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The Blue Eyed Boy




He was a captain in the army. It was not a childhood dream. He, in fact, joined because a friend of his dared him to. She taunted him and told him he would never survive the six month training. And so, he joined. Your very own G.I Joe. And he surprised everyone including himself, when he pulled through and came out the other side. The only problem was, the person who walked in and the one who walked out, couldn’t recognise each other if they bumped into each other on a lonely street.

*Riva was a blue eyed boy. He was the son every father wants to have and every mother wants their daughter to marry. He was a straight arrow. The apple of his parents’ eyes. He could do no wrong. Actually, he did no wrong. In primary school, he was a top student, a member of the school basketball team and a teacher’s pet. It didn’t take much effort for him to be at the top. This is just who he was.

Inevitably, he scored high marks in his finals and got into a reputable secondary school. It is here that the scales fell from his eyes. When previously he prided himself on being Albert Einstein, he now wanted to be Bill Murray (Apparently Bill Murray is the coolest person on earth — I kid you not.) Bill Murray Is The Coolest Guy On The Planet. Fact.

So Riva started yearning to hang out with the cool kids. And with this, he discovered the two things that make a confused hormonal adolescent the King of the world. Girls and alcohol.

“When did you start drinking?” I ask him.

“I can’t really pick a date but I have this distinct memory. My parents would have guests over and during clean up, I would sip whatever drink was left in their glasses. That was the debut. I remember once, I got high during a school trip. We had gone to Ngong hills and my friends and I put together some coins and got some booze. We discovered soon enough, that alcohol and hills are not fast friends. We got caught and letters were written. Of course my dad was not amused about this but it’s hard to lecture your child on the ills of alcohol when we can clearly hear the noise of the skeletons dancing in your closet. So I got off easy. And things escalated.”

The drinking became a habit. One he initially could control and learnt well to hide. He managed to cross the finish line of high school despite all these distractions and got accepted to medical school. Here, he became wilder than an acre of snakes. He again hooked up with the cool cats and believed that he had this supernatural ability to excel academically with minimal effort. He was dead wrong. The alcohol, skipped classes and rogue behaviour got him to the bottom of the barrel and he failed his first year finals. He picked himself up. Long enough to pass his re-sit but not high enough to let go of the vices he was accruing.

That is how he journeyed through med school. Barely making it. At some point, he sired a child and that almost grounded him but the social pressure was too much. Always pulling him back. He felt it was ok as long as he knew when to stop. Right? Wrong. He eventually graduated, worked in a hospital in Nairobi for a year as an intern and then fate intervened. The good government posted him to somewhere in the back and beyond of Western Kenya. He bought a map.

He got there and it was worse than he expected. The hospital was a small, derelict building that had more animals than people milling by. It literally looked like hell with everyone out to lunch. His life became mundane. Stuck in this new town, with no familiar faces and barely any work to do. Life became rudderless. His thoughts and his bottle were his close companions now. And because they couldn’t coexist, he used one to silence the other. The bottle always won. It was during one of his weekend visits to the city that he got dared to join the army. That is how he left civil service. Enter G.I. Joe.

“Is it true what they say?” I ask him. “That you guys clean the floor with toothbrushes?”

“Join and find out.”

I chuckled. I wasn’t that curious. I pressed for information about those six months in training. He wouldn’t budge. It’s like a well kept secret. He used vague words like ‘gruesome, hard, long days and even longer nights.’ And he left it to my imagination what happened beyond those gates. He did mention though that he tried to leave, but they wouldn’t let him. He went on hunger strikes and wrote letters to which they responded — received. I pictured him being Demi Moore in the movie G.I. Jane (watch it) crawling on mud to go and ring that bell that signified surrender. That you couldn’t take it anymore. That you wanted out. Only for him his bell was internal. No matter how hard he rang it, no one heard. So he stayed.

“The military changed me Sue. That’s all I can say about those six months.” Pause. He came out; rough around the edges — in the real sense. He had formed calluses on his hands and feet, and had lost his boyish look. He was always on edge and so argumentative he could start a quarrel in an empty house. The goodness in him had been eroded. Yet he felt he had accomplished something. He had done what they said he couldn’t do. He still had his blue eyes. And of course his bottle.

By this time he was living with his fiance — the mother of his child; having moved in together before he joined the army. The time they spent away from each other however, created a rift that became an ingredient for disaster. They had each gotten used to a way of being. She did things her way. He did things his way and he had become militarised. Giving orders in the home; as a captain should right? Merging their ways was like trying to bag a cloud of flies.

It is this bottle and the effects of military training he said, that led him to one of the darkest days of his life. A day he spoke of in a whisper because speaking of it loudly ushered the demons. A day his wife dared to question him. A captain in the army. A day he felt taunted. In his drunken state, he responded to her question. But not with words. He doesn’t remember the details but he remembers exactly how he felt. With each kick and each blow he remembers. Then he blacked out. She survived and left him for good. When he came to, the reminder of his act was spewed all over the living room. He took time to clean up. As he wiped the blood off the floor and off the surfaces, he wiped himself away until he couldn’t recognise himself. He didn’t feel like the blue eyed boy. When he was done cleaning up, he disappeared.

Few people tried to look for him. Mostly the folks and his workmates. He had learned long ago, how to give people the run around, so he did. All the while sitting at home, alone, curtains drawn with his two friends. The ones who stood by him. His thoughts and his bottle. No one noticed. After a few weeks of hibernation he was called in and posted on a mission to South Sudan. He carried his bag and his baggage and went. In Sudan, he forgot. He opened a safe, stored those memories and threw away the key.

