Essay from Abigail George

Kafka had a tyrant for a father

By Abigail George

“Sex on the lips. Give mummy more sex on the lips.” Said my beautiful mother, while watching her favourite soap opera, drinking a homemade martini after the vodka was finished. She was reclining on the sofa, with a lit cigarette in her mouth. She popped a mint in her mouth afterwards. I was two and a half years old. Hair tousled. Skinned knees from falling outside when I fell of my tricycle. I had bruises on my arms. That’s how I broke the fall. I was brave even then. Didn’t cry. You think that it is just a phase. Talent, doing well academically, passing exam after exam, being creative, the writing. I was four and a half when I read my first poem. Eight when I wrote my first poem. At twelve, or perhaps even younger than that I was published in the local newspaper. I contributed letters to the editor, opinion, short stories all through my teenage years to the same newspaper. Poets write about monsters. Monsters in the abyss, in their dreams. In their devil-may-care suffering. In their blissful ignorance. The monsters in the closet, under the bed. The monsters who touched them (like I was touched for years, molested by my own mother). There are millions of us out there. Dealing with incident, or, incidents from childhood. Dealing with the currency of sexual ambiguity in our relationships. Not having romantic affairs, not caring about matters of the heart, only a beer buzz in the morning. Starting early, roundabout nine or ten o’ clock in the morning. I don’t blame God. I’m not on some spiritual quest. On a pilgrimage to find myself. I write about the sex, about the abuse, but I see it as if it happened to a stranger, not to me. As if it happened to my doppelganger. Yes, I was the outsider all my life. But when I write I tell the truth. Honesty is dazzling for me. I don’t want to win hearts. I just want to impact one life. I read James Baldwin. Martin Amis. Then his father. Hemingway. Oscar Wilde. I fell in love with Dorian. With Van Gogh. I had a crush on his art dealer brother too. I fell in love with every single one of the young English lords of the flies. Piggy. That was me. Young. I read everything too young. There was, for me, still is, a kind of seduction when it comes to A Streetcar named Desire. Marlon Brando’s rippling muscles. I’ve been rejected. I’ve had love affairs, both intensely emotional, and sexual. Touch has always been physical for me. My mother was mentally ill. Abused most certainly herself. She buried a sister, a brother when she was just a teenager. We are defined by our demons. It will also teach you how to love. Letting go. There was no tension between me and my father. We had an understanding. We did not talk. He never spoke to me. Never came to a teacher-parent conference. For most of my life the devil came my way. The devil came for me. Now, surrendering the weight of pain is the name of the game. Pain slanting, leaning into my childhood psyche. Abuse kind of seals your fate. It goes the distance with you. You never forget. It will oppress you, sabotage you, transform you for the rest of your life. I see everything in a metaphysical light now. My mother’s spiritual wounding is my own spiritual wounding. I remember their bedroom. I remember the sound of the rain on the roof. Her mouth. I remember how she smelled like the sun. Her bed hair. Her older brother was pharaoh. She looked on death early on in life. Her father was an alcoholic. He worked in a canning factory. The drudgery of life and work getting to him, he took to frequenting taverns, bisexual affairs unbeknownst of course to my religious mother. Every Sunday she would dress, doll herself up. A flash of décolletage. Crimson lips. Peacock blue eyeshadow. Showing off her good legs. She had played tennis at provincial level. Received her colours. Even made it into the newspapers. She confessed once to me, afterwards in the bedroom, before my father would come home, that she only started smoking because of the stress. Your father, she said, brushing the tangles out of her hair at the dressing table, is stressing me out. He can’t decide whether he likes girls, or young men. He sleeps with both. How does that make you feel, Jerome? I said nothing. I just wanted to leave the room. Not smell her perfume. Her perfume even now is still in my head. Every flashback. Early on I read D.H. Lawrence before I had any knowledge about sex, about what sexual assault was all about. Predator, pervert, paedophile. These are all words I knew before I was ten. I also knew there were older men who would pay for sex with boys. It was the physical abuse that started it all. Drinking was in my genes. I think back to my very first downward spiral into the world of narcotics, of anti-depressants and sleeping tablets. Of how my mother hovered in the background of my every academic achievement. Every award at prizegiving. She took all the praise. As if she was the one who deserved it. I see me, the victim gate-crashing into the underworld’s belly of addiction. My dealer on the line. I used everything. I started young. There was also a side-addiction to pornographic material, books and films and gay magazines that they put behind the counter. The manager of the store would be ever so discreet about it. You had to summon up the nerve to ask for them. The owner looking you over. Knowing what