The exiter

Very close friends of ours have a beautiful son. I’ve known him since he was a tiny little thing. Marcus is a one of a very rare species: a person who is incredibly good-looking but totally unaware of it, which makes him even more lovely (if that is possible). He is chiseled and ripped, has beautiful soulful eyes and thick beach-blonde locks. When Marcus enters a room, you can feel an energy pulsate around him despite his humility (as I’m typing this, I realise that I do not know anyone quite like him; he might very well be an anomaly). As you might have gathered, I have a soft spot for him. In life, beautiful people often get a free pass and often get to work a little less hard than others. Marcus didn’t, and because of some hurdles early in life, he learnt the value of commitment, sacrifice and hard work. As we know, this matures and wisens you up, so you are rewarded with a perspective in life which the rest of your age group might take a few years to learn. Marcus is wonderfully human and flawed too. Nothing shows this quite as much as when he is hungry. As his blood sugar drops, his charming personality plummets to the depths of hell and you have never seen people move quicker or turn around cars on highways faster so we can feed the beast. He has another rare and sometimes comical flaw: he is a bad exiter.

My husband accuses me of this too; Apparently, I always say we are leaving a party, dinner, gathering, church and then I proceed to start 20 new conversations as I am saying goodbye.  Marcus is even worse than me. He will quickly go to the loo whilst everyone else has long finished preparations and are gathered around the dive boat, zipped into their wetsuits waiting for him. Once there were three families ready to leave after a two week holiday in Mozambique. We were all piled in to four by fours, trailers packed, padkos in the car, Audible ready to start our audio-books, everyone buckled… but no Marcus. We eventually found him. He was having a quick shower. Who does this? It is so totally bizarre and funny that I love it! This week he flew home to Cape Town and in his backpack the security found a pellet gun he grabbed last minute to use as a prop in a movie he is shooting. Needless to say, he did not make his flight, and I am telling you, if he looked just a tiny bit less like a surfer he would have been jailed as a terrorist.

His story this week made me think of how people leave when they leave the Recovery lodge. At least once or twice a week, a guest comes back to fetch a forgotten crutch, walker, box of pills and very often, reading glasses. Apart from leaving without THEIR stuff, they sometimes leave with OUR stuff. If I had a R1 for every remote control that gets posted back to me, I’d be filthy rich.

We have a married couple from Kenya that come often for cancer treatment. They are farmers there and terribly colonial. We have many couples that come together. We encourage the emotional support your lover gives you during tough journeys, but this also backfires on us sometimes. For some reason, people are nicer when they travel alone. I suspect it is because they don’t have a wingman or a back-up. We often have couples that stay with us who are so unbearably painful that I want to agree with Paul from the New Testament who said it is good to be married, but much better to be single.

Mr and Mrs Robertson came from just outside Nairobi. They are very proper  and sound as if they stepped right out of the White Mischief movie. Similar to many South African couples, she was glamorously groomed, wore long feminine flowy dresses, classic chignon and pearls, and he was in an untucked two-toned shirt, leather boots and shorts. This is a phenomena we see particularly with Afrikaans people. Somehow the women keep it together, but our young lean rugby playing men dissolve into unshaven overweight balding fashion-crimes.

Mr and Mrs Robertson stayed with us while Mr R was receiving some radiation. They were with us for some time and their stay was rather uneventful. As they left, Mrs Robertson came and handed me the most spectacular bonsai as a thank you. I was taken back as I got the very distinct impression she did not like me very much. I thanked her and they exited, and we did not see them for another 8 years. Upon her return, she came to me and confessed she regretted giving me such a magnificent plant and would like it back. I then had to confess something myself: I failed to keep it alive. We are good at keeping people alive, but green fingers we do not have.

(Note to self, keep gifts for at least 8 years as people might ask request a refund / return.)

People have exited with our belongings OFTEN. They like to leave with our remote controls, nurse call buttons, double-adaptors and even our Gideon Bibles. In each room there is a short story I wrote about the start of the lodges and a little history of the past 25 years. This booklet goes missing often too. We used to have a fabulous sign on my desk saying “Customer complaints department 100000km” with a big arrow pointing in a random direction. Can you believe a guest left with that?

When guests leave us it is often emotional. We walk a strangely intimate journey with people when they are at their most vulnerable, so bonds form quickly and are deep. When post-trauma patients leave, we cannot help remember how they arrived: broken, bandaged and battered. When we recently said goodbye to two guests who both battled with depression, I held my heart, hoping they are strong enough to face this unsparing world again. Last year during that diabolical COVID wave we wept as guests left! A few of them were so ill that everyone gave up hope that they’d survive, but in the end we did not lose a single one. Our feelings are mixed when people leave, knowing they will return soon when terminal diseases forces them back to us, while other farewells are celebratory when all odds were overcome.

We do love all our guests, but I will be honest, some are hard to like. I have now twice seen Josh walk a guest to the car, make sure nothing was left behind and stand in front of the gate while waving them off. I told him he is gracious and well-mannered, but he admitted that he was just making sure they leave and do not come back.

Some of our guests obviously do not leave the lodge in a traditional sense. They leave this world. We have built a tradition around these exits too. We never leave the deceased but stay with them. We dim the lights, fill the room with Chopin’s gentle notes and place a rose on the departed’s chest after we have cleaned them up and brushed their hair. We tuck them in under crisp white linen, and it looks like they are fast asleep. We guard the person’s honour by staying in the room while the undertakers transfer the body and then, we stand a guard of honour as the undertaker takes the body out of the room. It feels right that we guard their dignity in death, as we did in life.

I look at young Marcus, now in the budding season of his life as a second year student, living his best life partying, studying and surfing. He will be making many exists and entrances. The world lies before him  with a diversity of opportunities. As he exits his childhood, I want to yell after him that he must guard his heart, that he must not lose his beautiful kindness and ability to see wonder, that he must never stop being different and that he must handle that piece of his parents’ soul gently that he will carry with him forever.

And of course, please may he continue to make some more fabulous funny exits that make me laugh.

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