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The Lonely Mind of the Outsider
by Abigail George
2014-11-23 11:48:28
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Clarissa is fifteen. Hector is a year older. Septimus is two years older than Clarissa is.

The silence was magnificent. In that silence poured rain and perhaps it was seeking shelter as much as she, Clarissa was. Rain. It is purity lit up. A symbol. The veil lifted up. Humanity lit up, lifted up in a way. As cold as ice. Plums stored in the refrigerator. Whatever was stolen is this. Birdsong, footstomping on the stair by children scribbling in the air, the stars survival, the change in climate. There is a map, a voice to everything (even ghost stories, even imagination, even Lolita, she found her voice at the end of it all). Moth speak. Moth dance like the matron.

The unkind matron. The fat, bosomy matron with pillows for lips. Could she not be kind? Could her army of foot soldiers not be kind?

‘I have always wanted to be beautiful and now I have two men who are kind of in love with me. Septimus is protective of me. Hector wants to confide in me. Sometimes I feel like I am kind of a joke between them. Mirror, mirror on the bathroom wall, do I want to be touched? Do I want to play their game after school in Septimus’s sitting room? I cannot believe that anyone can love me the way that Hector loves me. Is it a profound, enriching love or a selfish love? The afternoons are not the real world that I spend in their company. Septimus goes to another school. Septimus is clever and a prefect. He walks around without any doubt that he belongs here. He belongs in this real world.’

Clarissa writes in her journal. I am in love with Hector but Hector is in love with Septimus. Clarissa is the joke. The real world spits me out. It says you do not belong here. All I can do is make an examination of love. Away from the ward in the hospital now. The silence in Clarissa’s bedroom was magnificent. The rain was making spit balls against her windowpane. The cat was sleeping in a foetal position at the bottom of her bed. Hector and Septimus would understand. They would nod their dark heads in sympathy. You felt strange. Of course, you would feel strange. Of course, you would feel estranged from humanity. Youth is a wasteland. Youth is a wilderness. When I look back on my adolescence, I hope I will forget the carrion.

‘I am lovely.’ She told her reflection in the mirror. ‘I am clever. I have all this knowledge. Gosh, what am I of all people going to do with it? Sleep on it. I will sleep on it. They have decided that I am loyal and trustworthy. I will not reveal their secret to the world. I will not say that Hector and Septimus are in love and that they care a great deal for each other. I will not say that Septimus stroked my leg and that I had to try very hard not to flinch as if it was making me uncomfortable. One day I will forget this. One day I will forget how he stroked my leg. How much passion was in that amorous stroke and how gentle Hector was when he kissed me on the lips. After all, it was just a game the three of us were playing after school.’

Clarissa writes in her journal. I cannot decide whom I love best. Hector or Septimus. They are both clever. Talented. One wants to become a pharmacist. The other, a doctor. When Hector is doctor, he says he will deliver babies. Hector will bring life into this world as he brings life to me. They both say I have suffered a trauma. Hector reads me poetry. Hector writes me letters. What am I looking for? I know I am only a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I say sheepishly, ‘Why don’t the two of you walk ahead of me. I will catch up.’ Then they infuriate me. They ignore me. They walk ahead of me. I am jealous. I do not know why but I am jealous. Their heads are together. Hector is leaning towards Septimus. Then I wish I were dead.

‘Goodbye Hector. Goodbye Septimus. Goodbye cruel world. Goodbye matrons and the matron’s bosom. Goodbye fish fingers, cold toast and orange juice. Goodbye pineapple juice in the afternoon after lunch. Goodbye blurred lines of the surreal. Goodbye to Hemingway is a moveable feast. I do not need to go to Paris to figure out that it is a moveable feast. I do not have to drink coffee at a café and watch the world go by. Observe people as if they were worms, bugs or insects. A cat put to sleep using a bell jar. I must find the exit out. Finally. If I do not, everything will be a loss. Goodbye Lolita. I have imagined you for a long time. Lipstick on your pouty mouth. Red nail polish on your toes.’

The piano chair is in the corner of her bedroom. There are books that are found on every conceivable open space. They stand in the gap for her. They make a way for her. Her books. Her books. They are her religion filled with flowers of doctrine that bloom. They are her pilgrimage. She touches pages that have been turned by other hands except herself. She discovers words like elongate, thick, intimacy, school of thought, philosophy, metamorphosis, narcissism, bodily and ballad. ‘Much ado’ is a sheet of music. The masculine and the feminine nature rings inside her head like an echo. They feel like the words of a Shakespearian sonnet reverberating throughout the cells of her physical body.

