The relationship between mother and gifted child
By Abigail George
Vertigo inside of me. Burnt oats. Mother burnt the oats again. The bottom of the pot burnt. The oats tasted like ash, smelled like coals on the fire. Oats like cinders. “Eat. Eat everything.” She said. “Go on with yourself. That’s your food. That’s your breakfast.” I have often blamed Christ God for my unique set of circumstances, but I don’t anymore. My father’s sad that I lost the plot. Nobody understands. Nobody understands me. I’m alone, all alone in this world. Nobody to call my own. And the entire house smells like marijuana. My brother smokes his weed in the house now. The parental units don’t care. I’m ripe for the taking. It’s asking for the taking. I’m slave, and cook. I clean the house like a madwoman. Richard, my father’s close friend, speaks of ‘mental wellness’. Going on holiday. Listening to music. Being happy is a choice, he says. You can be happy. But I feel like Heidi in the Swiss mountains with her grandfather, blissfully unaware of the outside world, how dangerous it is to be a woman on your own.
I think of the Duchess of Sussex, how elated, how happy she looks with her prince, how beautiful she looks every time she’s photographed. Her skin is flawless. Radiant. There are pools of grandeur, and admirers wherever she walks. She walks tall. Head above water. Surfing London, England’s ‘swampland’. Compared to her, I’m nobody. Nobody special. And the day is like cocaine. And the night is marked by sadness, and after winter, comes winning, winning spring. It’s beautiful supposedly, but I am not impressed by the wonders of the flora around me, by the environment marked by pollution, and global warming.
And the economic downturn of the recession, and climate change. We’re normal people. Their eyes tell me that. Tell me that I don’t belong. What’s normal anyway? I’m anti-normal. Smiling when I look at this photograph of you, from memory and desire. Oh, how I desired you. Still desire you, but you belong to someone else. Other people, who are kinder, and more understanding than my own people. They say that I’m mad, and call me mental patient. Oh, I was in high care. Oh, I was in a locked-up ward. Oh, I did try to take my own life, but could I be the most beautiful woman in the world, on your arm at a social function, or a family gathering just for a few hours, please, please. There’s a wasteland for you. Wasted potential. Wasted youth. To live normally, that means exactly what. The only goal that I have in my life is to write.
I think of Charlie Chaplin’s mother in the asylum, a young Anne Sexton full of brio, and bold life modelling her Bostonian-heart out, (I don’t have that kind verve, don’t live according to that velocity). Oh, I’m sad, and lonely, but don’t worry for me. I’m proud to be a ghost nation. I’m governed by patience and virtue, patients and their psychological framework. Their philosophy of life in hospital, shielded away from the gaze of the world. I’m poet. I’m John Updike’s Bulgarian poetess. I must have courage. A woman’s guide to courage, but can someone help with the survival-kit. Men have always laughed at my sexual inexperience, and inadequacy. It was like a storm inside my head, you know. There’s a tangled web for you.
A spider’s web of deceit and lies, deception and self-sabotage, the pattern of self-destructive behaviour, and because of you, as if you didn’t know, I will never marry another. I don’t want to be anywhere near you. You are dead to me like stimulus, capacity, and impulse. Once, your hands were my hands. Once, your heart belonged to me. All I see now is your silhouette. You’re showman, I’m interloper in your relationships. You’ve travelled, made sense of the world around you, and now that you have a wife, you want nothing to do me with me. You don’t want to love me anymore. And I know it would have made a difference if I could have given you a child, to live and to breathe, but all I seem to get out of the day is meditative haiku this, and you have the shadow of a fisherman in my bedroom in the early hours of the morning. Just like, for the rest of my life I will remain childlike.
You gave me up. The spark, the love, the beautiful reflection of me, was there for the taking. You refused. You refused me. Walked away from me in a parking garage. In childhood, it will always be childhood for me, nothing is beyond reach. Everything is within limits. I wait. I’m left waiting. The poor girl, waiting in poverty, living in poverty, spiritual-poverty, the green dragons of men say. No man’s hands will write on my body now. My body is no longer a canvas. The youth is gone. Oh, youth is fleeting, but not the homesick feeling. Growing up, I always sought out introverts like myself, only finding that aspect of personality in older males. And as soon as I got older, they all faded away into the background. Excitement is like a store for me.
I go in there, anxiety and fear disappear, the anguish of not having a man. The ache is still there, but I’m too old for that life, that kind of time, to spend hours, or an entire afternoon in the company of a man, too tired for the games of the sexual transaction. You’re a parenthesis. I’m beginner, on repeat. With the thin needle of desire on repeat. Blood gives, blood takes. You have your career, your wife has her household and family to take care of, you’re both inter-dependants, take care of each other, wife and husband (you each have your duties), taking care to take care of each other in the good times, and sad times. There’s nobody to take care of my heartbreak. All I have is eccentric. My fondness for rubbish television, and J.M. Coetzee novels, (the greatest writer alive today).
