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Virginia Woolf's Winter Revisited Virginia Woolf's Winter Revisited
by Abigail George
2014-10-19 13:21:37
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The argument was about nothing really. I really cannot remember who started it first. It was between a girl, barely out of adolescence and her married boyfriend. Perhaps I told him that I did not think that my mother really loved or accepted the choices I made in my life and that I thought he could be supportive of me. Was he really listening? Girls need their mothers more than they need their fathers. Girls need devoted parents. All I could feel was emotional. He was cold and non-committal. I knew my place and he knew his. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs was, ‘Listen to me, please!’ I already knew it would be ignored.

‘We’re not making love anymore?’

‘So what? We can do other things. We are not in the primitive ages anymore. We can talk. You know what I want. I want a married life.’

‘That’s why I have a wife. I can talk to her.’

‘This is not a relationship?’

‘I know this is not a relationship.’

‘All this talk is making me depressed.’

‘Go home. Go home to your family, lady. Go home to your mother and your father.’

‘Why do you want to hurt me?’

‘This is the end of whatever dream you had.’

‘Of course I can see that. I can see it when you look at me. Please don’t talk to me like this?’

‘You want me to tell you that I need you. I don’t need you. You don’t need me as much as you think you do.’

‘I’m in pain. Can’t you see that?’

‘Yes, you’re in pain. You are giving me a headache. Go away. Leave me alone and stop calling me. What if my wife picked up? What then? This is not love. When people treat each other this way. This, this is not love.’

‘When you were young did you ever map your life out? Of who you were going to get married to? Your wife? Your life? Your children?’

‘You’ll grow up and then one day you’ll wake up and I’ll be the last thing you remember. The last thing on your mind. You will not have to put me on your itinerary. You won’t have to make as if you cook and clean on my account.’

‘We always fight. I realise that now.’

‘Good. Then leave.’

‘Please?’

‘Go. Just go. In the end you’ll see it is better that way.’

‘Talk to me. Humour me. Tell me a story about a lost, frightened girl who comes to the big city with a myriad of dreams. In the end, none of her dreams comes true. She sleeps with men in hotels. She is hurt. Flesh is flesh. What happens to a lady and a man? Do they meet and always fall in love? What happens then is that nothing good comes from it? The man leaves and she does not have any self-worth.’

‘You don’t deserve this. The way I have treated you. Go out into the world. Make something of yourself. You are young. You are attractive. That is the dream world, the high art of the female outsider. I need to know that you are going to be fine about this.’

‘You need to know that you are fine with the fact that you are ending my world as I know it.’

‘Do you want to smoke?’

‘I don’t smoke. You know that.’

‘You need to relax. So this is the first time then for you.’

‘Men have left me before. This is not the first time. You were not the first. You are going to make me cry. Maybe it is best if you don’t say anything anymore.’

‘Have a cigarette with me anyway.’

‘Cigarettes make me cough. They taste terrible.’

‘You never complained before. Now you are complaining.’

‘Things were different before. By that, I mean I was going to see you again. I was happy that I was going to see you again. I would have done anything in the world for you, you know. I know how to love someone. Someone even like you. Someone powerful and insecure and full doubts and insecurities.’

‘So you have discovered a man’s secret at last. That we are much more vulnerable than a woman.’

‘And no doubt I will keep discovering it over and over again. I really do not mind if you smoke that last cigarette now. Let me just find my shoes and the rest of my clothes. I’ll go now.’

The world is not my home. Everything in this world seems to be a test or temporary. Fading out as the sunset at the end of the day or illuminating human flaws, truths that are eternal for us. We are indulgent creatures. We need trust. We need loyalty. We need kindness. We need family even though children can be selfish brats sometimes and husbands and wives and friends. We flirt. We flit. We make nests and then when they are empty there is a depression that never leaves us and that is why children come home for the holidays. The unseen is eternal. Ghost stories. Christmas. Fish. I have left childhood behind. They were gifts of great spiritual maturity.

The psychiatrist teaches me how to let go, surrender if you will but how does a person let go of the only world (childhood) that she (I) have ever known. All is gold. We speak about the feelings of being emotionally bankrupt. Unable to deal with the voices in unison in society that are blocking mine out. She says I also have to be heard. People have to listen to me too. Gone are the passages of contentment in books. I have no time to waste on something that I feel does not exist for me or for those who live in spiritual poverty. I have to learn how to love, how to marry but my parents were not good examples of this. I have to own this space, she says.

