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That Southern  African Woman That Southern African Woman
by Abigail George
2013-12-26 12:31:24
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How do children live without human love, a sense of direction, and a goal forwards, a movement towards God? How do children filter the abandonment of their mothers out of their soul, pump it out of their system, and ever forget that mother’s touch, the cruelty of other mother’s children? Men can hurt you. It’s a painful thing but to be broken by suicidal illness, abused by your mother when you are young is a much more painful thing. Yet my mother illuminated everything around her. Her voice had the dimensions of a wedding garment. It was still a gift that burned me.

What are they doing in the photograph? They are outside the church (my parents). My father has lost one of his white gloves. I am laughing. I am happy. My mother is smiling in the photograph. Who is that pretty woman? Her hair washed and rinsed, and perfumery. She doesn’t look anything like me and not for the first time I wonder where in the world did I come from? Maybe that boy was right. Maybe I was a test tube baby. I think my dad was quick to say he didn’t mean it. Boys that age are mean and stupid and when they have their own daughters they would be quick to say that to their own teenage daughters.

I want to marry you and do what married men do to pretty little girls like you.

I can feel the sun. The family is at the beach. My mother’s brother, his wife and three sons have come down from Johannesburg to spend the Christmas holidays with us in Port Elizabeth. I am smiling at my mother but she is angry with me so she ignores me.

‘Why didn’t you do what I told you to do?’

The smile falls from my face. My heart feels like stone and thunder fused together. She presses her hand into my arm and it leaves an angry stain there. God I’m marked for life. The world feels cold. The stain is red, then pink and then it disappears altogether. I know someone is watching. Someone is always watching.

In childhood I was always told of how ugly I was by my aunts. It is not difficult for one child to imagine that all children are more enlightened than they are at that difficult age, that phase, that level. I would gaze at my appearance in mirrors everywhere I went (at the post office, in the car that my mother drove me everywhere to, I would sometimes even think about what cute little dress they would put me in at my funeral, would it match the flowers). My mother was a florist. Of course she would do the flowers, if only to make up for all the hurtful things she had said to me while I was growing up. And as I looked into the mirror, the window that held my reflection my eyes would dissolve, my diamond tears could fill a teacup, diamonds as blind as belittled finicky stars. Maybe that is why I like the quiet. I hate the dark that comes with it but I love the silence as it fills the interior of my bedroom, my mind’s eye’s orbit trailing in the wake of my head. Why are the boys in high school always handsome and the girls so damn pretty? Every turn of their heads is lovely as they eat, talking, laughing. Why can’t I be like that, I asked myself? Why did I have to be different? In my thirties I’m not half-conscious of that fact anymore in fact I’m more conscious than ever before. I was always giving my tuna fish sandwiches away.

No, it’s fine. I’m not hungry. You have it. There, take it.

You were a test tube baby.

Nobody wants to play with you.

But even then I never had it in me to cry (not in front of those snot-nosed little bastards). But there was some truth in what they said, in bits and pieces of it. I only realised it much later of course in retrospect.

Barely touched, loved like a winter guest it is cold here and it hurts, even in my thirties it still hurts. My spirit is giving in to disability, infirmity, and the information of caution and yet I still see. I am becoming an intuitive being (does the supernatural inform me now?) I am able to see with such clarity now.

I can see the tremors in your hands.

Are you cold? Is that why you are shivering? I always thought it was the cold because all the windows were wide open, because it was autumn you know.

I can’t make the tremors disappear.

‘What are you doing here?’ my brother asked, moody, with dark rings under his eyes. He hadn’t slept at all in days hunched over his computer in his study working on his empire.

‘Nothing.’ I could hear something in my voice that I didn’t like. I knew I didn’t have it in me to put up a fight. No, that would take something like guts.

‘What do you want?’ He knew what I wanted and I knew he wouldn’t give in. I knew that as soon as I turned my back he would lock the door to the laundry. He had moved the fridge in there the previous week.

‘I’m hungry. I want to eat something.’ But what I really wanted to say was why wouldn’t you all just leave me alone if I wanted to eat something.

‘Oh, its hunger pangs now is it really? There’s a leftover sausage in the oven for you.’

‘Thanks for the affection but I just checked. There’s nothing there.’

‘There’s still one left. I’m sure of that.’

And that was the end of that conversation.

It is nearly the witching hour (to have your family give up on you, slowly come to hate you for just living, not suffering in silence, just living). My mother had left the television on.

‘Do you want it on?”

I ignored her and she switched it off. As she walked past me she laughed.

