It felt so real. The rain, the leaves, the lovemaking (but was there any passion, or was it just perfunctory. I did not feel any pleasure. It felt like I was twenty-two again. Living amongst xenophobic South Africans, and Johannesburg people, I sensed winter coming on acutely).
And then there was the kiss. Something inside of me died (well I always felt a succession of deaths after writing, and I went cold). Yet there was something there that was still absent. I woke up then. How could I put it into the words? There are no consequences on the astral plane. You lose everything if you think of desire as being simplistic. Oh no, it is much, much more complicated than that. So complex that scientists in North America are studying it. My dreaming of late left me depressive. The illness was returning. There were signs. A homosexual man with beautiful eyes, and sensitive hands passed me on the street. I wanted to find that confidence that I saw in his swagger on the page. I thought if I could do that it would explain everything, especially what I had been dreaming about. I needed to know why romance to me was like a lighthouse. I was always swimming away from it, backing away, getting shipwrecked. Left wondering why I was never anchored?
It was scary. I couldn’t define the moment or the place. Where I was? It did feel as if I had been spirited away to another dimension. Perhaps dreaming vividly can do that do you? This man in my dream, well, he reminded me of someone who I had met a long time ago. A lecturer I had fallen in love with. Madly in love with. Naïve and sexually inexperienced, he became my world for nearly two years. He was an investment. He was an assignment. He would turn out later to be the love of my life. But with dreaming came a terror. The dreams were not real, and in the dreams, I was happy. I was oblivious to the hidden dangers that I experienced when I was awake. When I was experiencing reality. When I say happy what I mean by that is that I felt no fear of anything real or imagined. No fear of hypomanic psychosis or the anxiety, the physical tremors that came with hallucinatory images. There was no darkness. In my dreams there was no longer any experience of suffering, or depression, or the rigid pull of madness, and the mercy of the flight from it in high care. Being on suicide watch. There was no night-land. There were only ordinary people. Ordinary people falling in love, making love, talking, and having conversations about love.
I would dream about all of these things. What was my subconscious trying to tell the self-conscious actor in me? That I should discriminate? That I should do something else with my life other than write? That I should put aside my writing rituals, using cooking as therapy, and go out into the world, find a husband, have those children, walk down that yellow brick road, that sunny road, and accept that happiness took too much commitment, too much energy, time, but just do it anyway. Do it brilliantly. Do it excellently. Do it wisely. Do it effortlessly. If I could bake a chocolate chiffon cake effortlessly, could it not be effortless to bring up children the same way? If I could make a lasagne, or bolognaise excellently by following my sister’s neatly handwritten instructions, could I not make an excellent wife for someone, but that would mean I would have to come clean. That would mean I would have to submit to questioning, to interrogation, of how my mother had ‘touched’ me as a child. But so, what if my mother had touched me indiscriminately. So, what if she had touched me physically. In the end I would have to answer questions about the baths we took together. She would always leave the door open. Call me while my father lay sleeping after working on his thesis for hours. And she would ask me to wash her back. I don’t want to remember. I feel a terror whenever anyone touches me intimately now.
Don’t let’s go there. I don’t want to think about it. Please. Please. I’m asking you nicely. But she didn’t understand. Educated. Cultured. Highly favoured. Thought highly of. How on earth could she be expected to understand the physical aberration of sexual abuse? The damaged psyche, and mind of the vulnerable child raised in an abusive environment day after day slowly becoming programmed to live complicity with both denial and grief. That explicit violation, that graphic violence, when she could not glimpse into my world. The world of abandonment, and neglect. I thought my father knew. I thought he did. That’s why there were barriers in my childhood world. I thought that we were being protected, shielded from children who were rough. In retrospect I became wiser. Instead I wanted to be like my mum when I grew up, but I was never as elegant and beautiful as she was. Never. I had failed her. I had failed both of my parents in that regard.
