I think on disability and falling in love with the object of your affection. Most of all out of anything in this world I want to become a better poet, a better woman, kinder, a better mother-figure. Odd that I feel maternal. Every day I look at the people around me. Not the people closest to me but the ones I admire a great deal. The world needs people who are kind, women who fall in love, daughters who listen to their mothers, sons who don’t end up in rehab. Voices. I picture your voice and how it booms in the world’s corridors. All I have now after thirteen years are the spaces of forgetting, my father, and the pillar of our community. Light, light, the light in your eyes. One day it was there and then again just like that it was gone like a moth in fog, people moving about in traffic caught up in the circus of their lives.
I was very much attracted to earning your love like a child was to gaining the unconditional loyalty of a mother. Now all I think about is what happens when relationships come to an end. The humiliation that one party suffers, scorn, rejection, but also a great deal of disillusionment. All I see are the cold lines of your anatomy framed by the sun and, for years to come, you will always be in my mind’s eye framed by the sun.
The writer is an artist in the inner sacred cycle, in that space, that land of giants, where even the immortals can be found. The greats like Rilke and Goethe who are immortalised forever by words that are like clay, that foist upon themselves the consistency of clay, dry or wet. Plath, Lowell, Woolf, George Eliot. All were writers with their own rituals and their own passages to maturation. They lived in books, guarded, sheltered, protected under a silver lining, a blue sky, green grass. Revenge, hardness, those were things that they carried with them since childhood. It was the atrophied part of their soul. So, they reached plateaus. Faces peer at me out of the pictures. I don’t know them, so I pretend I don’t see them.
Words are like clay. Food was my comfort till the bitter end. It annihilated me around every corner, every turn. When I don’t sleep or eat, I’m thinking of writing. Sometimes I’m writing gingerly. Sometimes it just comes at me, pours out of me so pure and sometimes it is an agonising waiting game that just kills me to my core. I write every word down as it comes to mind. Write every single word down as it comes. Don’t hesitate. Don’t stop to think, to question even if it sounds like a soliloquy.
I’m fourteen again sitting in English class behind Arundhati. We’re reading Athol Fugard’s Road to Mecca that I’ve fallen in love with. Arundhati does not eat lunch by herself. She does not sit in the library and do her homework during break times or when her class has a free period. Arundhati is the most beautiful person I have ever seen with eyes as wide as saucers. Watery. And hair that is thick and glossy and healthy and black. As pitch black as her eyes. Her skin glows. She’s clever but not too clever. I know she will go far in the world. I know she will leave her mark one day.
I feel a kind of chemistry with Helen of New Bethesda. I can relate with her loneliness, desperation, isolation, her emotional imbalance. Arundhati could never relate to any of those things. She is one of the most popular girls at my school. When I am twenty-two, I meet another Arundhati in the city that never sleeps but seems to wind down at four in the morning. She has legs that go up to here. Who wears kicking boots with stiletto heels and skinny jeans that seem to melt on her svelte skin but who is also insecure, demanding, who throws fierce tantrums at the workplace? I can see by a long way she is going to make her mark on every man and woman in this office space.
While Arundhati embraces her winter guest I go-a-hunting for rainbows as ancient as dust and merry-go-rounds of the galloping painted horses’ kinds. One day I can’t stand him and the next I can’t wait to see him torn. Arundhati is his girlfriend. It’s another manic Monday. I know she will tell me everything. I know she can’t wait to tell me everything. Women just know these things. I’m fourteen. We’re at the gateway to the funhouse. We’re standing on burning sea sand, water, ocean waves within reach, the centre of summer, the perfect identity of the nuclear family not yet maverick, reckless, playing adult games, playing with abandon and neglect, walking away from responsibility, birthing a symphony of harmonic values. But there’s a sadness to the day. A kind of poverty as if we’ve lost our shot at the big time, social cohesion, or lost something never to be found again.
And so, we forget that the sun is in our eyes and we all blink madly at our tears but we’re mad with joy. We’re one big happy family just like in photographs or in the television programmes or films. Mother, daddy, younger brother, sisters. Look. We’re getting laughs. It’s effortless. A kind of easy living. This living is the best kind of life. And so, we forget the sun. Who created the wounded in modern war? Mad men in suits everyone. Did the Magi really come bearing gifts? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. On good days I would remain prayerful because I thought that was what the universe was communicating to me and my mother was the catalyst. If only I could reach her prideful wuthering heights. Her beauty, her pale skin, her aquiline features, her beautiful tennis legs, her roots, and her burning intelligence. She is contagion. She is carrion. She is cruel to be kind. ‘Thin. Thin. Thin. Why can’t you be thin like your sister?’ and then she screams with laughter. I go to my room and listen to Fiona Apple. I bang my door really loud so they all get the message. Films taught me to escape, to remain pure, prayerful, not wanting for what you need because God was preparing you for what He deemed you could handle.
There was some good in going to Sunday school and watching Robocop on a Saturday afternoon after paying your thirteen cents in the collection plate. Way back when you could still get videos. I wanted the happy ending come hell or high water. Good people deserve happy endings. At first a woman in the bedroom slept there speaking nothing on disability, on alcoholism, and her wounds. I imagine now that woman could have been my mother. It probably was my mother and all I saw growing up in that hell house mad house loud house was her loss and her reaction to that. Her ongoing loss in life and all that she had was a negative reaction to that source.
