapy would be performed – perhaps a drum, perhaps a headset with Gregorian chants or music to affect your beta and theta wavelengths? But no, it is she who is the instrument. And with no warning she breaks into a part dance, part demonic possession. Her arms spasm and she lashes out and in, waving them across my body. She doesn’t actually touch me, just follows what I take to be invisible patterns which only she can see or feel, all the while her eyes clamped shut. And then she bursts into, is it whale song? Sudden, high-pitched, with guttural swallows and other sounds that are hard to determine, she gurgles and wails and shakes. Salem’s witch trials spring to mind, and I can only guess at the look of surprise on my face, as I try to push back and get swallowed by the chair. But there is nowhere to hide. And then, unbelievably, she turns it up a notch – the rhythmic dancing really starts.
Understand, I was a drama student in the nineties, where we were in fact graded on pretending to be a tree or a bus stop or an antelope, so by rights I should have been prepared for any performance, but this truly took the biscuit, and then landed a spaceship on it. The pace starts to build, Julia is now groaning and squawking like a horde of Amazon animals that are trapped inside her, seeking escape. And then a sudden roar. She undulates her arms at me, coming in close as if she is worshipping the Aztec man-god Montezuma. For some reason, the hideous cliché of “dance like no one is watching” occurs to me because for the first time it seems like blatantly irresponsible advice. Not since my University days when Myer Taub used a Heineken bottle to mimic his erection, and I, having swapped into the Queen outfit in our rather crap version of Twelfth Night and managing to get stuck in a scrim, did I have to control the giggles that started to rise. As she runs towards me, I find my face caught in a rictus of surprise and horror. Her eyes snap open and I know that I am caught looking at her like You are fucking crazy. And here is the thing, she looks at me waiting for a response, but with a knowing grin of “just wait”. And then; she pronounces me cured. Well, blow me down. My face is paralysed, and she doesn’t lead me out, but tells me to fetch Glenn, who is waiting to go next.
And here we return to the car, with Glenn and I completely hysterical. You see: Julia, on seeing Glenn’s recent amputation also used her sound therapy after parting Glenn with his hundred and fifty smackeroos. But with Glenn she went far deeper than with my easily addressed drug addiction. She sat him down and shared this gem with him; she said: If you think like a Lizard. It will grow back. I kid you not. Now, Julia, I could attempt to school you in the basics of biology or science, because you seem utterly confused. For example, I think you might find that even a lizard is not able to grow back a leg if it’s lopped off. And while the tail, which is a very different structure from a leg, can be grown back (in some lizards, some of the time), human beings in all the millions of years of evolution never picked up this nifty trick, you toot-whindling bungle cunt. However, as Glenn pointed out, healing doesn’t always happen in the way you think it might, and maybe, just maybe, she knew that by saying something so utterly tasteless and useless she would give us a gut wrenching, screaming laugh-fest that might make life seem a little less awful.
So when Glenn recounts the story of her prognosis to me, I, who am already apoplectic over the sound-therapy garbage come dangerously close to widdling in Glenn’s car. We sit and laugh for probably ten minutes, which honestly feels like years.
So maybe you do just have to think like a Lizard. Who knows? But miracles can be found in unexpected places. And, I can say this for sure, a big penis can get you into a lot of strange trouble.