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Chronic City
by Abigail George
2015-04-04 12:28:07
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Port Elizabeth. I will always love you although I try not to believe in anything anymore. I guess when you have suffered a broken heart early on life can do that to you.

The day started off with an angel shine on the windows after sheets of rain had poured down from the skies the previous night and then there was the haiku. The chronic city of the sorrows of a poet had a birthday. An autumn birthday. I want to write about suffering carefully and slowly. There is something of an era about it or something of an era about it will pass.  There is a period in which disaster and collapse exists, the nervous breakdown but that too shall pass and at first, it will feel infinite. Do dreams have nerves? What exactly is stationed there between past, present and future and why do we believe in the future so much?  I live for my intellectual life and that persona that I inhabit if only for a short while.

eli01It is almost as if I am telling the world that reality has a quantity. Silence has a quantity. Darkness too has a quantity. Love has a quantity. You are all and everything that I need, that is what I wanted to say. You are attractive to me as Bethlehem is. The word static. You know I need tranquility. Writers are just wired that way. To think like that. My home is darkness and my home is my mother. My mother is the one who gives me nourishment. She is a make believe story. I take her with me wherever I go. I fear nothing and everything at the same time. I fear sickness and a future without it. Age, aging, the year of blue. Perhaps imagination is just the repetition of language. The language that comes from the months we spent blooming in the womb. 

Swaziland. The air felt sticky as if from the heat and dust from a summer’s day except it was not summer. I love this kind of weather. It means I can sit outside on my grandmother’s bench.

My world shattered in my twenties. I came home. My father cradled me in his arms as if I was a child again. My mother said nothing. Did nothing. Kept her distance. Made soup. That is all that she did. Kept to the kitchen and made pots of soup. I did not want to eat soup. I wanted her to talk to me and keep the flow of the conversation going the way she did with my sister. I was not my sister. The clock became an animal. The clock became a mean-spirited animal. Time would fly by. I would waste hours doing nothing. Just thinking about darkness. The darkness that was still visible when I pulled the duvet over my head. The more I thought about darkness the more it began to inhabit my soul. Although the men were no longer there. Bright and brilliant. They became a comaed fog. Smoke.

I planted them in mirrors so every time I disrobed in the bathroom to take a bath I could imagine them looking at me or rather looking through me as if I was nothing. Made up of something eternally useless. I knew though that this was only temporary. I yearned for things that made me cry. Cutting up the layers of the onion. Eating red and green chillies from the garden, those jalapeno whoppers that my brother grew. Watching romantic comedies. Thinking of people in my family who had passed on to the hereafter of cancer, diabetes and a stroke. Grandparents, an estranged aunt and my second mother. Was the love earth shattering? Yes, in fact it was.

Helen Joseph. Is love not always is earth shattering. What kind of love was it? It was the kind of love that made me feel butterflies in my stomach every time he looked at me.

I did not have anything to do. I did not have a degree. I did not want to study further so I decided to write a book. A novella. I could already imagine the crisp pages. The neat words. My heart and lungs filled with ice, as he became roses, the moon, the tides, currency, spade and bucket. I turned his personality into a healthy metaphor. I turned all of that free time into remembering everything I possibly could about the time we spent together. The conversations we had. Although nothing had been physical, he had still done the impossible. He had still committed an injustice. I had fallen in love with him but he had not fallen in love with me. He became my refuge, my light, my sanctuary. He kept his true character away from me. His personality for his friends. Those who were closest to him. He became a shroud. A ticket.

A game that I played with myself because I was bored. I thought of all the people who had left me. I thought of all the people who I had left. My mother and my father. I thought of the newspaper people and the articles that I wrote and how still that was not enough. The photograph of myself in the paper. I hardly recognised myself and there was a part of me that did not want to. He was not a part of this life and I was not a part of his. He had moved on, forwards towards the light. I had my own vision. My own set of circumstances. There were cracks. There were cracks in my vision. My feet that sometimes felt they had a life of their own.

Tara. As if, they were stuck in a cement bucket. It sometimes felt as if I had no place to go with my mum staring me down in a heated kitchen cooking porridge with gravy for the dogs.

Johannesburg. I will always love you. Why does a word like integration exist? Humanity was always built for integration. Johannesburg always was built like a machine. I think of the word home and the words chronic city that I also call home now. I thought that I would never be able to exist without him but now look at me I exist even in my fragile state. My mother bought me a pineapple. She thought it would cheer me up. I have made progress. The late bloomer with skinny legs. The funny girl. The eldest, the sister who can never find her shoes. Johannesburg and Swaziland were pilgrimages. Beautiful journeys across an urban sprawl and a rural countryside coloured in over the edges with mystical green. I will always love the men of Johannesburg. They taught me life drawings of what they expected a woman in their midst to be like and act.

