My family moved around a lot and I never had a chance to become really good friends with anyone before I would have to start at the next school. Around grade 6 I had superficial friendships with some popular girls for a while – they mostly got me into trouble and I didn’t miss them once we moved. In high school I had many boyfriends in the sense of fooling around with, but until the age of about sixteen I never had a true friend who was a boy. Or a girl, actually. To me Dawie was both.
We met when I was a first-time Christian youth leader introducing myself to a group of about fifty teens sitting in front of me, all more or less interested in attending youth meetings. It was the beginning of the year and I probably felt less awkward and more of a leader after the long December break, away from all other schoolkids, than I would feel a week into term. (The fact that I had been chosen for the role was a clear indication of how little teachers knew about what I was getting up to in my spare time.)
Dawie was sitting cross-legged on the floor and I don’t think I made eye contact with him specifically until his extrovert friend came up to me after all the leaders had introduced themselves, asking if they could be in my group. I was very happy that someone had actually chosen me and with these two boys came another three girls. It was obvious that the five who would be under my (hopefully positive) influence were the outcast five. They were different, like I was. They were all eccentric to some degree; it showed even back then.
The content or progression of our Bible studies didn’t make a large enough impression on me to be remembered any more. Unfortunately the same probably applied to the people the studies were meant to be meaningful for. But the one thing I’ll never forget is what a very special soul Dawie had and still has.
He was physically two years younger than me, but had an old soul. He wasn’t a kid. I don’t think he ever was one. While I experienced the dualism of being both an adult-child and a child-adult all my life, he just seemed so… collected. He had knowledge of the most interesting things and was fascinated with many more things he still planned to research fully. He was quiet and calm and always deep in thought. His eyes looked right through me, and everybody, but once I got to trust him I found his gaze to be comforting rather than disconcerting. He showed me the safe haven where he spent most breaks while the others were playing touch-rugby or doing what I used to think was the only alternative – counselors called it heavy petting – and most afternoons while the others were doing sport or singing in the choir. You see, being the nerdiest computer-geek in school he was the Keeper of Keys to the Computer Room and very few people knew it. He let me in on his secret and into his secret space. There I found room to be myself, to be quiet, to be eccentric, to be all in my own head, to be open minded and free and weird.
In him I found Her, the best friend I had been aching for all my life. There was nothing chauvinistic or patronizing or sexual about Dawie. He never looked at me with lust and he never made me feel like I owed him anything. He was kind, gentle, soft-spoken, caring, beautiful and my friend. Together we looked at poetry, lyrics and photographs, listened to so much music and read aloud volumes of our own thoughts but also those of others much more famous. We helped one another believe that what we were both spending so much time writing would be worth it in the end, would train us in one day writing professionally. We had similar dreams and we believed in one another’s dreams more than our own. Our friendship carried us both through some very tough times in high school and we shared countless words, immeasurable amounts of information with each other, from our own minds and souls. We were truly soul mates.
Once I left school to do my matric through correspondence, we made sure to keep in contact with exam pads full of letters posted to each other. We were each so lonely without the company of the other and the space we each lived in felt so empty and lifeless without the presence of the other in it. But then I fell in love with the person I’m still with today and Dawie went overseas (two unrelated events) and we lost touch almost completely. Only years later, through Facebook, we started reconnecting, although the bond will never be able to have the same intensity again. Our lives are so different now.
Dawie is, to me, a genderless person, holding no threat or demanding nothing whatsoever. I know for sure I’ll never have a friendship like that ever again, be it with a man or a woman. He is both, not physically, but spiritually. And that has made all the difference.