In retrospect, I suppose I always knew that you were not meant for this world. Even your features — the perfect locks, the imperial, aquiline nose, those haunted green eyes — were almost angelic.
You were always so refined. You read Hemingway at French cafes (I still have the book you lent me, The Complete Hemingway, although I could never get into the man’s style) while smoking those horrible foreign cigarettes and drinking coffee from tiny cups. You preferred fine sushi over cheeseburgers and had a particular weakness for a fine bottle of red wine. The stuff always tasted like vinegar to me, but then I never shared your sophisticated palate, did I?
And that mind of yours, that brilliant, haunted mind with all its demons and questions.
Your relationship with religion was always complex. You could never bring yourself to believe in a higher power, and yet knowing that you’re essentially alone and without divine purpose drove you to despair. Earthly things held no value for you, because you felt that, ultimately, nothing really mattered. Not even life.
I still remember the last time that I saw you, on a visit from Germany. You spent wildly — though never on yourself — and when I became concerned, you said: “It’s only money, Charl. Why should I hold onto it?”
When I read about your death on Facebook, no details were given as to the cause. But I knew that it was suicide. It was always going to be suicide
One time, when we were in elementary school together, you became violently ill after consuming some copper sulfate crystals. Asked why you would do such a foolish and dangerous thing, you simply shrugged and said: “I wanted to die”, like it was the most normal thing in the world. And to you, perhaps it was. It was always as though you rejected the very notion of life, like it felt aborrent and unnatural to you. Oblivion was what made sense in your mind.
The last time we spoke was when you called me from your home in Germany, and tried to convince me for the duration of the 45 minute long distance to kill myself. There was no malice in your request, you sincerely believed that the “world was out of balance as long as [I was] alive”.
At some point, you were almost pleading. You went as far as to say that I would still be able to find a drug store open in order to acquire the substances necessary for my self-termination.
You never got the help you so desperately needed and then, on the 7th of September 2009, a few days after your 25th birthday, the demons that had been haunting you your entire life finally came for you.
You died there, in the country of your ancestors, thousands of miles away from your birthplace of South Africa, and thousands of miles away from the only person you claimed was a kindred spirit.
We were friends our entire lives, and I still often dream of you. When I awaken from those dreams, I have to adjust to the fact that you are gone all over again. What are you trying to tell me? Are you trying to tell me that you were wrong all along and there is a life after this one after all?
I have not made contact with your family in the years since your passing, mainly because I don’t know how, but also because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I will just reawaken their grief, and intensify my own. I still don’t know the circumstances around your death — what method you used, who found you, whether there was a note. All I know is that I still miss you 8 years later, and that I have so many unanswered questions.
It’s fitting, I suppose, that you should die as you lived: shrouded in mystery. You would no doubt have scoffed at the futility and absurdity of our grief, and knowing that gives me some semblance of comfort.
I hope that you are at peace, old friend, for I cannot be.
Dedicated to the lasting memory of Christiaan E. Putter (1984–2009)