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Jean Rhys Jean Rhys
by Abigail George
2013-04-06 10:40:14
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I can hear his voice in my veins. He calls me his, ‘Porcelain-darling’. Sometimes in my flat here in London I would move from one room to the next astonished at this ‘love-experiment’ I was delving into. I was now once again ‘a work in progress’ as I had been as a child in Dominica. The first man I ever loved made me feel more of an exile on these London streets. Far away from home, the only home I had ever known. It was the known. Love is like plasma, floating mitochondria, atomic particles, the accurate building up of ignorance into life experience, the harsh, neon underground bricks of illness.

Love for me was always an unlikely dilemma. Do I, or don’t I? Sometimes I think we live with ghosts. Love is a ghost. It is ancient as illness but it makes me bleed at the starting line. Curtains at the open window of the hotel room are moving in sync with my little bleeding scarlet heart. Why do I write? I want to find myself in eternity when I’m in heaven. Everything has returned to normal. I am on my own again. I don’t want to strike it rich or land me a guy to marry me (both at the same time would be a dream). 

There will be no reunions with family, with lovers, with ‘him’, that kind, sincere wealthy man I first met when I was such an ingenue. He taught me the difference between the words, ‘authentic’, ‘squalor’, ‘but these are terrible living conditions’, ‘you can even find human nature in a symphony if you listen close enough’. He taught me the meaning of words like, ‘the brittle movements and accurate moments of solitude’, ‘how to be astonished at how ignorant people were, how vain women and men were’, ‘all pictures always carried powerful observations of life in the details’. 

I would hear his voice everywhere I went in the beginning stages of our relationship (I called our little affair). His voice healed some parts of me especially when the dark air of night was advancing.

‘God is mostly in your head but most people do what their hearts tell them to do.’ ‘Life is boring and we need activities like love to get us through the day. We’re a match. People think life owes them something if they’re not born rich but even rich people are lonely and ignorant. They can go to the best schools in the world, but are they educated, no, cultured, no. Have you ever felt abandoned, neglected, ill at the thought of being rejected (I felt like that my whole childhood) I wanted to ask but was too afraid to, too afraid he would think I was a mouse, weak. There was clarity in that. 

You need to think more of yourself, Jean love. You need to express yourself. If you feel indignant, feel indignant. If you feel confident, feel confident. Don’t be so afraid of the world around. What is the worse thing that could happen (I already knew, that someone could laugh in my face, stare me down until I looked away but I never confided this in him because there was no reason to). Sometimes I think you feel terribly lost. I see a terror in your eyes as we leave one another. You remind me of a lotus flower and for me it is the most beautiful flower in the world.

He could articulate it (love), show it, examples of it (I could only describe it, make plans for it for the most part in my head, connecting threads of the purest thoughts of it in black notebooks). I was his pretty doll whom he spoke of in whispers to in the dark.

Jean, sometimes I think you are hiding something away from me. I think an entire wonderland must exist inside your head for your own pleasure. What sweetness that must come with. It must taste refreshing. It must taste like pink happiness, a deposit of charm in a room that has not felt it for days, for my Jean, my bird without wings.

And so his champagne voice would carry me through the day and for most of the night for this insomniac. Sometimes I could feel the stress on my heart, its thudding, hammering away pressure and there was nothing in the world I could do about it. All I had to do was to live. I would watch children sometimes and think to myself what their gifts to the world would be when they grew up. Sometimes my heart would turn to paste as I watched them and I would think that now, finally everything had been taken away from me. I could never be free and then I would walk down back streets.

There would always be an undeniable lightness in the road’s blackness as evening began to settle all around me. Its magic fingers in my hair, the wind rearranging my hat, massaging thoughts of rope and poison, putting stones into the pockets of my coat and walking into a lake filled with ice and trees at the bottom into my mind’s eye.

I would think of the dilemma that faced Romeo and Juliet and how sometimes when I was feeling very low how that same dilemma faced me. I wanted to be myself but not on my own like this. I knew I had failed. I did not know how to get back to life. 

I did not know how to dance to modern society’s beat. I did not know what modern meant anyway but I knew I was a most modern woman attached to absolutely nobody and nothing. And then the tears would come streaming down my face. I could not stop them and why would I. Life had not been fair to me. I did not know anything about modern acrobatics and the flying trapeze artist was a comic to me and sometimes my mind’s eye was a width of a thread and it was simply connected to nothing. Some days I would feel brave as I if I had a destination in my step but I knew that was a lie.            

Soon everywhere I went I would hear his voice in my head, as if he was with me in the room. ‘You can survive anything, Jean as long as you put your heart and mind to it. You look beautiful tonight, simply divine, and come here let me hold you. It feels as if it’s been forever since I’ve last seen you.’ By that time he was already a ghost. It didn’t feel real to me. His voice had no substance but it kept me company, the illusion was so strong. I didn’t know how to distance myself away from that habitat of his beautiful house filled with fireplaces, flowers and pictures hanging on the walls of landscapes, a wine cellar. I just wanted to dissolve. 

Sometimes you live poverty. I’ve lived in poverty. And at first I didn’t want people to see me like that. You know, drab, pathetic, old clothes, out of fashion. Funny, but it made a difference to them, made their hearts and their diplomatic hearts and heads softer towards me. They exhibited empathy to what I always thought was my unlikely demise. They gave me money and I would use it to live as best I could. There was an understanding. Out of sight, out of mind. It was fine if I was going out of my mine with loneliness so long as it was on their terms. 

And when a guy (I really don’t really his name, how we met), he finally he broke off the affair a few months later he was very diplomatic and suave about it. Although I couldn’t understand how he could be so composed about the whole deal. To them money meant success. I had no money. I wished sometimes that I could distance myself away from it, my love for it but I needed to live like other people did, don’t you see. Whatever that word ‘normal’ meant it gave me Goosebumps just thinking about it. And then in the end I thought it was normal to distance myself from society.

From London to Paris, Europe what a pilgrimage, what a privilege. Who ever gets the chance to travel these days. And then I was soon back in London again. Whatever happened in Paris had been an adventure but now it was over. Sometimes I felt vertigo as I was walking on those London streets. I felt blessed with the knowledge that somehow I was perhaps writing for a generation that would come years after me in a golden age. It was a generation who was now experiencing life as children while I was a grown woman. Sometimes I thought to myself I was not meant for this world.

In the evenings London would become a ghost nation but I did not want to be stuck in a room. It was too depressing. I became too aware of my current situation. It would make me feel sad. I would feel like having a drink and then my whole outlook on life would change after I had the drink within me. The man who lived below me would knock a broom into his ceiling and ask me to ‘keep it down in there’ (whatever the hell that meant). I didn’t know what on earth I got up to in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes I thought I would just be writing, scribbling away, staring at the walls. I would think about love, how much I really liked the idea of it.

There are a lot of things in this world that are rotten, unpleasant things to deal with. In the evening or usually when I am alone something always seems to loose itself violently from me. Sadness, a wounded feeling as if I almost don’t belong in this world and in a way I know I don’t fit. Perhaps I am too reckless in the choices that I make. Perhaps I am not a safe person to be around. Too much of a thinker, brooder, reader always keeping love and the attraction of it in the dark until I can feel pin points of lights trying to break through the cracks. I am no good. I am bad at love. 

I am bad at affairs and matters of the heart and bad at relationships. I must rest now. Tomorrow is another day. So I wait until the room is filled with darkness and I listen to the noises in the street outside, downstairs, in my own room. And I know I’ve walked that street today like a ghost as if I was not aware of my surroundings. Soup is always good for the soul, as are confessions. Here is one for one. I don’t believe in the death of things anymore. I believe in life as much as that is hard to believe. If only someone knew me well. If only I had a companion. 

