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March 27, 2023

Snow Falling on Garden City Clinic

By Abigail George

Stupidly we make our way to the church.

There has been a death in the family. The chicken soup has been made. We are all distracted. In the kitchen on the counter top, the vinegar holds up in its robes of motherhood the pickles, the onions and the olives extraordinarily. We need the exploration of food to make it through the day. We need routine like we need to find prayer in today's goals and dreams. My mother's belly burned me like that when she carried me in her womb. Her belly was a jewel. Diamond pale. In it, I found nurture and moonlight, expressions of night, rest and placenta. While I slept, I was patched with a surge of vulnerable taproots that cannot be traced anymore.

Pockets are waking. Things of illusion, beautiful things of imagination like celestial light, the tapestry of stars and the stem work of relief. Like health, that most elusive thing we are all fighting to protect each other. Speech is ice. Then there are those mornings when it pours down cats and dogs. When I feel myself falling into morning. When I feel as if there is ice in my lungs. Leftover potato salad has never tasted so good. It came straight out of the fridge onto my lap. This is the aftermath. My feast of vertigo. My lunch of closure. I am eating it with a fork.

It comes with flashbacks of relationships that are now just as dead to me as my aunt who is buried six feet under, pushing up daisies. It was both alcoholism and diabetes. She stopped breathing in her hospital bed. She was wasting away in front of her family. I think of the boys I never smoked with. I think of the men I never kissed. This is how I live now. I remember. In the palace of that fluid world of the distinguished older man who was made of substance, experience and influence, I was the one who found herself living by the skin of her teeth. I have a psychiatrist's appointment this week.

What will she have to say, that beautiful, headstrong Afrikaner that I have absolutely nothing in common with? As a poet, I am on a journey. It is killing me. I am alone and it is killing me. I will myself not to cry those tears of self-pity. During the appointment, will we talk about my estranged family or my poetry, my addictions, my emotional instability or how I am coping under all of these circumstances? I do not need therapy. I do not need the anti-depressants that will deliver me from sin and damnation. I just want to inspire people. I want to make a difference. I want to save people. Are things like that not laudable?

Are they not worthy of praise? I stopped drinking before it really became a problem. The breakthrough came when I saw what it did to my aunt and the relationships she had with her sons. They lost all respect for her. They loved her, how could that of all things change but it made them sad as if they were losing the best part of themselves. When history finally becomes a dream, the wuthering heights of darkness is lost, something is communicated to the world at large through the scent of rosebushes and the fragrances of bacon frying in its own grease and fat.

'I want to take you to a place that you feel comfortable.' How I live and breathe for those words every six months from my psychiatrist. Going to the lab every six months. Sitting in that chair and prepping myself for when the nurse prods my skin and the needle goes in. I do not want to be a part of this anymore I want to scream but I cannot do that because too many people depend upon me. Back to the kitchen with me. What is on the menu tonight? Memory and desire from childhood. Chicken with thyme and potatoes. Mum's version. I do the preparation. Cutting and peeling. Mapping out supper.

In two or three hours we will all take our places at the kitchen table and they, what is left of my family will eat what I have prepared. I will say grace and my father will tuck in. As I said before, I do not need the anti-depressants that will deliver me from sin and damnation. Why death? Why life? Why the impulse to pick up a book, lose interest in it and then to put it down again and forget about it? Why the sex drive, the impulse to pay for intimacy, the maintenance of the woman who provides the sexual transaction? Why reconciliation? Why oral traditions and indigenous knowledge systems? Why the intellectually superior types?

Why is the woman still inferior to man when it comes to writing, spirituality, philosophy and painting? Whispering madness. It will only be a man who will find themselves alone on a mountain. Now I speak to the one person in the world who came closest to understanding me. My future adult self says that I miss you as if the world misses a hurricane or a tsunami. I want my revenge on every dark-haired boy. Perhaps then, I will understand love. The proof of sin is in the doing and then in asking for forgiveness. I go to the beach. I take my shoes off and walk towards the water. The wind is up. I sit down, cross my feet. I roll up my jeans to my knees.

I watch the children with their buckets and spades and I think of the children I will never have. I watch the surfers, the couples sitting on towels who flirt with each other. I watch the young girls in bikinis who sunbathe. Infertility can do that to you. Make you give up all hope. From madness to now, more and again that can do it to you too. I am an armchair traveller reading geniuses. I think it is the only safe merchandise I have in my house that cannot hurt me. I have never been a part of a couple since my early twenties. There are too many delusions, illusions, paradigms shifting, phoenixes finding the exit out and ghost stories.

These days I depend too much on my intuition at the grocery store. What would my father like? What would my father love? I think of my childhood as I stir, cook, peel, remove the scrapings, the eggshells and make space for the perishables going to the compost heap and the other stuff that is going in the dirt bags, the wasteland. I remember how competitive my siblings and I were at the swings. In the yard, there are blue skies and sunshine. There are dogs chasing birds. My dad scratches both of them between their ears. I can hear the speaker from a tent church on the other side of the world. I have to plant something. Something green. A green feast.