you were, before you even knew yourself. I never called myself homosexual. But I guess maybe it’s the mouth, the way I dress, the manner in which I talk, the way I walk. But I’m still insecure. My inner child is still two and a half. I can talk about it. But I don’t want to. It hurts too much. My spirit captive forever in my mother’s arms. In the end, she was an inconvenience and curse in my life, but then I had this gift. I became a poet. I had lovers. Most of them emotional attachments. Then there was the first love of my life, Giovanni. He was a physicist. A brilliant, brilliant man. The first intellectual I ever met. We don’t talk anymore. He doesn’t write to me anymore. He’s moved on. I’m still here like driftwood. My son escapes into television series as well. I married. Everybody deserves happiness. I married Sujata. A journalist. She is just as intense as I am. She is proud of the poems. Nobody could be prouder. Nobody could love me more. She’s not a substitute for Giovanni. She is the second love of my life. The hills are blue. The animals, the dogs, happy. They have had nothing that hurt them in their lives. You slowly become the happiness of the people you surround yourself with. Sujata is my muse. My soul’s sweetheart. She is also a talented amateur photographer. Many hurt. Millions. I write for them. The writing was always on the wall for me. Awkward in the beginning stages. The content filled with disorder. Young, my mind was ambivalent, like my sexuality. My life, there are times a terrible sadness comes over me. But I think of my loves, my muses. The progress I am making. So adequate. I’m so distant now from my parents. All they are to me now are dead. Very much alive in a nursing home. But to all intents and purposes they are not a part of Sujata and my son’s life. Never will be. I’ve made them immortal. They’ve made me neurotic. It is as poet that I exist. Sujata, she is laughing at something that I’ve said. Tucks a stray hair behind her ear. She is a beautiful and caring woman. She is kind to me. There’s remorse about the past. Also regret. But that’s sporadic. There is kinship in the writing life. It adopted me. In return I worship its every climate selflessly. But is this a poem. But is this a prose poem. If it is, then I am detached from it. Detached, separated from the woman with no impulse control. I am voice and space. There is a split right down the middle of my brain. On the one side there lies the external. The cute mood in television-mode startling the psychological with its scarcity. Whenever I write I also investigate. Mostly the improbable. The spark is the poetic game. See ‘homosexual context’. It nurtures and feeds off its own vanity exclusively. I write the silence. Give it voice, platform, exposure to controversy, censorship, opportunity most of all. The silence opens territories. I am the shaking woman’s son. The lithium has taken its toll on her. Life was, is, always will be hell on earth. Everything that never happened between us is my fault. The idea of you as master. Well, I search for the idea of you in the faces of younger men. Men much younger than me. I want to share everything of myself with them. I want them to come to know me. Which is perplexing, right? I want to sleep with them body and soul. You’re perfect. You always were, Giovanni. Oh, I know how imperfect men are. Especially when it comes to the fairer sex. An older man desires. A younger man envisions. I will write to you my entire life about the wholesomeness of my life now. I’m spiritual, enlightened. I meditate. I pray. Giovanni, I’ll pretend to video call you. I’ll pretend to give you the time of your life. I will predict the exact moment you fall out of love with me. The religious aspects of it. Some days I yearn for it. Yield to prayer like a servant. Trying to reach you (because you are prophet, scribe and here I think of the Dead Sea Scrolls). I try my utmost to seduce the boy, but I’m old now, take sleeping pills at night to sleep, sometimes tranquilisers. I can never again (although I want to very badly) make you mine, but you are not mine. Giovanni, you belong to another. My trauma does not belong to another. It belongs solely with me. The impulse is psychotic. The stimulus is chemical. The imbalance, the medical fraternity tells me, an imbalance in the brain. You are genius too, Giovanni. It matters that you are. It doesn’t matter so much to me anymore whether you are a man of genius, celebrated for your innovation in research. That was never the key issue of faith for me. You are loved. That is the most important thing. I have the survival instinct. You on the other hand are that most rare thing. You are loved. You were never abandoned as a child, or neglected by your elegant mother, or beaten in the dark with a belt. That one time it was my father’s belt. There was a swarm inside my head that night. In every brain cell there’s a fortress inside the adult that I now have strangely become. I wept the terrifying physical pain away, but the emotional trauma has a vein. This trauma travels with me wherever I go. They come and go as they please. My physical body took the beating like a man, not a very young child. My mother screaming at me. While I was screaming too. All I wanted to say Giovanni was that I love you too. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about my mother, or rather the lack of her. If somebody had just loved me, believed in me as a child, not thought of me as plaything, and object perhaps I would be different, feel different, not objectified. I’m subjected now to the indifferent world of men. Can never catch up to you. For I was never educated. Everything came to me through luck and determination and hard work. This case study was largely elf-taught. You’re a man of the world, a sign of the times channelling visions and signs and symbolism that is original only to you. You see what I cannot see. You hear what I cannot. The unseen is seen by me. Only me. And the state of mind I’m in now is one of elation, an uprising movement of euphoria within me. The mania, the obsession I have with you. With the man, with the males who are old enough to be my father. But let me speak about the mania first. Can’t come down yet from that high. I elevate Salinger and Updike. Can talk for hours on Holden Caulfield, his brother the screenwriter in Hollywood for a time. These days I am lonely. Despair eats away into the core of my soul. That vortex filled with chapters of indecision and conflicting choices. I tell myself that even my mistakes matter. Even the past men in my life still matter. It has been years and years. You must be an amazing lover. Robust. Vigorous. Energetic. But I am ashamed for thinking of you in this way. You don’t think of me in that way. All you see is the boy. The boy in his twenties who is disconcerting and intense. Every glance from you simply annihilates him. In his world he is no beauty. Only younger master in distress that must be saved. Nobody comes to his rescue. You were there once. Opportunity passed me by. Now there will never be another chance. Only the fear matters to me. Keeps me inside the house. For the time being let me be frank and disarming, vulnerable, sharp, innocent.  I don’t eat. I don’t sleep. Nothing is nourishing to me. I hurt my mother on a daily basis. Well, I write to her in everything. I still judge her. I mistrust her. This shadow-figure. In my life she is a judgemental figure. A woman of great physical beauty. And when I get that feeling, I can no longer hide anything about my childhood, the man with the child in his eyes. What confessional missive is this? You say I am too intense. My gestures wild. I try and dazzle you, but you can’t, or won’t, or don’t engage with me, don’t interact, don’t involve yourself too deeply in my world. I’m troubled, and jaded by this ancient world, the cracks are beginning to show. Love does not find adoration. Does not find that warm afterglow. Does not find reward. You are you. You remain you. British. British accent. And I find everything about you devastating. You destroy me. The insecurity, the search for identity in helplessness, and the recurring hope found in passion and reconciliation. Grant me a grand permission. Let me talk. Let me talk of the more classical elements of creativity and suffering, ignorance and the triumph of the hope that you, I, will live to see another day. In separate cities. Our separate worlds. Yours research. Hers journalism. Giovanni. Sujata.

I am who I am because I had a tyrant for a mother. She taught me nothing about love, but everything about being a dramatic player, a spoilt artist, rubbed my nose in the intelligentsia of the day, so I could smell like them. Like a rose garden. Chlorine in a swimming pool. I have your number. You have mine.  I have your email address. You have mine. But you don’t write to me anymore. This makes me sad. You don’t worry for me. I am not in your care. I am neither wife, nor husband, nor Giovanni’s lover. Nor the stepfather to your adult children. I achieved what to me was the impossible. There’s this dazzling fear and anxieties inside of me like a fire breathing volcano. I use that word often in my correspondence. Volcano. There are days when I am that volcano. There are days when my mood is like a river. You understand me. Sorry, understood me like no one else. And then you took your love away. Just like that. Knot in my throat. Ache where my heart should be. Nothing but heartbreak. Heartbreak can be seductive when repeated. When it is the dominant feature in all of your adult relationships. Call me toy radical. Call me, invent me, turn me into a toy exile. Everything I am capable of doing I turn into something called art, or vision. The sky is waiting for the heavens to open up. Rainclouds gather. You are me. You are not me. I am you. I am not you. I would love to be where you are, but cannot reach those breath-taking hearts. I asked you take me far away from this childhood home. Once you could have done that effortlessly. Rid me of mental and emotional pain. Rid me of the burdens in my life. To play caregiver, cleaner, slave in my childhood home. This is my soul. Speak to my soul. It is the only language that I can understand. Otherwise we are lost to each other again, as we have been over the years. There will always be circumspection. You are a compelling figure. Attractive to other men. All men are arrows to my heart. You are more handsome now than you ever were before. Love sets this species apart from the biological makeup of the spirit. The wilderness-decay of the soul. The change in climate transforms my mood from easy-going, I’m too difficult in a matter of hours. You guessed right. I don’t think of touch. Of making love. I think of my parents. They