If only I didn’t have to suffer for my art. All of my life I watched women in their relationships with men. How they would smile, turn their head, their eyes watchful and waiting, how they would smooth their hair down, arrange the food, the salad on the plate or cast their eyes over a menu and how the men were pensive, eager to please in this sunny environment. How could I have known then as a child that I was not one of them, that I was never going to grow up and be one of them? I would watch these women always smiling; listening (but were they really listening).

And I wondered why these women with their fine clothes, elaborate hats, and brooches why never spoke back. They were always nodding their heads like puppets. I knew from an early age I was not too pretty so I would have to work hard, but also I would have to discipline myself not to be too smart. I reckoned that people’s lives are meant to be celebrated when they’re alive not dead. There was always something pure about the day as I set about my walk and there is something to be celebrated in that. The union of life mixed with the elixir of what I drank (and I always thought of it as an elixir). 

I was not built like that, to be tough I mean. I was never meant to be a bully or a tyrant. I just did not have that warmth in my voice, that kind of spirit flowing in my blood. If poetry is an elixir then prose is food for thought. I’ve walked past people and they’ve stared at me. I’ve looked away but sometimes when I really think of getting to grips with the situation I want them to try and understand me so I stare back. What do they see, a casualty disconnected from the rest of the world? I live so simply. My life is easy and cheap. My supper is usually bread and cheese. 

It is always bread and cheese. No change there and my hands smell like soap and this room’s bare bones creak under my stockinged feet at night. Writing has become my ritual. It has become my escape from grief and raw anguish and frustration. 

Sometimes the process of writing torments me but I also feel very anchored by it. It’s therapeutic, it minimises the stress that I feel thudding inside my head and it gives me a sense of purpose. All the words seduces me, gets under my skin. It is so intense, this pleasure that unravels and seems to release the chill out of me on cold nights.  

But I can no longer feel the weight of the world resting on my shoulders so acutely. The words seem to paint that blue pearl into a rainbow of magic colour. Into childlike stuff of fairies, dust, a water wonderland, into soul and life, everything of beauty and not a disturbing sense of things. I always wished as a child to make contact with things like that, magical things. I’m thirsty so I get up for some water. I can still taste the salt in the air coming in from the sea in Dominica. Why would I go back? Sometimes I remember why and sometimes I don’t.

Fast forward to a flat in London and I go by the name now of Jean Rhys. A name I have changed so many times. I have no money, no skills, and no form of employment. The cheques come regularly. He called me a ‘porcelain darling’, ‘daring good girl’, ‘special’ and that I was ‘loveliness personified’. He had kind eyes. He was so authentic and a real gentleman. I mean authentic in the terms of he was a man who was made of substance and everything around him, his home, his household, his wealth felt real to me as I entered the foyer and stared at the flowers in the vase that seemed to welcome even me.

I believed nothing was wrong and even when the affair ended I still thought perhaps there would be contact again and even a friendship but years have passed (the poet in me I guess came up with these foolish notions). Realising that the past is past even the temporary frightened me to death. But there had to have been some reward, something golden that I could get out of the equation of knowing this man and coming into his world even for a short period of time. I could not solely have duped myself into thinking, into believing that it was just a lark on his part. 

You know that whole easy situation. I could think about these things for hours on end, fill my entire day on the he said she said transmission of our conversations. Sometimes I would get stuck on a sentence, just the tone, how he would express himself and it would drive me crazy, up the wall and I would will my brain to dissolve it. It would feel brutal but brutality in the end also serves its own purpose. It will make you realise that you need to rest. I don’t know quite when I’ve finished with something. When I have to quit it but I do know when I have to rest. When I’m kaput.

It is not going to work out Jean.
You know how these things are between a man and woman.
You’re not too blame.
It’s just what happens in the world, its called human nature.
One day you’ll be a grown woman, a lady and you will understand all of this.
It’s not easy for me to say this.
You’re still young and believe me; you will fall in love again.

I’m too young to know about those sorts of things, that’s what I wanted to say at the time. I was thinking it all the time watching the creases in the corners of his mouth. How the fleshy part of the skin in the middle of his forehead was crinkling up as he watched my reaction. I know he was just testing me to see if I would fly out of control, would she make a scene? How would the past few months come to an end?

I felt like an orphan. I shouldn’t say things like that but that is what I felt like. Lost, terribly afraid of the world, neglected, abandoned, no home, no name and family.

There was no hope in damned hell to resurrect my lone self. There were parts of me that were wolfish, that was the part of me that could fight, battle (I have the scars to prove it) if I had to. No, if I was challenged. But I also withdrew easily and that was the weakest part of me. It didn’t matter what kind of climate I found myself sheltered by. I embraced skating on illness and when I did I yearned the most for my art and all my little rituals. Now I am tired of the years of cold I have lived through and this incessant hunger that I feel for attention and most of all my neediness.

Violets were my favourite flowers in the world. Maybe because they’re so pretty and cheerful they make me feel that way. They don’t make me feel like death, volcano dust or blue warmed up. Sometimes I dream of my mother’s fingers knitting, not braiding my hair. In the middle of the night I come upon a sleeping world, a dream world. I journey there for awhile pacing back and forth, sometimes crying, sometimes in a sombre mood before I fall asleep myself. The stars are like birds in my eyes on the nights you can see stars in London.

They are like birds with their wings outstretched. Ready to meet the oncoming edge of the sky or a sword of air. All ‘Ella’ had was imagination and she kept that close to her. ‘Ella’ was always secretive and I have kept that because if I didn’t I would have come undone a long time ago. I am what I am because I have wanted people to believe it, especially other women. In life there are always choices, pleasure, desires. I always kept waiting for love to change everything. A Prince charming and as dark as an Arabian knight in shining armour to rescue me. 

But life never goes according to plan although I am an open door. Sometimes it feels as if I come alive in the dark. The sun is like a mirror. If it’s there I never see it. I am not conscious of its light, and my reflection in it. I can feel (I’ve always been aware of this for what feels like forever) the dark side of life more intensely than the lighter side of life of it.

My hair was not spun gold. It was dark. I did not believe in fairies and their wings or that Dominica was an island but I did like the trees. They were my favourite and the open fields and when a spell of tiredness came upon me, when I couldn’t breathe because of the heat I would imagine. My goal became to fall in love with warriors in suits who had wonder guts in their blood. I’ve loved many and I’ve lost some along the way. Splendid confidantes that I held in high esteem as if royalty. I’ve learned to go on loving although it is the hard way. 

You go on paying the price one too many times. There’s a flaw in passion, a conspiracy in love, that hate that always cornered me on the playing fields of childhood, that seemed to flow my way as a gauche chorus girl. You know once upon a time there was a man who wanted to adopt me. I think he wanted to take care of me and be a fatherly figure. Some kind of mentor, a friendly man who would keep me out of the firing line of the inquiring gazes of others who would exchange company for money. One last time I am more in love with being in love than anything else. 

The air is crisp (a tattoo on the green landscape). It feels as if I am living in an ancient world collapsing under meteors. What does progress mean to a writer? Write more books but they have to have a market and they have to sell well but the writer must always be morose and depressed. Very difficult when it comes to giving interviews.

I do not know what impact my books have on the rest of the world and I would like it to stay that way. I know that human behaviour is predictable. It is also a precious cargo. But I am made of glass.

Why call off the splendid search (such an adventure) for the adventurous spirit at heart, that instinct. I am the feminine lark, the songbird. In my line of work there is such a thing as clarity but no such things as clocks. What is the meaning of that four-letter word l-o-v-e? And when it is nailed to my heart why do I stammer when I speak, why does my heart beat to another rhythm, cadence (I can hear it as if it has gone underground somewhere). I have to mine it like a mineral deposit. In love when I have fallen, fallen hard all my thoughts are hushed up, meshed together mystically. 

