Midlife Crisis

This morning I woke up to find that I had been invaded. Violated. I turned on my tablet to be greeted by a cheerful message informing me that my blog was doing rather nicely. This seemed a little strange, since I haven’t been a particularly diligent blogger of late. I logged on to see what was up. This. This was up.

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I had apparently posted it yesterday. Twice. Which would have been a curious thing to do. If you had to ask someone who knows me to sum me up as quickly and efficiently as possible, they would show you that image and say “Do you see this? He is the exact opposite of every single thing you can see right here.”

So what was it doing there? Twice? Well, thereby hangs a tale. Let’s start with lions, shall we…

If you spend any time out in the African bush, or with bushy people, you will be confronted with an interesting little piece of advice. Don’t run. It’s pretty simple. If you find yourself out in the bush on foot, and something is running towards you, don’t run away. Whatever it is will be faster than you and stronger than you. Run, and you will die.

It is advice that holds true for most, but not all animals. But most of all, it is given about lions. They are cats. And if you run from them, you become a mouse. Cats chase mice even when they aren’t hungry.

It’s a pretty gnarly piece of advice, though. This is a lion walking past my sister and her family earlier this year. I posted it in a couple of weeks ago in a very different context. But it’s pretty big. Pushing 200 kg.

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And my sister and her family aren’t looking at it. They’re looking at its brother. This guy.

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He is not, you will note, the MGM lion. He is not pretty. His mane is not brushed. His face is battle-scarred and broken. He is a pride male, which means he has defeated, and quite possibly killed, the previous pride males in a hostile takeover. The night before, he and his brother had taken down a buffalo, 600 kg of battle hardened muscle with some sharp bits at the one end. And some friends. He is, in other words, brutal. He is power, and strength, and fearlessness. He is, in every sense, the bogey-man from our deep past. He is death incarnate.

So could you do it? Knowing that running would be the end of you, could you stand? If that lion launched himself at you at 80 odd km an hour, tail flicking and a choking growl in his throat, would your nerve hold? Could you stand, all thin-skinned and naked and defenceless, as he skidded to a halt just a few short feet away from you, and spat, and snarled, and batted up clouds of dust at you?

Me? I don’t know. Never done it before. But I think now, maybe, that I could. Though I’d be a little freaked out afterwards.

I have, you see, just had a mid-life crisis. You know the one. I’m 43. Halfway through. Have I done enough? Achieved enough? Do I need to buy a Harley and get a tattoo? Organise an attempt on the north face of K2? Am I happy with who I am, and what I’ve done, and whom I am with?

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Bob. Bob is a chartered accountant from New Jersey.

This is not an unusual thing. Everyone has one, to some degree or other. What is a little unusual is that mine took about an hour.

I work late on Thursday evenings. Not too late: I get home at about eight thirty. I have got into the habit of bringing home a bottle of wine and sharing a glass with Mrs. 23thorns out in the carport next to our kitchen. Which is a curious thing to do. We have a large, beautiful garden with comfortable furniture on the other side of the house. But on Thursdays, we sit on an old wooden stool and a broken wicker armchair in a dusty little carport next to the bonnet of Mrs. 23thorns’ car. It’s nice.

And so we sat and chatted. Until Mrs. 23thorns suddenly looked up at me with a strange look in her eye, and said “Oh Schwei” (for that is what she calls me).

Now Mrs. 23thorns looks at me strangely all the time. This is the natural result of her being a little strange. But this was different. I stood. And the world changed. Because I was not standing alone. There was a man standing with me, one hand gripped tightly to the back of my belt and another pressing the short, ugly barrel of a 9mm pistol to my temple while another man did the same to Mrs. 23thorns.

Gunpoint

Yup. One of those.

He pushed me down to my knees, leaned forward, and said, quietly, for the first time that night, but not the last, “Don’t look at me. I’ll fucken kill you.”

Well, that, as they say in the movies, escalated quickly! Sorry. This is not the sort of thing most people come here for. But it happened, and I’m going to write about it.

There’s something to get out of the way, first, though. This is all going to mean different things to different people. If you are from somewhere like New Zealand or the UK, your immediate response will likely be best summed up by the phrase “Holy shit!!!” If you’re from the USA, you might be thinking “Wow! 23thorns cracked the front page of the local news!”

And if, like half the people who read this blog, you’re from South Africa, you’re probably thinking “Oh, god, not this again”.

Yup. Sorry. This again.