Films that only cost about a million to make. I remember when I stopped running. I mean running away. It was about the time you left me, and we said our goodbyes. There was finality for you. There was closure for you. You closed the door on the past, on our past. But it wasn’t completely over for me. Nowhere is the longest distance to traverse, and often there is no end in sight on that pilgrimage. Our end meant the rare appearance of a new world for me. Sickness came and went in my life. You were a non-supportive prop. It wasn’t over by a longshot for me. Not for me. Not for me. Awake, I am tidal, and pure. I feel the cold. Nobody feels the cold like I do. I’m dying. I’m dying to belong to a world, this planet, but you see, I could never fit, adjust, meet expectations high, or, low, justify. My relationships were always scandalous.
I was naïve, too young; he was old enough to be my father. You’re living your best life now. Yes, I want a connection, to this society, link up with likeminded people, who, like me, find living in poverty disabled disagreeable. I still have goals, plans, and this dream. I will speak at Harvard, Brown, Duke, Smith, Yale, and Princeton. I will attend an ivy league university like a Kennedy- heir. I will attend Columbia. Think with clarity and creativity. Then the world will love me, and that will be enough. I do pray. I pray for happiness for myself (but what is that without a man), and for personal success in all the spheres of my life. I’m forever home for the holidays now, glimpsing taverns in my neighbourhood from the safety of my mother’s car, the life-worlds therein, and I don’t know whether bitterness, or, resentment on the part of my aunt, that relationship, the year I spent at a mental institution, was responsible for the estrangement on my father’s side of the family. The ache is sharp. The knowledge of it was always mysteriously invisible to you.
There’s Missionvale. It is not suburbia. I think of Cobra polish, Sunlight soap, Colgate egg shampoo, and the rich who know, who think nothing of sub-economic housing, families of ten people or more who have to fit into two rooms. A matchbox house is far beyond their understanding. They do not know of the kind of pressures, and stress, and hurting when a man can’t provide for his family. Can’t put food on the table. Can’t be caretaker, his wife, and mother-in-law nurturers to the children in the house, in matchbox housing. All the children are, are orphans anyway.
The absent parents who only have their own neglect into the life of addiction on their minds. Addiction to gun violence, addiction to a heinous promiscuous lifestyle, domestic violence, shocking physical, and sexual assault. They know nothing of the filth and stench of poverty, the stain, the organic language of menstrual blood, of blood, of blood spilled. I think of the prosperous with their Swiss chocolate, bouquets of flowers, gifts wrapped in tissue paper on birthdays. There’s Bethelsdorp. There’s Korsten. There’s Timothy Valley. There’s Schauderville. People there do not live the kind of sheltered paradise life that I live. People shoot in the streets. They shoot to kill. I feel like Krotoa. Only good enough for one man. Called out of native darkness into Dutch light.
Come over the threshold, Krotoa. I give my name, my nationality, my life to you. Death is important. Death is king, for without this earth of things, all of our material possessions how can there be life. We need faith to receive the blessing, in order to obtain Christ’s reward, but without it we can still live, just without the guidebook (to salvation). Lazarus is still sleeping. I want to be the next Antjie Krog, not the next Ingrid Jonker. Arthur Nortje, the poet who won a scholarship to Oxford, he speaks. Arthur Nortje, the poet speaks to me. I feel to live vicariously through him. Through his Oxford. Through his romantic life, if he ever had one. This non-European, who looked like a pale king version of a European. Arthur Nortje, speaks with anticipatory nostalgia to me. He is walking alone; I am walking alone. He has a testimony; I have a testimony.
This is not the end for me. There is still the storytelling to be told of Hitler, Mussolini, Smuts and the Cape Corps. I have this map, you see. A map of the world, my mixed-race world. No telling where I still have to go. But I am Krotoa, relying on the spirit of giving from older Dutch males. There is a mother, or rather was the lack of one n my life. The tomcat is inspiration, magic spell, imagination to me. There is a mother, tarnished like seed, that carries with it, Sunday gravy, pork belly and roast potatoes. Wait a minute. There’s a thaw in the air. Just. Just. In the kitchen there she stands, a Jennifer making my life hell. There she goes again. On fire, this injustice, she screams at the top of her lungs of just how inadequate I am. I’m mute. I’m a mute. I think of the needle. The thin needle of desire from memory. How it left a mosquito bite on my arm playing a seduction game on my arm
. How the words, “you’ll be okay, we’ve given you something to sedate you”, were given to me like communion wine, and the wafer of Jesus Christ’s body. And I think of Dennis Brutus, Arthur Nortje, Brian Walter, Harold Wilson, these men of genius. I think of Calvary. My cross, my cross. My cross. I’m glad I couldn’t see into their, my future. You never grew up in our house. Never smiled for the camera the way that we did. Hiding our grief in our interpersonal relationships in the way that we did. I ask myself all the time am I walking on a dream in being a poet, is he really, this great South African writer who lives in France and Spain in awe in of me, are people really talking about me, or, are they laughing at me.