Skin against skin like fabric, like sleep, like water in wild places. I don’t need you to show me that you love me, I need you to tell me, lover. I need it like breath, like self-pity, like fractured air, like remembering my grandmother’s wizened hands by arthritis, but know this dearest lover. I know we won’t be together forever. There is a part of me that is terrified of the letting go of you. Seeing you gone from the world of the living to the world of the dead. The world of the dead filled with the utmost of biblical proportions. Realise this. I’m a failure. As a woman I’m a failure, because I would be a failure in raising your children, or dancing with you under the moonlight, or being innocent as you enter me, my hair framing my face. Know this. You do not know anything about me although I might toy with you, or give you my physical body, sate you, leave your body glistening with sweat, and lying beside you in the dark watch you sleep. Watching over you until the early hours of the morning. I know you will leave me lover. I don’t blame you. Your children. Show me pictures of them. Show me pictures of your angels. Show me a picture of your soft love light. You know my terms by now.
Call me up if you want to talk, or have a good time. I’ll listen to all of your troubles. I will love you like that. I will make you my world for one night. Your wife I imagine is nothing like me. Is she anything like my mother, I wonder to myself? Women who are anything like my mother always have this need to be worshiped. Women who are anything like my mother terrify me. I am nothing like that beautiful, elegant woman in the photograph that you have your arm around. Does she truly make you happy? If she does then I am happy for you. I will not miss you. You don’t want to know anything about me, believe me. You don’t want to hear stories about my childhood, my competitive streak, how successful my siblings and I have all become at not being successful at marriage though, but we’ve passed through life with flying colours with everything against us. We’ve accomplished, my siblings and I, our dreams, those goals our parents had for us excellently, though not as excellently as I would have liked for my own life. No elixir of a sunny road for me and my sister. Have a heart, lover, and don’t wake up yet.
The only place where I don’t feel a fool, where I feel safe is here in your arms lover. Here I forget about Dante’s hell, genocide, and the holocaust. Let me forget about Rwanda and Auschwitz. Bergen-Belsen and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Let me forget about that day on the beach. Tracing the Caesarean scar, fingering it as if all the stitches would collapse into thin air, and I wouldn’t exist in this world. I would be gone without a trace. Help me to understand the lack of mother-love. Win. Win. Win. My teen-age heart would chant as my name would be read out. I would make my way to the stage and the principal would hand me something beautiful. A certificate. Intelligence was never enough. A vague kind of prettiness, an attractive personality was just never quite enough. Please, please, don’t let’s go there of all places to a time I’m through navigating. My own personal hell was what invisible people called childhood. I am Alice. I have a Cheshire cat. I live in my own wonderland, and I’m sure as hell not going to let anyone take that away from me. I don’t want to remember the lack of mother-love. The quiet, that open door leading to the passage of promiscuity.
The hair was always damp at the nape of her neck, curling slightly because of the steam. With the scent of soap on my hands I would wash her back in circles. I remember her hunched shoulders. She hunched her shoulders (was she hiding her breasts, was she insecure, or was she just tired of her highly-sexed manic-depressive husband). That’s where my manic depression came from. My father. After dressing she would show me her Caesarean scar. Tell me how the doctor had taken me from out of her, like Jonah and the whale. Now grownup I have more of her personality than my father’s. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t look at my face. It will have to be in the dark if you want to really make love to me. Why do you desire me, me in the first place? Are you anticipating my permission? What are the terms of love, of being boyfriend and girlfriend, of the mother who says she is tired, cannot read my essay. I am not a child of Buddha. I am a child of something lesser. Self-actualise that. First, I’ll go down on you. In front of you on my hands and knees. I will beg you to humiliate me. I will, promise. A psychologist doesn’t come with multiple choice questions where you have to colour the blank dot in next to the correct answer.
To tell you the truth I have no desire to become a wife in real life. I don’t find it appealing in any way. It’s not attractive to me. Like the way the words Los Angeles moves me. Its waves give me the feeling of good vibrations. It seems married life would mean I would have to give up the writing life. I would have to put on a pretty face in photographs and smile. And what if he drinks? And what if he smokes? How many children does he want to have? Does he like red meat? Does he like exotic dishes like couscous, will I have to become adept at trying out new recipes, or will he like to eat out, and try fancy restaurants, eat dinner there every night, or is he a steak and a potatoes man like my grandfather once was. He had two children by another woman. My grandmother endured. She was a strong woman. I could not be that strong if my husband looked for love with another woman, and took her to bed. My mother has taught me nothing extraordinary and everything about women. How the seed of manipulation is planted inside the man’s eye. How different a woman’s personality is from a man’s? Her sensuality. The second sex’s femininity, and sexuality.