If you’re from New Zealand, and you are wondering what the hell I’m on about, let me try to explain:

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New Zealanders have their own, unique problems to deal with.

While this was happening to us, it was happening to two eighteen year old girls one block away from us in our quiet little suburb. On Easter Sunday, we went for lunch at my sister’s house. There were two other families there. This had happened to one of them.

On Tuesday, I went back to work. I saw five people over the course of the week. This had happened to three of them. It happened to Mrs. 23thorns’ cousin. It killed her uncle, and a woman we knew from work, and a guy I saw every year on holidays down in the bush when we were kids. It happened to the family next door to us and to a colleague I spoke to on the phone and to the man who runs our local nursery and to the teacher who looks after our kids at aftercare.

It happens so often, in other words, that it doesn’t crack the front page of the local news. It has lost its “Wow”. Even when people die.

So what am I getting at? Just this. I’m not writing this down to shock anyone or to impress anyone or to try and steal any “Wows”. If you are reading this and feel impressed or shocked, bear in mind that where I come from it is neither impressive nor shocking, just ugly and sad, and that there will be a whole bunch of people reading it whose main response will not be “Wow”, but rather “Oh, god. I remember how that feels.” You’ll probably meet one or two of them in the comments section.

If you’re one of those people, I’m sorry if I awaken any beasts that you thought you’d put to bed.

So why am I writing it at all? Just for me this time. And for Mrs. 23thorns. I went for trauma counselling the other day and was rather profoundly underwhelmed. So I’m putting my own beasts to bed.

You’re welcome to come along for the ride, but I’m not sure if it will be worth your while. I don’t know how to frame all of this, so buckle up, it might get a bit messy. And long. So very, very long. And the story gets longer every day. Let’s get the details out the way first. Then we can move onto the stuff that frightens me more than guns, like feelings.

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Aaaaargh!

Right. So where were we? Oh, yes. “I’ll fucken kill you”. This should be a blast…

I was hauled up onto my feet and Mrs. 23thorns and I were driven inside like confused sheep, steered from side to side by a tug on the belt. The questions started. “Where is the gun?” “How many people in the house?” Each question was punctuated by a slight increase in pressure from the gun barrel at my temple. I tried my best to answer. “No gun. Just us and two children. Tell us what you want and, we will do everything we can to give it to you. Just stay calm. We aren’t going to fight.”

That was the moment that Mrs. 23thorns chose to remind me why I love her so desperately. “Do you guys”, she asked in a calm and measured voice, “have a bank account? If you give me the details, I can make a direct deposit.” The woman is a god-damned lunatic. I know no-one else whose opening gambit in a home invasion would be to try and get the invaders’ personal banking details. “Do you have a home address? Our camera is being repaired right now, but I’ll come ‘round and drop it off when they’re done…”

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Crimefighting, Mrs.23thorns style.

That was the first time I dared to believe we would make it through all this. People like that are an asset to the world and should not, on some cosmic level, be allowed to be harmed.

As charming as I found Mrs.23thorns attempt at identity theft, I did find her timing a little worrying. “Mrs. 23thorns,” I said, in a calm and measured voice of my own, “You need to stop talking now.” And she did, mostly.

And so we move on to the parts where my heart stopped beating.

They led us to the door of the room where the kids were sleeping. “What’s in here?” A sharp thrust from the gun barrel. “The children. Our children are in there. They’re small. They are sleeping. Please. Let them sleep.”

A hand reached out and opened the door. I stopped breathing. A face appeared at my shoulder and took a slow, careful look around. The door was pulled shut. And my heart started beating again.

Since I’m not looking for any “Wows” here, let’s cut out the drama as we find it. The opening and closing of the door didn’t wake the kids. But they lurked at the backs of our minds for the rest of the ordeal, springing to the front with every raised voice or bump of furniture. “Don’tWakeUp!Don’tWakeUp!Don’tWakeUp!” They didn’t. The door stayed closed throughout.

And then it was time for my heart to stop beating again. I was led through into the lounge. Mrs23thorns was led off into the bedroom. Yup. That thing. That fear. The one with bad men with guns and defenceless women and bedrooms and the need to exert power and to hurt and to damage and to take everything, everything, and me with my hands behind my back and a gun against my head and “I’ll fucken kill you” in my ear and a noiseless, godless prayer for Mrs 23thorns that just went “Don’t!Don’t!Don’t!Don’t!Don’t!Don’t!”