It is hard for me to understand men sometimes, to have a concept of them as an object, to understand their failure to communicate and the world they inhabit, their domain. The sense of their beliefs and mine differs profoundly. They can be monsters made of winter, coldly inspiring all kinds of aches and pains of the mental kind, cerebral but they can also incredibly vulnerable. I ask myself, do I want to write. I can’t remember when I wanted or started to write. When I received that inclination from the universe. I only knew that I had to write to save myself. 

I don’t remember when I remedied the thought of not dreaming with drinking. Alcoholism and crazy seemed inseparable and here is when the writing comes in, rescues me. The writing was always a useful exercise. I never learned to smile those early years in London, never believed I was a rose among the thorns. Perhaps all young women are supposed to think like that (that is what drives them, for the better part of my adult life it haunted me) and feel insecure in the bloom of their first love affair. I was not a flower, could not wrap my words around the tones of crisp English. 

But I remember the tears. As a child the back of my throat is a land of thirst. I knew that there was something else out there for me. Something besides the loneliness, the sadness and despair that I sometimes fell into, that became my child’s mind-sanctuary. Dampness seeps into the lining of my coat. There are flecks of cloud in the blue sky. But is it enough to want desire? The faded grass under the leaves under my shoes. The faded grass under autumn leaves, Whitman’s leaves of grass and the sacred contract that existed between human nature and nature. 

The woman in the park she will not appear the same in a photograph as she will in memory. This Eve taken from Adam’s rib who was a daughter doing what her mother did. Woman, the ethereal girl figure turning on a pedestal with her eye on the prize of love. I have my observations of them, these others, glorified futuristic poster girls for motherhood (who would in a few years time settle down for life). They will live as they dream in their sleep and dream to live. And all my life I have wondered what do children communicate when they laugh? 

Turkish slippers small enough for small frail bird feet, a gift from a friend. A draft of sunlight in the air burns bright. I am held, caught up in its grasp. Illness has touched the glinting, sharp parts of me. It is not the bag of bones why have you forsaken me, my skull, my frame, celestial nimble fingers, patella. You centre of my being, nerve, every fibre of my being, brain, heart of mine, platelet, aorta, corpuscle. Why this unfinished prophecy? And then it grew cold. It is as if cosmic force was holding all those clouds up together.

The world around me, its people, the rich became wealthier, girls on the chorus line retired from the theatre life when they got married and everything around me moved forward. It got its talons in me and I never became that selfless kind of person I wanted to be. Darkness falls. At my core lies gravity. All my life I have wanted to be beautiful. I have everything else. I will never get married. It is all becoming a bit too much for me. A bit of losing my mind, my heavy head giving way. I can’t keep lying. Keeping on and on with it. I must be honest. I must be truthful. 

The unopened bottle of gin is there on the table. I must stop wasting my time. I must be brave and throw my head back and love, laugh in the face of adversity. I must stop wasting time. If I don’t eat something I will disappear, that superimposed elusive part of me, the soul, the frightened part, and the physical and private body of the subconscious. I am becoming a non-entity. I can become used to the idea that I do not exist in the material world where the others meet. Men and woman of similar interests and backgrounds and who have common goals, that connects them to each other. 

The morning air in my room is cold, heavy and still. So I make way to the kitchen to smoke and although there are rats in the ceiling it is not all doom and gloom. The writing life has chosen me. Being happy is a unique state of mind. I can remember when I felt as if I was let loose on the world off the ship from Dominica to go to school in England. If only I knew then what I know now. London wasn’t a distant place, it was a distant planet. The results can be electric when opposites attract. I could dance but I was not good enough, not graceful, less than the other girls. 

I could act a little but then there was my West Indian accent. So in the end it was decided that I was a terrible actress. I could not cry on command in class instead I started to laugh and to laugh and to laugh and that drew attention to myself. An artist works with materials at hand. Voice, the life force of the body, touch, hand movement, eye coordination, physical body, and the senses. What can be more precious than to be coloured by an auspicious space and when the abundant universe gives you wings? 

To start from (childhood) and to transition it from a dream (to act on the stage) to a comfort zone (ending up in the chorus). Sharp, blistering, in a brutal dissolve came the comments when I was younger living in a house with other siblings, a father for a doctor and a mother who was always certain that I would fail if I set my heart on anything. Threads, connected by them govern us as we are by the books we read. I have a theory about books. In the long run they will make you wiser but they will also make you cry, laugh, as wise as an owl. 

Deep unhappiness can be challenging, that and learning to fight your battles. What many people don’t realise is that egocentrism can be good for you up to a certain extent. Especially when you are given a stage, an expectant audience (a waiting one). When you are expected to shine brilliantly. It is egocentrism that wants, drives you and that gives you the ability to do well (ambition), expect a rousing applause, admiration, adoration, a standing ovation and to a certain extent love and acceptance and your abilities for being recognised for what they are. 

Why is simply achieving happiness so hard? The negative ruins optimism. It ruins me for good. When I was younger, just a slip of a girl I wondered what having a backbone meant. My first prince did not love me. The most that he could give of himself was never quite enough. I wonder if the vegetarian restaurant that I frequented when I lived in London is still open. I ate the noodles and the soup it floated in heartily while watching the world go by. In those early years I was afraid of what was going to happen to me. Would I ever make it? 

Would the lady in me ever come out, deserving of love, out of the hole, the void? This scared cat. I’m frightened of people who constantly tell you that they love you. Truth and beauty exists in a microcosm of things. Scientists will say it is atoms while I say I am a voyager and these are the sum of my parts. I believe in having interests and sticking to them. Having goals sometimes gives me light-headed feeling. Is that what I am really supposed to be here for? It makes me feel locked up, as if I have to have a witness or witnesses for everything that I do and envisage for my life. 

I am always struck by how unsure I was by the cruel wonders, how filled with dangers the world was once. I did not become immune to it quickly. Do I have my upbringing to thank for that, I do not know. I feel lost sometimes when I stare at my reflection put out by unwanted visitors who go from door-to-door but I also feel pure of heart too. Men have done me no wrong, that charade is long gone. It is I who have been foolish and reckless with my own heart. You see why blame them. I miss the sea and the view from the top of the hill in Dominica. 

The horses we had when I was growing up and when I got on that boat with my aunt that day to say goodbye to the world I grew up with forever I asked myself, what would I do in the world? Would I always be petrified, would warmth or the cold always strike me? I was always the curator of wish-fulfilment, dreams, an odd sort of museum where nothing fit because there was no culture to, and no sanctuary. There were moments in childhood when I despaired not having anyone to talk to. I remember the sadness that seemed to pale everything else in comparison. 

I wanted to be happy but I didn’t know why I wasn’t a happy child. Why I never smiled like the other girls? I must have been too quiet. I must have been a mute. I must have been a dark mute with a dark soul, intense and always burning rough around the edges. No, I was never like the others. Not like my sisters with their lovely faces. I am not perfect. The perfect partner, co-conspirator, somebody’s wife, the perfect daughter, and sister. In the end it is just a not too long list of words. I never wanted to be alone. 

I did not want to navigate the world flying solo with fingertips caressing maps. I will never forget Paris. I will never forget that I lost a child there and had a daughter. I am a mother, a writer and perhaps I wasn’t a very good wife. Of course I went back to Dominica but it wasn’t the same. I was older and London had changed me for good. And perhaps it was the snow. I could never get never get used to the cold you know. The fires that always had to burn (what a waste of fuel) and I never really took care of myself in London the way I did after I got married for the first time, second and third. 

