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|If I keep repeating myself, please forgive me.
So, there’re you standing once again wearing a painted smile, a cowboy hat standing next to your wagon next to daddy; stroking the dog with the wet eyes velvety ears. It still pains me to try and find you, YOU and somewhere there in every picture taken of you before you were ten. You’re just a ghost of a boy whose whole emotional make-up was fixed; invisible as the air you drew into the spaces of your lungs.
I was the drowning girl always in the shadows, stuck in shades of unholy melancholy, denying the existence of an otherworldly God as I did not grow into a blossoming teenager with bosoms and being hugged tight in an immature boy’s arms, his tongue a snake and caught behind the school puffing on a cigarette, blowing smoke coolly out of lips covered with cherry lip gloss that tasted like bubblegum.
Our sister was the perfect one who wanted the happy family more than anything else in the world and she’s still not getting it. She’s left wondering why are we; her siblings are just so damn unhappy. She’s one to talk but it’s not really fair since she’s not around lately to stand up for herself. She’s discovered men and her feminine wiles.
Thank God we’re all gifted in different realms; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Thank God it did not come with sibling rivalry or a fierce, determined, forceful competitive nature or spirit; where we would all be jostling for position in a household crammed already with sparring and intelligent parents’ who wanted to make up for every lost cause and burning issue that they ever set eyes or their hands on during their own childhood.
I can sense that there is something wrong here but I just can’t seem to put my finger on it.
Someone is running scared, ma that is. Now ma and pa want to feed the hungry, starving masses that sit under the shade of the canopy of trees in blue overalls, men waiting for work; an odd job here or there, who try and escape the heat, the white, hot sun in our well to do suburb; that is just one of their new personal missions besides the daily meditation hour and cell. But that is the way she always has been and always will.
You can’t change her. It’s too late for that but there are other things we can change and think about changing. We can change the way we think and we can change the way we feel, act, what we say to each other.
When I spied you at the gate of the treatment centre waiting for the four of us to walk through and embrace you, hug you tight, choking back, blinking back tears and a lump of heartbrokenness, waiting for that ache to subside in the pit of my stomach I said to myself, my, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. How have you been keeping? I didn’t say anything.
I only wanted to use the bathroom and you got up with that swagger, that grin that you could never remove, that mask completely off your face when you were being silly, laughing at us in your own fairytale world and asked one of the ladies there to show me where it was.
There was one magazine on the table. This was your life now. I could see it was only part of your life. Daily therapy, communal meals, watching television with other addicts for company and you took to it like a brave duck to water. But your eyes crushed me.
This transition that you had to make once more from the domestic circus that we called home from when we were tots to adults that was moulding you into a completely different person, more structured, defined and emotionally mature and self-aware. You defeated all the prosaic sayings that I had carried with me to say to you. All my elegant equations of love mirrored in the rest of our body language.
You were still my soldier; battling on in this psychic, telepathic almost intellectual rhythm that we have all followed as children, passed down from our father. This routine; your daily routine at this expensive place; it took me by surprise that it was just so heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and brutal to watch. It was a tragedy and then it wasn’t; you ending up like this. It was just an unfailing growth spurt on your life journey.
We were all quick to say without you present how quickly, simply it all could have ended up so differently for you. Ma said it was bipolar. You smiled. You laughed. You guffawed. But we were still a family. I said we were a family in crisis and then somebody else said I was just overreacting. As it turned out you were just peachy with everything around you. You never broke down once.
Failure to accept our talent to achieve, to accomplish success after success after success in whatever we set our minds to, to live out our lives with, I say this again, emotional maturity and intelligence, grounded in humility and the loveliness of genuine happiness never overshadowed by the blackness of depression or the blurry edges of sadness was always in our biochemistry.
I pray for you to be kinder, more generous, giving, warm, less cagey, less driven to be secretive, to never be afraid of showing emotion, even feeling negativity because there is a great strength that lies in that. You’re omnipotent now; you know that? You’re an extraordinary machine that can take anything, anyone on like the bloodlines of a phoenix. You’ve risen from the ashes anew with other hopeful destinations in mind.
Your struggle has not left you bereft, homeless, dead, forgotten; filled you with self-loathing, corrupted you absolutely. It has left you with the flow and ebb of wisdom; luck on your side. It has educated you and turned you into a positive and motivated adult.
Your addiction was not an accident. Tara was not an accident. The monumental pressure we built up within ourselves to succeed is not an accident. The thread of depression, that chemical imbalance, madness, and genius that runs through our family tree, that is rooted in our genes, that coursed through the pathways of our mother’s nerves when we were in the womb was not an accident.
To me your spirit always seemed unbreakable, invincible, your state of mind a just and perfect union of souls committed to sharing their voices, their gifts, their genius, their weaknesses and strengths to a shared planet that would willingly receive them with an open heart.
You know me. You understand me better than anyone else that I know of.
Stupid me; I forgot that the women and men slept in separate quarters and did their ablutions in separate bathrooms.
