It feels like winter in September and the sky are just supposed to be pieces of blue sky; instead they’re slate grey with the beckoning, darkening rain clouds not yet completely rinsed out of them. My sister and I do not have a perfect relationship.
We are not close and when it comes to the question of God we are as far apart as Cassiopeia from the planes and landscapes of this planet. I wonder what the devil has got into her and console myself with the fact that all demons are spirit. They are not forces to be reckoned with only negative thoughts. I cannot take that haunting divide that lies between us away. I cannot wish it away. Wish it gone into air; wish its legacy deceased. So I walk away, navigate the swollen crossroads and pathways of letters on the spines of books searching for something all-consuming; that will take up my precious time.
I just got off the phone now, talking to her, trying to control my voice as hers went higher and higher. I was calling to tell her about our father and how disoriented he has become. I’ve even become aware that there are symptoms of Alzheimer’s. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel or do anymore. I am left wondering just how unfair life is at the moment.
All she does is take leaving the details and lines of the shape of my heart hopelessly mismatched and in denial. Just the day before we were laughing as if we were best friends, all she wanted was a boyfriend; she spoke about flirting at her office and the number of men who asked her to go out for coffee. I wish she was more dedicated to family life, instead of shutting herself out and becoming withdrawn when shapes of negativity come up. Perhaps my inconsistent misbehaviour is to blame for this when I was growing up. So she speaks to me as if she birthed me even though I’m older than her.
My spine turns to jelly, as if someone’s cool fingers are playing Bach on it. I am mad with grief; slowly going insane as if the juices of the fat are not the way I want it to; dissolving, melting into curves and circles into the potatoes next to the roast in the oven. In everything I did since I was an infant I took instruction, gathered it from my father. Words like ‘erudite’, ‘perusal’. I picked up ‘jargon’ and ‘verbose’ from one of my favourite teachers who also happened to be my principal when he took our English classes when our normal teacher was absent.
My sister and I had never whispered secrets to each other breathlessly under the covers of a camp made in the family room out of pillows and blankets and seats that we removed from the armchairs. Instead we watched films and she followed me in my footsteps in studying it further after high school. Instead of being a documentary filmmaker now she’s works in a bank.
There’s a rumpus in my head. My mother’s ovaries are exhausted. My father’s voice a peeling ceiling and my grief over his condition goes unnamed. It is a splash of red; a keen, stunned abortion of small nothings.
I watch old black and white movies: Casablanca, Now Voyager and Night of the Iguana;
I drink lavender sweet vine with my version of the Mona Lisa on my lips, I am caught up; predatory, psychic – it is not the first time I hear the word ‘intense’. I’m described as being emotional. I wonder at the self-awareness of it all, its delicate design foisted upon me, I question its authenticity, God ceases at once.
Choose me, I say all angelic, I pull through nausea; the origins lie in novel, candid translations. I hear the croaking of a frog when I go to sleep just outside my open window – in the morning it is gone, shut up into a literary space, belly full of rumpus, neck restrained, a baby’s crying voice in the night air from the house next door. All this attention comes slow motion, riles me; alerts me to the battalions of flitting, whitish moths overhead, their seed pulped against the walls of the lit bathroom, a sniffing dog on neighbourhood watch howls to the moon, scratches itself, a flea’s temple of delight.
I am not yet in need of self-help, there are more needful things at hand that I have to deal with I give my neuroses, my pangs the cold shoulder; the pupils of my eyes dead to the world. I ask, hinted at war children, schools of fish to come to me.
Standing at the water’s edge at the local swimming pool human bodies’ poke out of the water, limbs akimbo, loaded, they float on the water in the pool faces fluid, pure, relevant. My father’s quiet footsteps in the early hours of the morning come with shifty bliss; order in chaos.
There was writing and education; a knowing factual atlas, he came with a prescription for anti-depressants, hustle and fuss. Three babies brought up together, mirror images of each other packing an alluring shameless stage, a censored shopping list knitted out with pharmaceuticals, kitted out with it; shelved under the tongue of a brother and two sisters. The knives are out, insomnia grazes our brains; tell me what you want to hear, a feast of gossip?
What am I supposed to do now since my mother put a stop to it, she touched the nape of my neck? When I said I’ve taken as much as I could take I moved into focus, into view, understood the trials of motherhood. Her trials that she went through with me that I could never fathom before; how it killed her to see me wasting my potential in a hospital full of restless crazies. I remember her perfume and how she fingered her wedding band. How she wore her hair down and how it brushed in a fashionable bob against her shoulders. How inside I felt so terrified that she was leaving me behind because she could not ‘handle this’ anymore. I failed her.