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Crimefighting, Mr 23thorns style.

And they didn’t. Not then or any time later. But the fear lay there for the rest of our ordeal, closed away but ready to burst open like the children’s door. “Don’t!” And they didn’t. All they did was pistol-whip her. And jump on her head. Ineptly. Small mercies, then.

Well this is fun. What next?

Shoelaces.

Mrs 23thorns and I were reunited in the foyer, forced down onto our stomachs on the hard wooden floor, and then lay there listening to a weird zipping noise behind us. Shoelaces. They were unthreading the shoelaces from my shoes, and used them to truss us up like turkeys, hands behind our backs and feet bound tightly together. And then they told us to sleep, which is shorthand for “Stop talking, stop moving, and stop looking at us.”

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This is now a deeply disturbing image to me.

Things should have quietened down a little, then. They didn’t. There was an awful lot of shouting and pushing of guns into heads. “WHERE’S THE SAFE? WHERE’S THE GUN? DON’T LOOK AT ME! WHERE’S THE JEWELLERY? I’LL FUCKEN KILL YOU! SLEEP”

What can you do in a situation like that? What can you say? “I don’t have a safe.” “I don’t have a gun.” “We’ll take you to the jewellery.” “Fucken kill me if you must, just stop acting so damn jumpy about it. You’re an armed robber! Pull yourself towards yourself and start acting like you’re in charge here!”

OK, so I didn’t say all of those things. Just some of them. But I meant them all. Because as time went by, we slowly became aware that our captors were neither as smart nor as in control as they thought they were. Which was not a good thing.

It started with my feet. I had tried my best to keep my hands and feet braced to give me a little wiggle room. Not to escape- there was no thought of that. But I did want to be able to free myself once it was all over without waking our kids and confronting them with the uglier side of the world. And to be honest, I’ve seen them try to untie their shoelaces, and didn’t think they’d be up to the tangles on our wrists. But it didn’t come to that.

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“Just start at one end and work your way through. We’re not busy with anything else…”

Pretty much as soon as they had tied up my feet, they demanded that I take them through and show them where we kept the jewellery.

We all have our own essential natures. Myself, I’ve always been a smug, sarcastic bastard. It’s kinda hard to turn that stuff off.

So when two armed men truss you up like a turkey and then demand that you take a little stroll with them, it’s not that easy to frame a response that doesn’t include an implicit “but you’ve just tied my feet together, you stupid tit!” Even when one of the men is trying to drag you up by the collar and the other one is trying to push you up with the barrel of a 9mm pistol.

Luckily, they worked it out for themselves before I got myself into any trouble, and cut my feet loose. And then the trouble with being 23thorns suddenly came to the fore. Nobody would describe me as well organised. I don’t even know where my car keys are kept. My day starts, every day, with a brief but frantic search for them. Followed by a similar search for my wallet. I don’t know anything about my immediate environment. It’s like being a high-functioning goldfish.

“Where,” demanded the barrel pusher behind me, “do you keep the jewellery?” Well. Goldfish. I had no freaking idea. I had no choice but to turn to Mrs. 23thorns. “Where,” I asked, as calmly and as quietly as I could, “do we keep the jewellery?”

I got a dodgy look or two from my 9mm wielding friend, but Mrs. 23thorns explained equally calmly and quietly that it was in the cupboard next to our bed.

Off we went. And straightaway got into trouble with the sarcasm thing again. Mr 9mm threw me down on the bed. “Sleep!”

He immediately set to work rifling through the drawer full of nail polish and dental floss and spent pens next to the bed. He swung on me and thrust the barrel of his gun into the back of my neck. “THE JEWELLERY!” He snarled. “WHERE IS THE JEWELLERY? I’LL FUCKEN KILL YOU!”

How do you say “That’s a drawer, not a cupboard” without an implicit “You stupid tit!” at the end?

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A stupid tit, just in case you thought I was being rude.

I pointed with my chin. As unsarcastically as I could. He found the jewellery. I was reunited with Mrs 23thorns on the foyer floor again. And then things got curiously dull.

Our heads were covered with a blanket, and our new friends set to work ransacking the house and disconnecting all our electronics. They were joined by two other men whom we never saw. The base of my nose started to itch. I have a pretty big nose, so there was no way to scratch it. I tried rubbing it on the floor, as slowly and carefully as possible, but I couldn’t reach the spot. The itch receded. I wondered if it would be rude to have a nap.

