The expression hindsight is 20/20 is a cliché with good reason. Retrospectively, I can see clearly that the cracks in the happiness I finally found in 2019 (after chasing it my whole damn life) started to show in 2020 before it all came crashing down in 2021.

2019 was the best year of my life and the cherry on top was it ended with me meeting the love of my life. I went into 2020 on a high, fully expecting it to be an even better year, and to its credit it started off marvellously as the love of my life officially asked me to be his girlfriend just four days into the year. But three months later the high started to fade with no thanks to the plot twist no one saw coming.

Before getting into the cracks of the matter, I need to clarify that 2020 was not all bad, more so BC (before COVID-19). The one thing many of us were newly blessed with in 2020, amid all the difficulties of the year, was stretches of time: to sit, to think, to listen. That ended up being the biggest blessing in disguise for me and my new man as it allowed us to spend more time together, which in turn accelerated our growth as a couple à la my faves Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. In their engagement announcement video Prince Harry said, “We had to sort of reverse the whole process and cozy nights in, in front of the television, cooking dinner with just the two of us by ourselves in our little cottage rather than going out for dinner and being seen in public. So we reversed the whole process which is, it’s provided different opportunities and has made us a hell of a lot closer in a short space of time. That’s without question.” He then jokingly advised everyone to follow the same script for similar success by saying, “So if anybody else at home is listening maybe slow down the dates and maybe spend more time at home.” My mental health also improved at the beginning of the year to the point that I did not feel the need to regularly see my therapist anymore and only saw her four times BC. Four times in one quarter may seem like a lot, but given I had appointments every two weeks in Q4 2019, trust me when I say once a month is not a lot. As I said to her in my second or third session of 2020, “it’s hard to come in for therapy when you’re happy.” But at the end of the day year, the bad far outweighed the good, which is why I opened today’s post by saying that the cracks in the happiness I finally found in 2019 (after chasing it my whole damn life) started to show in 2020 before it all came crashing down in 2021.

At the onset of the pandemic, I was still in a great space mentally and emotionally because the novel coronavirus was something so unprecedented, we did not yet know to fear the loss of lives and livelihoods it would eventually cause. On New Year’s Eve 2019 as we were gearing up for the new year, no one could have predicted that 2020 would turn out the way it did. COVID-19 would irrevocably change every fabric of life as we knew it and absolutely no one was even remotely prepared for that as we began 2020. So on March 18th when my organisation gave the directive for employees to work from home, it felt like a dream come true, especially for me who was deep in the honeymoon phase of my new relationship. I was excited AF for all the time I would spend at home with my man, falling deeper in love and having all the fire flames sex before going back to the office a few months later, but as we all know that never happened. The loss of lives and livelihoods we were witnessing globally soon started to affect Kenya and by the end of the year the pandemic left an indelible mark both in my country and the world over.

While working from home may have started out like a dream come true, it was not long before the magic faded away like last night’s dream. I work in advertising and my industry, like many others, was adversely affected by the pandemic. We had staff cuts barely a month after we started working from home and were advised by our HR department to be prepared for more staff cuts towards the end of the year, as well as possible pay cuts. I am naturally an anxious person so knowing that I might not have a job at the end of the year greatly made my existing anxiety skyrocket. More so because my baby sister is in the hotel industry and her workplace, like many others in that industry, closed down for a few months and during that time I was providing her with financial assistance where possible. My job security, or lack thereof, greatly troubled me not just for me, but for my sister as well. Thankfully when the year ended I still had my job and the hotel my sister was working at reopened and she went back to work on full pay.