After the third one I had money from the writing part of my life. Past is past but it was on a certain level it was never quite for me. I distilled it with my pen. Childhood wounded me. It still seeped into me somehow. Through my clothes and it got to the very heart of lonely me. At one point I must have looked like a bird, as thin as one. London wounded me, as did relationships, insights into the observations of other lonely people around me (I would watch them through the window at that vegetarian restaurant or sitting around me at the other tables). Tiredness that crept into my voice.

And then later my spirit. I was always ready to fly off the handle. If not now, when then. When will the world begin to become fascinating to my bright eyes, my bright intellect? When will I become fierce? I was an extra in the movies once but in the end it did not count for anything. It did not turn into anything. I was still the same old same boring me. And I cried. I would write into the night and I would cry when the rest of the world was sleeping and dreaming or coming out of a club into the empty London streets. 

And in the morning when I woke up with the rest of the world I felt complete in a way I cannot fully come to grips with or make you understand. And now after all this time that has passed me by I feel ethereal. I have faced the angelic. It has taken me on and I have won. I am otherworldly by design. A design not of my own making. It has taken years. There is always a lesson in love even though you may think for now it is wounding your spirit. I was a bride. There I said it. There was never a word for this pent–up sadness that sometimes felt poetic. 

I just knew I was on edge for some reason. I could never be the mistress of this bright and new force within me. Freedom like any consciousness- thinking awareness is a psychological construct. It is nothing more than that and if we think it is going to be more we are going to be sadly mistaken in the end or we will realise it too late. I was once a daughter then an orphan. I had the maternal instinct in my genes. It had to have been there. To know that kind of love and be on the receiving end of it anchored me. When I held my daughter in my arms I had never felt more at peace with myself. 

My daughter’s childhood songs, her many sweet, curious, inventive faces, the avalanche of presents I bestowed upon her on birthdays and Christmases. She had a father and that was also in a way a gift from me to her in a way even though the three of us couldn’t be together, live together properly as a family. She was beautifully well brought up. When do routes become important? I fear only in later life. When you are too set in your ways. When my dear, you are old and think you are going crazy. What would it have been like to watch the Dominican sun setting in a sea lock-and-struggle? I would have given anything to see that tonight.

When you’re in your bed at night with the thick covers pulled up around you and think you can hear something in the kitchen (when it is only a window you left open or a cupboard door that refuses even with the wind to bang shut). When you think that someone in the dark is out to get you, the bogeyman. I’ve journeyed. I’ve journeyed and have no regrets. The living keep on living while the dead turn to dust. Nothing really belongs to us. When we leave this world we take with us the possessions we arrived with – the lone self. Beyond evening’s contours are the stars and even further out there is the moon. 

And if I close my eyes I can imagine being aware of nature in or touching the sky. I already said I was a bride. But I cannot remember if I felt passion that day. Of course a ring did mean that now the two of us were now bonded together for life and that was with my first marriage. I had a passion for libraries, that mildew smell, the ancient pages that almost seemed to wilt in your hand; those lose pages that seemed to have come undone. I had a passion for books, above all for notebooks I could scribble in to my heart’s content, and I always loved to read. 

How do you shine if you are not guided by ‘other hands’ and by those ‘elders’ who had come before you in the world? Pain of the mind can be more devastating, felt more acutely than pain of the body. In my life there was always the baby, the sister, another sibling has taken my place and now overshadowed me in everything I did. How do you know you’re alive? You find poetry, the way of the writer with all the cleansing rituals in the space of the writer, the table, the chair and water to drink, bread and cheese for a meal. And slowly I slip into a routine. 

I get up in the morning. I smoke. I brush my dishevelled hair. I go for a long walk in the streets of London. I am not yet that famous writer who is now elderly, famous-enough to have a driver to take me around town and pick up parcels before he drops me off at home at a small cottage in Devonshire. And after my walk I must write. I confess. I had a cat once. It was a proper Persian kitten but the people who looked after it didn’t look after it really well. The poor thing died of neglect. And then I was sad again for a long time. You have to have a heart to get yourself attached to animals.

This is my voice, made of gossamer, tasting like the season’s fruits or cauldron (take your pick). It is a voice that sounds like Keats, and I am offering it to the world. It is I who have closed doors on myself, escaped through the window that was left ajar and not the other way around.

And these are the notes from a writer’s journal, my notes. 

Shut the door. Shut out the quiet light. Tell yourself to swim away from the tigers with arms pillars of smoke. One day I will find myself in a forest without men, without huntsmen and warriors, nomads and ghosts that burn all hours of the day and night. One day I will dazzle and fizz like a champagne virgin (hiss like a cobra). I will laugh in all their faces. I will weave and thread stories, braid hair and dwell in possibility. My mother taught me that. White Knight you jewel. The bluish sky falls off you. I prefer the word ‘solitude’ to ‘loneliness’. White Knight you jewel of Hollywood. One day I will shut the door. One day I will shut out the quiet light. One day I will tell myself to swim away from the tigers. My tingling arms pillars of smoke. 

What a pale and beautiful creature you are (you once were upon a time now world’s apart) but are you happy? You went on to paradise and wrote and wrote and wrote and won prizes and planted flags. My beautiful creature as cold as all things that come from the sea, the lover of love and picture of health. I have bits and pieces in memory of you of other peoples’ keepsake stuff. The mouth so angelic and so grateful to be kissed and the eyes like dew. I knew at the end of it you would still have a soul to come home to. Alas the same could not be said of me, dude in black, cowboy in black. To yearn for love, to live in that paradise again and again and again is a wish granted to a chosen few, the chosen ones and what happens to the others?

The others live to exist for their families, raising their children or for themselves, for their ego. If there is no love to feed you, nurture you, caress your tired or grief-stricken face at the end of the day then I imagine that there are people out there who sometimes feel as lost as I do. What can loneliness communicate to you? It is a lovely feeling. You’re freer in a way than other people are. But who is there for you to talk to at the end of the day? People need companions. People need friends and family, loved ones and acquaintances. People need contact, closure, and relationships. There are people who build empires on these kinds of things. And then there are people who need, want, desire love as wide as river, as deep and beautiful as the Pacific.

And then there are people who turn their back on that and embrace a life guided by the pulse that tells them to be brave. And to turn their back on a world that calls them an Outsider, a loner, strange with strange ways of doing things, a strange way of thinking. And you just have to have the courage of your convictions if you are this sort of person. I am this sort of person. So weirdly out of sync with the rhythm of other women my age. So good am I am at this thing, this sly-odd movement that I have won prizes for it. It feels like a bird’s wing in spasm in the air. It feels like a rush of warm, sweet air into the beautiful red ribbons of your heart, a cry in the dark, a promise that you make to meet up with someone in heaven at a deathbed.

Someone dear and truly loved who has passed on from this world into the hereafter. What’s eternity anyway? A more novel, adventurous dimension because it becomes lovely when you think of it in that way. Not meeting up with strangers but meeting up with familiar faces. The faces that you knew, loved and cherished since birth. They were people who were always a part of your world in one way or another. So I say one day we’ll all meet in heaven. We’ll make our way there from all of our other destinations that we ‘lost’ a little self, worth and identity in. Everybody is married in some way to his or her soul and every bit of our soul is intended for and to be hitched, hooked, stitched to God. 

Whether you want to believe that or not is entirely up to you but to me it makes sense. I love the useful wonder in thinking that. And then there are those lukewarm questions that tug at the puppet strings of the heart. Not floating suspended by nothing but an existential breeze in the air, not drowning just there, behaving mysteriously as if they had all the right in the universe to be there. When I was in love I wanted to know everything about him and nothing at the same time. Falling in love, head over heels, sweeping flaws under the carpet did not come with instructions. I did not know how to correct something I did wrong. Everything was new and pretty. To love someone since you were a child is a very long time. 