I am a dreamer. I am a dreamer who has goals, as I am sure Virginia Woolf had goals with the relationships she had, with her writing, with her diaries and letters, with her marriage. Perhaps I desire the same things she did. In her lifetime. In her world. Who made up the rules anyway? I had a bad past and then I think of Alice in her terrifying trippy wonderland. Woolf knew of gender betrayal, constructing sympathy for her characters in her novels. Her hair as fine as Whitman’s blades of grass. Woolf’s words come in waves. They cut me deep. Their serious depth, desolate isolation, rejection and suicidal despair is there for the world to see, to read.

As an adolescent, Woolf was already an intellectual. As an adolescent, I was already an intellectual. There was no psychoanalyst for her violent madness. Her outbursts. Sometimes I think I cannot walk down that road again. It is not a sunny road. It is not the road to Oz. There is a landmark exhilaration when dawn comes as if to say light beckons now, awake! With the light comes the awareness of a new day, vitality and energy for the nerves in your brain cells. Night comes with the same minutia. It is only now that the sun has faded away. The moon and the tapestry of stars is out.

Lovers embrace in dark bedrooms across the world but I am in mourning because I cannot be with that one man who changed my world, who changed my world with one caress. A precarious touch and instantly there was a change in my suffering and my head, my biology was wired differently. The lonely cannot exist. Spiritually they die. The identity is decaying as they speak, walk, and think, constructing sentences, a string of verbal and non-verbal communication. So what if I am a virgin again. Virgins thinks of sensuality and sexuality just as much as other people do but differently.

Sensuality becomes noble. Sexuality becomes an electric waiting game. Why are there all these games in this life, in this world? Sexuality is not something that is alien to the virgin. She reads about it. Sometimes when she reads about it, she will think of her infertility, her breasts, her shoulders, the nape of her neck. The physical parts of her body that are the most sensitive to touch. Sometimes when she reads about it, she will blush. The weather is comic. First, there is sun, and then it is as if rain clouds are gathering and then the sun comes out again. I think of the dark room. I think of the lovers and how I will never be a part of that world again.

It hurts too much to think, to breathe over what I have lost. What is a man? What is an older man? Grey hair at his temples. Wisdom beyond his years. Influence within his reach. Power. Powerful. Kings of their empires. Trophy wives at their sides or their best friends. Children. Children. Children. The children I will never have. What is love? Instead, I have research, my writing, and those are things that I am passionate about. I am a feminist but I am also a daughter who still a child. Wanting attention. Wanting approval. Wanting gifts. I need a change of suffering. World did you hear me? I need a change of suffering.

It is time women begin to listen to each other. It is time we all called each other feminists. It is a new word for me. Feminist. What does it mean? It has its own beauty. It has its own identity. The tragedy of the relationship that faltered is that it was both romantic and playful as it neared its end. The mood was spiritual and pensive. He was the land and I was the sea. My hands and feet were made of clay. Easily melted away by water. While his empires were made of (guess), steel girders planted into the ground, held down by gravity. He destroyed me. With every measure of success that he acquires he lives on now in relative wealth. I live with my parents.

From here on out it, life is an unknown destination. From here on out life is unpredictable. I am 35 going on 40. Silence is wonderful when all you hear is birdsong. Backyards have their own wisdom. Trees seem to fill that precious hour. Pour into your humanity. This, this is my tribe. Nature. Time is precious. So is life. They are sacred. I am an arrangement of combinations of particles, matter, opportunities, challenges, threads, cells and platelets that communicate with each other. Just as Virginia Woolf lined her pockets with stones and stepped into the River Ouse.

Just as she communicates to me from the world or the region that she is in now, the beautiful drowning visitor I communicate with the profound and the concrete. The lake’s surface is built like concrete. Perfect for skating but the skin, the fabric of what she was wearing, her shiny forehead is down there somewhere. Winter in the end. It is always winter in the end that rises up to meet me. In my dreams, there is a remote area in Greenland. Like the end of winter, we do not always remember childhood. It gives itself to us in dreams after the innocence; the light goes out in the world of a child.

How we appear in our parents eyes, in the end does it matter? It only really matters if we are happy individuals who become happy adults instead of functioning in dysfunctional households. Women keep on meeting different men all the time, up close and personal. Women want intimacy. Men want sex. I loved that book. Instead, I gave it to him. A boy. A man. I cannot remember which posture his shoulders and his height was brought to my attention. Thinking that it would heal some part of me. The broken parts of me. Parts I had misplaced so deep that I hoped nobody could find them. I needed music and he was my source of everything.