I remember how I could see pieces of blue sky from the bars on my window. Vincent van Gogh painted it, lived it and every part of his physical, emotional and spiritual being was consumed by it. I was not far behind. As the depression lingered so did my guilt. My insomnia rivalled it. Getting sleep was like a present; feeding the beasts inside.
He saw me first.
Fractured, embellished, setting a precedent, drowning in misery, depression, the loveliness of honestly gained happiness; it imprisoned me, healed my old wounds, old things, fashioned the new, shooting into the hemispheres of my brain, blinded me, made me realise that the negative self is not the real self.
Our love was a love that was fleeting, that came in sublimely playful and adventurous and pained instalments; the only difference was that he was white and I was coloured. He was a sad and beautiful creature who could cut me with ease with a word that sliced through the air. I did yet not have the mental toughness I have now so I often ended up in tears, blinking them back as I did with the lump in the cave of my throat. He could silence me with a look. All I wanted was to be loved and for him to daily message that to me.
He could be fun but also a sullen beast.
There were days when our relationship felt like it was a long journey. It nourished me, it spoiled me (some days I was adored, others I was abhorred), it made me militant, gave me guidance that spoke to my inner core; so what, if one day we were kindred spirits and the next at war with each other.
He had his own ways and means of getting under my skin. I was just happy that he paid attention and that he listened. He had his own moods. I had mine. Together, when he was up and I was down we drew blood, lines on the ground of whose territory belonged to whom.
We were crossing the subtle barriers of race. Interracial relationships were then fraught with anxious poses in the new South Africa. It is hard to remember what other people thought of us when I look back. It was so many things. It was hard to erase that it felt both alien and like home when I was rooted in his arms.
I could memorise all the times we had fall outs. We never really dated, we just hung out. We never held hands or went to the movies. What we did was talk a lot about everything. His head told me I spoke a language he could not understand. I wrote to him. I wrote him long, passionate letters that spoke of a girl’s love. I could never be as forthcoming face to face. I would bare my soul in these letters to the very last drop and then bestow it in his lap as a gift. He never wrote back. This should have told me something in the early days but I was wrapped up, transformed by someone who could so easily make me smile and laugh at myself.
He was pretty ruthless at doing that.
Sometimes they were about the grief I felt, the negativity and insecurities I felt so deeply, that moved within my gut that never seemed to dissolve or grow weaker no matter how much he touched me and reminded me of the dysfunctional, loving, father with the soft heart, neurotic mother; home of my childhood that I left behind; a home that I could have sweet memories of.
Once I surrendered to the unknown, his beautiful bones I was caught in his tender poise. He wasn’t willing to give me more but I was more than willing to put my enchanted, productive heart into it; to give it place and function. I was mesmerised by the dewy stars, sparks in his eyes that made me shiver.
Now I recall it was just a phase that we were both passing through, maturing in healthy patterns, we were moving in layered circles, growing older, learning from each other and naturally on towards other burgeoning destinations; other relationships with women and men when it was over.
Of course in the mean time before the relationship between us cooled, he grew colder, meaner, humiliated me; this is what happens in all relationships between a girlfriend and a boyfriend when one is dominated by the other. It hurt. Our world soon became a cell. I could see a patch of blue sky through the bars but there was no escape.
Growing up I was taught to generate a feeling of hate towards whites. They had, we didn’t.
I only could dream about eliminating the tension between us; thought his only mission was to break me down.
He was my first everything. I shadowed all the kinks in his armour. I drew strength from him.
I learnt a lot about life, about the source of love that it takes a lot of discipline and practice and that the world has no power before the power of God. I believed we were two outcasts in an unforgiving and hostile world.
He reminded me of red heat and dust under a pale sun. He loved to tan. He loved surfing. He was and came from a part of the world that was foreign to me. In return he gave me solace; moments to be by myself; with my precious words that I was just discovering. He read my letters and then gave them back to me when I asked for them; when we were through.
He is only a ghost now; written on the body, my spine, the river of my back, the scent of his head on a pillow, between sheets, a bedspread, his warm mouth on my skin lost in high speed, not following or thinking or allowing for a plan. There is only a peace of mind that affords me some rest now on the past.
Writing poetry has become my cognitive therapy. Although, it is a lonely activity it keeps me sane away from the bogeymen of my sister and the ghost of my first love. Technically now my first love is words, language stretched out like the elastic bands of calamari that I spoon from the plate to my mouth with my oily fingers.
I live in the present moment; safe from the harm of his memory; battle scarring, emotional wounding. We were so far from being a suitable fit anyway. He is no longer familiar neither are his fingers; me clinging to him for fear that I would lose sight of him, of my sister, lose my hold, my grasp on him, shut upped by her ringing voice and so I shuttle in the in-between. My arbitrary common sense tells me so.