Illusions, they do not come with flaws and they cannot love. They’re too much in love with themselves. People do not ask, ‘What were you like in the womb?’ Men do not say with a great amount of insight, ‘You seem to have been a fish with the spirit of a lioness even then.’ They’re answers for the volcano dreamer. The last battle was always touch and the solution for me is this. My sister and I had a conversation and it went something like this. We ended up not really saying anything at all like most of our conversations these days.

God can keep your soul. Let me bury you there in paradise. In no particular place in paradise. In your claustrophobic world where you were so cold. You white knight death cutie on parade. It’s the little deaths in pixels from childhood that is as nutritious and forgetful as dreaming. These days everything is crisper. Images are sharper and brighter.

(And now what about the men). Of course the men are in secret code so they can never be discovered out. In a mirror I see a wife (always a fretful wife with screaming, crying babies). ‘Poor babies,’ I enjoyed saying and why didn’t he love his beautiful wife more and why was I the chosen one. I couldn’t really see why inexperience was so sexy. There is nothing barren about this man’s ego. But his hands always felt cold. He had dark, dark hands; skin like velvet and even his eyes were dark. They were always so full of concern for me. I pretended it was wonder. Living your life and moving forward is the easy part. It is the forgetting that is the hardest.

I can put a face to a name, city, and occupation. I remember. It is all in the details.

I don’t want to meet these men in heaven or in any place else. The men with all that sadness, rage and perfect-wonder in their eyes. All their faces look the same to me and after all this time I did not step back from the picture and say I forgive this and I forget that. They look at me as if to say, ‘You too had a role in this. A part to play in all that drama.’ The drama felt quite useless to me on the one hand and like jazz on the other. ‘You’re quite mad, you know.’ One man told me but he couldn’t exactly look me in the eye. So I bravely posed in mask after mask after mask. Another man preferred ‘the girl’. Well, that was his thing. He didn’t want educated, intelligent or smart. He didn’t want cute. He wanted ‘the girl’.

He wanted a pure, angelic face in beautiful clothes. He wanted obedience. He wanted to be put on a pedestal and worshipped. And so I did all that. I couldn’t quite understand why because I could make conversation but he never wanted to talk and understand how claustrophobic I felt sometimes just being in his presence. It felt completely otherworldly to me. These things called love or rather, ‘the affair’. It didn’t exactly feel like romance to me. No, there was nothing romantic about it. I feel a great deal of shame because I did not listen to my heart. A heart that was telling me his wife meant a great deal more to him than I did and even on a certain primeval level his wife’s body meant a great deal more to him. She had given him children.

And he had built the house they all lived in (the one, big, happy and boisterous family). But since this is my secret diary it is just between you and me and nobody else has to know especially my father. I don’t want him to think differently about me and the life I chose give or take a few years ago because I am not that person anymore. And I don’t believe that time heals. When people say that it is as if there’s something specific to time. There’s nothing specific about time and even clarity doesn’t even figure into it. I can ask my ancestors why I’ve never been lucky in love. Why I’ve failed so dismally in that department (much too much of a daddy’s girl)?

I can say I will never give my heart away again but I don’t believe that. 

I usually fall in love up to three times a day.

I was just starting to feel hungry. And when I am hungry I have my breakfast, usually toast with a smidgen of butter (from a brick that’s been standing out on the kitchen table or counter since the following night) or margarine. And I make myself some tea. Just toast (brown bread toasted in the oven like in the old days and I smile when I think to myself that I am from the old days now). I wake up earlier and earlier and go to bed later and later. It feels good to be thirty-two. I didn’t feel it (old, stale, as if I was coming into a rut, the state of the nation, the world my generation found themselves in) when it was my birthday but now that the next one is around the corner I am feeling it. 

It feels like too much effort this morning to make an egg, boiled, fried, or scrambled into bits. So I’ll have my toast with jam this morning. I think of him and everyday it doesn’t hurt less, it hurts more. I’ve given up on humanity. What I see on the news or the little I read in the newspapers terrifies me. It scares me half to death. Children raping children (aren’t they just babies), the desolation of poverty and how it isolates people from the mainstream of society. What is relevant to me in society is not relevant to the media. They write what sells and it is usually salacious material. Here today, gone tomorrow or the next week until it comes back as an update or haunts you when you least expect it. 

It is funny how the mind can play tricks on you especially when you’re over thirty, reaching that point of middle age. The news often pins down the status of refugees, painting the women with their children, food aid flown in from abroad, white tent after white tent in a field of white tents and again there are stories of rape and mutilation. It never seems to end. We are capable of many, many things. God can keep you soul and man will take and take everything else. I never thought of myself as a fierce person as a child. I was an introvert. I never thought of my mother as a bully although she could be quite fierce. When I was in London I hid all my diaries at the bottom of my suitcase and forgot about them. 

In London I would meet a man. We would eat noodles at a restaurant or go out for a drink. In Paris life was different. When I would meet a man there we would go out for a drink at a café. The lifestyle in Paris was like that. Drinking sparkling wine into the early hours of the morning. I would become a different person. I liked myself more. When I was with a man I told myself this was it. This is what passion felt like when I was in his arms. This was love, beauty and when it ended, when we went our separate ways there were days when I felt I was going out of my mind. The loneliness, the fear that I would never have that again made me turn to writing. I would open up the black scribbler. 

I would sit and think to myself isn’t that the most perfect word in the universe. In the middle of the night in my stockinged feet I would just glance out of my window and watch the world go by, trembling, chilled to the bone, drinking milk from a chipped mug. And I would write and write and write. It would simply pour out of me like rain from the sky while I would sit in my room. And so a book would turn into the pages of books, a stream of thought would lead to a threshold. I could now connect threads from my past to my present. I could still remember the ice house of my childhood, aunts, visitors to the house, voices, a mother who did not have the heart, the slightest idea, nor inclination to love me. She could murder chickens though.

Strangle them by their necks. In a way she strangled me too. Perhaps when life is hard for women when they are girls who always have to compete for the love of their father that kind of intent is simply woven into their consciousness. Stars. Stars. I never see them in London but the night sky in Paris is full of them. I wonder how I will look in middle age when beauty and appeal and the sex drive, that impulse when a man is drawn to woman will fade. Life is poetry, my childhood in Dominica and women with their ammunition and their apparel. I never thought of other women as being in competition with me for the approval of men until the end of my first love affair. And then there was the poetry in my twenties. It cut me deep from skin to bone. I could feel it you know. There was nothing dysfunctional about the cut. Only I felt its power keenly, its voice, the chains and links of the voids therein. It stated wish fulfillment, commentary on modern issues and I felt it intensely at night when the world around me was asleep, when I felt drowsy or secretly despair at the situations and conflict I found myself in. Sometimes I even hated myself because I knew with some finality now that I had created the world I lived in now. There was no going back. Childhood, whatever state of mind, flux I had created then and now was over in a strong and futile sense. I could never get it back (whatever normal was). Normal was a word everyone used. 

It was a word everyone around me, even my family believed in. It was a word that depressed me. Was I a lady? I who was so ignorant of many things, that had so few belongings, not even a tiny flat or house with two bedrooms to my name, furniture that I could move and place in rooms as I pleased. Had I ever really been in love and loved? I believed that secrets should never be told. But I told my first husband everything. I wanted to believe that he loved me completely, that the past didn’t matter. Back and forth I would go every night writing effortlessly in my black notebook. The past, history came with such ease. In this day and age the woman I had become was called a non-conformist. 

