Are you trying to make a statement by doing that, going out like that?
Would you prefer me to be lonely, stay in on Friday and Saturday nights with oh-so-serious-you?
Wipe that smirk off your face. You’re sly. You’re very, very sly? You’re a fox. You’re a red fox. And you’re going on a hunt. Are you going on a hunt femme fatale?
You’re something else. Come here. I want to remind you that you’re a married woman. You do not have options. I am your husband and you have to obey me.
Oh. currently I see the choices that I have.
And? Dance. I want you to dance. Spin around. Put some fresh lipstick on and then kiss me.
No. You’re talking crazy. Why don’t you get up from that sofa lazybones and make me. Why not dance with me?
Why don’t you join me on the sofa?
I’m not in the mood. I’m starting to hate you. I’m a lover not a hater. Oh, he gets a smile for that one. I wonder what my reward will be.
I’m starving. I’m going to make a sandwich. Put on some music for us and I’ll get a bottle of red.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
No, no and no.
I just want cake.
You have to start watching what you’re eating some time so why not currently?
A tiny piece of gorgeous cake made by my gorgeous wife then I’ll keep the peace.
Don’t I always keep my promises?
Depends on what?
I guess the planets mostly. The cost of a loaf of bread. America. Conspiracy theorists.
Look at me.
Come here. Just turn your head. You can still see me.
Why can’t you just say what you want to say to me? I can hear you from where I’m standing.
Real people do not talk like that. Do newlyweds talk like that? Do people who have stayed married for thirteen years talk like that? I know that in Terms of Endearment they did not talk like that. Nor in August: Osage County. Someone died in each of those movies. Someone loved. Someone special and funny. Someone who had a unique spirit. I know that real people don’t talk like that but sometimes I imagine that they do when I feel as if I have a peculiar spirit or nature. Lie. Lie. Lie. Liar. What I meant to say was when I feel sad, gripped by it, carried to its threshold, when it speaks to me, when my head is wrapped tightly around it, can’t get loosened from it. In my head I would make up the conversations we would have over a period of nearly thirteen years of married life. Are vows terms, conditions? Will we go to church or lie in on Sunday mornings with our cold toast complete with gloop of shining marmalade with its pretty sun face, lukewarm milky tea and the newspapers reading our favourites. You will tuck a stray brown curl of hair behind the lobe of my ear, kiss it. Say, ‘You’re really sweet. You smell lovely. All perfumery.’ Later on you will go and make us coffee (my pretend husband will go and make me coffee and yes only in my dreams) before we go out for a walk on the beach. We will hold hands. You will put your arm around my waist. We will look into each other’s eyes, talk about our week at work, about our friends at work. Someone will say something funny. We will both guffaw like crazy. We don’t have children. We have accepted that we can’t have any. It isn’t anybody’s fault really (this really means it’s my fault. It’s impossible for me, for my genes). We have a dog called Misty Upham after this beautiful Native American girl who played the role of a beautiful Native American nurse and cook in the film August: Osage County. You (my husband) have a dog. I have a cat. Kitty. Cat for short. In real life my cat is dead. Tender is the day, the salt on the breeze catching my hair, the nape of my neck, and the backs of our legs. You’re laughing and complaining at the same time, that I decided we come out today of all days. We’ve both rolled up our pants. We’re eating vanilla ice cream with a chocolate flake inside of it. You’ve picked me up. I’m screaming. Screaming with joy and terror. It’s cold. The sea has always freaked me out. I can swim. I just prefer to swim in a heated pool, preferably indoor. I hate the smell of chlorine, the sight of skinny people, so wrapped up in the joy of their thinness and revealing it to the world at large. There’s something beloved about my local swimming pool. I’ve been swimming there since I’ve been a child with my mother and father, my two younger siblings.