This might seem like a weird thing to want to do, but one of the first things Mrs 23thorns mentioned once it was all over was that she, too, had been tempted to catch up on a little sleep. Maybe it’s a response to stress. Maybe our captors were just dull. Who knows?

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Mr. and Mrs. 23thorns dealing with a crisis.

I thought, then, that we were in the clear. Not so much. Out of the blue, one of our new friends whipped the duvet off my head and thrust the barrel of the gun into my forehead. “I’m counting to five.” He announced. “Where is the gun? Where is the safe? If I get to five, I fucken shoot you!”

What do you say? “Look at the house. Look at our things. We aren’t rich enough for a safe. I don’t have a gun.” And then I just waited. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

He didn’t shoot me. He dropped his gun onto the floor instead. “Oh, shit!”, he said. Oh, shit indeed. We were being robbed by Inspector Clouseau.

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“Merde!”

He wasn’t done, though. He stepped over me. Straight onto Mrs. 23thorns’ face. He tried, not hugely effectively, to grind it down into the floor. Then he stepped off again, and went about his business. It was an odd, seemingly random thing to do; a last, mad desperate attempt to get us to reveal our well-disguised riches.

They went back to work again, rifling through cupboards and tipping out drawers.

Then things got dodgy again. The blanket was whipped off my head. “Where,” demanded the gun-waver, “are the car keys?” Goldfish. Oh shit…

Luckily, Mrs 23thorns knows me pretty well. Calm, quiet voice. “They’re on a hook next to the door.” Ah. Her car keys. That would have been a better idea.

But it wasn’t over yet. Mr. 9mm strolled over. He thrust the keys into my face. “Is this,” he asked, “the remote for the gate?” Oh shit. Again. I didn’t know. It’s a new car. I never drive it. “I don’t know.” I said quietly. The consequences for getting it wrong would have been too much. “I don’t know.”

It was time for my new friend to get his own back. “Do you,” he asked, in a voice dripping with some sarcasm of his own, “even live here?” Which was a little unkind.

“It’s the remote for the gate.” Piped up Mrs. 23thorns from under her blanket. And that was that.

They packed up all their stuff, paused quietly at the door for long enough to say, one final time, “I’m still here. Don’t move. I’ll fucken kill you.”

And then they were gone.

I sprang into action. I leapt to my feet (inasmuch as one can leap to one’s feet with one’s hands behind one’s back) and strode manfully into the kitchen, wrestled the knife drawer (not cupboard) open, and whipped out a knife. Unfortunately it was an ornamental cheese knife, which was slightly less manful.

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Maybe it would help if I called it a “Cheese scimitar”. Or maybe not…

I twisted it through what I thought were my bonds, and with a triumphant “HAH!” cut off one of my bracelets, scattering round wooden beads around the kitchen. With a slightly less triumphant “OK”, I freed myself. And Mrs. 23thorns. And it was over.

So how does it feel? What was it like, having those men in our house, having guns shoved in our faces, having our children threatened? Pretty complicated, actually. And what happens afterwards? Quite a lot.

But I’m done for now. I’ll tell you all that stuff tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year.

But for now, we are fine. We faced down our lion, and we stood. We stood, all thin-skinned and naked and defenceless, as the bad people skidded to a halt just a few short feet from us, and spat, and growled, and batted up clouds of dust at us. And we held. We are fine.

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Apart from the odd little flashback…

Or at least we will be. It might just take a little time…

See you tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Don’t worry. There won’t be any soft-focus purple motivational posters involved.

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85 thoughts on “Midlife Crisis

  1. Linne says:

    you r family sure had a rough year i hope you are doing better you are not forgotten i do hope you will both be back one day love and Blessings to all of you i hope your Christmas was good and I wish you a much, much better year in 2017.

  2. Marie Keates says:

    Bloody hell! Makes me glad to,live in England where the burglars mostly come in the night when you’re asleep or when you’re out and no one has guns (well, nearly no one).

  3. Grandpa says:

    Living where this kind of thing is only seen regularly on TV, it’s hard to visualise what it must be like to live through each day, wondering if you could be next. Thank you for being brave enough to share your experience. It will help other people to get through theirs, even if their experience is not as traumatic as yours.

