I am beside myself, lost in an overwhelming sense of grief. Since I heard, I’ve had brief moments of sanity that last no longer than a few minutes then disintegrate back into loss and disbelief.
All it took were three messages, three messages that propelled me from a lazy Sunday morning (debating on whether to go to Church or do homework) to a state of numbness with intermittent clouds of sanity. I rushed to the UGBloggers group and there was nothing there about this news, so perhaps these people were wrong. Patricia wasn’t among the three, so surely there had been some form of miscommunication. We had our group, the three of us. A group that was initiated by the fact that some agency would not pay us for the work we had done and we needed coordinated strategies on how to communicate with them – You were the more diplomatic of the three of us. We called it TeamReview. A group that later turned into a place where we could quickly check-in with each other. TeamReview had nothing about this news – I rushed to ask Patricia but she was only finding out herself.
You were gone.
This wasn’t a crisis that you were going to recover from. There wasn’t a message looking for volunteers to help cover the event because you were not feeling well.
This time, you were gone.
Gone for good.
I am still having a hard time processing this (whatever processing is supposed to mean). I know that 60% of my tears are selfish, in the fact that I cannot believe I will not see you when I come home, I cannot believe we are not going to have a tea date. I cannot believe that you are not going to post anything on TeamReview.
On my birthday last year, you bought me a copy of Flame and Song! You knew I would love it… You got my weird taste in literature and always encouraged it. You told me to get Kintu, and I wasn’t having it – then Jackee gifted me a copy when I started my writing journey and I fell in absolute love with that book. Tail between my legs, I returned back to you with my verdict and had that I-told-you-so look all over your face.
I usually say we met back when blogging was the dope in-thing – complete with awesome pseudonyms. Yours was Nevender but for some reason, there were those (I may have been among the ‘those’) that added the ‘r’ and boy did it irk you royally! Almost like how Rogue King would sometimes be called Rouge King, and he never liked it either. I remembered your reaction and for the gentle soul in you, I couldn’t see you being annoyed over this, so the name stuck for me.
I later found out that we were both at Nakasero Primary School, class of ’97. The ones who prided themselves in the fact that we studied with the years – Lol! I realise that this is such a Ugandan thing to say. So the truth is, we were always meant to be in each other’s radar.
I fought with you constantly in those early blogger years – Looking back, I blame the momentary disease called ‘the-twenties‘. Even still, you were steadfast in our friendship – the solid one who held onto his beliefs no matter what was going on around you. I became your review board, you shared your graphics with me and I’d give you my rather novice-biased opinion at the time. I just scrolled back to our earliest emails, there are some horrendously atrocious designs in there – from banners I made about your thoughts, to BlogBpirit banners to UBHH banners. You won’t mind if I share some, would you?
When you were changing your website template, I was once again on the review board, and the first design would always be a “hmmm… this is not working” and we would work through why together. Basic Family, when it was just starting out and you told me about it, we looked over what the logo would look like, t-shirts.
Similarly, you encouraged me on my writing journey. I remember confiding in you about taking Jackee’s class and you telling me to go for it. The book reviews I got, I was trying so hard to write like you and I was failing miserably. At one point, I sent you an IM in distress… this review thing is terrible, I lamented. You said to use my own style, not to try and mimic you. You told me to be authentic and find my own voice. And I did, and you said that you like my review-style, which for me was the highest form of praise.
This year did not start out great for me, and I remember posting in TeamReview and you reaching out after the fact – kindda like a followup conversation, but I wasn’t ready to talk so I actively avoided you. You wouldn’t have it, because I opened my eMail and there was a message from you. So I deflected to how you are and how you are holding up. You told us you were losing strength, and we would not have it. Not our Joel, so I got even more serious about praying harder for you – because for me that is my default. Let’s pray for a miracle, let’s pray for these crisises to stop, strength – anything rather than the thought of losing you.
There was a different plan already in motion…
We’ve talked about a lot of things over the years, from faith to music to literature to relationships to the trending twitter wars. We have spurred on some of them and shared frustrations about some of them. There is so much I want to write, but I’m 1 word shy of the 1500 mark and I remember having a ‘serious’ discussion with you about the length of your posts. I know that you always read my blogs, some days you were the only comment I got (You knew about my obsession with analytics).
This is going to be the first one you will not read.
We were supposed to write my memoir together. Now who is going to help me? You were always one step ahead of me, though. I did not know about Pumpkin Soup, I am not sure why – or maybe you told me and in the story that is my life I did not hear you say it.
I have already done what you have asked us not to do, I can already see the snide smile on you face pointing out this fact..
You wrote that. Why would you write that? If I’d read that, I’d have berated you for writing that! I’m going to miss you so much, Joel! I should be saying RIP, I cannot believe I’m writing that, but I can’t. I cannot physically bring myself to say those words out loud.
I had a dream about you, Joel. You were so happy in this dream. So happy I could feel it, you were working with someone famous – I knew who it was in the dream, but wouldn’t figure it out when I woke up. We had each been having a crappy month, so finally something good, even if it was just a dream. I rushed to tell you guys and you both told me to remember who the person was, but I just laughed it off.
I sat at the front of Church today, I wanted to stare God in the face and ask why? Every single song sounded like you saying bye to me, Joel. So of course I cried my-way through the first half hour. After Church, I half walked half cried my way around Oakland, and walked straight into another Church. A catholic one, this time, I just sat at the back and just sat there – lost. I just needed time. Time process – there is that word again… I knew if I went home, it would be real (indeed I got home and couldn’t speak, just cried even more in Judith’s arms). After the service, I lit a candle for you. I looked for the tallest one, it looked new, I hope the flame won’t get blown out. Just like your flame will not burn out in my heart.
They say that time heals all wounds, but what they really mean is that soon, you will forget and forgetting is the band-aide to heartache. I cry because while this a reality of life, I do not want to forget you. I do not want to forget your laugh. I do not want to forget your voice.
In many ways, you were my counsel and support. Your ear was never far and your heart always attentive to what I was saying or trying not to say. You were both sensitive and attentive to those that were around you. Your wisdom and conversation always widened my perspective. Your essence always a calm wind to the turmoil that I would bring to the table.
Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa, my Neve’r’nder.
You are gone.
Photo Credits: Mostly Facebook/Twitter.
Funeral Arrangements are in the graphic below and details on where/how to send mabugo.