Life moved on. One day just became the next and the next and the next. He came back after a year or so with the same bag but more baggage. He was a nomad for a bit due to postings to different parts of the country. Never anywhere for too long. Rudderless. Then he met this girl. She too was blue eyed. Everything about her was correct. She ticked the boxes and made him yearn to make an honest woman out of her. So before long they moved in together. Tired of moving about, he applied for his masters at the University. That was a sure way to stay in the city for four years.

“Love feels great. Especially new love. It’s like a dopamine high.” He smiled briefly. Things were great between them but the chicken soon came home to roost and old habits creeped back. He fast realised she wasn’t a doll he bought from the store. She was a living, breathing human. With goals and dreams. And a job she went to daily. So whereas he preferred to skip work and commune with his bottle, she pursued her dreams. So, to avoid inevitable friction, he would wake up, get dressed and leave the house then stand by and wait for her to leave. Then he would go back, change and chill. Rudderless. The bottle started to become weak against his thoughts so he decided to upgrade. He started to smoke weed. And that became his life for a few months. Skip work, smoke weed, drink; and when the authorities looked for him hard enough, he would show up then disappear again. He sustained this hidden lifestyle for months. Then he got caught.

One day, his fiance unexpectedly came home for lunch and found a vagabond in their living room. He smelt like he wanted to be left alone and was as high as a giraffe going through a growth spurt. An argument ensued. And then she asked him the question. The very same one he was asked years ago. The one he answered with his fists. “Who are you? What is this you have become?” That question triggered something in him. The feeling of being a fraud. But rather than work things out, he got into his car and hit the southern bypass.

As he drove, his thoughts were screaming in his ear. “Who are you?”

“I am the blue eyed boy.”

“No you are not. You are such a disappointment. Look at what you have become. A fraud, a drunk, a failure. Who are you?”

He drove faster, using one hand to steer the wheel and the other to take his drink. He was looking for a trailer. There were always broken down trailers on this road. It would be fast. He would only need to ram his car into it and it would be over. He started at one end all the way to the other end. No trailers in sight. Not even a moving one. In the end he just went back home. Defeated.

The following day he knew he had to seek help. He couldn’t go on like this. Not with the suicidal thoughts plaguing his mind. So he saw a psychiatrist and was started on anti depressant meds. Meds he would swallow with his brown bottle. He thought the meds would solve his problem. Instead they made him feel flat, drowsy and very lethargic. He still felt like a fraud. He looked so put together on the outside. A sharp dresser, smiling at people while cracking endless jokes but dying on the inside.

When he felt he couldnt take it anymore, one morning, he got up, dressed his problems and got into his car. His intent was to head to work but he found himself steering towards the national park where he drove around thinking. The thoughts came hard and fast. “Who are you? You are a fraud. If you were gone who would miss you? You go missing for a few days and no one even looks for you.”

He drank as he drove to silence the voices. Left the park and hit the highway. The voices were now screaming. “Fraud! Fraud!”

He got to View point and decided to silence them for good and drove over the the escarpment.

“The first thing I heard when I came to was, ‘mtoe, mtoe’ and I thought, crap! I am not dead. That didn’t go well. I was extracted from the car — which was a complete write off — with nothing but a bruised ego and a few scraps here and there. No broken bones, nothing. I had such mixed feelings. First, I was shocked that I didn’t die but second I was in awe of British engineering.” ( I am not making this up folk, he actually said that). And we laughed.

He was taken to the nearest hospital then transferred to the military hospital in Nairobi where he stayed for a couple of weeks.

“I was on suicide watch, anti depressants and psychotherapy; the whole nine yards.”

“What did your parents say?”

“They were shocked. They didn’t see this coming. But neither did I. During psychotherapy, I found out that I had been living for the gallery. I was a people pleaser. So when anyone got disappointed in me, I sunk. In my head I was the blue eyed boy. But my reality was a far cry from it and it killed me. It broke me. And I was so pissed that I didn’t die.”

“What has changed?”

“Well. The meds for one and opening up the wound for a few people to see. Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain but it is more common and much harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain, increases the burden. It is easier to say, “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” When everyone realises you have depression and the extent you took it to, they treat you like a basket case; like you have a crutch. But I wanted to put it out there. I felt talking about it was the beginning of the healing process. Depression is not unique to certain people. It has no cohort. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It can happen to the next best person. I am now done playing for the gallery and trying to be the cool kid.

I also want to create awareness. The signs were all there but they were masked by the drinking. I want to be called out. From my coming out, I have had some friends reach out to me to say that they are going through the same thing. So we have formed a small support group that has really helped. Especially during this pandemic times.

This incident also brought my family closer. We now look out for each other and have open lines of communication. I now feel like there is something worth living for and someone will miss me when I am gone.

In a nutshell, I have depression, though I prefer to say I battle depression, because when it hits, i hit back.”



 

Depression is a state of low mood. Depressed people feel down most of the time for at least two weeks. Some symptoms of depression make you: ●Lose or gain weight ●Sleep too much or too little ●Feel tired or like you have no energy ●Feel guilty or like you are worth nothing ●Forget things or feel confused ●Move and speak more slowly than usual ●Act restless or have trouble staying still ●Think about death or suicide If you think you are depressed, seek medical advise (especially in these times of covid 19). Only a mental health expert or someone trained in mental health can diagnose you with depression.

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