  4. Spy Garden says:

    So grateful you all made it through; such a near-absolutely devastating experience. So many close calls; terrifying. And what a wonderful writer you are…high-functioning goldfish and “Do you even live here” you guys are the best lol. I am so grateful that you and your family are physically unharmed. Take lots of time to cry and nurture yourselves and read inspirational things and explore your meaning and purpose in this world together; you are a very special family. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

    • 23thorns says:

      Thank you. We’re kinda grateful too!
      We’ve decided to take a baby-steps, day by day approach to all of this. So far we are nurturing ourselves with carrots so we can see better in the dark, and the odd inspirational gin and tonic…

  5. herself says:

    Sounds absolutely terrifying. This coming from a New Zealander. Hope you are doing ok!

    On a completely different note (sorry, seems totally inappropriate to post this now, apologies if it is)…

    I’ve nominated you for a Liebster award (a bloggy “I like what you do” circle-thing). I just posted about it on my blog, and there’s some info there about how you can take part if you’re interested. If not, well, no worries – I still think your blog’s really cool 🙂

    https://discombobulated.co.nz/2016/04/10/liebster-award/

    • 23thorns says:

      No worries. I have always been hugely flattered to receive these award nominations, and this one looks kinda fun.
      I decided, though, quite a long time back not to take part in them.
      As I said, they are a fantastic form of affirmation, and doing the interview thing looks like fun, but I suffer from oddly specific forms of social anxiety. Nominating 11 other people is a terrifying prospect for me. I can’t really articulate why. It gives me the same feeling I get when I complain in a restaurant or raise my voice in a meeting. I tried it once, and it gave me hives…
      That does not mean I am not deeply flattered by this. And it feels good to get something positive when the world is looking a little dodgy.
      So thank you.

      • herself says:

        No problem at all! It came completely out of the blue, so I didn’t really know what to expect either. Thanks for everything you do share in your blog however! All the best 🙂

  6. beebeejaybee says:

    you have a special way with words mr 23thorns, this account has been a real heart stopping eye opener to the situation over there

    May the lovely mrs 23thorns and the little 23thornses recover well

    and thoughts to the residents of your region who should never have had to consider this a part of everyday life.

  7. Eileen says:

    Reblogged this on Laughter: Carbonated Grace and commented:
    This author is one of my favorites. Normally extremely funny and informative about the beauties of South Africa. This shocked me and prompted me to not only pray for this country and its poverty, but to help make others aware of this tragic state of affairs. Pass this on please.

  8. Sula says:

    You are a lion

  9. Lyle Krahn says:

    Like the others, I am happy to hear of the relatively good ending to the crime. Your retelling of a potentially horrible story still made me smile at the incompetence of the criminals. Life is full or ironies like that.

  10. Deep and real thank yous to all who have sent thoughts our way. I am going to preempt Mr 23’s second installment somewhat to say that even though this thing was far from a fun Thursday night in, our response, internally, to all of this violence and trauma was as unexpected as it was heartening. If you’ve read Helen and Sean’s comments, you’ll notice that their experiences were so similar. I’ll lay money on the fact that they were told to sleep (of course we don’t really have money because the baddies took it all but the sentiment is there). I’d lay my imaginary money on their having been asked for the same three things as we were: the money, the safe, the gun. When you’re in SA, you’ve heard this story before, more than once.

    Once we established that we could stand for our charging lion, we were instantly aware that the guys were running through their story, their script. Scripts are for plays. They were the baddies in this play of ours and we just had to deliver our lines to get through to the final act. I always hated being on stage, so this was not an un-daunting or un-terrifying prospect, but still, there was a script. We just hadn’t seen it in full. We were giving the performance of our lives and we didn’t know the words.

    Now this might have been a clever little psychological trick to separate ourselves from the terror but it worked because our house was just the stage and is not a scary place to be tonight. The guys were just reciting their lines and I feel no anger, mostly compassion. South Africa is not a dastardly place (all the time).

    So, hang about for part two. There’s a happier ending than the one in which we simply made it out alive.

  11. Helen says:

    Hi Justin When it was my turn my Mr wasn’t there . I read him your post tonight because it so accurately said all the things I’ve tried to tell him over the last 18 months since it happened I was accompanied by my faithful housekeeper who remained calm throughout My children weren’t home thank God Lots I could tell you about my experience but I’ll save that for another day Awaken sleeping ghosts? Yes maybe , but I needed to read your post to Ivan

    • 23thorns says:

      Oops. My ghosts are still wide awake. When i wrote this i didn’t think hard enough about all the ones that had been put to sleep, so i am sorry to you and those like you whose sleep i have troubled. I hope it helped ivan to understand, as small consolation.