Beetroot. Coleslaw. Fried chicken. All of this in front of you a feast. A huge serving. Not like those portions you’re used to getting at the clinic. The portion that could fit into your hand. currently eat. Eat as much as you like or eat as little but you have to eat some. Put it on the end of your fork and currently eat this stuff. Some of it is healthy and some of it is unhealthy. Just for you I added extra Tabasco and mayonnaise. Beetroot, coleslaw, chicken is the colour of the day. It will brighten you up. You look so pale because you haven’t been eating right. The doctors spoke about this. Your therapist. You can’t push people who care about you, who are concerned about you and your episodes of mild clinical depression away from you. Just think that not so long ago this was your favourite meal at the hospital. You couldn’t eat anything at that posh clinic. Just think what will happen if you don’t eat. You’ll simply fade away, waste away to absolutely nothing but skin and bone like those kids in Ethiopia, Somalia, wherever-in-Africa. Ethiopia’s in Africa right? See I made you smile. History was never my strongest subject in school or is that Geography. See how I made you laugh. Look at me. A regular stand-up comedian. You’re a moron if you don’t eat this. I’m going to have to throw this Great stuff away. I can’t eat all of it. It’ll go off in the fridge. Are you listening to me or am I losing you? Hey, don’t tell me I can’t click my fingers in your face. I need you to pay attention to me. Listen you. You have to start eating and putting on some weight. This kind of lifestyle is not doing anything for you. This negativity. It’s just being selfish. You’re being selfish. Can’t you see that? I hate this. I hate wearing this hat. It is making me tired. You playing these games. These mind games. You can play them with your doctors, the other patients, your psychologist, the occupational therapist then that is fine by me but you can’t come home like this. You can’t come home to me like this. I am your husband. You’re not behaving. If you don’t know how to behave like a wife, a proper wife, then what will happen to both of us? You’re sabotaging us. Something close to perfection. Marriage is not perfect but it can be happy. It can make both people realise that they aren’t perfect people. You’re making us, the once upon a time perfect us unhappy. Don’t do this. Just do the tiny things. It’s not such a big deal to have a meal. It’s not as if I’m asking you to eat three times a day. This is just the beginning of a very long road to sanity. Forget about being sophisticated. Forget about vanity. Maybe I’ll give up on you today but I won’t give up on you tomorrow and that’s just the way it is. I was saving the vanilla ice cream for you. You’ll find it in the freezer.
And then he ends the conversation like that. He switches off the lights in the kitchen brooding and brooding and brooding. And then the brooding turns to bitterness and then rots and festers in his heart or wherever bitterness, rotting and festering takes place. My dreamy pretend husband leaves me in the darkness of our perfect kitchen that I picked out of the pages of a magazine. Imagination is a wonderful thing. The thing is I am not even looking for a husband. And that is the wicked truth of it all.
In the thirteenth year a nephew has come along, a girlfriend has moved all her flat’s furniture into our house, my parents’ house and I begin to hate, rot and fester more and more. This is me speaking and not my imagination. Life begins to become more brutal, less forgiving. God, how it wounds. This aggression. Life aggravates me and my nerves. It feels like lightning and electricity combined. Can you even imagine that kind of catalyst communicating to the world of the dead? All the suffering. All the details. All I want is God to speak to me. On the other hand words speak to me also. I grasp at them like my nephew’s hands grasp at nothing and everything. And when that voice comes it comes in moth-speak, fog evaporating, leaves tearing up districts, Whitman’s blades of grass, rain meeting pavement, making it wet, slick, making hair wet, slick, licking umbrellas, shoes, coats. It comes with the wind that shakes up everything in its path. I remember how the Johannesburg people wanted to take my father away from me, from Port Elizabeth, my brother, my mother and me. Mostly me I think. They thought we wanted his money. How cruel. People are cruel (here I mean family). Love ones to loved ones. The closest to you. I don’t believe in worshipping family anymore. Scratch that one law, rule, resolution out. It doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. Relationships and everything else were blackened that September and October. 2013. 2013 taught me that pretend was just play-play, another child’s jubilant playing field. And currently we come to nearly thirteen years of leaping and awe-inspiring loneliness etched into every landscape that I’ve travelled through, every wonder I’ve quietly observed, every childhood that has burned to the ground, every passion that felt like a fever, that has taken on the guise of a pretty flower in a garden that has made your spirit felt charged and ready for success, every three-leafed clover sorely missing its 4th. currently we come to thirteen years of depressive suicidal illness and disability. Thirteen years of emotional instability. Ups and downs. Follow the writer. The twit. The twitter. The twittering. Follow the babble, the kerfuffle. Follow the leader. Play reader. Play. Push the red button. Drift. That is what it comes down to. Just drift because that is what humanity is meant to do when facing off the physical. When the physical becomes nasty, mean-spirited. And all it gives your brain is negative information, wishes that will never come true no matter how hard you wish for it, no matter how long you hold your breath. It feeds your brain ugly myths and unfortunately there is nothing of the fairy-tale kind where Great always triumphs over evil, where I am Great, Great enough.