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The body is always beautiful when it seriously expresses any form of athleticism or touch, the pure body of soul; when it dismisses laziness or the heat with an invincible push of a button from daydream to a glimmering focus that shifts into view. It is most beautiful in an embrace at an airport, a meeting place, in a restaurant where every glance is heartfelt. When people have missed other, want to greet and comfort each other. It’s most authentic when it is warm and fuzzy, when excitement shapes the air. When you wish you were on the receiving end on the other side of the room or had just arrived home, elsewhere or for a meal with friends. It is even more beautiful when it compensates for travelling back in time, through illness when reliving the past is painful. Making us realise that the walls of love are like freedom fighters, at heart they are painfully fragile, giving, yet still living and eternal.
I was taught from an early age that not everything is legitimate in black and white. I was taught to question the authority of everything around me in my immediate environment with crisp curiosity, with candour and then test the honesty of it with inevitable closure. I never rejected that as an adult, a youth, a schoolgirl but most of all as a swimmer. In the water you could shrug off that compulsion that the other bodies in the water were harmful, toxic or that they would hurt you. As a child, whose life is ever defined by normal? As a writer how can your life ever be defined as normal, the hours that you sleep, the books you devour and the company that you keep?
My aunt’s, my mother’s oldest sister, voice on the telephone sounded far away, too bright, too breezy these days to be sincere. Her energy to dispel the fact that a person is uninvited is unnerving. The women in my family have a lot to answer for, as does Nabokov’s Lolita, his baby doll. They are neither original nor unique in being a weaving mass of contradictions, precocious, helpless and desperate to feast on comfort food when they are depressed.
I decided since most gifted children never reach their peak in adulthood, the infinite realm of possibilities that the world offered me were limited. I realised this at a young age, I would always feel defeated unless my talents that my mother had fostered could not be on display. I promptly fell in love with writing short stories, book reviews for my local newspaper’s children’s section and the school magazine of which I had been made editor. I fell in love with the stage and theatre. I felt terrified that in arranging my life perfectly from the inside (my brain), via my heart to the outside world that happiness would always elude me.
In the water I can forget the numbing, thudding, painful hunger that devours the global images of war playing inside my head, the teenagers in the pool preening like boys on film. At last I am beginning to come alive to the possibility that my limbs are an extended yet unfinished part of an exquisite secret machine that smoothly karate chops through the air this Friday afternoon in the community pool.
The aerated chlorinated bubbles of water in the turquoise pool energise and revive me, lift my legs, support my arms, bathing me in an aqua blue illuminated light as I kick, pull and breathe. My head shoots and dips in and out of the water, in sync with the calm, peaceful atmosphere of the day ahead. There’s no wind, no faint ripples at the edge of the side as I peer over, the weather shimmers, the air seems as if it is glowing and I no longer feel that I am trapped, or that I am a soulless fake with a mask for a face. My attraction to the appearances of unspoken beauty in a new world, a ridiculous line in a sitcom, a happy headline, a song on the radio is not heightened yet this afternoon as I search for the rush of colour in every destination when I drive home. I do think as a human race we will cease to exist if we do not fight for what we believe in. I do sometimes wonder if the sea and the sky is a perfect match, then who did a vanishing act on us.
A woman is transformed by love; a girl, a Lolita, Nabokov’s baby doll by the unspeakable, a man by his heart and the human race is governed by the human condition. Lolita is driven by vengeance in all her relationships, which ends until she feels cherished and honoured. Until she is respected and protected, until she doesn’t feel ashamed anymore of her reputation, until she is listened to without interruption instead of being pursued for intimate relations, clandestine engagements.
Secret truths become simple truths down the ages, through the generations. They become invincible as you begin to align yourself with the universe. I realise I no longer wished to work in television towards becoming an executive but I want to be a writer. I don’t feel older, I don’t feel wiser but I do feel more comfortable with myself and how I express. My outrage is no longer a thin, black line but reticence and an outward relief where I rearrange things at an external level that vanishes at will. There is nothing doll-like about me anymore or about the nation I live in. I’ve finally received my late registration into an adult world. I walk facing the wise, the sun, feeling a gentler confidence in my step that resonates inside my heart, inside my head that seems to defy all the beauty that the world possesses. I don’t wish that the clock would fight daylight anymore. When I first came home from Johannesburg, I predicted failure, stress even humiliation. I had dreamed the impossible dream that no one from my town had even come close to, to not be afraid, to go to a film and television production school. Instead I had fallen in love with words. I wanted to become a writer.