How man must be forgiven for thinking only of his own aura, his identity, his psyche, his ego, the frailty of his mother, and how much more delicate she becomes now that she has grown older. Now that a man’s mother has become elderly, ended up in a home, the best his salary can buy, he becomes aware of his own mortality. All people should be encouraged to grow something. To plant something. To nurture something on a patch of land. Plant a tree, or forest. My mother did. She would spend hours hard at work in her garden. We had a perfumed, moneyed garden in apartheid South Africa and post-apartheid South Africa. That was mum’s triumph. She had no close female relationships. To me that made her exotic. As an adult I have no close female relationships. I should have seen it coming. Instead of marking it as a milestone. Why didn’t you love me mum? That day on the beach I called out your name. Why didn’t you turn around and wait for me to catch up to you? You made me hate you. But you couldn’t hear me. And I felt like a child in time waiting for you again. Like the day you forget to pick me up from my extra lesson, my rehearsal.
The day we didn’t have enough money to pay for our groceries (it was a Sunday. You were wearing your church heels. You looked impeccable as always. I was wearing white stockings. How you never smudged your pink lipstick that found its way into the creases of your lips was always a small wonder to me). You, you, you left me standing next to our trolley filled with bags of food that would last us for the four weeks of the month. Went home which was twenty minutes away from the shopping mall to get dad’s credit card because you did not have enough money on you. Your salary had not been paid into your bank account yet. Vincent, my cousin who was staying with us because he was doing a bridging course at the local college who was older than me, more mature than me, turned his head, and walked away from me. He ignored my plaintive stare. And I wish he had waited with me. That would have been kind of him. But Vincent was never kind to me. Only until he found the sunny road of having a spouse, raising two kids of his own. Did he buy his Indian wife flowers, expensive perfume? Did his son and his daughter know that at night he found himself engrossed by erotica, downloading it off the internet, that and violent pornography too. I guess that’s what every man does. Find women electric. When do they first become aware of that? That desire.
Like the desire I feel not when I’m their company, but in my dreams. Of course, I remember everything. The heat of the day. Dust. That Sunday morning, standing in the mall, waiting for my mother to return with my dad’s credit card, I remember the cashier smiled a crooked little smile, and I looked away. I remember the young man not much older than my cousin who had put the groceries in the trolley. He did not meet his eyes. Men grow cold as girls grow old, right? Right. Beautiful children are always surrounded by an aura of the mystique of sexuality. Are girls going to grow into being promiscuous or virtuous? Are they going to obtain a degree and change the world around them, or make a man happy, serve his needs, butter his toast, make his breakfast, have children, become unhappy, drink too much of that merlot, or cabernet, and lose their looks no matter how intelligent they are in the beginning? Women do not find romanticism in pornography. They want flowers, and expensive perfume. They want a house, spacious enough for their family to grow, to fill with the heart’s desires. Everything expensive, expensive, you see.
Everything of the best, you see, you see. But I’m easy. I’m your relief lover. I’m your release. I have a natural born killer instinct. My physical body is all you’ll ever want, need, desire. I am your conquest. Although you’ll never know anything about my spiritual poverty, only how insatiable you make me feel. Tender is the night, my darling. We met on a beautiful summer afternoon. It felt like a summer’s day. I wanted to brush your dark hair that framed your features out of your face, out of your eyes. Of course, I immediately fell for you, walked by your side, Julian, fell in love with you, in step with you, kept up with your pace, warmed to your life, to your genuine dignity. You must understand all I felt was gratitude. I stopped thinking about the arrival of death. The wish-fulfilment that I sometimes carry with me in my darkest hours, and thoughts of despair. When it comes in waves, fashioned by cutting through the quiet light I think of you, of us. I watched you very carefully. How you would punctuate your sentences with a hand gesture and all I could think about was that hand on my wrist, or that hand in my hand. All I could think about was that hand on my shoulder, in the small of my back.