I loved you. I always will. For thirteen years currently I’ve loved you, met up with you again, again and again in my dreams for real and not pretend and sometimes it kills me to say it. You’re somebody else’s husband. Somebody else’s fella. Some days are Great. Some days are bad. God has married the romantic gentleman you to my memories like the world around me has grown to become more digital. It just goes faster. I have no control over it. There’s no function key that I can press. My contemporaries are far more advanced than me. I’ve come to terms with that. I still don’t know anything about you. I don’t know who you are. What you think about when you lie awake at night in your bedroom next to your lovely wife who is nothing, nothing like me. Is she ordinary-extraordinary? Lie. Lie. Lie. Liar. You were my best friend. My only friend as it turned out to be. You taught me truth was the only policy to live by. Some kind of special gentleman you were. You offered me some kind of hope, self-esteem, and culture in a zoo of players. For some time currently you have made me very happy. I’ve starved myself for so long. Can you understand what I am trying to tell you? I am never coming back, going back.
You made me quite ill. Frighteningly so. I scared myself to death. I was high on you. Addicted to your kind of human nature, funny hint of environment, scarcity of empathy (did you even know what the word sympathy meant or did it just mean having a sexual transaction to you)?
I feel sick but I wait for this feeling to pass. It feels as if I wait for an eternity. It feels as if I have just licked the grimy asphalt beneath my heels. I’m trembling because I am cold. My hair is limp and straggly underneath my cap. My teeth long for a Great bite. My teeth are tiny, shark teeth hungry for more. I haven’t eaten anything the whole day. I am not hungry. I don’t eat anymore. I pretend to push food around on my plate at night at suppertime and eat rice and peas (because they look beautiful, aesthetically pleasing on the plate). Why would I want to eat when every time I get high my appetite is sated? Everything becomes colourful, vivid, the cracks in the peeling ceiling and the seats, the thumbprint on the glass becomes sealed.
I am tired of the hierarchy of money, posse, type, celebrity, and hanger-on, poser, groupie, television executive and homosexual. They must all be valuable to society or otherwise they wouldn’t be here tonight swaying their hips to the music, their lips and mouths are sensuous, drinking shots off the bar, spending money. Their identity remains a blur the entire evening but they are never quite out of your range, out of your peripheral vision with their entertaining quips and humour. Can I get you anything?
The girls are body beautiful but they are not much else I sniff. Pretty pictures, pretty paintings of expensive trendy fashion. Their clothes are tight, snug, figure-hugging – is there room for air? Their hair is freshly washed and blow-dried, their lips are wet, shiny, they are docile these sweet dolls, their movements are fragile and they will do anything for love. They will do anything for a guy they set their sights on tonight.
My head is filled with the glare of the glow of streetlights, cars buzzing dangerously low to the curb. I imagine the sidewalk will feel so cool as I rest my cheek against it.
I want to embrace the pavement, snuggle my head into the crook of my arm and close my eyes and sleep. I think I am going to be sick.
I am again reminded how self-indulgent the human condition can be. How we improve ourselves, our boring, safe, humdrum lives through self-medication through addiction, alcoholism, drugs, exercise and diet pills.
It is early morning. No one is around in the stillness of the darkness. There is only a vapour that descends on the deserted club, mist and ghosts. I have nowhere to go but down. So far down, that it is as far away from reality as possible.
I run in and out of the bathroom changing my top. I have one long-sleeved polo neck and one T-shirt. I feel sick and my face is flushed as if I have a fever. It is all pink and I shiver when I walk out into the darkness of the club, onto the dance floor. Two girls looked at me in a concerned way when I went in but they do not stop me and ask me if anything is wrong.
I want power. I go in search of it. I dance wildly because I am so happy I do not care if I look like a total idiot. I speak to everyone because everyone is my friend. I forgive the world of all her sins. There are no evil people in this room tonight, only people who want to forget Hitler.
I am again reminded of how tough the human condition can be. People retching into toilet bowls into the early hours of the morning as the remnants of the party of the night before made itself known.