I don’t know if my father could love her enough so that she could forget the childhood that came with her from Johannesburg alongside Winnie, Mandela, and the Rivonia Treason Trial. Alongside the suffering that came knocking on that door like a manic suffragette. There is always a man waiting to be found there, somewhere in the middle of a space (any place for that matter) or a sucker for every minute. Storage, fertility, sea of hands, to have none of that waiting for you in an apocalyptic future. It is good to know I did not have any of this knowledge at nine years of age; I was so bright, shiny and new. I loved my life. Every minute of it. I was surrounded by friends. I could eat anything. I could eat cake three times a day if I wanted to. I ate bacon with the rind, chicken skins. I would tear the chicken skins off the drumsticks and sticky barbecue wings smoky and tear at them with my teeth, chewing away at them happily.
My mother never had the time of day for me. She was too busy with her own life, raising my brother and sister. Handing me over to my father because she couldn’t cope with me anymore. She had fallen in love with my brother like every woman does across the world when she gives birth to a boy. A younger version, newer version of her father or husband. She washed her hands off me. Anorexia Nervosa, alcoholism only happened in the films way back then. They made addiction look so pretty. I only watched films on television. My laughter was real. It was made of substance. Something so authentic. I would sit on my father’s lap and watch the news without any understanding of it. I believed in love like I believed in Oscar Michaux, Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles and stream of consciousness writing, and the blended family. As I grew, I surveyed the rites, the passage that was open not to every woman, not to every girl.
You see unlike everyone else, the other women in my father’s family, I loved to read, to educate myself. I even read textbooks which were just things to other people. My father was that most rare thing in my life. He was gold. He gave me everything. He was a principal at a high school in a sub-economic area. Why is it always the vulnerable or loss that speaks to us? I waited forever for someone to sprinkle moon dust in my hair like in The Carpenter’s song. But no birds suddenly appeared when the object of any of my adolescent affections were near. Oh, what a tragedy that played out to be over and over and over again.
When I began to starve myself, it began to affect, impact areas of my life that only in retrospect (decades later) I became aware of. It spoiled the child in me, that sweet, lovely inner child. It roughly stained my innocence through and through with a distorted view of my body image, my self-esteem and how other people saw me, the modern world’s opinion of me. I am not making this up (the deep pain I felt, having the sensibility of it, of starving my body of important nutrients, pouring over the ingredient list on the back of the creamy mayonnaise bottle or of any salad dressing, drowning wilting lettuce leaves in it in order to stay alive and perky, in order to stay just peachy) to destroy any positive-minded thinking you might have on people who are disabled. Disability is not pretty. There’s nothing gorgeous about it. Survival is gorgeous. The line where brutality meets goodness. The line found in solitude. The source of solitude. Your girl is a beautiful object always in motion, tethered to the generous union of the stars. Years have passed. Their novelty has still now not yet worn completely off. And there’s been an awakening of sorts inside of me, inside of that festering internal me for so long.
A kind of effortless pointless struggle (that seems in the beginning like pointless juggling or acrobatics) but turns out to be a Darwinian revolution. Girls sings Cyndi Lauper. Smoke nestles gravely in the air near her face from this thinner version of me, less of everything you got that right. You’re the expert who maps out the world, intimacy speeded up on her face, her physical body, her spiritual being. Everybody in the office knows you are sleeping with her. My aunt was one of the most sophisticated and most beautiful women I had ever met but she was also an alcoholic. Addiction ran in the family. Nobody speaks about it. It was as if we had our own secret society. On Sundays we would go to church. She was a wife. She had daughters. There are always lessons in the mysteries of life. If there are ancient lives under Botswana’s sky then you can find rainbows everywhere even in the Sudan. We would go to the Catholic Church in Mbabane, Swaziland. If only I had travelled more in those days. Durban was a few hours’ drive away as was Mozambique. There were wonderful museums and galleries, restaurants, little cafes where you could have coffee but teenagers only wanted to go out dancing those days over the weekends and watch terrible films with their friends so they could laugh at someone else’s misfortune. Nothing is set in stone save when it comes to a blood relative. You mourn for them when they’re making a terrible and life-altering mistake and say, ‘This too shall pass.’ And when you lose them, when Death comes for them, when Eternity, eternal life comes for them or hell and damnation and you’re overwhelmed with grief and denial of losing them too soon, you say it was before their time and that that too shall pass. Life is like that.
I think of the sadness of the beautiful, how damned to hell we all are whether or not we fall in love. Does it really matter in the end if you are as unattractive as hell, if one man considers you ugly, another the illusion of his mother feeding him chicken nuggets. I put my lipstick on. I put my heels on. But I have nowhere to go. I do not have anybody special in my life. All I have are celebrity and tabloid magazines, a lonely man sometimes in my arms to wash away all my sins, and a coastal view from my flat. Men talking. It is just their way. Well, I was not brought up like that in my mother’s house. It is just their way. What a waste of a human life, this survival-kit for depression, the swamp life of a visible darkness?
Then my mother started to say it. Then she started to say it. I do not love you. I never wanted you. Who is going to look after you after your father passes? And she went from cruel, malicious, vindictive to victorious. My mother became an observation. She became an obsession, and like I had been as a child I wanted to win her love, but couldn’t. She did not want me. She did not want me to beg. She wanted me out of her life, literally. Memories of disappointment and visions of the Holy Spirit fill my mind. My brother is a drug addict who sells joints on the side to support his habit. He steals money from my mother and my father’s bank accounts, while he steals the very life from my eyes. He calls every pretty girl wife. I spiral, and I spiral, and I spiral out of control.
Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated South African, Abigail George is a novelist, blogger, essayist, poet, short story writer, novella, and grant writer. She briefly studied film at Newtown Film and Television School in Johannesburg. She is also the recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg, the Centre for the Book in Cape Town and ECPACC in East London.