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The Sea The Sea
by Abigail George
2020-02-16 11:12:43
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Yes, two writers, and a poet, Emily, a poet half-formed by the sea. My father is one of the Washington-lucky ones. This is a story about a man but not about any man. It is a story about my father. Fathers are special people. Mostly they encourage you. You tell them about your list of goals and in return, they inspire you to fulfil them.

They are the ones standing on the side-lines. They are the ones who give you that standing ovation. They are the ones who mouth the words ‘I love you’ and ‘I think that you are brilliant’ when you feel like you did not do as brilliant as you should have. They are the first ones you go to when you feel sad or when you are happy.

wilse01_400All my life that is what my father did. He was not all of those things all of the time. Sometimes he was sad and as a child, it made me feel very angry and confused when daddy cried or was upset. Now, I imagine him as a young adult as a hunter. A lonely warrior whose head was bursting out of his skull, his brain cells tormented by the Periodic Table, smashed up against elegant words like bilateral symmetry, biology, anatomy, dissect, zoology and mitochondria surrounded by a mountain of books, hills and green valleys of physics and chemistry textbooks, my beautiful shadow that always lingered in my presence. We will talk for hours on everything and nothing at the same time. I do think that I am a poet because of him because are not all writers are poets at some stage in their lives or at least have the potential to become poets within them.

He is a writer and a teacher who wanted to become a medical doctor but life had other plans for him. He has been writing all his life to get to this point in time and even now, he is always in pursuit of something or other. He believes in many things and most of all his spirituality, the nature of his soul is like that constellation beyond the trees.

Primitive, ancestral, universal and that of a dream catcher. My father is a funny and sweet man. Understanding my love for this funny and sweet man who in his own words has had a curious relationship with his hair on different continents and with the pencil test, whose life story reads like a book of secrets, claustrophobia, vertigo, therapy and it has set my life journey on a trajectory that is (simply put) out of my hands. Human beings do not as children whether they are truly destined for great things.

Whether or not they will be the follower or the leader but all children have the potential for greatness. What unlocked my dad’s greatness? I really don’t have an answer for that question. Maybe that surprises you. Maybe you expected me to say that perhaps it was his depression or the fact that he had a mental illness. Most of all, I want your life to be changed by this man’s life and the people who came to love him when he was at the crossroads of the depths of despair, isolation and rejection (and don’t we all fear rejection) and the edge of hypomania.

I think that every person who suffers from a mental illness has a hidden life. When you are depressed, it is another habitat. You are closed off from the rest of the world. Shut off from the rest of normal (what is normal anyway) humanity. You are in that void, that black hole separated from the people who love you the most and there is nothing, nothing that can bring you back from that brink. People tend to think that people who suffer from a mental illness cannot recover completely from it (I think people who think like this think that recovery is the furthest thing from their mind). 

Depression damages people and that is a fact. The ego has a mind of its mind here when it comes to chronic illness and the road to recovery. I have seen my funny, sweet, generous and forgiving father happy and unhappy. Talked to him into the early hours of morning about every subject under the sun. My father is my best friend. He has inspired me, given me renewed hope, energy, reconciliation with my mother and my sister. My father was my love medicine. Depression also comes with its own addictions but thank goodness, my father did not drink and there was not domestic violence or any other kind of violence in our home as I saw in other households. Depression can be seductive like a ballad of a world of winter trees, of nature imagined into being by the seasons, a qualitative transition from that sad fork in the road to that startling leap of faith when you awaken your spirit to that most novel vision of humanity at its most wuthering height. Seeing the world through the blurred lines of a depression is not pretty. Reality becomes something of a destination anywhere. Sometimes childhood is not pretty too.

My father was more than a role model in my adult life. As his depression coloured his world, so it coloured mine. He challenged me to think a great deal about literature, science and history, complex out of the box subjects. He was a catalyst. He was a medium and to me he was a kind of god in his principal’s suit reading the newspaper while I obediently finished my ice cream. He was my magus, my brilliant, brilliant father who illuminated my child’s world.

Our life together as a family was both flawed and magnificent. You could never fabricate the development of the prodigious talent that took a hold of the substance in our voices, my voice and the voice of my younger sister and brother. It was in our genes, our lovely bones. We knew we were different because of our dad. He was our strength.  He was the master of our universe. A kind of Archie. A kind of comic book hero who could do no wrong although he was both clumsy and cute at the same time. As a child, I imagine my father must have had a tough time and as an adolescent and a young adult an even tougher time.

