1. How it All Began

There is no recollection which time does not put an end to, and no pain which death does not remove.

Miguel de Cervantes

(1547-1616)

29 February 2004

 

It all started on the 28th of February, really.

That Saturday night, I was going to watch a kickboxing match with the kids, and also I had my very first tenants moving into Faldouet. So I didn’t spend much time with Ari that day…. The tournament was at the Carousel, more or less 120 km away on the N1 to Pietersburg. 1 h20 minutes away.

When I came back, Ari had been watching Rugby and Football. I hugged him hard. That night he was leaving for Zim with John, Neil and Genevieve. Neil was home already. Ari’s finger was still swollen and very sore from his strange spider bite. I wasn’t happy to let him go like that… he said John was supposed to bring the sponsored car around at 23h30. All the gear was neatly packed in the garage. When Genevieve arrived with her parents, they met Ari for the first time ! Genevieve came upstairs and we all watched The Late Night Show with Jay Leno and then Conan O’Brian. Then Ari and Neil went to look at some bass shows downstairs, and Genevieve and I watched Ozzy Osbourne, & MTV Smash, which Neil explained to us. Neil told us he wanted to sing in a band.

Ari was getting irritated because John was still not there and it was nearly 01h00. He’d been phoning him and he was on his way back from a party, fetching little Bianca in Bryanston. Ari said he sounded drunk. Was he ? Well he was here finally at 01h00. They all left in a hurry. Gen later related that Ari told me to look after myself, he kissed me and hopped into the car ! Neil smiled a bright white light at me before putting out his cigarette. I closed the garage door and that’s the last I saw of them…  At 05h30 the house phone rang twice but I refuse to answer to tenants’ problems this early. At 06h30 Gina was at my window, shouting at me to open. She came up, sat me on my bed, and said : ‘First of all, everything’s fine ….’

So I knew, everything had gone wrong !

This is what we all think happened, from all the information gathered this week. The weather was good. They had just stopped their Land Rover Discovery at a petrol station and chatted with fellow travellers: they were not all dozing, only Gen, in a ball against the door with her pillow, without her glasses. Neil was on her left, his head on the center rest, his knees against the window, listening to his MP3’s. John was in front, working at something on his knees, Ari driving. The boys were wondering what the border would be like when they got there. Neil had just said that, when they all three exclaimed ‘’What’s that ? Oh Fuck !’’ or something.  Anthony says it was a kudu : there’s tons of them on that road and they jump right over 2m fences, going straight for the car lights, unexpected.

Ari slammed the brakes and swerved to the middle of the road. Gen expected the car to come back right, but it didn’t, they must have rolled 5 or 6 times. The windscreen smashed but didn’t break. The windows did, and all four of them were flung out of them. Gen said she had her back to it and when her window was on the floor, she stayed on the ground and the car rolled away. The shards of glass must’ve shredded her leg as they left her there. When silence returned, she crawled to find Neil. His breathing did not sound human, she said. She touched his leg, it was warm, and she said ‘Neil, are you ok ?’ then crawled and found Ari on the yellow line. She’d woken in the road: had she not, she would’ve been run-over ! First car didn’t stop. Next one did – the guys they had been chatting to at the station, they had just over-taken them moments ago. Theuns Buvenhage called the paramedics. Another car, a Jeep, tried to help too. Someone was telling Ari not to move !