Romanticism, pleasure, pain, intimacies and finding desolate landscape after desolate landscape but the truths that I found in the book was not the same for him as it was for me so I had to give up on him. He could not be my Leonard Woolf. It took me a long time to work him out of my system.

‘Have you ever seen a man naked? You don’t have any reason to be afraid. I am not going to hurt you.’ He makes a ceremony out of everything. Lighting the candles, pouring the wine and giving me a glass of wine that I pretend to drink in tiny sips. Incense and scented candles are burning. I can even smell the scent of roses. Does every female writer ever have an experience of lesbian passion? Echoes in a wasteland. Images from a wilderness. The female writer is an intuitive. She is a catalyst.

I lay on the bed in sweltering Durban thinking, if only he knew. Would it matter? Would it make a difference? I knew why he wanted to see me. It was not for conversation. He meant to educate me. I had come such a long way. From Johannesburg to Durban for this. For this charade to play itself out. That I was innocent. That I was so delicate my bones could break. I would be staying a week in his flat. I knew we would not leave to see the sights. Durban had beaches and restaurants that served up spicy Indian cuisine. Of course, he was going to hurt me.

Of course, he was going to break my heart but there had been a line filled with monsters, beasts, and men, wolves, older men before him who had pressured me into doing something I did not want to do. Who had in the end made it out to be my idea? Then there was one man who wanted to photograph me, another who wanted to call me by another name. Probably the name of a lover who had left him or the other way around. I feel his mouth against mine, that slight pressure. His breath is warm. His mouth, his lips are dry. What was his name again? He did something important. He was on television. He made a lot of money. He was engaged. He had a son. So young. Youth wasted. I have always wanted the qualities of a young mother.

‘Take your clothes off but do it slowly.’ He said authoritatively.

‘Why?’ I asked shyly.

‘You haven’t done this before so I want it to be special for you. I want you to feel safe, comfortable. Aren’t you happy with me? With everything that I’ve done for you today?’ he whined. Yes, I could hear a whine in his voice. He was so close. We were too far into this game and so I had to go ahead with it. I had to go ahead with this snowball effect. He had paid for everything. Paid me to come here. Met me at the bus. Carried my suitcases.

We ate leftovers. Cold pizza. Yes, he had paid for this sexual transaction well in advance. I thought to myself. What was I supposed to say to that? He did take me to the beach. I was not hungry. I did not want anything to eat. I could see he was crestfallen by this. I knew instinctively that I had to make it up to him somehow but how, but why? I felt foolish for coming. He thought he knew my reasons for coming. That I was in love with him. He was the fool and not me. I could have laughed aloud but he had gone to all this trouble of making me feel safe and comfortable. Now I am home, 35, and over a decade later.

What brings me bliss is cooking? It is therapeutic. Life is made up of moments. Some happy. Some unpleasant that sound like Verdi, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. There is something special about behaving as if it is the end of the virgin’s world. You become a woman. What does that mean exactly? I am seeing a new psychiatrist after my last nervous breakdown. The new pills seem to be helping me cope. It is funny how a psychiatric patient does not need or want sex. You seem to lose that impulse, and that sex drive. Where does it go? What happens to it? Is it numbed? There is shark-infested waters out there. There is evil and danger.

They are called men. The thirst for relationships has left me. Once again, I am an empty vessel.

‘Mum, how are you?’ I felt the coins in my jean jacket. I wanted home. I wanted mum.

‘Fine. Why are you calling? Is something wrong?’ I could hear the whine in her voice.

‘No. Nothing.’ I replied. I hummed.

‘Your friend. Your girlfriend. Is she nice? Where are the both of you staying? Are you getting a lot of sun?’ She seemed to perk up a bit.

‘Everything is fine.’ Why was I lying? Why did I run away from home again? Was it because of the complex and complicated relationship I had with my sad, elegant, longsuffering mother?

Why did I do this to her? My father had left us. He was there physically but he had left us to our own devices. Two women on their own. A single parent had to be both mother and father. I could blame the anorexia on him. The distant father who wanted a social life and a wife who could be an active participant in that world. He wanted someone who would attend functions on his arm, smiling and nodding her head, looking out for him. Two women on their own. My mother did not really understand mental illness. Then one day unexpectedly he returned. After a hospital stay.

