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The Aftermath of Loneliness The Aftermath of Loneliness
by Abigail George
2011-08-04 07:55:13
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There’s mad isn’t there? The kind of mad when you have lost everything and there is nothing more to lose and then there are the aerodynamic principles of the motion of air and gases that seem to exist even when you’re dreaming. There’s mad wanderlust and then there’s fibre of moral excellence that we all seem to be divided about in open society. There’s mad and then there’s the fog in the wasteland, when there’s still time to catch up while you’re catching your breath in the heart of an instant.

Details mean information and under the constant light, as if by instinct, they cannot but remain relevant as the sun dances across panels, angles, corners in the cramped bedroom at the Salvation Army that she shared with Hannah. Hannah was funny, spiritual, comforting, unemployed and sweet. She wanted escape and she found it in the smell of the cold air in the mornings. She had nothing but time. So the two of them would wolf down their warm food at breakfast, lunch and supper, bow their heads together as prayers were said. She felt something important was missing in her life; success and the magic of the ego.

Hannah confided in her about her lover who worked in the archives at a downtown newspaper. 

On Sunday afternoons she would walk through the empty apocalyptic streets. Silence in her head, all around her and later that evening, every evening in her bed an aching silence awaited her. She wanted to lose herself; she wanted to eliminate all the dimensions to her structured identity; her identity that was carved out for her in Port Elizabeth. What she wanted and craved was adrenaline rushing through her head and to discover it there like some wild, half-flailing thing, as if she could form it and shape it to cohere to a piece of her identity. She took no lovers, swallowed no pills, saw no psychiatrists and she fell in love with the city around her. She could feel it enveloping her body, her mind, closing in on her spirit. It, city life, rattled inside of her like a toy gun.

Everyday she chased pavements, hung onto the highways above her head as if they were monkey bars for her intellect. Somehow the rain would always find her tears and so as she walked past traffic, streams of people, nobody would look at her and then away, as if she was different.

She didn’t find relationships fulfilling because she felt that what they could offer her was only something short-lived, short-lived passion, a short-lived powerful and deep experience which would fill her momentarily, leave her with perhaps vitality, there would be some sexual tension and promise of substance but that would be reaching. She called it ‘the earth school’. It wouldn’t offer her authentic power and it wouldn’t teach her anything about faith and spirituality. The last thing she wanted to end up being was her mother but she could feel it, that she was becoming more and more like her every day and although it terrified her, it also gathered around her, like only women at a Muslim wedding who could gather around the virgin bride.

Her parents didn’t teach her anything about love, about passion, about commitment, only   a sense of duty and obligation. As she grew older she wondered how they had fit together in the first place. To her it seemed that they didn’t stay together because they felt they belonged together, they stayed out of fear. Simply the fear of them being alone, what would that mean. If they had to fail at marriage, then they decided they would fail together.

Man, she discovered in the city, is an extraordinary machine even when solitary or when they move in packs like wolves. They’re enchanting even when they disfigure your features with their hands, there is even something beautiful, something perfectly formed, something about the face, the lines in the corner of their mouth or around their eyes, about their person when crockery or glass chips and lands on the floor, that has just missed your head and cracks into pieces. Whatever his journey, he keeps on walking. They take the best from women, only the achievers and through a series of introductions, the excellent application of truth, as he pushes for a break in the circle, so he multiplies his territory.

If he is pushed to be a beast, he will be a beast because it gives him courage. Nobody calls that anything when even the divorced women laugh, those women eager for their own conquests, the ones who aren’t shy and quiet and above it all. Whatever happens to her, lost in the whirl of youth, where does a lost girl fall to, claim sanctuary, does she sprint to her mother, to her small hometown, to be cradled in the arms of a woman who knows the wiles of the more experienced man saddled with wife and child and another one on the way, to be cradled by the inhabitants of the countryside instead of the city?

You feel like magic is exploding between your ears, how on earth can this be happening as he takes your hand in his, pushes you against the closed door and as he lets you go, you can still feel his warm breath against your cheek. It feels like a dream and you’re slipping far away.

When the babies come, she imagined to herself, a woman must feel a change in the air; she has become too much work for the man of the house. He becomes winter to her summertime and distant, silent and remote like a forest developing, preparing for the last hundred years during the seasons, a destination that was fixed upon a map and that has now come and gone.

Faraway from the office, this man of steel, in his blue shirt, black leather, sunglasses and cowboy boots like he is fresh from Hollywood, Los Angeles, is cooking something that smells like sausage, frying onions. While his wife and the baby sleep, he is thinking and planning deceit. (IhateyouIhateyouIhateyouIhateyouIhateyouIhateyou is not what she’s thinking, this girl so far away from home, stuck in the trenches of television with men instead of young girls and women; instead she’s looking up at the eclipse through the office window, eating a chicken and mayonnaise sandwich with wilting lettuce as she catches a whiff of cigarette butts and ash in the ashtrays, drinking filter coffee trying so hard not to stand out but you see, she does, she does in an almost magical, fascinating-blinking-animal, white-dazed-mouse-in-a-maze kind of way). Thankfully she read Nabokov at seventeen but it had dawned on her, that if she was only setting her sights on finding the kindest human being that she could possibly find, (and most lovers weren’t kind and could be for an indefinite period as she learnt growing up, they could be like the spitting-image of her parents; two spouses living in the same house and not have a sane, endearing conversation for days on end). She thought to herself she would never find her life-partner because men and women weren’t engineered that way. They were cruel; they could kill with a glance, words could wound and stab like a knife. What were people letting themselves in for, she thought to herself, when they fell in love?