  12. annette48 says:

    In your other posts, I’ve felt a degree of kinship, of living a similar lifestyle, raising children in a place of nature where very large predators exist. We, however, enjoy a high degree of security, living far at the end of the road where no one goes because it’s not on the way to anywhere. We only have bears and mountain lions and they largely follow the rules. I’m so very saddened to hear that this happened to you and that it is not an unusual occurrence in your world. As with everyone else commenting, I’m very grateful for the safety of your children and wish the two of you peace as you can find it.

  13. As a Brit, that gets an open-mouthed ‘fucking hell!’ from me. I’m very glad that you all survived (I won’t say glad you’re ok, because I’m sure you and Mrs 23Thorns are not ok at all, and that’s to be expected for a while) and that the children didn’t wake up to that. I hope that you and your wife are recovering from the physical and mental trauma of it.

    Despite the horror of what you were writing about, your post still made me laugh at times. That (to effortlessly weave humour into such darkness) is the mark of a very talented writer, and I hope you can use your writing to help you process all this.

    I’m guessing that the hacked posts may be something to do with your laptop being stolen in the robbery?

  14. I am so, so sorry. My heart goes out to you and your family.

    From the African bush to the U.S. burbs, the wild and terrifying darkness of the predator’s heart is dangerously close. We have family members on both sides who have been robbed at gunpoint. Sadly, it is common enough here in the nation’s “murder captial” to make the “oh god, not this again” category rather than the local news.

    I am glad you are all whole.

  15. Sean Fraser says:

    I could have written this. Almost word for word. Ours was 5 April 2009, and our 3-year-old wasn’t sleeping. He was very much awake. I wish he hadn’t been. The 45 minutes those men brandishing firearms in our home changed our lives forever. I’m a writer and editor, and I have often thought about writing about what happened to us. Sometimes I’m glad I haven’t. And then I read this.

    • 23thorns says:

      I hope i didn’t stir up anything you had tucked away.
      We know you, by the way. I sell your books, and Mrs 23thorns works for Jonathan Ball, and chatted to you last week.
      Again, sorry if i stirred up any beasts, and I hope you and yours are doing ok.

      • Sean Fraser says:

        Okay, that’s flippin’ scary … *scurries off to Google Mr and Mrs 23thorns*

      • 23thorns says:

        Yup. We’ve been stalking you for years. We have set up a shrine to you in our basement. And you know how dodgy south Africans with basements are… 🙂 you won’t find much on google- i’m a bookseller and occasional blogger, mrs 23thorns reps for JBHC’s local list.

      • Sean Fraser says:

        Too late. Google is my friend. Plus, I know People Who Know People. So there’s that. (And, no, you didn’t resurrect anything that hasn’t been lingering in the recesses of the subconscious ever since April 2009. Strength to you, and Mrs 23thorns. If it’s any consolation, it does get better. And better.)

  16. judy says:

    Thank you for your blog which was sent to me by my friend Elaine.. what a terrifying experience for you and how eloquently you recounted it for us. Restoring a fragmented and fractured sense of security in ones life is a very difficult thing to do. I wish you every success in your journey and fervently hope that you can hold on to a sense of Hope and joy in life in general and continue staring down terrifying lions ! JUDY

    • 23thorns says:

      We’re from South Africa, so our sense of security wasn’t that high to start with, so it’s less of a mountain to climb…
      Hope we have, but i’m going to avoid walking with lions for a little while.

  17. Like you, all I could think of was that at least the children slept through it. It doesn’t mitigate your ordeal, but it is a blessing in a world where they are becoming more scarcer!

    I’m so glad that your wonderful family survived this – and that you could even do so with some humour, too.

    We really don’t know we’ve been born, here in the UK, do we?

    Thinking of you all 🙂

  18. Debbie Markesino says:

    Amazing story, and wonderfully written! So sorey thus happened to you, but so happy you came out physically intact! You lost things, but your most prwcious assets, your family, are still here. Thank God!

  19. sedge808 says:

    excellent post.
    can relate so much.
    I love the tattoo of the Harley.

  20. grannyK says:

    I am so truly sorry this happened to your family. Sending positive thoughts your way.