They did not mind if I asked too many questions or turned inward and said nothing at all. They did not mind if I laughed at them. It made them smile and for a while, it made me smile too. They did not know of the depression. I could make it go away for a long while. There was a time when I thought I too could marry. I too could have that family. Nervous breakdowns can do that very quickly for you. Put everything in perspective for you. You might shed tears. The man I loved was beautiful and creative. Kind and clever. Enigmatic and brilliant. Giving and generous.

Garden City Clinic. I had to be enterprising when it came to the man. I had to do away with all thought of him for he existed in a dream world. He was not real. He had a proper office with a door.

I knew absolutely nothing about him. Nothing interesting. Just that he was intense. I found his intensity frightening. I wanted to know why he was so dynamic and what it was that really captivated me about him. Religion did not mean anything to me although my mother tried to take me to church. Religion bored me silly. It bored me to tears. I thought that it just meant you were being dumbed down again. Even there I would find him. In words, I found code. Even in the fruit trees, my brother grew in his garden. The exotic papaya, the elfish fig fruit, the pomegranate, the bittersweet gooseberries. I found him everywhere I looked. I just could not help myself. I loved him bitterly so. I loved him with all my heart even though I knew he belonged to another.

Even though I knew that the two of us could not be connected to each other by any means still I longed for him. To be loved by someone the way my father loved my mother, that was all that I had waited for my whole life. That longing to me felt sublime. All my life I felt that I was in flight from something, from people, from someone, from relatives, from being better sane. I knew I could not speak to my mother about these things. I think that when I told him the deepest secrets of my heart and I saw the look on his face. I tried to read the look on his face. What exactly was he holding back? I went on and on but he had telephone calls to make. His tea was getting cold and perhaps I was working on his nerves. He was busy.

Hunterscraig. In the hospital, I cannot sleep. I have intermittent spells where I sleep for a few hours but then I wake refreshed. I sometimes wake up. The darkness disorients me and I have to lay there until morning comes or breakfast.

It has been like this for too long to remember. The cause and effect of many hospitalisations. The realisation that there will never be for me love and a family. There will never be children who look like me. A baby who smells like sick, soap and Johnson’s shampoo. I was either going to make a metaphor of him or a myth out of his anatomy. I wanted to know how I feed my own soul before I start feeding and nourishing another soul. If I told him that, I loved him that would have been reckless. That would have been the point of no return. It would have meant letting the worst in me come out. The endangered species. The bipolar experience. There is a knot. There is a knot in my throat. I see him every day everywhere. Especially in other men. Especially in other men’s looks, I mean. For a long time he was necessary to me. I felt I needed him to be more aware of the environment I lived in or I needed to be more aware of nature. He is inexpressible. He is poetry. If I could call him mine, I would but he is not mine. He belongs to another. She has given him the children that I cannot. Hair like silk. Hands gamine. Long, thin and intelligent hands. Dark, dark hair. Who cuts your hair? I think that is why I write. Not to forget anything (not to forget anything about him and not to forget that once upon a time I loved and it encapsulated my entire being). I write so that I can remember when I lived in ignorance, faces and names. People I love and loved. The friendships I made.

Elizabeth Donkin. We take food to this hospital. We take cake and sandwiches. We hope we will be received warmly. Mrs Tobias has kindly made cheese straws. There is a lot of cake.

I try not to forget that I am the master now and that I am much more productive. I drink my coffee even though the doctor says caffeine is bad for me. I take the pharmaceuticals. This is life. Some days I even write a little. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes nothing at all. This is the information I give you now. I am afraid that when I go I will not have left much behind. Left much of a legacy behind writing wise. Insanity. The despair of madness. They call it many things. Mental illness. It has many names. Suicidal depression. The bipolar experience or manic-depression. I do not want it to seem as if I am waiting. Waiting for an apocalyptic burnout. It is almost as if the doctors do not want to clean about it. They do not say that this illness can kill me. There are days when the hysteria builds and builds and builds up inside of me and my father has to talk me down in a calm and soothing voice. He has to tell me that everything is going to be okay and that I have nothing to worry about. I still think about love, the children I cannot have and I call it infertility. Instead, I dream about the man that I had nothing to offer to. I have been given a second chance, a third, a fourth, a fifth.  It is only a foundation. It is only a speck. Only part of what humanity is made of. Although it is part of my character. Part of my personality. Is the configuration of poetry like the stars and robbed of life but not of angst life, haunting prose more like past and present failures? I choose both. I choose both.

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