Exactly five years ago, on August 6, 2010, I landed in Joburg and moved into a house in Melville.
Several weeks before that, when I was still living in Washington, Jon had emailed me some photos of a house for rent in Melville. From the few things I’d seen and read, I already knew that Melville was the Jozi suburb where I wanted to live. And the moment I saw these photos, I knew that this Melville house was the house I would move into.
The deck of the house in Melville, on a winter day in June 2010.
The garden, featuring what would later become my favorite aloe tree.
Jon sent photos of every room in the house, as well as the garden and the house’s exterior. I loved them all. But the photo that really captured me, the one that made me feel certain I would live in that house, was the shot of the lounge (the Americans among you would call it the living room).
The room was huge, with parquet floors, large windows, and heart-shaped burglar bars. A man stood in the middle of the floor. That man’s name was Lucky.
Lucky in the lounge of the Melville house.
Lucky was silhouetted and I couldn’t see his face. I knew nothing about Lucky. But there was something about the picture of that room, with Lucky standing in it, that made me know this would be my house.
And it did become my house, exactly five years ago tomorrow. When I finally walked through that kitchen door, at 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday evening after an 18-hour flight, I knew right away that I was home.
A few days after I moved in, I named our Melville house the Lucky 5 Star.
It’s difficult to express what this house has meant to me over the past five years. The Lucky 5 Star is where I fell in love with South Africa, with Joburg, with Melville. The Lucky 5 Star is where I truly fell in love with Jon, who I didn’t actually know until I moved here.
The Lucky 5 Star is where I discovered the horror of Jon’s addiction and devoted my entire being to the hopeless cause of eradicating it.
The Lucky 5 Star is where Jon taught me to take photos and to identify the trees and birds in the garden. It’s where I watched Jon get sick, and get better, and get sick again. It’s where I begged and pleaded and bargained with Jon to stop drinking. It’s where I threw a telephone book across that lounge, as hard as I could, and screamed at the top of my lungs when it hit the wall on the other side, hoping someone would hear me but knowing deep down that no one would.
The Lucky 5 Star is where I lost myself, where I forgot who I was. The Lucky 5 Star is where I lost Jon, and where I mourned him.
The Lucky 5 Star is where I took myself apart — piece by tiny, fractured piece — and put myself back together again. I worked to remember everything that ever hurt me and everyone I ever hurt, then I tried to let it all go. I’m still trying. I’m better and stronger than I was before.
The Lucky 5 Star is where I wrote 90% of the posts on this blog. It’s where I sat on the deck with my laptop and prowled around the garden with my camera. It’s where I cried while I typed. It’s where I discovered that I’m a photographer, a creative writer, an artist.
The Lucky 5 Star is where I met Lucky and Horst, my landlord. Lucky is almost like a brother to me, and Horst is a very good friend. If not for the two of them, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have survived in Joburg. I most certainly wouldn’t have laughed as much.
The Lucky 5 Star is where I met Smokey, the Melville Cat. As with Lucky and Horst, I’m not sure I would still be in Joburg if not for Smokey.
The Lucky 5 Star is where I learned to be alone. The Lucky 5 Star is where I learned who I am.
The Lucky 5 Star is where I first kissed Ray.
Five days ago, I moved out of the Lucky 5 Star. I know it was the right thing to do at the right time. I felt ready to leave and I think Horst and Lucky were ready for me to leave, too. But it wasn’t easy. It’s still not easy.
Ray and I have moved into another house in Melville, just up the street from the old one.
Our new home in Melville.
Jon led me here, in a very interesting way. It’s too complicated to explain in this post. Maybe I’ll tell the story someday. But let me just say that Ray and I were lucky to find our way to this new house, which we haven’t named yet, and to a fantastic new landlord.
The new house is nothing like the old one. There are new things that I’m glad we have and old things that I miss. But I know we’ll be happy here.
Ray in the lounge of the new house.
Another view of the outside. There are so many awesome things in our new garden; I haven’t been able to capture them all in pictures yet. Expect further garden updates from the Melville Cat. (Yes, he did move with us although he hasn’t been introduced to the garden yet. I’m sure he’ll keep you posted.)
On my last day at the Lucky 5 Star, I was packing and trying to figure out what to do with some of Jon’s stuff. For more than three years I’ve been gradually shedding Jon’s things: clothes, appliances, books, magazines and newspapers, camera equipment. I gave most of the clothes to Lucky, who is the same size as Jon, and most of the rest to Junkie Charity Store. I kept some stuff for myself.
But there were a few things left that I just couldn’t figure out what to do with. Those things stared me in the face on the very last day.
I uncovered a delicately woven African basket, which had been buried under a pile of extension cords. At the bottom of the basket was a motley collection of objects: stones, seeds, feathers, shells, pods, and a tiny vial of red sand with a dead beetle floating inside. Jon’s stuff. I don’t know where it all came from and I’m sorry I never asked him.
I put the beetle vial aside — that’s a keeper. Without thinking, I walked the basket and the rest of its contents out into the garden. I scattered the stones and seeds and feathers into the dirt, in the flower bed up against the house. They looked like they belonged there. I took the basket back inside.
Perfect. Goodbye, Lucky 5 Star. Goodbye, Jon. And thanks.
Iris-like flowers in the new garden.
PS: Today is Lucky’s birthday. Happy birthday, Lucky! Thank you for helping me move and for being such an amazing friend over all these years. I’ll miss you, even though I’ll still see you all the time.