The norm was to get married before you were thirty and have children, a house, housekeeper, maids, a linen cupboard, have holidays, go camping, to the seaside. Of course I thought I would and could have all these things. I would have worked for it but shock and horror it did not come my way. I was left behind while others stronger than I was took that shot at the big time. I shook it, writing all my secrets down (the parts of me that just did not fit in this life, this city). I shook if off my chest like a fish hooked on a fisherman’s line shook the breeze and seawater off its scales, and fins and back. Sometimes I thought to myself, ‘Jean, you’re missing out. You’re missing out on life.’ 

Sometimes I would say to myself, ‘What if you’d just let yourself go a little? Talk a little, make a little conversation, be brave, braver, confident like those mannequins in the window that you passed today with their chins up.’ I thought I would only become illuminated as a woman when he, the man in my life stroked my cheek, my palm, my bottom lip, my head and it would always come with a rush of this feeling to my head. He is so pale and beautiful, so fragile and delicate, like a flower in the winter light. The hush of silence in the room is as soft as feathers. His breath is as fresh as water. His soul is perfect but he doesn't know this yet. I imagine it's a feeling he will only experience with his children and his future wife. 

Now he is a work in progress, caught between two worlds and enjoying the view. It is as pure as white-hot chemistry. His eyes are wet and dreamy. His hands and his fingertips are not delicate. They bruise the wasteland of my face easily. When I was away from him the world around me became cold. It felt like a feast of winter all around me.

A heavy glow, inviting look, a picture of innocence colors your look of the world, of how to be loved. Tonight I am an empress of cool in my dress and for a time now there has been no new money for new dresses. It hurts so much when he touches me on my arm, when he puts his arm around my shoulder I shudder. I can sometimes feel the chill wrapped in his embrace. His fingertips burn my skin, my lips. The only thing that soothes me is his kisses, his presence and the fact that now in the bedroom we are equal. Now submission, role-play, pain and pleasure are open to interpretation. He is gentle around me tonight, he is not angry, emotional or abusive, hurling abuse, screaming at me. His day must have gone reasonably well. 

This relationship doesn't heal anything in my past; bring emotional closure to the abuse I suffered in my childhood. It only serves to encase my newfound promiscuous behavior in Technicolor in a bubble, in a grandiose time warp. I can't make him love me. Yet he is just as much impossible to love with his own mood swings as I am. I am always forgiving of his artistic temperament. I ask myself what is his heart, his soul trying to express. He's just as wounded as me. Comfort me, hold me just a while longer but he doesn't make eye contact with me, speak to me. After making love I am as empty as a drum. I watch him sleep and feel fiercely protective over him. No love lost, only my innocence. 

Before I was invincible, and now in his arms I am fragile and delicate. From far away I hear myself say, ‘Say something funny. Make me laugh.’ He smiles, looks at me as if to say, ‘I am not in love with you’ but I don't care. For now, he is all mine. He belongs to me. His body, his jokes, the smell of his aftershave, his stories, his eyes, his lips so soft and delicate and bruising all at once. He is bitter. He is sweet. He does not believe in me, he does not believe me when I say that I love him. In my heart I say, I'll take you just the way you are, you maladjusted, maladroit, abusive, abused child from one abused, damaged and neglected child to another. He can see me and that is enough for me. 

I wash his back in circles, making ripples in the water with the palm of my hand, talking in circles but he doesn't say anything-meaningful back. I know he's just using me, humiliating me and causing a future exposure to trauma. I don't know any better, anything else, any other life. What is the reward, what is the payoff? Even when he humiliates me, he is still looking at me, working miracles on me. I have become an addict. It doesn't matter whether or not he speaks to me with contempt. I am convinced I have nothing without him. I am convinced I am nothing without him. Look at me, rescue me, save me; but the lost boys with vacant eyes and vague promises never do. 

They leave me feeling haunted and blue with ice water running through my veins. They never smile at you until you smile on the outside. If I am quiet it’s because of the urgency in his voice, his breathing, his movements (himhimhim). Shame was a word I heard often when I was a weak child with a raving mother who often taunted me. And in this ice house there was no beauty, prettiness, loveliness, only grief, weariness, and a cry in the dark. I could not be alone and feel that kind of fire. And at that time in my life and in all the faces I saw around me all I saw and heard was, ‘I do not, I do not, I do not love you.’ And so order was spoiled and chaos ensued. I became frantic and believed that Lolita’s passage had set my own. 

I kept my heart in a jar and my head in the sand. Everything happened so fast that I had no control over the pressure, the tightness of the close-knit and newly formed friendships, the disturbance, and the disturbances. I felt I could no longer live in a world that was not accepting of me. So I had to create a character in a storybook, a fairy tale to be loved, a glutton for punishment. For me he would bruise me to the bone, to my psyche. I’m a dazzling insomniac. Even my silent screaming when I am falling apart is dazzling with my every waking thought and living moment. I brought submission to the table. I had solitude on my side. He had a kind of self-leadership about him then. I was alive even in those empty moments. 

I learnt to say, if you feel like it then love me, if you don’t then don’t. I began to see his, my, our rituals as crucial turning points in the relationship. I could not bear being alone, being left alone.

Poetry continued in my thirties (there’s room now for a view)

The discovery of hearts in jars
There are things
I will never forget
The art of making war
Instead of peace
How it nurtured luminous me
Without me knowing
That time was slipping away
In one lifetime
There can be many passions
That can be part of your heart
That tells you to have courage

The headline read, ‘Let’s stop the persecution’. It could have been something I had written, perhaps a letter to the editor. I saw a flash, a slap against a face across the breakfast table and my sister gave a shout and began to cry. I remember washing my hair in a woman’s salon and reading about the virgin lover in Nabokov’s Lolita. My fingers holding onto the spine of the book, bookmarking the last page I read. The girl sitting next to me at the basin had doll eyes. They were brown with gold, golden flecks in them and so I began to learn what any woman would do for vanity in high school. As a child I grew up in a house made of brightness, made up of bright things. Tough love was a shiny bullet flying through the air. The surfaces were conservative, tense yet tidal, emotions running high, the collection of them and those experiences hard. And then I began to long for the weight of the meditative hush in leaves. It was the only thing that brought me peace of mind and that froze both joy and deception in their tracks. I wanted to be the sensible child taking the separation or divorce pretty well. I wanted to tell my mother that she hurt the people who loved her the most.

Where the woman of the world is illumined
The unseen is eternal
The world is not my home
I am here on earth for a little while
I have left childhood behind
One day I will let go
Of everything that intoxicated
Me before
What orientated me
Before will come to an end
This is the sound of one voice
Speaking to me

But he, my father does not give of himself effortlessly or consistently. There were often closed doors. They would bang shut and it could be heard in all the rooms. It could even reach children who were supposed to be asleep, their ears. It couldn’t have been that serious. I heard my mother laughing. She sounded free. Free in the sense that she was a young girl again without any limitations being placed on her. The limitations of a family and a husband and especially work. My mother and sister had the personality of a volcano. All I could taste was rain, pretend that I was dead in the sea whenever, wherever I heard a shriek of excitement on the beach from other children building castles. I imagined auras while their mothers dried their hair with a towel and gave them money, pressed silver coins in their hand for ice cream or for something cold to drink. Other children would parade and dance in front of their mother’s. I wanted to be left alone. I was always a child on the verge of a nervous breakdown. As a young woman I wanted my gracious, appreciative heart to locate others.