Nabokov was the first Russian writer she had ever read and then she understood men in an unseen, black and white, the world in union (meaning men and women) versus the misanthrope way.

Dark hair and dark eyes, distant and pretty, but in her hands they feel like melting chips of ice, lashes like splinters, splintering off like driftwood in a pin stream. She’s as plain as paper. Outside it is a June winter. This is not love, she tells herself and this is what the meaning of loss is, that and manipulation. She has learnt that everything here in this city is a manipulation. From the shiny sky that glints in her eyes, to the ground that she walks upon, she is neither heroine nor angel. She is just a girl with a vision who wants to triumph over circumstance. The circumstance of poverty and a community starved of all advancements of technology. Orphan abandonment, anticipatory nostalgia; they want to give you all kinds of pills for those kinds of diagnoses. All she had now was her daily horoscope, constellations, fashion magazines and dreams.

Men grow tired of the chase but for her it was never enough. It inspired her. So what if her imagination grew wings as they all closed ranks around her, bright, successful office men and women. How can you love someone if you’ve never experienced it as a child, witnessed it in your childhood home, if you weren’t raised on it but only to express yourself vicariously, express pieces of your already superfluous identity through the art of drama, where a child’s psyche is always and already held precariously in the balance.

It was her sense of social awareness, a keen sense of having a responsibility to contribute something greater than her, to the planet, that began to fill up that tired, empty feeling that seemed to generate immense voids, black holes of ill health. There were spells that took her to lying on her bed, staring up; wide-eyed at the ceiling, curtains drawn protecting her shadow from the rays of the afternoon light and that was how she suffered.

She suffered hidden away from the world, suffering for the most part in silence, achieving nothing and bringing no illumination to light. There was no one to take her hand, no one to navigate these great escapes from the blackness that was detonated by the chance spark of a misgiving. Her journal entries would read of the wells of loneliness she experienced in the animus of the city. ‘Orphaned Girl, Lonely Girl, Sullen Girl, Spoiled Girl.’ She described herself as being always in a negative frame of mind. In shops, she began to search earnestly for some sought of identity. ‘Clever Girl, Astute Woman, Cute as a Button, Buttoned Down, Buttoned Up, Sexy, Religious, Tight, Lost, Graceful, Tart.’

But nothing seemed to fit. Nothing felt quite right.

Another morning and she woke up anxious, always anxious at the Salvation Army in the big city of Johannesburg, longing for home in Port Elizabeth, to be embraced by the sounds of her mother making breakfast in the kitchen, the kettle boiling for her mother’s morning coffee, her father stirring in the bedroom, her brother and sister still sound asleep, that gave her some comfort, the hours of school that she would soon pass through, glide through like a ghost, offered her the emotional security that she found non-existent between her parents. If she was home, right now, she probably would have reached for her journal beside her and written something that would have made her feel more displaced in her small town surroundings. In the room she shared with Hannah, it felt as if the four walls were closing in on her. ‘I won’t succumb.’ That was her last entry. What had she meant by that? She couldn’t remember her last thoughts. What had she been thinking before she fell asleep. Her feet felt like blocks of ice. In her thin nightdress she shivered under the sheet.

All her life she had longed for protection, some idea, ideal of independent perfection of a man who would carry her across wasteland and wilderness, city and country and across the vast ocean that rivers would spill into, turning majestically into something greater than itself. She had longed since childhood for an image of a man who would show her the world as her father had done, but those had been the desires of a child, of a girl not a woman.

What she knew of men and the male gender was book-knowledge that paled in comparison to the reality that she was now facing on a daily basis. She knew now, how and why they were and could be such a cruel and dangerous part of the human race, how their hearts could be set to struggle, to pilgrimage, to be tested, to fierceness, to be above all territorial and when they had set aside all their armour, removed the visor, they could show remarkable tenderness, kindheartedness but only if it would benefit them in some way; that was how she had come to know how they all operated, because that was their background, not hers, because how could she of all people understand, not having had children, a life with a man and having to come to understand that it had now come to an end, a fork in the road called ‘separation’ or ‘divorce’, living within your means, being a single parent and now having to be the breadwinner and put food on the table. When a man moved her way, she moved away, away from their advances, a consciousness of love and what that would mean to her; an awakening of her spirit that for so long had remained dormant within her.

So instead she starved herself, starved her soul, her spirit and as she became thinner, dark rings, streaks of make-up under her eyes, she pushed the food around on her plate, making circles with a fork, crying out, ruining herself in the process by pushing out poignant prose with tenacity, commitment and almost spiritual devotion in journals and stories she decided to do research on. These ‘star’ people, television people meant nothing to her. Amongst them, she was a tiger melting in the grass, features incomplete but there nonetheless. Ice in her eyes, in her every glance, movement, heart on fire considering the world. What could men or even women, what could they possibly give her that she couldn’t give herself?

Read the other chapters

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