might as well be divorced. They do not make love anymore. They haven’t for years. They sleep in separate king-sized beds. What is love anyway. It never brought me any satisfaction or fulfilment. It gave you an empire. You have a laboratory were other geniuses work under your supervision. You call it a science. All of science is fragile. All of science has karmic accounts. All of the dimensions of the flora and fauna inter-related in the cosmos. Their inter-connectedness spellbinding in nature. The nature of the beast is wolf. I am content to be wolf leading the pack. Understanding, accepting of my followers. Followers are usually disciples. You don’t love me anymore. Not in that way. How am I supposed to live without you, Giovanni? You’ve been the all that I have waited for, survived for, lived for. You gave me a sense of the natural world whenever we went hiking in the mountains. Became inspiration repeatedly. Told me that fear and anxiety were the most natural feelings in the world next to kindness, mediocrity, child prodigy. You were the first man who ever called me genius. I showed Giovanni some of my work. Just for perusal’s sake. He always had input. Be it in a line, phrase, verse. Don’t talk so much about your mother, he said. The work will improve after time, he said. The work will evolve in its own time. I loved him for that. How to describe it? He became my atmosphere. I had a tyrant for my mother. I told you that, Giovanni. I never told you about the romantic feelings for you I was inclined to have time after time. You, so wise. Beyond the phenomena of constellations. Beyond the galaxies that exist in another space, another place and another time. Oh, I know you don’t think of me in all the ways I think of you. Your lips are warm. The husband is exotic-looking. Of German and Nigeran ancestry. He is exquisite. You are surrounded by men. You surround yourself with men like you. I cannot sleep anymore. Not even during the day. I have been awake for hours. The cold air is brutal. Its force has a disarming intelligence. The fear is aloof. Family is non-supportive. Birthdays in my life area non-event. I always eat salmon and Philadelphia cheesecake on my birthday. There are only ever two guests at the kitchen table with me. My narcissistic mother. My elderly father. Over the years I lost my lanky frame. I think back to how bone-thin I was in my early twenties. It has been more than years. You married. So, did I. There are no arms to hold me. No loving glance. No stare to turn me on. Just my legs. My bone-thin legs. The only thing blue about me are my wrists. Then there is my genetic makeup. I might be anorexic again. I wear layers of clothes. It is spring. In exactly two months it will be summer. I promised myself I wouldn’t call. You said what you wanted to say in your last message that you emailed me. It’s over. The dream of you was over at the end of that letter. We were talking again. We were communicating. There was a meeting of intellect. Like mind meeting like mind, and for a brief moment in time I could forget my old life, being a child stuck in a man’s body. You can’t possibly imagine the ways in which I love you. Now that you’re no longer in the scenario of my life anymore. Now that you don’t feature in its landscape, I must move on. I’m so out of touch. I live within this non-reality. I don’t want love. I don’t want a master to care for me, to stand up for my rights. I don’t believe in the waves of radical feminism anymore. I’m a mess. I’m not your gay mess. I’m a shadow, just a plain shadow-figure of the confident person I used to be when you knew me. You think I’m suspect. I expect you are right. I don’t seduce any more. I’m not pulled in that direction. That’s not the path I follow anymore. My life as it was then is over. Every day there’s a verse, or a line of remarkable beauty. There’s nobody to share that part of my life with. Only Sujata. The writing life. Here I must be honest. I work. My trauma work for me. I produce. I’m an artist. Artists create. I’ve given up smoking cigarettes. Will sometimes inhale but never smoke marijuana. It always gives me a headache. Red wine also gives me a headache. I can stomach pain. Nothing about it is ever wasted. Everything is a race. I have yet to meet a man as complicated as I am. I was forward in the old days. Not anymore. I have a high pain threshold. I have had no male suitors. Nothing but empty promises from boyfriends over the years. Measure the span of a decade. All I can see for that decade is a boy with wild hair with a new boyfriend every week. Nobody wanted to marry me. So, I shut the majority of my indigent self and ego away from the world. I withdraw, withdraw, withdraw ever mindful of the fact that I might be mad again. Be hearing voices again. Seeing the unseen. People suffer all the time. Suffering is the most natural feeling in the world. I suffered as a child, but so do millions. Kafka had a tyrant for a father. I had a tyrant for a mother. Giovanni’s bright existence has become my fortress in a close-knit jungle. I don’t want you to see me like this. Ever. You want to know something. You still have an epic mouth on you. Hottest summer in years. But summer didn’t bother getting up this morning. It is raining. All the trees forgot to wake. The river is a mental river. Today it is too wide. Today I bury my father. The topic for today is hell.