I have never felt more alone, more deeply unloved than I did that night than I did that night. There are couples dancing around me, women dancing with women and men dancing with men, young girls with upturned faces kissing their partners, making out. There were people sitting at the bar who spoke to me happily and I wanted to hold onto them and never let them go. I wanted them to stroke my hair and my face, the way my father used to do. They dance with me. They bought me drinks but they were not prepared to put up with me for longer than that evening. Was I not this perfect and invincible creature who could make people love her? Desperation clung to every pore in my body. I wanted to say, ‘Can I come home with you? Will you be my family? What makes you happy? I promise I’ll be Great. I won’t talk back.’
I went home but I didn’t heal. I spoke to two therapists. One who was male and the other who was female.
I didn’t fix my problems. The more I seemed to talk about them, the more solutions seemed to elude me, the more it seemed to me I didn’t fix my problems, the more it seemed as if I was an accident waiting to happen.
I went home to look after my father and to realise what a mess I had become. I was such a mess that some people avoided me like the plague even my brother and sister.
I like the city at this time of the night. There is no heat, only the air that rises up from the street, smoky and grey. The windows are lit like candles from the inside out like me only the light inside the buildings seems more stable.
Other women are the enemy. I do not have any female relationships. There were no female friendships, a female mentor, and a relationship with my mother or my sister in my life. I used to think it was because I wasn’t beautiful like them. My shoes are starting to pinch my toes. I want to take them off and walk barefoot in this city I love so much because it hasn’t chewed me up and spat me out yet. I wanted someone to take me in his arms tonight too and wrap them around me. Someone who would have told me it was okay to be afraid because he was scared too sometimes.
Instead I got stories, beautiful, intense, sad stories from people who were just like me, an invitation to a birthday from a man that I passed on. Their sadness was as intense as mine and for a short while they held me in the basement of the club. I felt safe as my world began to fall to pieces around me and I crashed and burned.
The sky is black and dark like a mesmerising black hole. There are no stars but I do not need stars. The sun will be up soon and already I feel the pressure of the upcoming workweek I have ahead of me. It is Sunday and I am going to church but there is a pit in my stomach. I was hoping by currently it would be gone but it is still there, this smouldering pit. I do not smile. I do not laugh. Where am I going? What am I doing? I want to be loved. I am alone. I am tired of being alone, self-sufficient, independent and brave. My mind wanders through the service. I am thinking of my family and what they are doing but they call to find out how I’m doing.
I have a headache. It spills memories into the air that I do not want to think about but then I rediscover some of that happiness I experienced when I was growing up. It is very easy to feel unloved in the city. You are lonely. You do not have any contact with the outside world. Deep down, fiercely, you withdraw from all the loveliness in this world, in this city and walk with apparent ease, without any blame, your eyes have dark circles – bags under their eyes. I know later these morbid feelings of curiosity will disappear and I will regain my self-confidence but for currently I am rendered speechless by the peaceful air.
I walk everywhere. I bite into the 1st taste of a muffin at a bakery in the morning. Crumbs fall into my lap. What happened this weekend almost could never have taken place in this sunlight? I feel content and blissfully happy. Nothing haunts me in the fresh air like it does when evening comes. The city has never looked brighter, cleaner but the colours lack their dewiness, their haziness of before. They have come into focus. My face is brighter. The images staring back at me, their lines are no longer blurred. I am not crashing down the street, veering, hurtling, careening wildly, lost into space. Johannesburg, you have never looked as beautiful to me currently as you do today.
It is a Sunday. The wind is up. It’s been one of those long and boring afternoons. Nothing to do but count the hours to your favourite television show. It has been a beautiful day. Do you live near the beach? I do. I should walk more but I don’t. And I think too much. I always want to say the perfect thing and the words must be elegant. Maybe that has something to do with me being a writer. Lunch is over and so I think I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon doing nothing or read something. We don’t buy newspapers anymore. Magazines once in a while and what I’ve learned is that I really like to read inspirational stories. People who’ve made it in this cruel world, and who have lived to survive it. With all the rain we’ve had there’s has been flooding in the low-lying areas. We see rain as God’s gift but then there are others who don’t see it as that. I am fortunate that I met you when I did. It was more than luck that brought us together and you’ve said so more than once. I wish I could have written more to you, spoken to you more often, been there for you the way you have for me. You are made of kind folk, a kindred spirit. It really feels like we’re related or connected somehow on so many levels. And I have found a sister in you, family and so many things, a comrade. I can hope that you will write, write and write and that it will turn into a beautiful book filled with joy, written with eloquence, enthusiasm and audacity.
