And so begins Holding My Breath, a memoir fashioned in a way that invites the reader to eavesdrop on a broken young man’s heartfelt conversation with his dead mother. Ace’s mother died when he was 13, leaving behind an extremely broken boy in equally broken circumstances. In her death, he writes to her to celebrate and thank her for her strength and resilience, and that of black mothers in general. We live in a country where stories like Ace’s are not unique or unheard of. These are the stories of:
-Child-headed homes in South Africa. When Ace’s mother dies, he and his brother are left in the care of their father who soon abandons them and they are left alone to fend for themselves, often going to bed with empty stomachs. They are surrounded by relatives who cannot afford extra mouths to feed.
-The volatile issue of service delivery in most parts of South Africa. As a boy, Ace is troubled by asthma that is made worse by living in an unventilated shack, where the weather could go from extremely hot to icy cold in one season. His is a story of how his mother would carry him on his back and walk for hours to get to a hospital andsometimes clinic where they would still have to wait in long queues to get help.
-Why fees must fall. Miraculously, Ace manages to go through high school and matriculates with marks high enough to earn him a bursary. When he arrives at the University of the Free State, he discovers that his bursary in fact only goes so far. Once again he has to fight to earn his degree, a fight that leads him to have a nervous breakdown just before finishing his studies.
-The story of broken families. His mother had come from a broken family with an absent father. But Ace’s father also doesn’t stay. Ace goes through life angry and upset at his father for leaving but when he eventually finds him, all he wants to do is tell him, ‘you are broken and just like you I am broken but perhaps we could talk about it.’ Especially because he finds that the life he thought he might have had, had his father been around, was nothing but a dream. His father has another family, also broken, in Gauteng.
This is what makes Ace’s story so important, so necessary. It is a true reflection of the country we
live in 21 years into democracy. But it is also a heart-wrenching account of one boy’s journey
from having been loved to a life where love is but a distant memory. It is the story of constantly
holding your breath, hoping nothing else goes wrong.