I imagine you’d be surprised by this – after all, one doesn’t usually write to imaginary friends…and then expect them to read such a letter. Imaginary friends, by definition, are supposed to be fictitious and only exist in the realm of the subconscious. You, however, aren’t anything like that. I think most people of the planet are aware of your existence by now. Be that as it may, I take the liberty of writing, expecting the letter to find you…even if the chances of your reading it are rather slim.
Why should you, even if you could? I caught myself thinking a few moments ago: most of your mail will be censored (if ever delivered) and the majority of those letters that make it to your cell, will (quite naturally) be hate mail. If I were in your shoes (please, no pun intended), I’d ignore any letter from anybody I didn’t know – so I’d understand if this letter gets chucked into the ‘I-simply-can’t-face-another-bit-of-scripted-abuse’ bin.
I wanted to tell you that you’ve been a wonderful imaginary friend for a long time. I followed your running career with some interest, often gaining strength from the way you refused to give up when the going got tough. Man, you were good! And then the olympics and the paralympics – you made me so proud.
So we never met – why should we? – but I thought of you as a role model and an icon and all those words one uses towards somebody you respect. My friend – imaginary, to be sure, virtual by the very nature of things – but indeed somebody I’d have liked to share a drink with.
And then Valentine’s Day happened and everybody screamed for revenge. Icarus had flown too near the sun, the wax had melted, the wings were destroyed. The world – so righteous and filled with sinless people who never did any wrong – bayed for blood. Driven by their lily-white personalities and oh-so-forgetful consciences, everybody watched in horrid fascination as you were paraded on television to millions across the globe. They saw your tears and remorse, and rejected it as playacting for the judge’s benefit. They heard your faltering voice stumbling down the straight of the advocate’s scathing questions while every tabloid dug and dug into the imperfections of your past.
My imaginary friend, it turned out, had feet of clay. Like me, he was riddled with fault lines that had eroded his dreams. Oh, he was still famous – but for all the wrong reasons.
And of course, there were the families. Your own stood by your side when the storm refused to abate. And Reeva’s kin followed you with sad eyes and thoughts of justice. Your world-wide family of supporters simply faded into the background. Like St Peter, they said they’ve never heard of you, ever before. No, they didn’t know you, never rejoiced in your successes.. Only this time, the cock’s crow was replaced by the judge’s hammer banging down after the sentence. Once was enough. Case closed.
But the case will never be closed, will it? Whether you spend ten months or a lifetime in custody, you can never undo the things you have done. Your prison has mental walls, the bars being the past and the bricks made during the sleepless nights when the 14th of February will screen inside your head, over and over again.
You’ve incarcerated a lot of people in their own prisons too, I’m afraid. The Steenkamps will never recover, neither will the Pistoriusses. Whenever they think about you – which will be all too often – they’ll retreat to their own cells of misery and regret. Sadly, too, so will so many other erstwhile fans.
I’m writing this for me, if you can understand that? My imaginary, virtual friend is in prison and I have to grow up. My idol has fallen. I must greet you, say goodbye, and try to forget how I cheered you on so many podiums. Still, I do so with a sense of profound regret, and I want you to know about that. Walking away from a prodigious superstar, who inspired a nation into believing that there is, indeed, something good in our country, isn’t easy. However, it must be done, even if it is only for my own sake.
Despite having said that, I do wish you well. The burden you will carry for the rest of your life, must be born with dignity – and that will be hard. People will remark, point fingers, write less-than-complimentary words. And every night, when the sounds of the prison reverberate around you and the keys in the locks make their crunching sounds, you will remember things you’d rather forget. What I’m trying to say is this: may you find peace. I don’t think it’ll be easy.
My dear imaginary friend – the one I’ve never met and hardly expect to, either – this letter serves to tell you that I’m not prepared to cast the first – or any subsequent – stones. Bear your burden, serve your time. Make peace with the past and try to find the strength to forgive – yourself and others. And believe that not everybody thinks that time in prison will heal the wounds. The scars, my friend, are permanent. Because I understand that, I’m writing to tell you that – as a previously faceless, anonymous fan – I hope you’ll find new friends in a new life. Try to find a way to climb the steep mountain of recovery, even when your legs refuse to move another inch.
As for me, I somehow accept that it’s normal for imaginary friends to have superpowers, even after I’ve said goodbye..
I think you’re going to need that.