Through the eyes of the child
For all my life
You’ve painted me
In journals
Inside my head
There’s a silent sea
A quiet town setting
Poetry in a scrapbook
An exquisite identity
I am a poet
In a pot in bloom
Before being launched into space

The art was not to fall like the virgin lover in Nabokov’s Lolita. But fall I did. It was always cold where I was. It was not my dream to be endeavoured with literary pursuits from a young age. Children do not have the mental faculty to wish fear away in an instant. Children are just brave. They just seem to have that cosmic life force. I don’t think I was a brave child. I wanted to be a volcano but I just didn’t have that in me. And when I grew up into a young woman, into a writer, that oppressive feeling that I had to be emancipated in some or all the way never left me. It stayed with me at my side. It was my doppelganger. And as I became a vibrant type of person and my thoughts more and more vivid I could see all the beauty in the world around me except in me. All I could understand was people and write about them and me observing them. Playing dead in the water in the end had served me well and had taken me to new heights and had fostered an unseen intelligence. My father did everything but talk. Meanwhile I pulled out the entire minimum stops and shortcuts.

And so I come
To the end of violence
He never said please
He never said thank you
He touched the nerve centre
Of all my despair and madness
And perhaps that was the end
Of joy in my life
The beginning of silence
In the background of rooms
When I began
To flirt with the temptations
Of this world

Purpose is life. The war inside my mind is often a war of nerves, a crowded house. It leaves me with a feeling of being locked up inside a box, Pandora’s Box. There’s place for stigma and being, the unbearable in there as well. Living in a fog-like consciousness, always watching the clock, that round island made up of numbers. So I had to discover that the universe promises the human condition two things: mortality and eternity. Depression doesn’t come with a vision of the world. It comes with its own canvas, blank and its own personal mission, do or die, go beyond yonder. The proof of depression is something absurdly supernatural, that there is something greater than you are even if it is a calling and a gift in your blood. Your need to learn how to fly, the machinations of your consciousness ‘caught by the river’ by the river exploding into life in front of your eyes. Sometimes the story begins at the end or with flashbacks with dramatic effect moving forwards and backwards.  It is blood that is thicker than water, than family bloodlines or the phoenix rising from ashes.

Head against the brick and stone of depression is often a permanent protest. When I began to write poetry I left space for interpretation, for kindred spirits and soul mates, even for ghosts. It is brutal, dissolves, deranges, distorts and it drums this in to you. It has such a presence, pain, depression, melancholia standing at attention. Poetry became my goal (the force of my reality, the reality I lived in) and my life. It became my desire that existed in both the spirit of place of darkness and light. It became the psychosomatic root to my cognitive thinking and my self-help. When you’re depressed you keep your thoughts and reflections to yourself. They’re more often than not charged with electricity, electricity that is not easy to shield yourself from like the eye of the sun. ‘Come back to bed.’ Your body says. Your eyes are vacant hinting at the spark and the glow of the displeasure of ill health, old wounds and escape. You feel naked, as if you’ve been abandoned in the dark, the pitch black and thrown to the wolves.  I make lists of things that trouble me when I feel depressed. Any female writer would write what she feels destination anywhere in an upside down world.

Nothing fades away except the material world and the physical body. And so I found myself in the city of cities, bereft, sinking my teeth into the polished floors of the library, the archives, the newspapers, textbooks, novels and biographies, anything that I could get my hands on and read. I was a film student marching across asphalt and green armed with books and not so often an engaging intellect. If only people were more like me, I wondered. If only people were not so mediocre. If only the other students did not spend their time drinking so much, not understanding me, sharing cigarettes. And then there was the woman with a feather in her hair, a modern-day witch. Her skin dark and ashy she would dance mad with rhythm in the halls of the ward in the hospital with feathers in her hair. I could not understand her, the mechanism, that shift within her brain, whatever was in her head, that swift shift in the chains of her consciousness like leaves against grass, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Lewis Hyde’s The Gift. It was here that I discovered Goethe. All I could think to myself was that this was madness and that madness could be as magnificent as the highs of euphoria.

Nothing unique but as weeks went by it didn’t seem to fade away into the comfort blanket world of inhibitory drugs and prescribed medication and that beautiful Lithium. I could only face the world with the psychology I gleaned from my reading, delving deep into the ghostly facets and facts of the unstable planet of illness and mental illness. I grew excited by the potential that lay ahead of me, in the distant future. It was always hours away. All I had to do was build on the edges of a dream. 

When I think of that time before my life began once more in search of a fabulous road, I seemed to live in a nation in ruins in that hospital, filled with ruined people, and lives that were intensely fragile. Their sadness seeped into me like stains in the peeling wallpaper at the Salvation Army. I needed to feel alive and I could only feel alive when I was witnessing the pain of other souls and when I could tell and see how the world put pressure on them to excel. I began to live in books and on the plateaus and landscapes it offered me. I needed to picture a life without the cool order and routine of student nurses hovering, staring at a television’s snow. For now I needed that but I needed the world too.  

Dark, dark, dark and just like that it was gone. I am the way I am because of my mother, other women, my father, aunts and the hidden meaning in responsibility. I have felt devastation all my life, loss, people simply passing through my life going from one place to the next and I have found that words are the easy part. The outside world doesn’t inform anything that you say or do when you are living with ghosts that you’re waiting to be cured of. His eyes were a sea of green glass and his hair was long and dark. We could talk for hours sitting on the grass. I would stare into his eyes and that glass would chip away at the fragments of my heart. I even found time to fall in love and out of hate with my soul (what is does it mean to have a soul) and with the being of my self. I found I could reconstruct the material, make it emotive, and make it glad. I wanted to bring my family back together again. I wanted to heal what was broken. All I saw around me were broken people, shattered people, people in recovery under daily observation and I was one of them. I felt as if there was some part of me that didn’t belong to the world. Yonder, unbearable light, madness, illness, scar tissue, a heavy kind of woundedness can do that to you.

And what are women truly at heart if the writers are the thinkers. Poets are dreamers and being conscious of their dreams they are conscious of the guts they have to live in this damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t-world. We have to start somewhere I reckon, all women do. We are the ones who have to come up with a blank emotionally intuitive and spiritual slate before our written words become imprinted on an audience, a reader, a woman, a man or a child. Before we burn away into nothingness, before we escape, and before truth stares us down in the face. Awareness and the grit in our souls always comes with nurturing and until there’s an unbearable lightness in our awareness, a turn of the switch to develop this spirit in others. 

Our writing (female writing) only becomes more successful when we inspire others to gravitate towards greatness. From a youth’s pure and angelic roots to being a walking mass of contradictions as they grow, to their bones, the consciousness of a movement has begun across the female nation reaching converging lines bordering on the universal. Writers’ psyches cannot survive in dysfunction without the pictures of our external reality growing cold and dim as they fill inner space, marking turning points in time, in the flesh of history books. This is my message to the youth of the world. Pay attention to your dreams. The light in all of you is like a volcano. It can melt the heart of stone. 

Perhaps one of the loneliest experiences in the whole world is this, writing. I say this because on the surface I feel I can make it look effortless (there is a transference, a catalyst that I can’t explain, can’t put my finger on) while inside the vision we have this surface that if looks could kill it could kill. I’ve realised through my long walks that the woman who is secure in her home is the woman who has married, who has those children, who cooks those breakfasts and steaks, maintains a household, is the lady of the house. She is the madam who orders the kind of fish her husband likes to have. She puts honey and lemon in her tea, serves it like that when guests come to her house. 

Other women her age, other women with the same interests she has, who have the same number of children that she has. She does not have to put her coat on, her scarf, and her hat and open the door and walk out into the world a leper, yes, I say a leper because she is rejected wherever she goes. She is the Outsider, the loner, isolated. Nowhere is there a paradise for her. There are norms and values. What are the norms and values of a single woman (note I did not say the single ‘lady’)? A single woman is a burden to her family if she is unemployed. If she does not have any skills and her loveliness fades away swiftly. Nobody wants to have anything to do with her. They do not want to talk to her, converse with her because she does not have any talents. 