  21. Talaria says:

    Just reading this, my response (whilst reading) was, “oh Lord…(…)…! (secular Catholic from west Los Angeles). I’m so sorry you went through this! No doubt you’re reading this sentiment repeatedly, but I have to express it myself too. I’m wishing you and Mrs. 23 Thorns much stamina to process and get past this trauma – even further though, to gain any insight into the ‘gist’ of what’s going on there in SA where home invasions, as you describe, are relatively common. Please give one-another a hug tonight especially from me. I’m so glad you’re okay.

  22. ksbeth says:

    i’m so glad that you all are okay, how scary.

  23. cracTpot says:

    Between soft focus flowers and purple prose and pistols, this entire post is such a combination of casualness and horror that I find my thoughts continually returning to it; to poke at it, and examine it, until I can make it make sense. I can’t even imagine what you and your family must be going through. I can remember when our family survived a potentially life threatening event, the relief that we felt was all twisted up with this general feeling of dread that was so confusing and exhausting that every time someone told us how lucky we were, it almost felt like salt in the wound. Thinking of you and your family during this difficult time and sending virtual hugs (which is hopefully less creepy than a stranger trying to hug you in real life)

  24. avwalters says:

    Horrifying. I have been the victim of a number of crimes, some of them violent, but never when the stakes were so high. One can never adjust to the idea, let alone a presented reality, that you cannot protect your children. I can only say that by the most important measure, you were lucky. Your family is okay. I applaud that fact–and the healing for you and the Mrs.

    I can also attest to the fact that writing may be the best therapy. You’ve already made great leaps (if great leaps can be determined by the return of wisps of humor.) Perhaps Mrs. 23 Thorns could also find a creative outlet to exorcise the demons.

    As a Canadian/American cross, my first reactions was “Holy Shit.” I only got to “Wow,” when you explained how unbearably common this has become where you live. Though I’m aware of the history and specifics of South Africa, I wonder whether we are all at risk–or will be–in a world where changing climates and diminishing opportunities pose so bleak a future that so many somebodies would consider the option taken by your assailants.

    And then, there’s the weird-ass greeting card post. I don’t know what to make of that.

    • 23thorns says:

      It’s not a climate change or diminishing opportunity thing. Most of the world is like that already, and has been for a very long time. We just live in a weird place where the poverty and the wealth live cheek by jowl.
      As for the weird-ass greeting card post, i really think it might have been them. Them them. They had my laptop. Weird-ass indeed…

      • avwalters says:

        For you, it’s been cheek to jowl for a while, for the rest of us, it’s on the horizon, or just arriving. Wealth is a relative concept. Strangely, in most cultures, criminals prey on those just above them, instead of against concentrated wealth, where the penalties are too high. Who decided it was okay to have price differentials on the quality of human life?

        Them them them. I do get it. Bad enough to have the event, but the reverberation through the posting hits from such an odd angle–and yet posing, in part, the same existential threat to the you of you–that it makes the return to the everydayness of it all surreal. Keep up the writing. It gives you a way to frame the experience and explore its echoes in your own way, on your terms, without rubbing your nose in it.

        Your story kept me up last night, in an empathetic way. If support from halfway around the planet helps, please know that you have it.

  25. Caroline says:

    It made me cry – for you, for the children, for all those I love, and for Africa! When it was our turn I was not there – I just came home and my husband was not there – and so much of him is still not there, and I am so very very glad you are all still all there. Hug each other and do something that makes you smile every single day – and have a glass of wine in your carport for me next week, and I will have one for you both under my oak tree … XXxx

    • 23thorns says:

      Oh, Caroline. I’m so sorry you saw this. I didn’t think of you when I posted it. Yes we are all still all here, and we’ve had our glass of wine out in the carport. We will find our OK again. And I hope with all my heart that you do, too. Much love.

  26. albertine says:

    Is there a reason why you don’t all just keep a box of cash and valuables handy – maybe by the car keys – for just this emergency? (Thinks) You could use it to get rid of unwanted gifts, the way we use charity shops here.

  27. albertine says:

    When this sort of thing happens in the UK (yes, the UK) we assume that they are off their heads on drugs. Why else would they be looking for money in THIS house?
    So glad you are OK. You say you are, but you also say that you’re not. I believe the second part of that, but living with not-OKness is normal in the second part of life.
    All good wishes from the kindly granny – I’m back. You can’t keep a good granny down.

  28. Eileen says:

    You took us there with you. How horrifying! So sorry you had to experience that, but so grateful your children slept through it and you survived. Is there anyway to make things safer? Did someone post the flowery sentiment in response to this? The timing is curious.