There are many bad people in this world but as I discover more of the world I live in, you live in, there are just as many if not more Great people. I believe in you. I believe in your literary work and your devoted commitment to that work. When you have courage and display that authentic sense of self and selfhood to the world it gives me courage. You understand what it means to be an artist, a creative marvel who surrenders (no matter what difficulty she encounters to reach the turning point).
You are the mistress of your own destination, forging quietly and with steely determination ahead. You make me want to pay close attention to what having empathy means, to tolerate what I could not tolerate before, for my heart to listen before my intellect, ego, consciousness does. You illuminate me and I suppose that is what great friends do, great sisters, great teachers, and poets do. (And currently I feel I can go on but I’ll stop here.) I want to be brave. I want to be a brave forward-thinker making progress like any adventurer in pursuit of a dream expedition or pilgrimage.
It’s hard to want to live sometimes. In my world it’s a feeling I can’t escape sometimes but knowing that there’s a lifeline out there sometimes makes everything, everything easier to bear. So thank you for your spirit, thank you for your soul, thank you for being so angelic in your communication with me. I wish I could have printed out some of the stuff we have ‘said’ to each other. It is food for thought (much food, much nutritious thought). I see art in everything currently where I didn’t before and I see artists everywhere I go and I think to myself. They don’t even know it. They can’t see it and it is in front of their eyes. There’s so much to live for.
There’s so much life even in bread, even in fasting. Around every corner are communities wanting to learn, wanting to be educated. There is so much joy. Joy in the faces of people, strangers whose names I do not know and faces I will not remember. Today has been a Great day for me. Today has been poetic. I think that we’re on the brink of an extraordinary era. If only everyone had poetry in their spirit then there’d be more than enough joy to go around for everyone.
I’ll never forget your friendship for as long as I live.
I hate the dark. How it expresses itself, yields crime, and brings oddities to the surface. I love the moonlight. I’ve grown used to the cold. I’ve found its elements useful in some ways. I’ve become mindful of the miracles I’ve found in other poets writing and their love and passion for writing that ignited the flame of habit within them. If others can see those personalities of the stems, haphazard roots, spinning flowers, spinning like the red heads of poppies in the wind of the poem’s soul why can’t I?
You ask how poets prosper today if people do not read poetry, find inconceivable pure threads among it, and seize it as if it was life itself. I ask how people live if they do not read. Do you, should we find it necessary to put ‘African’ in front of writer or poet these days? I need to lose myself and not cherish the separation anxiety I feel sometimes.
The pioneers of Southern Africa lived a madness life exiled in the earth’s storm, living off the land with their white teeth. I wonder at the adjustments their children made. They lived off everything that had an organic description from their fruit orchards; potatoes, bread, their animals provided the meat for their progeny and workers and families. All those finicky cells all had ancient life.
The beaches of my childhood are pure to me, usually always breath-taking, a magnificent portrait, never bleak. Particularly the light of the day as it closes in on people, on me, on my mother’s back as she charges ahead of me, as she charges ahead of heaven, of paradise. Earth is not the only link I have to God, to beauty, to pioneers who came before me, to laughter.
The other day I found shells on the beach and it was as if angels had a hand in making them. I collected them as if they were fossils. As if they were ghosts from another time and place and then they became a feast of white in my hands. So mankind achieved progress. This evening there was rain on my tongue. I could not speak. The beauty all around moved me to tears. It is my sister’s year of weddings.
What is ill health, your body being, becoming more and more attuned as each day turns into weeks and months of being, becoming committed to ill health? I can no longer indulge vanity, insanity and conceit. Ill health is locked down into my sleep, my dreaming, and my goals. I am no longer my mother’s genuine futurist. I remember warm days. Something snaps inside of me. I drink lukewarm tea. I must remember love. Running into words, prose, essays in the darkened interior of a bedroom.
Acknowledgements must be mentioned. Prayers must be said. Preparations mustn’t be hurried. Writing is like an open field; flat, bewildering. It can smell cold like the untouched keys of a piano unspoiled by fire, time, memory and place. There’s a place for you too in nostalgia. We’ll still talk of the men in our lives, past and present. Every external custom, dramatic comprehension, the heritage found in our shared loneliness.