Gen was sitting on the side of the road. No one wanted to look at her. The ambulance came. Back in Johannesburg, Sonia woke up and saw like a shadow in front of her bed. She felt something was wrong. She rang John’ cellphone. Craig the paramedic answered. He told her he was trying to stabilize John, that the other young man had not made it, that Ari was the most stable. John’ father, Mr Reid, immediately started organizing a helicopter to bring his son to a good hospital. Then John died. It turned out John had died almost instantly of a broken neck and Craig was working on Neil ! Mr Reid tried to notify Ari’s family, found Jack Hart’s number from the book. Jack tried to phone me. I’m glad I didn’t answer. Ari was taken to the Provincial Hospital of Makopane – Potgietersrus. Gen was sitting on the bed next to him. They wouldn’t do anything to her because she doesn’t have a medical aid. She wouldn’t let them touch her anyway. A doctor was rushed there from Pietersburg to help Ari while they waited for the helicopter. Dr Curtis. She was in constant contact with it and with Leonard. Leonard and Sheryl were hurrying back from Dullstroom, he was driving and phoning and trying to concentrate. When they arrived home, we all rushed to the hospital. Gina came with me in the Isuzu and we dropped off Zoë and Luca at my folks, they’re too small to come with us.  My mom was crying, they wanted to help too. While the Harts were driving home from Dullstroom, I was frantically trying to find contact numbers for the families of John, Neil and Genevieve. I didn’t have anything, I felt responsible, they’re working for us ! I also didn’t know anything about the other three, Leonard wouldn’t tell me ! I only knew Gen was ok. But did her parents know ? Finally, I found Neil’s 21stbirthday invite, with his home number. Leonard wanted to phone. I gave it to him. He said Neil’s mother answered. Oh dear, how hard that must’ve been. Help. I phone John’s house, to see how Sonia was, if she knew anything. The kids were having a hot-choc with Gina, I had to keep busy, do something. Adri answered, she said Sonia and everyone were going to Nylstroom. ‘But why ?’ I said, they’re being airlifted !’’. No, she said, John didn’t make it. My legs gave up. ‘you’re kidding !’ ‘No, and neither did Neil….’ ‘What !!!!?’ Oh my God. It was like a clap of thunder that doesn’t go away, a din inside my head. What happened, how could this be ? My heart was pounding, if the others were dead, how close was Ari ? Even if alive, who could say if he’d make it ? We drove to the hospital where the helicopter was going to land. Marylin Manson in the radio for solace. I was petrified, but strong as an ox. I had to be. There’s no point in worrying unless you know why. I didn’t faint, I didn’t cry. I was in pain. I didn’t phone my parents. Everything was going to be fine, right ? Leonard did. They called me. When we got there, Sunninghill Hospital as Aunt Adele had suggested, the helicopter was only leaving Joburg to fetch him. Wait. Wait. Phone. Help Gen’s folks get her back. Sonia and the Reids were in Nylstroom at the morgue, identifying. She said Neil’s face was so swollen, so broken, he had grass in his eyes, his mouth. She took it out, so his parents wouldn’t see. She signed his death certificate, as they weren’t coming, then had it torn up when they did, so they could do it themselves. The Reids went to the crash site, saw the skid marks. They’d picked up the valuable luggage at the police station. In the grass, Sonia found one of Ari’s credit cards, the one he’d used for the tolls, probably. His wallet too, cleared out, except for the cards. They figured something must’ve appeared on their left, a dark car, someone, an animal ? Gen had seen a white shadow when she was near Neil. She didn’t have her glasses on. She didn’t know what it was. Maybe Neil ? no he died later, maybe John ? as he went to Sonia. They went home. Sonia was injected with drugs. She hated that. I called Craig Thomassen, he didn’t take it well, but he came to the hospital. He lives nearby. He was such help !!!! Shaun from Surecatch Lures was there, getting titanium plates in his neck from a recent crash. They helped get the company CK number so Gen could be returned home in an ambulance. I got Riaaz’s number from Craig and called him – he’d sponsored the car. I told him we thought it might be a burst tyre as there was no other car. I blamed his car at first, the Landrover Discovery: two weeks ago, the BMW X3 he’d sponsored them had three punctures in Dullstroom, stressful for the crew but nothing like this ! Randburg Motorlink. He didn’t take it well either. I phoned Robin Stokes, Ari’s friend. The helicopter arrived at 12h00.Waiting. Waiting. Coffee. Kim gave me Rescue Pills, but that relaxed me out of my strength, I didn’t like that. Couldn’t lose control. Ari was let out of the Emergency Room. We went to see him as he was wheeled out, I was so afraid but I didn’t faint. I held his hand. They took him to get an MRI, a Cat Scan. Everyone was at the cafeteria with us: Gina, Jack, Adele, Dean, Adam, Craig T, Kim. Manny later too. Waiting. Waiting. Not hungry. Cat Scan not too bad, swelling on his brain, lesions, pressure. But his body is perfect, no breaks !! pressure must be let down, he’s stable, that’s what they’ve said all day. He has tubes in his mouth to breathe. They say his lungs are bruised, he’s aspirated, he can’t breathe well. Two vertebrae at the bottom are damaged. “That’s all he needs, more cause for back pain !” I think. I recognized his toe as they wheeled him out again, to the trauma ICU ward. Waiting. Waiting. Later, they let us in to see him, when he was comfortable and stable. I was petrified of fainting with the smell of ether and the sight of him. No, I was strong as an ox ! his eyes were half open, dry. Huge pipe in his mouth. Drips. Beep Beeps. Monitors, pipes, lines, needles, bags. His knuckles were black. They came to give me his bracelets and rings. They’d been cut off him. I put them on me. Twisted and bent, used some energy. Hard.

They said, now he’s stable, there’s nothing to be done now, but wait, wait. They said we must go home. 16h00. Drove by myself, I needed Marilyn Manson really really loud, and a cup of tea. So I went to pick up the kids and had a cup of tea. It made me feel sick. The kids already knew what happened, I told them this morning.

I tidied up the house, who knows who will visit, when I’ll have time, bathed the kids and made some pasta. But forgot the water on the stove and burned the saucepan ! I e-mailed all my French friends tonight and did some research on coma. Found an excellent website on the cases and recoveries. Went to read it in a hot bath with Enya. Finally, I went to bed and broke down, I was howling. And then, I remembered to phone Spencer and Mario. How could I have forgotten ? I was shocked. We’ll meet tomorrow at 8:30 to go see Ari.

I find refuge in music – it bathes me and rocks me gently away from reality…

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