‘My world on the other hand is caving in and before all the walls collapse I have to find myself. I am on fire like the phoenix. Watch me, Clarissa of all people, find herself and spread her wings like a blanket of snow across a field in winter. I saw people filtering in and out of a dream world. Foot traffic. I abandoned my soul, kissed air, hung there for a moment suspended in disbelief. Could they not feel my anguish? Did they have goals as I did? Who did they fashion themselves after? How did they live in a mundane world? I know what it means to be made a mockery of. Swift is the human nature that covets the forbidden. Now even my metallic sun’s paradise has dissolved, evaporated and I have been left pretty much alone.’

In an essay for her English class, Clarissa decides to write about hospital life. How she felt at ‘land’s end’ that she was married to the illness and that she would be for the rest of her life. There would be no divorce courts. There would be no separation, that whatever this illness was it was within her. It had all-knowing eyes. It had vision. It had awakened her spirit. Cut loose her soul like her mother’s soul was cut loose in her garden as she planted and replanted bulbs lovingly and with so much energy into dirt, bees and mist, earthworms, plucky snails, dragonflies with their angel wings and all. Clarissa knew what it was like to suffer and to cry. This much she told Hector but Hector had already stopped speaking to her. Avoiding her.

‘When I am thirty-five I will have the same fat thighs as my Auntie Ava. I do not throw dinner parties. I am not the socialite, the host nor the life of the party. I do not lip synch the words to a rock or an indie band. I would rather die than do any of those these. I do not go to the library anymore. I am too scared somebody from my past will see me like this. Whale. They will say. Look at her now. She is no longer arrogant. She no longer fist punches the air. She no longer says, ‘I have a question?’ She was never popular but she was in a way because everybody knew her name. Everybody knew she never ate lunch. Clarissa loved books. I love books. I am Clarissa. I am a vision. I am Sappho incarnate. I am a visionary.’

Diary, it is because of my madness that Hector keeps his distance from me now. In assembly, he talks to Janice, Veronica, Miranda, Sylvie, Adele, Elizabeth, Shakira (who is kind, popular and the cleverest by far in our form). Inside I feel a kind of heady violence. If the world keeps this up. Keeps viewing me as a stranger. I have been to hell and back. Is there no one out there who can understand that? I told Hector I would take his secret to the grave with me but it seems everywhere I go people stare. They know and they hate me for it. They hate me for telling because madness is something that you should keep to yourself. The hospital life. The family being counselled by a vastly inexperienced psychologist. It is because of Elizabeth Donkin.

One day, I, Clarissa, brought Septimus’s mother flowers. She thanked me profusely while my mother waited outside in the car. Of course, they are not love letters. The letters that Hector writes me. I was a woman before women had wings. I am a survivor of emotional and mental abuse. I am an idiot fish, fashioning lame stroke after lame stroke in the water, chlorine burning my eyes, a branch taking root inside the visions that I have of high school at the local swimming school. I am not like the other girls. I am tall and clever. The other girls (it is their nature) to sit on the sidelines and watch the boys swim up and down, the lifesavers. The will flit, and flirt these pretty butterflies with their lovely bones, leaving me, Clarissa out in the cold. Uninvited.

Family life. They dance around her. Her parents, and her younger brother and sister. They do not know what to make of her. Is she ill or is she happy? What to make of her discontent? Her crooked laughter cripples them but she needs a crutch. Clarissa needs something to balance on. She flickers. She loves the yellow sunlight. Clarissa remembers how she and Hector used to walk to school in the mornings (that was a ballad). How they walked side by side. How sometimes her head was thrown back into the light. Hector is not doing it anymore for her. She feels now how could they ever have been friends. How could they ever confided in each other?

Clarissa writes in her diary. You could already see that in those sessions he could not wait to enter private practice with its hospital corners neatly tucked in. The madness comes in tinny waves. Sometimes they make thud-thud-thud. Sometimes it is a thunderclap followed by extreme bursts of lighting. Sometimes it is a ghost story, a wasteland like youth, a wilderness history, a bitter orange, the scent of meat and potatoes in a watery broth people kind of madness.

I should in retrospect have said nothing to Hector and he in turn would have said nothing to Septimus. I have a feeling that Septimus is behind all of this. It is because of Elizabeth Donkin. The mad hospital. The insane asylum? The loony bin? Lunatic girl there is no going back now.

‘I am in the desert of despair amongst landscapes, faiths and relations. There is something so pure about being. Humanity. Human nature and then there is the evil in the world. I deserved a medal for the role that I play. Crazy is just another role I play. Daughter, sister, friend and poet. Those are roles too.’ The Indian psychologist stared at her. Clarissa wanted to ask her.

Haven’t you ever seen crazy before up close and personal? Take a good look at this show.

‘Don’t you understand I need to be wrapped up, literally bandaged in tenderness? I need to feel and I know what the matter is. I do not feel anymore. What I feel is helpless, empty, useless, and all I feel is grief for what I never experienced.

