||The Most Perfect Volcano
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|Most scenarios start with a knife digging into your back, an enemy’s face you cannot glimpse, a flame burning bright inside of you when you stare into the distance or think out loud, when a daughter inherits mostly the makeup of her father’s genes (this is how this scenario blends into the background of the almost most perfect volcano, which is just another way of putting the weight of mental illness into metaphor, the sword of truth of mania, the wilderness of depression laid bare, to rest in an open field) and a young woman’s frightening yet still poetic passage into the annals of men, where she is dominated by men, thrust into their world and trapped by their limitless boundaries. Their gift to her was her future life as a writer and a poet. It meant freedom and liberated her from the basics of ordinary human life, of being a wife bonding with small children, bundles of energy tightly wound, a husband in tow, broody cousins dispelling the myth of infertility.
She owned these borderline scenarios, mostly with the daily histories of the setting sun and rising moon, journalling in diaries, writing jumbled scribbling but it was the crowds in malls that were the worst of all. With no inner spaces between them, breathing down her neck, emptying the harvest, the countryside of her frail confidence until she felt lost and cold, sadness seeping into her skin, breathing still life into her memory as being a tough, fighting, fearless kind of child. As an adult she suffered. No golden lightness behind her eyes now. Only fear of the known and unknown, the frontiers of empty space inside her, moving behind her, the potent anguish and anxiety of her mental faculties. It flummoxed her so much so, that she put it to bed with an open heart, an open mind on the flat screen in front of her, straining to recall words, phrases that leaped into existence in her mind’s eye and then just as quickly vanished like smoke.
Scenario 1 (hurried notes in a journal)
If I write about myself in the third person it is only because I only trust myself to commit to truths that lie at the edge of what I deem normality. Living a half-life thrust into both madness and despair and in the trailing wake of living a courageous life that is relevant, leaves me both hot and cold, at the thought of being at the mercy of something which I have no control of.
‘Be serious.’ My tone warned. ‘I don’t hate you but I don’t like what I’ve become – a kept woman.’ (How strange. What did I mean by this when I wrote it?)
I want him to be more serious about me and this relationship (hint). I want to be more confident, less dramatic, less emotional and a little less sensitive when I feel slighted, humiliated and belittled by him, illumined once as a woman caressed in his arms and then a drowning child where water becomes a fleshly thing that refuses to give me up. I don’t want to feel like I’m on an eerie collision course every time he hurts my feelings or every time there’s some disagreement between us.
If I am a feminist, am I an African feminist or a representative of the world? On reading books by other feminists struggle and why it is necessary in Africa of all places: We seem to live in a time capsule in Africa where women struggle on a daily basis to become emancipated. Where is this ‘revolution from within’ Gloria Steinem wrote about and Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’ and the woman in Naomi Wolf’s ‘The Beauty Myth’? Oppressed, abused, illiterate, uneducated, mentally ill, physically disabled (some wear their crutch like an omen); can you sense the tension in the spark of the conscience of a woman from the rural countryside and where is the substance in her ‘voice’? It is a cancer of years, a human stain, just phenomena. It will take the breakthrough of the loud voice of men to fill that void, to lift the female up and put her on her pedestal, call her ‘goddess’, build a tower of castle wall around her and call it ‘self-worth’, ‘confidence’ (he is, the man, who I will call ‘Nameless’ here, who I am in a relationship with now is not a man worthy of building a castle wall. A bricklayer, a simple labourer takes more conscientious choices in their work than he does).
I am in my late twenties, dumbing down my speech. Today fresh blossoms were crushed in the spray of winter rain; hail rained down like someone was pelting me with rocks. Acid colour spills into the fading sunlight, jerking us back to reality, reminding me of my mother’s rage when she had nobody else left to scream at. But she’s not here, mouthy, mouthing off at me when no one else is around, yet I can still sense her disapproval.
I’ve come a long way from boarding school in Swaziland, hiding away. The hours I spent in libraries shaped me, pulled me up and pushed me away from everything that was bad to good. When I’m alone in this flat, staring out my kitchen window through the blinds, living vicariously through passersby, I imagine somewhere out there there’s a warm after-glow like angels welcoming a rainbow through a smudged window, reminded of that heinous day as my mother and I are on our way to ICU where my father lays like a child in a pale blue hospital gown; we’re late; my mother, a she-devil, races through the traffic to get us there in time.
Thirtysomething. Let it rain, let it pour down, dewy and dreamy, a new halo blurring the images of the traffic, of crowds of people on the streets in front of me while I stand on the edge of this precipice woven into the warmth, the vastness of the design of this emptiness. You are what I need right now, my desire. Bring me closure; finally to our relationship, bring me back to you.