    • 23thorns says:

      We’ve made it feel safer, with spikes on the wall, and cameras, and lights, but mostly for the kids’ peace of mind. What happened would have happened anyway. It was just one of those things.
      As for the flowery sentiment, i really think it might have been them. They have my laptop, and it was permanently logged on. Go figure!

  29. I’m glad you made it out of that. Here in the UK (yes, the UK) when that sort of thing happens we assume they are off their heads on drugs. Why else would they fantasise that robbing a not-rich person’s house would be risk effective?
    (Hmmm – quite like that coinage.) Lotsa love from the kindly granny.

    • 23thorns says:

      Sadly it’s not a drug thing here. It’s a poverty thing. If you Google “Diepsloot”, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on here. If you see how some of our people live, a not-rich person’s house might as well be a millionaire’s mansion.

  30. joanfrankham says:

    So glad you are all ok, it must have been very scary.

  31. So powerful – my stomach was churning. I’m so sorry and saddened to hear that this kind of violence is becoming so common in South Africa that, as you say, it is no longer news. Well done for staying calm in the circumstances. I hope you all recover from the trauma you have experienced.

    • 23thorns says:

      The sad thing is that it is not becoming common- it’s been common for a very long time. Long enough to become a part of the fabric of our lives. But we have the lions, too. And the sun, and the beach, and thunderstorms over the Karoo. So maybe it’s all something worth recovering for.

  32. I live in New Zealand. That sheep is dead now – but was briefly famous. Lots of South Africans live here now as well. All the ones I know or have met have said when asked why, ‘Because of the danger and violence. You’re not safe in your own home’. I never really understood. In NZ we drop the ‘Holy’ and just say ‘Shit!’ when we hear something so completely incomprehensible. It wasn’t just your experience, the bit that really gets me is the paragraph that follows the picture of ‘Shrek’ the unshorn sheep – that is where I say ‘Shit!’ I’m glad you are alive to write this and that Mrs 23 is alive to comment. You both faced down the lion. I hope it’s the only one you ever have to deal with.

    • 23thorns says:

      Yup. It’s not the sort of thing you want to practice enough to get really good at.
      The weird thing is that a lot of those South Africans who leave end up coming back home in end. Life is genuinely good here. This is just a thing here, like earthquakes in New Zealand or tornados in Kansas.

  33. sophiezest says:

    23thorns, very occasionally one of your posts lands randomly in my inbox and makes me laugh. This did not make me laugh. I am so glad you are all alive and OK. As a Brit, I’m unlikely to say ‘Holy shit!!’ but ‘Bloody hell!!!’ is a pretty good summary. Hold your children and each other close, and embrace every day.

  34. ruthewalker says:

    Remarkable. Chilling. And extraordinarily compelling. From here in central Canada, it would be a wow. I’m so very sad that it is a far too common occurrence for your family, friends and acquaintances. Thanks for sharing this. Hope it does help you move forward.

  35. ruthewalker says:

    Reblogged this on Ruth E. Walker and commented:
    A remarkable, bold, unnerving, sad and, ultimately triumphant story of survival in the one place we should feel safest: our home; children tucked into bed; a shared glass of wine after an ordinary day. Extraordinary post. Difficult to read and impossible not to finish.

  36. Pam Goldfarb says:

    I am so sorry you had to go through this, I cannot even imagine the fear. Oddly, it has been many years since I have been in SA, though a friend was recently there. Only yesterday I asked her if things had gotten better, or were there still the ungodly amount of robberies and murders. She suggested that they were so commonplace that they didn’t even make the news, and that nothing had changed. Thanks for the confirmation. I hope you can find your way back again.

  37. We rock an armed robbery! To be fair though it was a rocking that would’ve been entirely unnecessary if you’d just let me negotiate a price on that bank transfer. Just saying.

  38. A.J. Goode says:

    It must have been so difficult for you to share this with us. I’m glad you and yours are all safe after your ordeal.

  39. Well, let me say, in my best American voice: Holy shit!!! Seriously though, I hope you are all okay. No one should have to go through that.

  40. Mary S says:

    Oh my god. My hands are sweating and my stomach is churning for you and Mrs. 23thorns. Thank god you and she and the children are all right.

    • 23thorns says:

      Ours are too, some of the time. But we’re all still here, and that’s all that counts in the end. And we’re sitting out in the carport, chatting over a glass of wine in the dark…

  41. I am really sorry you have been through this ordeal. Really glad you are all okay. Such a horrible thing to go through.

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