We already have trees. We have flowers. We have rosebushes. Life searches for life. I am lost but I cannot run away from home anymore. I am no longer that teenage runaway. Running up streets and down streets. Making a home in libraries in Johannesburg and Swaziland. One a city. One a country. What do people do? They celebrate life. They participate in activities. Some meaningful and some not. In the mornings, I go and check to see if my dad is quite literally still alive. He has so many aches and pains. If he snores then I know he is okay. If he turns around in bed, I know he is okay.

Sometimes, just sometimes my heart beats faster and faster. Sometimes I feel very afraid for absolutely no reason at all.

'Coffee, dad?' I pull the blanket that was hiding his face away from it. His eyes are open.

'Morning. How are you? How did you sleep? Yes, please bring me some. Thanks. I need some so I can wake up properly.' Before I answer him, I hand him the steaming hot cup of coffee. I know in twenty minutes it will still be standing next to the bed cold.

'How did you sleep, dad?'

'Not so good.'

'Do you want to talk about it, dad?'

'I dreamt about Jan Hollingshead again. The good times we had together. The fact that I loved her. I loved her a great deal. Not the way a man loves a woman but in a much more spiritual sense. You know?'

'Yes I know dad. I know what you mean.' It came to me how naturally human nature is flawed.

We have the same conversations. We drink lots of lukewarm tea. We talk about our doctors, about our counselling sessions, about the flashbacks we have sometimes, our nervous breakdowns, our hospitalisations. What people used to call institutionalisations in the old days.

Mostly we speak in monosyllables or say nothing at all. My mother has disappeared to Johannesburg to visit my sister. There is a thrill to the day. All we seem to eat these days is chicken. Chicken sandwiches with wilted lettuce. Dry chicken with broccoli and potato bake. Roast chicken with the juices running dry. Takeaway chicken. Chicken curry. Chicken stew.

Chicken soup with noodles. This chicken was a chronic metaphor for mental illness in the wards of Elizabeth Donkin, Hunterscraig, Tara, Valkenburg and Garden City Clinic. All the wards that my father had been in for his illness and how I had followed him, in his footsteps. I watched the waves. A young couple's embrace. I did not wish I could be part of that game (too many snakes, too many ladders, and not many exit routes, too many destinations leading to anywhere and nowhere fast). The girl had a loveliness to her. Her youth was on her side and I was losing mine.

I knew that embrace was not real. It was only temporary like the happiness a fairy tale gave you before you had to put the book away. There was a sadness to the day. There was also a knowledge from it that I had to take away from it. It was almost as if the vibrations of the day were armed with a tragic heaviness, and it inspired loneliness within me. The sea's grandeur was not as grandiose as the universe's. All of this knowledge terrified me. I knew the girl would lose her looks as I had lost my appeal to older men. Now I was just old and my intelligence did not just seem to terrify me, it terrified the men too.

Mothers do not tell you that with intuition comes reading other people's minds. Nothing would ever inspire me to put on a bathing costume again to go swimming in the sea in front of all these clowns who were jazzed up like lizards with the golden embrace and the texture of the warmth of the sunshine. Call it self-pity then if you want or lack of confidence for a better word. My physical body had seemed to take on a life of its own now. It was surer of itself. I was no longer a stupid girl wanting a man's attention, willing to do anything for it, not seeing through their fake postures as they waited for me in bed to emerge from the bathroom in hotels.

I knew some had wives, some had girlfriends, some had children or a child on the way, some had bonds, some had overdrafts, some had mortgages (which meant absolutely nothing to me no matter how hard I tried to remember) and I was putting myself in a bad way. Just because he was divorced did not mean he was going to marry me. In my twenties, I was not intelligent or wise. I was just a sponge. Soaking up information happily or trembling as he folded me into his arms whispering sweet nothings into my ear. I never smoked with him. The man who I thought was the one who was going to rescue me.

Save me from a fate worse than death in the big celestial light city. I watched him smoke. I drowned as he smoked. As he flirted with other girls. In his game, I was a pawn. Easy to get rid of. I never had that killer instinct his other women, his other girls had. At night these men, these older men would make incredible gestures, they would go to all this trouble to see that I was comfortable and I in all innocence mistook that to mean that now we were in a relationship. Now we were truly in love but now I realise they were like stars to me. All of these men could see my future self.

As I look at my infirm father and he turns to look at me and smile with fatherly concern written on his face, I wonder do all of those men I slept with still remember me and smile at their daughters with fatherly concern written on their faces. It is a face I recognise like rain pouring down.

Article © Abigail George. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-10-15
Image(s) are public domain.
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