We were father and daughter, hostile tributes aside that had to count for something. With my mother away in Johannesburg, my father and I confide in each other now. Frank talk exposing illness.

Everything else was forgotten. I look at my books. No one will ever know where it really came from. No one will know the man who really inspired me to the wuthering heights, who helped my gift along. One day as I have said before I will never have youth on my side. Youth is wasted on the young. Will this make me bitter or crazy down the line? I am already crazy. I am already too thin. The skin and bone of an anorexic woman have many ghost stories to tell. Skinny legs. The flesh of a bird. I feel it in my bones. I feel the lonely life of crazy in my bones. It was planted there somehow like a sonnet, keys to a post-apartheid future.  

Psychoanalysis is filled with statements. Wrecks with gut symmetries. Frail beauty. Here humanity becomes relentless as they once did at the discovery of treasure after treasure in the wilderness of the rural countryside in another life. Writers are dreamers. Dreamers who plunge into all the universal symbolism has to offer. Expressions of suffering, heritage and knowledge.  

Is writing a book like childbirth, a Darwinian experience, a sensorial experiment, an engagement? The problems with symbolism is that it gives us a sense of our own mortality. A sense of false hope. In a dream, we might come upon a cauldron of water. What does this mean?

The only thing that fits that kind of dream-reality in our existence is the warm sea, destination anywhere of the shoreline, the swimming pool or to go bathing in a river, wading into that weight of water. Once upon a time, we too were fish. Once upon a time, we too were intuitive children. Mushrooms are beautiful delicate things. The melons for this time of year are beautiful too. Food is too glorious for words. Food is like sex. We need it for our survival. If we do not have children to follow in our footsteps who will write history over repeatedly.

Light comes in waves. They come in their own time. Their own medium of survival therapy. Their own ceremony in the shadows. The real world, reality, sanity, normal is a trap. Light is made up of the angelic. It is made up of the otherworldliness against the common particles of this world. I have gone so high. I have crashed romantically trying to live with the decisions I have made. Atonement can be beautiful like videotape. There is no room for lies only a lighthouse, only fulfillment, only videotape. A man can have sexual fulfillment. For a woman fulfilment is mingled in her blood, if she can see her unborn children in her lover’s eyes.

Had Virginia Woolf known love? Real love with Vita Sackville-West? What did she think of marriage? I write for women and I write for men. I am a feminist and a humanist but the question is can I be both. I have also known lesbian passion but it was never quite enough. It was driftwood. It was cats and dogs. It was a constellation. It was the red shred of a balloon in the hand of a screaming child. It was paste. It was a vital breathing lesson. It was gold and bright and illumined my world for a fraction. It was the investigation of a distillate. I feel a disembodiment when I talk about that time, feeling her fingers in mine, brushing her hair out of her face.

I feel that there are apparitions inside my head. They come with their own prepared speeches, airs and graces. These damned adventurers. Did Virginia Woolf write enough, too much, or too little? Would she have liked to have children, a child, and a son? What is so dead wrong with married life for me? Would I not grow if I had companionship, if I had love, if I had someone to take care of me? Someone to lean on. Sometimes I feel so cold. My nerves tingling in my hands as if in this universe there are other worlds out there that are magical, stranger than fiction, haiku, Mr Muirhead, famous people. Now I am older but am I wiser?

Ghosts. Ghosts. Ghosts. They all have their own stories to tell. What the hell? I kissed a girl, have slept with men. Have known love as Woolf’s Orlando in my dreams and reality. There is this other feeling. I cling to things. To beautiful things. It is the feeling you get inside you heart as you find the words inside your head when you sing along to your favourite song on the radio. Who was she? Who was Virginia Woolf? Will the real Virginia Woolf please stand up? Will everyone who is anyone please stand up and give Virginia Woolf a standing ovation for making it so far, thus far? Was her life complete or incomplete?

The sea. Trough. Crest. Trough. Crest. The waves emit their own frequency. I have the season ticket for the swimming pool. There is two hardboiled eggs for everyone for breakfast. Toast galore. A wasteland of breakfasts in middle class homes. The accomplished man that I see in front of me does not care for me anymore in any way. I am the least of his worries. Now I must survive. My mother is no longer at the height of her awareness as a bride. She no longer has those virginal mental faculties within reach, that ego of an adolescent girl now that she has brought children into the world. I must swim. I must regain something that I have lost.

I must recover. I must evolve for a revolution from within to take place.

 


    
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