The things that I quit and for thinking that I was a failure. What is wrong with me? Other people live. They move forward inching, tunneling their way towards a vision planted in the stars, kismet. I am caught in a vortex. Inside my head, it is as if there is a black hole and I am swimming inside of it but I never reach the end of the other side. This flux makes me feel disoriented. I come here every week. I come here so that you can help me. I do not want to finger paint. Making explosions the colours of rainbows on paper. You have got me to think for myself. You have got me to this point in my life. I still will not be able to dance as if nobody is watching me. I have desires, dreams, am goals. I need. I cling. I want.

‘Yes, yes go on. I see we are making progress.’ Said the Indian psychologist with her takeaway coffee on her desk. From where Clarissa was sitting, the psychologist’s hair looked greasy.

‘She must put Amla oil on her hair and after her husband makes love to her she must feel as if she is a queen. Wedding vows are a sacred contract. Wives have thrones and spare keys to unlock the kingdoms of their husbands. What do adolescent girls have? What do young and inexperienced women have in their twenties? What do unmarried women have? They have books. Romance novels. Nobody to read poetry to them. An emptiness in their soul, trivia or a third eye.’ Clarissa thought to herself.

There were paintings from the occupational therapy class hanging up to dry in her office. She is making waves. She is making crazy. Yes, you see we are finally making progress if you want to see it that way, Clarissa thought to herself. She wanted to add. I do not trust you. I take everything that you say with a pinch of salt. You think you know me but you the fact is you do not know anything about me. Where I am coming from, my background, my family life, the hospital life. You are rich. You are married. You have a son. You have it easy. No doubt, high school was a breeze for you. I do not think you were ever bullied by your mother (by the way, my mother is a tyrant), by the children who hung around the swings with their unnerving competitive and threatening behaviour (by the way, they were tyrants too).

‘Your hair. Do you always have to wear it the same way? Why not try something new. Try something different.’

Go to hell, lady. Clarissa wanted to say vehemently. Why don’t you like this? Why don’t you approve of me? Is it because I am crazy, stuck up, aloof and indifferent, stupid woman? Well, I don’t like you either. I am not a fan of yours either.

‘I like it like this.’ Clarissa answered.

‘Change is good for a person. To shake things up a bit.’ The Indian doctor took a sip from her takeaway coffee.

Clarissa wanted to get up and leave. Clarissa wanted Hector but she was dead to him. If she was to all intents and purposes dead to him, he must be dead to her. She had to bury him in the past.

Clarissa was a volt. Clarissa was electricity. Clarissa had personal velocity. The woman inside of her had bloomed when Hector had kissed her chastely on the lips (while Septimus had watched out of the corner of her eye). She had felt excitement building up inside of her as if she was going to throw a party for the first time her adolescent life and girls like Janice, Veronica, Miranda, Sylvie, Adele, Elizabeth, and Shakira were going to come. The popular crowd. It would be a boy and girl party. The excitement became like a sickness every time she touched herself the way Septimus touched her. She felt hot, and bothered by the brightness that enveloped her senses, her intuition. She felt starved of sensibilities, of what felt real, pure.

Clarissa writes in her journal. Septimus is in love with Hector. He is in love with Hector’s walk, his talk and the way he wears his hair. Septimus has told me all of these things in confidence. The world shapes itself around me now as I dance to the beat of their drum.  The drums of two egomaniacs. Now that they both do not speak to me, I do not have to dance to that drum anymore. I can call them egomaniacs. I wish someone would fall in love with me the same way that Septimus seems to have fallen in love with Hector. They do not want to remember the good times the three of us had together. Night comes with the insanity of both frustration and insomnia. Night has become an experiment. I drink coffee and am awake for hours.

‘I will be healed. Humanity will heal me. Watching television will heal me. English teachers will save me. I do not know why the atrocities of war still fill me with hope. Hope that good will prevail over evil.’ The Indian psychologist looks me up and down coolly with a steely-eyed determination. She is a woman, a mother. She despises the female who is an intellectual.

‘But we are not talking about the problems. Your despair and indecision. You seem hell-bent on talking about post-apartheid South Africa. You seem to be talking from one direction only. A kind of a nearsightedness. You need to look at the bigger picture, at all of the details. You have to learn how to save yourself and not depend on others to do that for you, Clarissa.’

Clarissa wrote in her journal. I know she despises me. Her hair was so greasy. She could probably fry an egg with all of that grease on the bonnet of a car. All of those beautiful words.  I will bow down to them. I will pick and pick at them. The fruit on the bough. What I need to do is to translate this pain, the wound into something beautiful. It needs to be illuminated.

The spotlight leaves tracks on the stage. She feels a nervous energy inside of her just by her ribcage. Tonight she will shine. Clarissa will shine and she will forget that she is not loved nor wanted in the same way that Hector is wanted by Septimus. As soon as she walks out onto the stage at the Opera House, she will forget the tyrants.


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