Who are you? I can’t quite get over the fact that you seem unrecognisable to me and that something is missing from this picture. Nothing about you is as familiar as day.
You are the most talented and gifted person I have ever known to walk the face of this shared earth in my lifetime. Consider those words part of a noble gesture on my part to make up for the chaos and disorder that you had to make room for in your life that I brought about.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say and how to get over the awkward silences. But the long, withdrawn silences are better than nothing.
There are rituals to be gathered in purity, humanity and alchemy within the boundaries of a robustly healthy and normal amount of perspective in the reality that we live in.
I really want to understand the world you’re living in, in this moment. Is it hard to let go of all the emotional humdrum and clutter that you’ve surrounded yourself with growing up, to let go of all of that or is it a gift that you’ve presented yourself with.
I used to wish sometimes that your rage was more primitive, animal; raw, instinctive. But instead you control your emotions. You do not scream, make a fuss, shout, curse or intend to humiliate the people around you, dismiss their feelings and undermine them. I think you were a born leader; never born to be wild. You’re like a fog on my brain these days. You’ve increased my faith. I tend to think about depressing subjects these days like silent killers.
Domestic violence, sexual abuse, mental illness, homelessness, high blood pressure, cancers; all unseen diseases before they strike their first blow. You soldier of love, of stunned pain, how you grew up to be so put together witnessing the euphoria of manic episodes and the withdrawn impulse of flight that tended to accumulate with arguments, raised voices behind closed doors. Abuse comes in all sizes. One size fits all. Everyday and every night escape was what I thought I wanted. Rooms made out of glass ceilings that would shatter as I screamed. I thought it would hurt less.
Instead I took to the open road; first to boarding school in Swaziland and then to film school in Johannesburg. I thought I had the will to survive it all on my own; alone but I had other frontlines I had to conquer; the open road that came with dark alleys, dingy, grim corners that would swallow you up in blackness, the heat from bodies that rubbed up against each other in clubs. I crawled into those spaces and I opened my mouth and accepted the outpouring of love and affection that was given to me by a tablet, a drug or a man.
I accepted it as a present; a Christmas gift under the tree.
The fear of the dark, my own depression and my isolation from others that became more apparent as I socialised with families who were kinder to each other, who did not drop accusations and verbal abuse as if they were bombs or ammunition. I did not find escape only slow, warm pleasures, tender mercies in the arms of older men. The attraction was simple. It happened quite by accident; the seduction of it all.
They would listen. They would talk about their children, their wives, their girlfriends, the pressure at work and then I would listen, soothe them, stroke their egos. They couldn’t be more caring or kinder. I couldn’t be more willing. I wasn’t aware or conscious of what I was doing; I had reached my quota for nine lives; that I was stepping on the territory of another woman. I was experimenting.
Soldier, soldier; march on, march on. Don’t look back now. Don’t do what I did; try and kill yourself to please other people. Our home life was sweet, wasn’t it? We were surrounded by beautiful things. Our parents were crazy and maybe this rubbed off on us like magic like on our birthdays when our mother would even invite strangers, kids were had never seen before or played with but it was a beautiful experience. If we are one hell of a beautiful family so then why do you hate yourself so much, love yourself so little? What you’re battling with is not abnormal.
Soldiers must protect the weak, the defenceless, powerlessness, the gifted, the savant, the genius, truly talented, truly courageous. You’re more than that. You’re omnipotent, authentic, a unique. It’s okay to make mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect to impress me. I try not to question the journey that I’m on too much; this wide river. I suggest you do the same.
Sorry for leaving you behind when you were so vulnerable. I should have stayed but I thought I was saving you from following in my footsteps. I coloured over the lines. I should never have strayed over the borderlines. I should have stayed put but I didn’t. I’m to blame for all of this. I wish it didn’t feel like winter in September anymore; that it feels more like spring. I wish that it would rain more so that the water restrictions can end and ma can water her garden again.
She was staring at her blooming roses this morning through her bedroom window. You know ma and dad sleep in separate beds now, in different rooms. She had a scarf around her head shaped like a turban; hair escaping in dark, wisps on her neck in her bathrobe. You said to be kinder to her and I’m trying. You said to look after daddy and I’m doing my utmost best.
I wish I really knew you. I wish I could say we have a lot of catching up to do. But we’re brother and sister and that should suffice. I find solace and comfort in that now. I wish sometimes that it could go back to the way it our relationship used to be. You know how it used to be when you were growing up into a teenager and then an adolescent?
When late at night we would talk into the early hours of the morning about everything; that you would still confide in me. I wish it was still my business what was on your mind. I wish that it doesn’t hurt so much when you shut me out completely on your adult life and that I did the exact same thing back when I was your age. I wish it didn’t make me cry to write this.
It feels as if I’m peeling onions to make a hearty, meaty soup. It feels as if I’m not gazing at family albums, it feels as if I rather have grazed, skinned knees on fire, piecing together, piercing together, healing the emotional patches we went through and the loud-mouthed, mud-slinging fights, stinging layers of what was our family history.
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