Scenario 2 (hurried notes in a journal continued)
Lying awake at night thinking of the monster that was you sometimes. Jet black hair, your mouth could be as sharp as razor blades but it could also imprint the rush of wind in the trees overhead in the dimming light, the soughing sound of boats in the harbour in the town where I came from, the whispers in the air of the sea in the dead of night, the history in wet leaves and your handprint on my face that you left me with. You taught me that there were so many futures awaiting me. There were tears while I was trying to change but you stayed the same, incognito, an enigma. It’s time to let you go, go to where my faith has gone and surrender you to the arms of another woman, a doting wife and mother to your children, her ceremonial hive of dinner parties, her kitchen, her manor on the hill while I turn to dust in the fire of your eyes. How am I going to learn to forgive?
I’m 17 again, running away from home jaded and cynical, wanting not to feel anything. Everywhere is countryside. Trees are tilted overhead, the leaves are wet and it’s a jungle in suburbia, big houses built for family life – Swaziland, it’s too green. I can’t see straight; my eyes awash with tears or is it just the rain, gluing my lids shut. The hail feels like the cool edge of sea glass hitting at me from all sides, they feel like surreal blocks of ice, stone blocks reminding me I need room to breathe. As if I am in a Dadaist picture, or the picture of Dorian Grey always growing old. I’m aging as I speak.
The sky is a Goodyear blimp just waiting to crash land; bump and grind to a halt. In wet pools, muddy puddles that stick like gum to your shoe, slipstreams of floating junk, dirt, flotsam in never-ending potholes in roads that are never repaired. We are too depressed to realise the worth of youth when it’s gone. It smells like incense burning. I sat on her bed in the hostel after school came out. Lulu braided my hair even though I didn’t really like the way she styled my hair, I said I liked it, and she seemed happy with my answer; I didn’t want to hurt her feelings – after that we watched the daily soap opera and after it was finished, I said goodbye and years later I didn’t know how long that goodbye would last but now I do. I didn’t know then I would never see her again in my life, that life was like that, that a life could be filled with white weddings and funerals, christenings and the arrival of death. How it would show up when you least expect it.
I’ve believed that perfect ending of too many fairytales, read too many books, thought myself clever, pretended that it was going to get better instead of that ‘passing through life’ feeling , instead of being a casualty I would be transformed into a beautiful, magical being called ‘woman’.
Smitten, I have taken to falling in love. It is more of an image in my imagination. The words lend themselves to a song of truth. Saying them brings them to some sought of reality. Smitten, I have taken to falling in love with kindness. It freezes the glitter of my melancholy. I imagine that this relationship I have now will cause dissension and sense with delight the disapproval of the Christian women in my family. Even though a new generation is rising up of women who believe they have a right to sexual freedom, I am not a part of it, that movement.
I learn to give a human face to depression and in all of its naked glory it tastes of a broken vessel, spilt milk and coconut burned black. Hurting I begin to have a perpetual dialogue with perfectionism.
Scenario 3 (hurried notes in a journal continued)
This was the voice of a girl. Port Elizabeth. (Let daddy read over some of the poetry tomorrow.)
This was the voice of a grown woman, much more spiritually aware and emotionally intuitive. When I write, I feel as if God is connecting with me. I feel as if I’m connected to something greater than myself.
I’m 22. In this world, I am more frightened of women, eager to do their bidding, to please them instead of men. Is this psychological, psychosomatic or is this mental aberration organic in origin? My mother has become everywoman. Perhaps as a girl, love meant eternal sacrifice to my mother. What did she give up in Johannesburg when she moved down here to Port Elizabeth? Even in adulthood I can never escape her roots. Of the women I come into close contact with I am left with burning questions. What did ‘she’ give up I wonder, what has ‘she’ sacrificed, what is ‘her’ world like when she leaves this world dominated by office men and goes home, to her own family and children? What are ‘her’ thoughts? How does ‘she’ remain absent in the prescence of her children and the air that they breathe? If only my father had been more indifferent and aloof to my needs? What would have become of me if he had also rejected me?
Turning in the air, in the middle and then suddenly I’m 32. The depression has roped in a soulful worth of insecurity. It, the depression, is now innate, lodged quite comfortably like a jungle in the city, keenly ominous, still having a dazzling effect from one day to the next while bubbling below the surface of things, flowing within reach, constructed like the passage of mail, a bully in the midst of mall and community life. So the depression figures internally, transforming my existence from recovery to ill health, from shy and withdrawn with a delicate composure seeking powerful walls of comfort, in the prescence of strangers, to being as bedridden as an invalid, from the outsider lying in a minefield of discontent dying to belong, to a reclusive poet surrounded by the wonder of nature.
How far is it still to the next hour? Why are there these challenges, scenarios in white and on cold blue lines? I would turn to you and say if you were here with me in this moment, ‘Yes, I’m still writing.’ But would you care? You never fail to draw a line right through me, surreptitiously bypassing all my internal organs, my pure heart, my imagination, the tomorrow of my gift and I devour it, your attention, in merciful anticipation, you that have no name. Certain words (like your name) still perform with a triumphant inner voice inside of me. It releases me from the bitterness of an old maid, the bondage of silence in this room where, sequestered, I write and it takes me to an instrument of peace.
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