2020 was the year I told the story of my mum’s battle with cancer in a series of 13 posts titled ‘JS Kicking Cancer’s Ass’ and that was the second biggest reason it was such a long, hard year for me. I knew telling my mum’s story would retraumatise me, but I greatly underestimated how traumatic it would get. I was nowhere near ready to tell my mum’s story in 2020 but unfortunately for me time, specifically the correlation between memories and time, was not on my side. So I soldiered on despite the fact that there were times – many, many, many times – it was impossibly hard to keep writing because telling my mum’s story made me feel like I was losing her to stage IV breast cancer all over again. I knew I wanted to tell her story that year before the memories started to fade, but what I did not realise was that my grief was still too new. I was a mere two years into my never-ending grief journey when I began her story with ‘JS Kicking Cancer’s Ass Theme 1 of 13: The Paralysis. The penultimate post in particular wrecked me as I really cried while writing it and to date it remains the longest, hardest post I have ever written. It went up the week of my mum’s third anniversary and the evening before I posted part one I received some very distressing news that broke me and I cried sooo hard mpaka I got a stitch. For context, the last time I ever cried that hard was in January 2015 when my mum was admitted in hospital for 20 days and I was convinced she was dying.

Which brings us to the biggest reason 2020 was the year responsible for the cracks in my happiness. My brother. If telling my mum’s story was the second biggest reason 2020 was such a long, hard year for me, her lastborn and only son was reason number one.

The post S Is For Siblings is the first time I shared how my brother distanced himself from the rest of the family after my mum died, and the situation only got worse since I put up that post in September 2019 because I only saw my brother twice in 2020— for my uncle’s funeral in July and on the third anniversary of my mum’s death in December.

During my uncle’s funeral, just as we were preparing the ground to bury him, my freshly widowed aunt took my siblings and I aside to let us know that the way we are living so disconnectedly is not doing us any favours. She said because my mum is dead and our father is not in our lives we should be really close because all we have is each other. She added how whenever her and her siblings come together, they make stuff happen not because they have a lot of money, but because they are always there for each other. That is when I confessed to my aunt that we may be disconnected, but it is not for a lack of trying on me and my sister’s end. I told her that my brother stopped picking up our calls a long time ago and as a result I stopped reaching out. My sister would still try and call him from time to time, but more often than not he would not pick her calls either. And it was not just his sisters’ calls that he was not picking. It was also his cousins, aunts, uncles and, as we later got to find out, his friends. During my therapy sessions in 2019 and 2020, my therapist and I would frequently talk about my brother and how his decision to ghost us is a source of frustration and worry for me.

When my aunt left once the burial ground was ready, I let my brother know that I worry about him more than I can stand. That I worry he will die by suicide one day and it breaks my heart that he is not letting any of us in. I told him that my aunt, in the minutes before she laid her partner of 36 years to rest less than a week after he died, chose to take the time to talk to us about the importance of unity as siblings. I urged him to fully understand the gravity of her timing and he said that he would take into account everything my aunt chose to say in that moment. My uncle’s funeral was on a Wednesday and the following Monday was my 33rd birthday. Given my brother had said he would heed what my aunt said to us in the minutes before laying her husband to rest, I was confident I would receive a call or text from him on August 3rd wishing me a happy birthday. He did not say anything during the day and it was only the next morning when I woke up and did not see a late-night text from him that I knew nothing had changed. He had told me exactly what I wanted to hear at my uncle’s funeral while probably knowing he would continue to ghost me.

I have a feeling my mum’s death broke my brother and he became depressed, but the fact that he did not want to talk to any of us about it, let alone see a therapist, means I could not know for sure. I began to fear that he would take his own life, more so when one of my aunts made a similar comment at my uncle’s funeral. She asked about my brother and then said that young men nowadays are going through so much and feel they need to carry the burden by themselves that many of them are now dying by suicide. I had never given voice to my fear of my brother dying by suicide but hearing that my aunt also had the same concern made my fear grow exponentially. As the days went by my fear grew to the point that whenever my sister called me, I panicked that she was calling to say my brother has died by suicide. She would call and I would watch the phone ring with so much trepidation that I ended up not picking the call. When she would not immediately call me back is when I would deduce it was not an emergency and only then would I feel secure enough to return her call. One day in August she called me and could barely speak because she was crying so hard and for a moment the room spun I even had to hold a wall to steady myself. That is the first and last time I have ever experienced a spinning room as before that I had only ever read about it in books when a character receives bad news. Thankfully, she was not calling because something had happened to my brother, she was calling about her horrible workday. A few days after that unprecedented room spin, I asked my sister to stop calling me unless it was absolutely necessary. She is more of a caller than a texter, whereas I much prefer it the other way, and I confessed that every time she calls me I fear she is calling with bad news about my brother and I could no longer handle her phone calls. To which she graciously acquiesced that if there is something she needs to say that is “textable”, she will do so rather than call.