All I dreamed about was that hand on the nape of my neck. And that childhood barriers were no more. I became angelic, ethereal, otherworldly, and you were my prize for all the effortless commitment, and refreshing hard work I had put in for all my adult life. That made me feel pure, that washed away all my sins in time. I felt highly favoured. And then there came turning points, the unquiet otherness of revolution, selfhood illumined, and imagination. You began to inspire me. We did not have to speak for hours, or childhood. Thank you. Thank you for everything that you did for me, and most of all, your generosity, for the long hours that we spent in each other’s other company. Thank you for the laughter that you awakened inside of me, and I am elated that I could perhaps in some small, treasured way have done the same for gifted you. Thank you for your talents. For passing on your knowledge, your life experience, your influence to me. For wiping away my invisible tears, my rain, and my moods that were like a season of bad weather, for your inspiration, and everything that composed itself around that landscapes of my picturesque happiness. I know who you are now.
Some days the negativity is still there. I know that that will always be so. It’s a fact of life. But the silver lining is also a fact of life. Golden, golden. Always golden, like my glorious notebook. There is nothing that I can do about that, and there is a succession of men in a never-ending line. I know they will never stay for an indefinite period in my life, but they will teach me for as long as they can all they know about the world around them. They will accept me for who am I in the role that I decide to play while I am in their company. The petulant child, the docile girl, the gamine adolescent, or the adult woman in her thirties who now accepts her infertility, her education, and her culture as only she can. On her own terms. She will call it self-control, order, and the blurred lines that veil all the legalities in between. It is not that I want to forget the decisions I made in my early twenties, it is not that I want to forget my depression, it is not that I want to forget about the chosen field of my career, my choices, whether they were the right life choices, whether promiscuity is a lifestyle, or phase, or why it comes more naturally to some women than it does to others. Fact remains. I remember.
Always will. Goes without saying. What more can I say, offer as proof for my life, for my love, for my desire, for my willingness to surrender, and permitting myself to life, love, desire, and willingness? And now it comes down to this. Yes, I was always going to come around to this. I know why I had to meet you. Both of you. I’ve accepted what you had to teach me, and this is the time for me to move forward. You are no longer my possessions. My Keats and my Shakespeare. I know why we will never meet again. But I have accepted that now. Why I had to dissolve in that euphoric happiness, and let my spirit be cleansed by it. It’s all coming back to me now with so much intense clarity of thought. The romanticism is coming back to me. I am wiser now. Shelved that day on the beach into memory. A past that is now dead to me. But the both of you. All of you will never be dead to me. Wise thoughts. Annihilating wisdom. She did not love me, my mum, but you did. She did not desire any part of me, like the both of you did. One in an introverted, old-fashioned, gentlemanly-like predisposition, and the other madly. I don’t think of you as ancient.
I never thought of you as an old man (perhaps shy when you made your intentions known, what you really were after in the end, I didn’t understand, let me explain why, or have explained to the best of my ability here in this story, only it is not a story. For surely you can read between the lines. Read that I am writing to reach you. Perhaps one day you will get this), only older, wiser, much more advanced than I was. Your skin was only a fabric. You annihilate that day on the beach when my mother ignored me. You annihilate everything negative from my childhood. The lack of mother-love. Her lack of desiring of me as a child, adolescent, and young adult. Conversation with me as an adult woman filled her own needs, and desires. You are my turning point. You are the inspiration, the fluid escape behind the poetry that I write, and send out into the universe. You are my light. My Southern cross. You are my lighthouse. ‘You reduced me to a thing’ constructed of an inter-dependant psychological framework. The room that I go to, to escape from the rest of the world’s magic, when I want to be alone, or when I want to write. Separate myself from the predetermined original, and cast myself out into the spiritual world.
I had to become the otherworldly, ethereal feminine instead of just existing in the realities of this world. I grow into a shamanic Cinderella in that otherness world, grow attachment to my writing rituals once again. Grow attachment to the invisible. There is a new man in my life. There will always be a new man in my life. I can’t summon up love, adopt it, or yet make the proper adjustments yet. Perhaps this time I will not destroy what has been given to me by God. You are my manual. You are my survival guide. I must believe now that another man will take your place, and that I will love again, but this time this love, the romanticism that will take place will be different, and once again I will feel safe. And this man will be a sage. This man will be a scribe. This man will be an artist. This man will do a great many things in his lifetime, and I will be by his side as he builds his kingdom, empire after empire (so this is why we had to meet. This is why I have to feel a succession of deaths after I write something, put it away before I send it out into the world, like a shaman’s smoke signal. This is why I had to desire you, feel the pain of the mind acutely, and yet feel anchored by my sensitivity.