If she had they’ve already convinced themselves of this fact that she would’ve been married long ago, off their hands. She will never find herself in a field of love. Instead she will imagine what it would be like. She would imagine the atomic illusion of it. And she will know deep in her heart that she will be a girl for the rest of her life, a being who will never be swept off her feet by a masculine swagger. She would never understand what the words ‘flirt’, ‘flirting’ meant. She would remain detached from the world her cousins now inhabit, tangled in obsession. Men like to eat meat and she will remember meals she had with a man once or twice. How he licked the fat off his lips and drank his wine and how kind he was to her like her father was and when she thought of that she would always think of Dominica.

Is there anything else you would like, maybe a dessert, something sweet, a treat to end our meeting like this?

You know it’s not always going to be this way.

I want you to remember me like this always, and that we were happy and friendly and our parting was amicable. Let us part as friends. Smile, I know you can.

I have a present for you. It isn’t wrapped though, forgive me. I painted it myself. It’s a landscape. Its pretty isn’t it. I’m thinking of buying a house there. You’ve never been to the country before have you. It’s beautiful and quiet. Business is business but you have to live somewhere too, you know. You have to live.

But I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to live, how to ask, ‘Are you happy now?’ All I seemed to say over and over again was, ‘Are you happy now, Jean? Is this what you wanted, or was it a manifesto of loneliness and despair that I had been searching for all of my life since childhood?’ All I knew was hotel room after hotel room, meetings there, situations there. I wanted to be filled bit by bit with love and empathy for other people who seemed to find themselves in the same situation I was in. They were lost. I was lost. I was scared to find out that I had no substance. I was baffled by the life around me and the lives people were living. It was as if they were telling me I was the fraud, the fake, and the poser. 

I still don’t know how it came about, the writing part of me, that bit. Now when I come to my younger sister she is half otherworldly, half superimposed in reality. Now she is made of substance. God, why am I not. Why? So here I am? Why?

I don’t know what love is, what love is made of, why I am out of touch with that reality and I’ve been out of touch with it for a long time. So here I am in London where the lights aren’t so bright as they are in Paris and in my dreams I was in Dominica. It was always playing at the back of my mind. There was nothing European about me although I had traveled on the continent. A man gave me advice once. I didn’t take it. Oh, I pretend to listen and its alright for them to know that I am just pretending too while they pretend to care about me.

What are you thinking about in that intelligent little head of yours Jean? I don’t think you need saving. I think you’re fierce enough to understand your circumstances, to grapple with the future that lies ahead of you, to take it on. Not many women can do that. Are you lonely? Even I get lonely sometimes. Sometimes even when I’m surrounded by other people truly living. What does it mean to truly live? Does it mean to be happy, and content, the weight of a ravaged country or mountain off your back. Money does not make anyone happy. It can make you, give you a certain sense of power and control over other people but coming back to you, pet; you give me that impression that all ‘little Jean’ had known in a way her whole life was suffering.

It is a reality I can’t bear to face, to face this existence, this depression, this illness. You might think I’m brave but I don’t think I’m brave. There is nothing heroic about miserable me I’m afraid. I sought out male companions who were pure of heart and failed miserably at that too. While leaves curled up (I too curled up in my bed at night), shrivelled up (my soul shrivelled up), winter danced away and seasons passed, turned into the loving of summertime I took to the streets again and little cafes. I casually observed the ballad of the human race around me and the wonder of loneliness. It took guts to live and I was so meek, so week, mousy. I did not know how to live. Nobody had taught me anything about that.

I had to steal it the best way I knew how. By using my brain as a catalyst and by filling black notebooks with the winters, the breath of the wilderness, the wild of life, the Technicolor of poppies in a field, drops of rain on a drab coat, shoes that looked a bit worse for wear. I wanted to remember Dominica (my choice). Not the suffering but the lavishness of the books I stuck my nose in the library when I was a child. It made me feel better. I too had a right to live in this world. You, anyone could not take that away from me. I was not a ghost although I moved like one through the streets. I have finally decided what my gift was to this world. Sacrifice. I am still here. Magnificently I am still all here. 

The unbearable light in having bright conversation, sharp, bright, intuitive eyes with insight into the world around sensitive me. I need a drink, badly, to forget all about yesterday. I’m pensive (don’t give a damn about this maddening hell that seems to cavort beautifully, helplessly around me. I drown in its echo, its phenomena.) Am I cultured? Am I educated? I always wanted to be. I wanted to be a woman who is secure in her own home. I wanted to be a brutal thinker, a woman who has not been initiated into the sexual impulse (the wonder of a kiss, the virgin seed awakening to consciousness in a touch, love, beating heart, romantic interlude) at an early stage of her development. Poor me, hey.

I don’t think my mother ever knew how much she really hurt me. I think when I first became aware of that I became less trusting of the world around me. I became detached from it in a sense and there I was thrust into a state of imbalance. I could no longer feel the flux of equilibrium, fisherman’s thievery, the glint of the silver skin of the fin of the fish. Love stories come from that place, the land of immortals. They truly last forever but love affairs are another equation, another seam, hemmed in by mirth, priorities and cons. They’re inelegant. A love affair drifts. You can’t read its palm. It has a noose tied around its neck. Its loosed into the world like it has been there forever. It’s just an obsession. It is just an obsession in an open love field.

I met someone once. He smelled like the earth. His hands were rough. He wore a mask and I had one too but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t define the boundaries of the relationship. He made me feel as if I could do anything, be anything, feel alive. It was as if I had just come into being, you know. And when it rained I didn’t feel the rain. When I was away from him the world no longer felt uninviting and cold, grave and condescending. I could look people in the eye because now I too was a possession. The dark no longer made a cripple out of me. It no longer burned me, that giant. I could close my eyes and fast forward to a time that I looked forward to. I no longer said, ‘What is love anyway? It means nothing to me.’

I would sit across from him at a table at a restaurant (he would order and he’d be in charge) and he would say things that would fill me with delight, with bliss, something would just shift inside of me. I would no longer be a girl; I would become a woman, a fashionable lady. I would sample everything on my plate. I would warm to him. The days when I felt persecuted by sitting idle while the world would go by would be long gone. He would colour my life now. He would lecture me not my subconscious, and not the inner spaces of my mind. I’d think to myself that now I have no more adversaries. Now I have my revenge. I only have to compete with other women who are in my position. My lonely days were over (not completely.) There was a part of me that knew that there would be a new area where desolation would await me. I would be hungry for more shades of energy, power, and love. As soon as the person or people in the next room or downstairs moved out, someone new would move in. 

 


     
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Emanuel Paparella2013-04-06 14:31:30
Glad you’re back Abigail. I have always enjoyed and greatly admired your sensitive poetical writings narrating the existential human condition and the recondite complex journeys of the psyche and the mind. In my opinion you represent what is best in the humanistic liberal arts culture in urgent need of bridging and synthesis with that other positivistic materialistic culture of the brave new world in which we live and have our being with no inkling of it nemesis, not unlike two ships by-passing each other in the darkness of the night.


Leah Sellers2013-04-06 23:26:44
Wonderful, Ms. Abigail.
Are any of us ever lastingly happy now ?


Abigail George2013-04-09 23:42:21
Thank you once again to the Ovi team, Emanuel Paparella and Leah Sellers.


Owoade Adewale2013-04-15 13:28:55
It's my first time of reading your work and I like your combination of Poetry and Philosophy in narrating consciousness. Waiting to read more from you!


Owoade Adewale2013-04-15 13:29:16
It's my first time of reading your work and I like your combination of Poetry and Philosophy in narrating consciousness. Waiting to read more from you!


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