I continued to live in fear that my brother would crumble under whatever was weighing so heavily on him that he isolated himself from all his loved ones, and for months one of my last thoughts before I fell asleep was, “I really hope this phone does not ring tonight.” I even told my man that if I were to receive a late-night call he is the one who will answer it because after picking up an aunt’s phone call at 1:07 a.m. on December 13, 2017 and learning that my mum had died, my life changed irrevocably. To this day my biggest fears are grief and the phone call in the middle of the night that usually precedes it. Going to bed for months on end worrying that I would receive a phone call in the middle of the night from my sister took a massive toll on my mental health, so it is no surprise that my hard-won happiness came crashing down in 2021.

I next saw my brother on the third anniversary of my mum’s death. For the first anniversary, my siblings and I, together with one of my cousins, went to Spurs for all you can eat ribs. And for the second one the four of us spent the day at Village Market. For the third anniversary I decided to host my people at home because an outside plan was quite unwise given that we were not even a year into the pandemic. Because I had stopped reaching out to my brother, my sister was the one who called to let him know what the plan was. I did not expect him to show up, but when a knock on the door sounded just after 3:30 p.m., well after everyone else had already arrived at around 1 p.m., I knew it was him.

I am someone who does not know how to pretend. I wear my heart on my sleeve and my emotions on my face. If I am unhappy about something or someone, I do not know how to pretend otherwise and I am not keen on learning how to do so. So when my brother came, after saying a cursory hello to him, I more or less kept away from him. It helped that he was seated away from me so I was able to talk to my cousins who were seated closer to me without it being so obvious I was ignoring him. My man had previously told me that when my brother comes he would like to talk to him to get a sense of why he continues to ghost everyone. An hour or so after my brother arrived, him and my man went outside to talk. After he left is when my sister, who had been quietly chatting with my brother while I was steadfastly ignoring him, told me and my cousins that turns out my brother left his girlfriend’s place in Riverside before 1 p.m., meaning he was outside my gate in less than 15 minutes but was too nervous to come in so he spent around one hour just driving around Ngong Road. After that he sat in the car outside the gate for about 30 minutes trying to muster the courage to come into the house. Hearing that broke me. That is when one of my cousin’s commented on the fact that he had refused to eat and drink, saying he does not eat pork and needs to go pick up his girlfriend in a few so he could not stay long. Anyone who knows my brother knows how much he loves to eat, so him saying that he does not eat pork was an outright lie. Realising that he was neither eating nor drinking anything, on top of learning that it took him almost 90 minutes to muster the courage to get into the house, broke me even further and I started crying hard! For the life of me I could not understand why he was hurting the way he was, but refusing to let anyone in. He also looked rugged and thinner than when we last saw him and it was just too much for me to bear. That is when I confessed to my cousins that I worry he will take his own life and at that moment, with his appearance and him not eating or drinking anything, I had never been more certain that my fears were valid. Luckily the universe had sent me and my brother a guardian angel in the form of my man as it was only after my brother came back in from talking with my man for over an hour that he was able to eat a mountain of food. When he was getting ready to leave we told him that the plan for Christmas is a potluck at my cousin’s place and that we would love it if he came, and he promised to be there. As he left my sister also talked to him for about 45 minutes, trying to encourage him not to do everything on his own and remind him that as his family we love him and are here for him. He told her he will stop trying to do everything alone and promised to see us on Christmas Day.

