All those T-shirts

J. Francois Barnard – 1 November 2019

Yes, it happens. Hopes and dreams get scattered. Try as you might, you could not prevent it. And there you are: devasted and degraded; broken and tearful.

But does it have to end there? How do you pick up the pieces and move on again?

Forget about the rebound relationships. They will probably leave you more scarred. You can ask me. Been there. Done that. Got the dresser full of T-shirts.

One of the T-shirts dated back to 1976. The year Mom and Dad got divorced. Theirs was a stormy marriage. Lots of stress, fights, shouting, and silence. Deadly silence.

It started in 1969. The break-up, not the marriage. Their wedding date was December 5, 1953. The break-up was long and slow and devastating. And you do not hide it from the kids. They know. They know all too well.

life05My brother and I shared a room. The telephone was across our room’s door in the passage. There Dad sat and talked to her on the phone. With a soft and tender voice. The way lovers do. Later that evening, Mom and Dad would shout at each other in their room adjacent to ours. They way haters do.

No need to spell it out to a five-year-old. I knew what he did was wrong. And I knew all too well who the culprits were. And no, I was not too small.

By 1976 it was over, and we were relieved. We could breathe again. But he would not call home to talk to his children. He would phone grandma and ask her to get us to call him back. He never set foot in my room again. For me, rejection never stopped.

Their marriage failed, and so did their divorce.


The next T-shirt had hardly been worn. My first marriage only lasted seven weeks. And then she died in an auto accident. It might have been short-lived, but it had a lasting impact on me. Even today. I was still a student, only 22-years old, and then a widower. I passed a few exams and failed a few.

I had to change direction and went out to work, dropping out of university. I was trying the next T-shirt on. On the rebound. As I said before, a very bad idea.


That T-shirt wasn’t that old, but so badly torn. After three years it was ripped apart and dirty. Messed up with blood and guts. So, we gave up on it and I said, “never again”.

I will never forget that day at Princess Park Lane. My ex and I were sitting in my Toyota pick-up truck outside my office at Mercedes-Benz South Africa. I told her that it was bad enough that our marriage failed. It would be a disaster if the divorced failed too. For the sake of our daughter, the divorce had to be a roaring success.

And a success it was.

Not always roaring, but nevertheless a success. I can say that because I can see it in my beautiful daughter’s life. I can say that because my ex and I can be civil and respectful towards each other.


The T-shirt I am wearing now still fits. It’s a bit tight around my midlife waist, but I love it. As I told my friends, I kept on getting married until I found the right mother-in-law! After almost 30 years now, I would not have it any different. I found someone who I can support and who support me. We can share dreams and we can share goals.

No, it was not moonlight and roses all the way. We had to settle in. We rubbed and bumped shoulders. We healed again. Together. We cling, we sing.

This is the T-shirt I absolutely love.