And love, and the humiliation, the ardour, the embarrassment, the shame, the blessed abundance of wisdom that comes with it all. With wanting it all. And most of all the measure of it all. Perhaps the next man will be a poet. Rhyming the cosmos telepathically with his eye to the telescope to every star in the fabric of the universe. Will it be under his self-control? Will it make him alert to his innerness, his humanity, humility, his own shimmering depression, and attempt at greatness, or accomplishing great things? You can talk, and talk, and talk about your empire, and the empires you want to conquer, and the fact that you want to go on to build a kingdom. I’ll be quiet. Rest my head against your shoulder, sit next to you, be your pretty woman if that’s what it takes. Go down, down, down to the depths of your despair, your moments of humiliation (not mine), of utter desolation (yours not mine), and I will finger that sacred gold band as if it belonged to me. Imagine all kinds of things (this is what makes me a dangerous woman. This is why I will never be yours for long). Can you imagine all the difficulties of a mental illness? How I will threaten your world, your livelihood?
Instead let me imagine the pure light of the angelic off your face, and learn to erase it from memory. Let me erase the shine of it off your face dearest until it is once more like a blank slate. I’ll imagine that white wedding lace, the happiest day of my life that belonged to me and you, our union before God, in front of guests in the church where our children will be baptised, what do you say to that? Cat got your tongue? Are you strong enough to remain by my side, to be my man, to take me on, that and the illness? Stories are meant for books, for the literary establishment, for publishers and editors. Despair is meant for tortured poets. I can act to death, sometimes with a little success. I can produce many, many wonderful things with my female intuition, and my feminine understanding, and sensitivity, swap recipes, torture spices in the kitchen, wipe down counter tops with smiling finesse, but you will never see that side of me unfortunately for long. Soon I will take to my bed. I need my rest. So, do the voices that rain down on my parade, rain down on me like coins in the metro (Ezra Pound’s metro). And I will go from Alba to Orlando, the face of love to camping out in a mysterious desert in the wilderness surrounded by shrub, and heatwaves. So, this is it then for me. Time to say adieu.
Time for me to go from happy go lucky to frustrated. It can take me hours to do menial chores, or not to do them at all. Parting lover is such sweet sorrow, but like everything I do it damn well. I impress as I move from the world of the ordinary mundane, the ordinary madness, to the world of very real, very exquisite madness. I need books. What you don’t understand is I need my books. Without them to be quite honest I feel quite lost, don’t have the energy to take a shower, wash my hair, and brush the tangles out of it. I need information. Anything will do. Take this shroud away from me. The darkness. The negativity. The depravity. Give me up instead to purity. I don’t know why it’s not making any sense to you when it makes perfect sense to me. I need plenty of books. I need them around me. Covet them. I need them within reach. Need to make sense of the words. I need to find something to do. To fill up my personal space, the hours in the hospital, from keeping me from going bored, or high, or low. Depressed that I cannot keep you, have you, consume you at any time or hour of the day. And in my writing the highs, and lows shows. There is no more you therefore there is no more inspiration.
There is no more ardour. Once childhood governed me, like that day on the beach with my mother always governs me. She’s dancing away from me, out of my reach. And I’m dying a fate worse than death. Doesn’t every child who is at first vaguely away of the lack of mother-love? I’m always rewinding that death cassette. And I dance too slowly to the music. I can never catch up to elegant her. Although I wish that the two of us could be watching television together right now. Though I’d be reading (engrossed in a novel), and you’d be watching the World Cup. But the reality of the situation is that you probably are. And the woman in your life is your wife. Confess. Confess. I want you to confess. You will not be under any obligation to be there, from relapse to recovery, although I would want that very much. But I would want you to know that without me telling you. Do you worry for me, darling? Darling, well don’t. I don’t want your pity. There is no remedy for it anyway. No remedy for this chronic illness. Electricity and I go good together. We’re perfect for each other. It cuts right through like a blade. You put that blade against my wrist and what else do you but put pressure on it. Blood divine.
Oh, blood divine.