I miss the districts I surveyed and every landscape I waltzed across in childhood. I never thought I would become a slow woman. I never thought I would live in books and journals, research and disability. I never thought I would be the one my parents had to look after as an adult. I hear my mother’s laughter. I am the joke. I am the joke. She’s just like those kids. God, why haven’t I escaped those playing fields? It’s killing me. She’s killing me. It shatters something inside of me, my physical ‘seat’, my spirit and my soul is going to hell with speed. I want to sleep and move my way past the warm bodies in this house that my mother calls ‘dysfunctional’. God knows that she can’t handle me. I know that now tentatively. She’s the elegant woman, that Southern African woman with her German ancestry in her blood behind the patterns of abuse that lined the walls of her internal world. My mother is the goddess I will never become. No babies for me only novels. Is it only the brilliant word that will be my ‘talk’? Will poetry be my sword? Men and disability can only dictate loneliness for the lunatic.

The incident at the pharmacist still shames me to this day. It slices through me; cuts right through me like other incidents. It happened to me as a child. All I can think about is being numb, frozen while my mother is screaming at me in the car outside. I see people but I don’t see them. I think they’re watching her but now I really know they’re looking at me, waiting to see what I will do, how I will react. I do nothing. I think now back to that shaming situation that is the first moment when I know she does not love me. She must have had some intimation that I was different from her other children.

There’s something magnificent about the ingredients in my hands, as the bread takes shape covered with a cloth and as I wait for it to rise. I pack away the oil, the butter, and the eggs. I know now my brother’s smoke is not good for my lungs or his but we’ve made vows about this. I had a girlfriend once. I wondered what she saw in me. My guess is cancer (the cancer of family therapy). We didn’t talk about anything. The relationship was basically physical, and short-lived. Nothing made it to the pages of a journal.  Boys were different. We shared cigarettes, stories, and took long walks as the sunset glowed.

Grief is an infinite word when it comes to relationships. Yet it is only a case history, a temporary assignment of discontent. It leaves us with a world of expectations, possessions and the material. I will always remember that Robert stood tall. Women will always remember that they are not that young anymore when he leaves. When all they have is the silence in the room.

The inheritance of the muse in art and writing is always love. The knowledge that there are many things that make up intelligence and the details of the fact there is no fixed idea behind the embroidering in genius. We all have been hurt by life. If we knew this maybe we would bring more joy to strangers.

My mother is a study of female brutality. I am a study of nerves, cells, abandonment, and the impulsive wreck.

I think when you’ve been molested once, twice, three times you begin to breathe in every disease you have slowly come into contact with in the world. My father didn’t believe me when I told him. My mother laughed. I didn’t know which was worse. 

The heat was blistering. I heard her groan, felt her warm breath against my ear as she kissed me, kissed my neck, leaned into me and it was almost as if she could hear the sad song in my blood that dawn. As she faced me I felt as if she understood my anatomy. There was no desert only an asylum, a rose garden that I had ordered. She is too heavy to lift and why would I want to anyway. The day is perfect. There is no exit but nonetheless the day is dying. I could fall asleep here with her in my arms.

My brother will build harmonic empire after empire long after I am gone from this place. He will be loved. He will be a lover, a father and a stepfather. Body consciousness, the vessels of depression will long still consume me as if there were some spiritual reward to be got from it. I have wasted my heart, my passion on so many men who have had both the images of success and arrogance. Aren’t all men handsome in the pursuit of the consciousness of ambition and success? And even when they fall, even when dressed in failure if they have even tasted ambition then that is good enough for me. I have tasted them all. The one who found his niche in the immediate, the curious, the inventive, the one or two who have had the acumen of the presidential candidate, the inner man who still had his childlike imagination. I worship men especially men who find themselves in their element. With women there is sameness there. Men glorify different things. Being masculine is sexy. Even the depression is different, how he looks after his family, you find yourself as a writer asking different questions about your lover. His childhood, his parents, his background, his education, and how he loves his children, especially how he loves and nurtures, and protects.

I ask myself, ‘What are they doing in the photograph?’ The horse and his boy, the father and his daughter, the man with his hair in his face standing upon the mountain that he just hiked up of with fresh air in his lungs, the man in his cowboy hat. Pictures of faces, families, small children clean and fresh, and nutritious in their school uniforms, teenagers’ gung-ho and wacky, precocious, their youth wasted on them, pictures of races of different faiths, different tales. I am lost in my thirties, lost in a sour, milky, an unforgiving world but you see I still have these tendencies to think the best of people. My heart is filled with the juices of therapy, psychologist after psychologist. I was taught therapy is healing. Beloved mother all I see are dark lines, prayers nailed to the intellect, a river of veins, and the moon made up of a glass palace. Mummy is mummy daddy is daddy. I am dying but I must also live. I must also not forget how to live because my birth certificate is not enough to say that here, I am also alive like the rest of the human race. It was never enough for me to ask my mother how much she lived for me, how much she loved me. This image of the autumn chill is always on my mind. And I still don’t fall asleep.

Look at me. I am going to war. Remember me.


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