~ a brief tribute to Tat Dawg ~

Yesterday I heard the news of the passing of another friend and I guess, as time goes by, news of this nature will become more commonplace. But in the day-to-day of life, I always seem to forget how quickly a life can be cut short, until it is cut short. Mortality and the fragility of existence comes crashing to the forefront of being and all the existential questions of life that I ignore suddenly gain immeasurable weight once again. Sometimes life reveals itself through death. Sometimes we see beauty amidst the cruelty of finality. And I have to remind myself, now in this moment of shock, of this very thought. It is here in this time of grieving, after all, that we were given the tool of hope, to lean on for support. Happiness. Opportunity. Peace. Eternal. But what does ‘hope’ even mean in the context of the mourning of a life lost? We no longer live in the age where honour and death are so closely intertwined, that it can be glorified and celebrated. Whether right or wrong, lives lost in history were lost for causes. And this life lost yesterday, when I search for a just cause to pin it on, seems completely pointless. 

I don’t like to attach names to my writing. I try to keep the message open so that it remains relatable, despite the topic. But this death feels so very personal that I must. Tat Dawg – where can I start? What can I say? On Saturday you put up a whatsapp story of brothers together, as you gave your support to another friend in his time of need at a funeral, where that friend was grieving the death of his father. That’s the kind of man you were. I watched that story yesterday morning and thought I needed to reach out to you – it had been a while. But, as the busyness of modernity tends to do, I moved past reaching out and carried on with my day. Only a few hours later, that same friend you had driven to support at a funeral, was messaging me to tell me you had passed away. It didn’t and doesn’t seem real. More so because I never got to ask you how you were, and now I type knowing I never will!

But, that doesn’t stop me hoping that I still can have one last chat. In the short time since your passing, my family has rallied together to share stories with me, of our adolescence. It’s strange how easy it is to forget how important some people were to you, in your youth. As a friend, you were the seminal part of that stage in my life. I remember meeting and befriending you in grade eight. Twenty years ago. As a child of the late eighties, I caught the backend of our country’s racially segregated past. I didn’t really grow up knowing much about what had happened prior to 1994 and in 2001 when we first met, I didn’t really think much of our differences or different backgrounds. You were always just Tats to me (or Tat Dawg for short). This larger than life human, whose smile and relatability was completely infectious. No one came across you and didn’t remember you. As I said to your mom and sister earlier today, your loyalty, spirit and love for your fellow man was unreal. And, as my parents pointed out to me yesterday, you were my first friend who helped me learn to live a life that shattered any barriers the divisiveness of the past may have put up against friendships like ours. Even as I sit here, moving between reflecting, crying and writing, I’m reminded how your warmth gave issues like race no room to breath.

Despite the difficulties we may have faced as juniors at school, I always felt protected and safe having you as a friend. You were that main oke, with that Tat Dawg two step that was equally as dangerous on the Stott Field as it was on the Callies dancefloor. You even taught me how to use it, and it’s a bit of a travesty that I forgot so quickly how to do it! Gosh, thinking about the two step makes me smile & laugh! And I know that’s what you would want me to dwell on if ever I were to write a tribute to you – the laughter. You knew how to have fun my friend. And all the mischief we caused and shared as youths, only you and I will ever truly know and comprehend. Even recently, you would jokingly tell me on texts that some secrets only you knew, you would take to the grave. And now you will, I guess. Just in saying that, I’m reminded of your fierce loyalty as a brother and as a friend. I already miss all the mischief of our youth – that reliance I had on you in social spheres and on the rugby field, was immense. How many times didn’t you have my back? I’m thinking of Haley, C Dorm, E Dorm and C Dorm again in matric with Pi. You taught me there was house music and there was Afro House music. At this point I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to listen to Fresh House Flava again without shedding a tear. You knew all the words to every song that was worth grooving to. Even now, I have Hardsoul – Back Together playing in the background and I’m picturing you singing to this with a whisky in hand. I remember you arranging the police escort for us for our matric dance – oh to be in that seven series again, with you driving our dates, rocking Alan Braxe – Intro at full volume! I’ve never felt so important in my life having the police close down roads for us as we drove through red robots and past the other cars to be dropped off at the dance. Apparently the school wasn’t happy with us arriving flanked by a dozen policemen carrying semi-automatic rifles on school grounds. But you didn’t mind, you were Tat Dawg and you wanted to make sure we arrived in style. Legendary! 

Time, my old friend, is a cruel beast. As I reflect, I don’t have bad memories of our friendship. Only laughs and experiences we could bank for a later date, to have even more laughs at each other’s expense. I still can’t believe that fourteen years on from school you were one of the few people who still had the ammo to silence me if I ever got too loud or too confident when bringing up things we got up to when we thought no one was watching! But, as I said, I knew you never would. And I so badly want to share with you, one more time, all those stories you will take with you to your resting place. I know we didn’t keep in touch as often as we’d have wanted to, in adulthood. But this year, in sharing with me the news of the birth of your daughter, and your last few messages to ask how I was and to tell me how happy you were, I know that you were moving towards a place of peace. And you’ve got that now my brother. You lived, you laughed, you loved and you carried that attitude with you no matter what hardship you went through in your life.

I wrote a while ago about taking on something larger than life to help one reveal the largeness of life. Thinking of words for you now, I cannot help but think of the largeness of your soul. Right or wrong, good or bad, innocent or mischievous, your incredible presence was felt, wherever you were. And now that you’re gone, your presence is felt even more. This flood of memories is really quite difficult to digest. But the joy I feel, amidst all this sadness, is that these memories are of a man who was not afraid. I draw immense strength from the way you faced life. I can’t think of a single unhappy time I spent with you my friend. All I can think of now are the stories we will laugh about in the next life.  You shared with me so many lessons – not the kind that textbooks share – the kind that brothers share, and, it was an honour to share a part of your life journey with you. Rest in power my friend. In your own Tat Dawg way, remembering you today, gives me a sense of the importance of life once again. And my family thanks you for this too. Ghoks, Dicky Boy, Garth, June, Lara & I, all hold a special place in our hearts for you and your family, simply because you cared enough to care. We’ll miss you.