He did not come to my cousin’s for Christmas.

At 5 p.m. my sister called him to ask where he was, only for him to let us know that he would not be joining us. After we had waited for him all afternoon. After we had bought him cake to surprise him as his 30th birthday was the previous week.

Earlier on I mentioned that the evening before I posted part one of the penultimate post in the JS Kicking Cancer’s Ass series, I received some very distressing news that broke me and I cried sooo hard mpaka I got a stitch. That news had to do with my brother but I am not ready to share it just yet as his story is a sensitive one and I intend to share it with all the sensitivity and empathy it, and he, deserves. Which is why in my Kwaheri 2020 post I lied when I said that telling my mum’s story reason was, unequivocally, the main reason 2020 was such a long, hard year for me. Now you know the main reason was the situation with my brother, but at the time it was still so raw and painful that I was not ready to share it with my readers. Things are better now, which is why I am revealing some of the truth in this post, but there is still a lot that I have left unsaid because protecting my brother comes first. We have a complicated relationship because he frustrates me and I worry to death about him, but I also love him so damn much! The more he heals, the more I might continue to share his story and hopefully my words will comfort and inspire others who find themselves in a similar situation.

I probably would have been able to better handle the situation with my brother and telling my mum’s story if we were not in the middle of a pandemic. Because while 2020 was such a long, hard year for me, it pales in comparison to 2018. My mum was the love of my life and when she died on December 13, 2017 at 1:10 a.m., a part of me died with her. To date 2018 remains the hardest year of my life because my mother’s womb was the first home I had before I came into the world and in 2018 I had to find a way to live in a world where the love of my life no longer existed.

After 5 ½ years of my mum battling cancer and 1 year of learning to live in a world where the love of my life no longer exists, on the first day of 2019, when I least expected it, I sprang forth from that tightly bound cocoon of grief, just like a butterfly. I ended my Karibu 2019 post by saying:

In conclusion, today I changed both my WhatsApp and Instagram profile pictures and statuses. They were previously about my mum but now feels like the right time to make the change. It makes me think of a grieving widow(er) taking off their wedding ring. I imagine that even as they do so they are still grieving, but taking off their ring is a symbol that one is ready to begin moving on with their life. That is what changing my pics and statuses symbolises for me. My grief may always be a part of me but that does not mean it will always define me.

2019 was my “year of yes” because I deliberately opened myself up to experiences I had previously shunned away from. I was no longer uncomfortable having random conversations with people I do not know. If anything, I was down to make new friends. I partied hard with new and old friends alike and had the best time while at it. If there was a comment I got often in 2019, both from people who know me and from those who only know of me, was that my energy was infectious.

But if I became a butterfly in 2019, 2020 had me feeling like its dull, ugly, uninspiring counterpart the moth. 2020 was quite rough on all of us because of the pandemic and I tried to give myself some grace, but one thing I always say is, allow yourself to feel what you are really feeling, and 2020 had me feeling like a dull, ugly, uninspiring moth. My 2020 was significantly less accomplished than 2019 and while I understand that the pandemic vastly changed life as we know it and we were living in disrupted times and all that, I still felt how I felt. Like a dull, ugly, uninspiring moth. And one thing that really suffered as a result was my writing. In my previous post I shared that writing is not what I do, it is who I am. So for me to only write five posts in two years meant that something was broken inside of me, and while I was aware of that, I was not fully cognisant of the extent until my therapist opened my eyes to it in February this year.

2020 was one of the longest, hardest years ever, and not just for me. It was long and hard collectively and individually, and in my Kwaheri 2020 post I wrote:

I have a great feeling about next year. As a former boss once said to me, you cannot have two bad years. Kwanza vile next year my man is turning 30!!! 2021 is going to be a GREAT year and I am claiming it now!!!

I am hoping for better and MORE next year and once again I am claiming it now that 2021 is going to be a GREAT year! From my lips to the Universe’s ears! Amen


2 thoughts on “Cracks

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