In my childhood and adolescence (I can only speak for myself here) it was always a grim winter. Soon my life was set to follow my father’s course but that is another story for another book. I want to sum up here in this afterword my life experience with my father. It was hilarious. It was beautiful. It was gorgeous and fabulous at the same time. It was surreal behind the sophisticated high art that was my mother, that beautiful, otherworldly, elegant dream of a woman in my eyes.

It was never boring. He poured wisdom with a divine ceremony into his three children’s intellects. He gave me the greatest gift a father who is primarily a teacher can give to his child. The philosophy of a girl, a child and a woman. I look at my father now with love, respect and in awe. All I want to do is honour him, and his memory. He is frailer. He is in the autumn of his years. Sometimes he forgets things. Sometimes he is stubborn as hell. Sometimes he is arrogant. Sometimes he is as petulant as a child is and I do not know what to make of that behaviour. He is the fragile one now. He is the one that needs to be taken care of. Once upon a time, he was the caretaker, the breadwinner, the nurturer and now I have to pay it back, pay it forward and be the one who is doing the looking after now. I wrote this book for me too. For my own struggle and battles with recurring relapses, my childhood, my relationship with my father and my own mental illness. I wanted honesty.

Of course, there were times when my siblings and I felt abandoned and neglected by our parents because they had so much stuff happening in their own lives. Grown up stuff that we did not know how to deal with yet. We were all thirsting for the love of that perfect adult human being in our grasp, in our presence that was either mother or father. Now it is as if we do not need them anymore. You need those breathing lessons in the beginning because you do not know without breath how to fake it until you make it in this world. Children play in the river of mercy, grace and dust and dirt. They play at making mud pies, drinking tea, wearing their mother’s high-heeled shoes. Their minds are unquiet although they are seen and by that, I mean visible to the adults around them but does this mean they are under adult supervision, I do not know. How does that even ever begin to make any sense?

The tormented unquiet is often silent but already the damage had been done in childhood and the wound is there. It was the day after Boxing Day. I heard my parents talking, the television in the background, my mother quiet for once and in a relaxed state of mind. My father was eating meat prepared on Christmas day, what was left of the gammon, roast chicken and beef with creamy potato salad, beet stains on his T-shirt, his feet bare, and his belly hanging over his swim shorts. They were both watching the cricket. He scratched himself up on his legs. They were in love once. They shared a first kiss, held hands, held onto each other in the dark at the drive-in, dated, wooed each other, and wrote love letters. My father sent postcards from the continent as he travelled through Europe on holiday from his studies at London University. Now he washes the dishes, cleans his bathroom, sweeps out his bedroom (my parents sleep in separate beds now and after this Christmas Eve, they now have separate bedrooms). He mops and dries the tiles. To see my father like this is disconcerting to me.

Of my younger brother during his formative years, I remember very little when I look back at ‘our lives’. In pictures as a boy, he is smiling, pulling a wooden wagon, wearing a cowboy hat, dressed in his Scouts uniform but grown up, receiving his degree he is serious. I do not know in which phase of their lives they were when my brother and sister stopped believing in God, only that He did not feature as prominently as He once did when we were children in Sunday school and Youth. God simply faded into the background like our toys, into the distant past. In addition, the memories of Sunday roast with pudding and custard. Along with our competitive natures, being a child in the eighties and teenagers in the nineties, going to Model C schools and nurtured in the art of being wholly different from other children your age, bullies on the field and where all sports were taken seriously. Am I too serious, Diary? What else is wrong with me besides stating the obvious, that I am following head on into my father’s footsteps?

When my father was sick to death of life and his own was coloured with pharmaceuticals, a pale sadness and illness, he too went to the hospital for ‘a rest’. My siblings and I played on the thin, grassy part of the garden at the clinic (there was not much of it).  Under neatly trimmed hedges and trees in Port Elizabeth, we watched our parents cross-legged talking under their breath to each other in hushed tones. I will never forget those whispers the three of us were not supposed to hear of grown up talk. I (the little, impoverished bird) have improved now that my sister has gone away. I no longer trail in your wake wondering what the ending to this drama is going to be like. I can still smell your hair as if it was an elixir.

