In Vino Veritas: South Africa, Part II

Tiffany Patterson
4 min readMay 15, 2023

*Trigger warning: references to self-mutilation

A constellation of stars confined in two neighboring spheres resembling a map, and wine stained rings overlapping the constellation of which the type of wine/cultivar the bottled brand is named.
Photo by author: Stellekaya’s wine-tasting cultivar-constellation map

One summer, my father bought my siblings and me a white cockatoo with yellow feathers that sprouted from its head whenever excitement filled its fluffy body and two orange circles on its cheeks, making this pet irresistibly adorable. Because of the scent and sound of popcorn popping in our home in the evenings or on the weekends, it was only natural that our exuberant feathery relative became aware of and excited by festivities commencing and learned the word “popcorn.” Because it was the first word she learned to say, followed by a bouncy dance she’d do to excite us into feeding her the crunchy snack she resembled, naming her Popcorn was apropos.

One day, my youngest sibling pointed out that Popcorn had been “balding.” Bewildered by the discovery, my father took Popcorn to be examined, and it was explained to him that she was engaging in self-mutilating behavior common among neglected animals. I remember him explaining this to us while shaking his head in disbelief and throwing up his hands with resignation before declaring that some animals are “defective.”

This time, I was headed to shady Stellenbosch. Numerous churches lined the route along the way with draping trees that shrined rows of monuments and crooked tombstones. When I arrived at the off-site production and tasting facility, I was welcomed by the winemaker before the owner approached us to briefly interrupt with a poetic recital of the brand’s history. The story was undoubtedly sentimental, almost distracting.

I stood, listening intently and pausing for long inhalations of the cement and barrel-scented air while working hard to suppress painful memories. My orator continued explaining that her wine urges us all to “come home and rest among the stars.” For her, that was in South Africa, the country she profoundly loved.

“I was defective,” I often thought. I was lying beneath the colorful lights that spiraled the metal poles forming my canopy bed, entangled by the see-through fabric at the corners. I fixated on the deformed dancing spectrum on my ceiling while picking, picking, picking. At first, it was a superficial pick at the skin on my wrists. At its worse, my wrists would look as if they were terribly dry and didn’t cause any alarm besides elicit demands from my parents to mind my skin better. To dodge their scrutiny, I wore more and longer clothing until I disappeared.

But that night, the humiliation…the disgust replayed louder in my mind. I reached past the canopy drapes and fumbled with the cup holder on the computer desk crammed next to my bed in my small room. Grabbing the X-acto blade, I fell back onto my pillow, facing my imitation stars, and cut until I was so distracted by the pain that I somehow managed to quiet my mind. How was it a natural inclination for me to seek more pain as relief?

It was a perverse memory to associate with that tasting experience, and I panicked. I panicked so much that I became ferociously hungry. Given the change in my appetite since medical treatments and how little I ate, I was surprised by how hungry I was. I wasn’t sure whether it’d been the deliciously dark and aromatic Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, but I felt a warmth in my belly that charged upward to my chest and outward to my arms and legs. I felt the urge to feed my soul, awakening from ages-long fasting, but I didn’t know how. Usually, in these quandaries, my grandmother’s sayings I previously dismissed would bear some truth: “Foolish lust is in the heart, and wise love is in the belly.” I could use some love and figured I’d start with food.

Strangely, when you become aware of a small detail missed from what felt like years of inattentiveness, a sudden rouse catapults you to the present, where you spend an equally awful amount of time wondering how those events culminated. Popcorn wreaked havoc when school was back in session, screeching for hours. After my father placed a towel over her large cage to quiet her, Popcorn would let out a muffled cry before going silent and beginning to pluck. It’s hard to feel loved from inside a cage.

In the end, my dad got rid of Popcorn. Her ailment was too much to handle. He didn’t let her go free. Instead, she was moved from one owner’s beautiful cage to another. I pitied Popcorn, but recently, some empathy arose for my old pet as I realized that’s what my life felt like — moving from one cage to another. I was always seeking the subsequent best confinement rather than planning an escape. Though how do you know freedom exists if you’ve never experienced it? Perhaps we have, in some other lifetime and some other form, which is why our spirit drives us to obstreperous behavior.

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Tiffany Patterson

Caribbean-American sharing personal and professional experiences—unapologetically. I aim for reflection, not perfection.