I can feel your child body’s magical space where it left its warmth. You could not stop my flight into mania, me bolting into the blackest dark of the futility of the art of depression and what was at the heart of me. I wanted you to possess all of fragile me, see a picture of the hellish wasteland that I went through but you wanted no part of that cut-out of the ocean-sea inside my head. Your silence from those years, the year you wrote the Matriculation exam still cuts through me like a knife. My territory has slowly but surely multiplied. Your journey as a goddess has finally ended. I am a child again. I watch girls wearing swimsuits and bikinis and want to be older, grown up. I watch them as they tease their friends. The ones who seem like they cannot swim just put their feet in the water or sunbathe. Girls watching the boys, the boys watch the girls.

My mother hisses at me to do something, to stop staring and why did I bring my doll to the beach. I am going to lose her, silly me. I have already lost the safe world that my brother and sister seem to inhabit. I am a nuisance, a pest, despised by the adults around me because I am a know-it-all. If my mother says these things to me, then other people, perhaps even children must also be thinking it. I do not feel anything now. It is becoming easier and easier to feel that way in my mother’s presence. I can almost feel my heart in my chest. I do not feel the heat of the day anymore. Instead, just a pressure flooding through me that feels like I am on the verge of tears because her words are hurting me. They feel like pins and needles. I am hurting. The tears do not come. They do not have the guts to anymore. I know that if I fail at that, it will mean the death of me.

This is Massachusetts. Snow only came in winter. Children and even the adults made snowballs and played in it on the news but all I could think about were the poor in the location and shanties. I can feel beads of light behind my eyes. The soft, bewitching, pink mouth that parts in the grotto is not mine and not mine, curls soft to the touch do not belong to me. The young girls and boys that leave hollows behind in the sand this festive season I have nothing in common with, (always, always, always). I remember watching girls as they ‘disappeared’ with ‘nice’ boys at the beach as a child and wondered when it would be my turn. Nothing was hot anymore. Not the sand, my bronzed skin, the towel sticky where the ice cream dripped off its stick, the white rays of the sun that seemed to connect with every fibre, cell and fire of my child being.

I remember my mother’s floppy hat and how she shielded her eyes keeping her eyes on the waves. People did not wear sunglasses in those days. All I could think about was how pretty I was not. It is only then that I imagine myself in love, when I am brought to life by the familiarity of a fantasy life built, stored up extravagantly in words. When I see them as fossils, as bones, that I have to map out; find a location, category and title for everyone. I am immune to the labels, to winter, to the other seasons that come and go with infertility.

I am a woman now, growing older and I must learn to endure everything. Beneath my skin, my heart beats faster and faster. I have often wondered what the diagnosis is. Perhaps it is both a fear of being found out that I am so desperate to be loved and accepted. The confusion of my childhood played itself out with the older sky above me. Hell, down below me where I was a guest treated like royalty because of my mental illness. The cat was warm, inspiring me to sleep too this afternoon. Sleeping in the middle of the day is a sure sign of depression. I covered my body with the sheet and blankets, rest my head on the cool spot on the pillow but I could only see a dark forest that smelled of dew when I closed my eyes and an outline of a woman who wore a red coat in the moonlight. I could not make out her features, this witch, was she a ghost with her hands covered in blood? Was she a Lady Macbeth spiced up in disguise? An accomplice to something much more sinister, her own death and why was she bleeding?

I pulled the covers over my head like a veil. You are dreaming, I told myself. You are watching a frame. I could have screamed. Instead, I kissed her on her cold mouth to comfort the poor thing. She seemed so unfulfilled, lost as I felt. I did not want her to leave me. She kept me company, gave me the feeling of making me want to live. So now, I come to the question of ‘Is what I just described a hallucination or an unworldly vision of some sought from another time or place or am I just talking crazy’. When you are crazy, you do not know that you are electric. That what you are saying is an insane trip, a rollercoaster ride for other people.

I have visions. I am okay with that. I know that it scares people. Honesty scares people. I am okay with that too. There are days that I take my pills and dress and then I wait. I wait for the laughter or the panic or the anxiety (whichever comes first) to show up and make waves. Some days I am okay and then I know today is going to be a good day, come rain or shine, it is all good, more, now, again. I am one of the lucky ones. The lucky ones of Amherst.

Abigail George has two books in the Ovi Bookshelves,
"All about my mother" & "Brother Wolf and Sister Wren"
Download them, NOW for FREE HERE!




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