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When bad mothers happen

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] N [/yt_dropcap]obody talks about the abuse or the familiar hands that we suffered it from now that we’re (my siblings and I) are older. When we were going through it, it was like living in a war that left us nowhere to run to when we were growing up. The abuse didn’t have a voice or give us one while we were growing up. My mother’s love was a hell we could not bear.

When it does surface, it is haunting like a ghost from the past, it makes you live like a lie that just won’t let go of you no matter what, that won’t let you surrender it. It made us invisible yet it still ran like a thread, as wide as my back, like a river through fog, smog hugging a city skyline, smoke and mist, it left us begging for mercy, left us with no easy solutions for reconciliation between my mother and the rest of my family. It affected us so much that it felt like picking at an open healing wound with raw fingernails.

You are left with no choice but to fight against the sorrow and the pain that you are feeling; feeling uncomfortable and confused. I tried to protect my brother and sister yet the three of us still felt humiliated in tiny devastating blows, emotionally damaging ways on a daily basis. There was nothing that we could do about it but be witnesses to the rage, the red, furious little beast that was my mother.

I missed the sea, the seawater and the white sun on my back when I was in the hospital after my ‘episode’. It was pretty hush-hush. Nobody speaks about it in the family especially in my own home. I wish I could take it back but I can’t. I only relive it in my when I’m dreaming or in flashbacks. My little ‘episode’ was not little and it almost cost me my life. I now wore the label ‘attempted suicide’. Few people could or would understand what that meant especially where I was coming from.

The flashbacks come whether I’m awake or not. They break through the sealed lid that I’ve shut on the past. It’s something I’ve had to live with. It comes with the realisation that I can’t completely fix something (my life that’s been broken up into a million little pieces’ times infinity).

I was born with my mother’s airs and graces and made sure everyone knew about that I came across in school and college. I was highty-tighty, a ‘coconut’ and high-minded. I never had a close circle of friends only perhaps only one or two close girlfriends that I told all my secrets to and that I shared everything with.

I thought growing up in a home where you were sad sometimes as a child, spent nights crying yourself to sleep into your pillow was normal. Where you felt lonely, confused, helpless and hopeless when you could hear your parents raised voices having an argument in their bedroom late at night.

We swallowed the pomegranate seeds of my mother’s pain, sensitivity, shame and mistakes from her own childhood and teenage years whole. It was a bitter pill to swallow. It was harder to live with, to grow up surrounded by people you loved who were in the state of mind my parents were in but my father’s love more than anything made up for my mother’s reckless and uncalled for behaviour especially when there was too much going on that we as children had no control over.

Activities at school made up for that. I took on as many as I could possibly fit into my schedule. I wanted to shine. I had my head up in the clouds. I basked in the glory, chaos and mayhem of rehearsals for a school play and editing the school newspaper. I was in my element.

I hold my mother’s face in my memory whenever I have one of my phases, when I am going through a reverie; when I face the darkness visible that is depression. Other people like to use words like ‘melancholy’.

I don’t. I don’t find the word ‘depression’ as menacing and cold to the touch as other people do. I have learned to deal with it well.

I don’t think she knows me well enough at all. Sometimes I wonder does she know who I am and what I stand for. Am I noble, am I a good girl, do I work hard at what I do in school, will I ever be over it, will we ever learn to compromise?

The flowers in the vase although wilted still hold a sense of wonderment for me. Also the thought that in some way I was abandoned by her. The pink light of the bloom is a flush against my fingertips.

Red seeped through a tear in my finger where it had caught on one of the thorns of the roses. The thorns scratched me. It left red dots behind on my skin. When I heard her voice, I would sometimes close my eyes and all I could see were tears.

When I was young I could already foresee the rough times ahead of me in the future. It was called for. I played jealous games with my brother and sister. I called my sister ‘princess’. She has a posh accent and two university degrees. I also had a posh accent but not the academic smarts for two university degrees from a fancy prestigious South African university.

In Johannesburg where I was studying film and television production at the college I was accepted to I could hear the wind blowing when it moved, when it howled in crevices, in deep places where you could not connect to the very being of it, possibly even when you are sleeping to dream. It rushed through the branches of weathered trees, ruffled feathers on the backs of birds and touched delicate wings.

The joy and cheerfulness that comes from happy people that I met later in life when I was in my teens came in patterns of elegant, dancing, colourful spots of bright lights yet I always felt lonely against the light especially in my childhood place of birth; Port Elizabeth.

My mother had a slender figure, red lips that chanted and she smelled intense like her moods, she smelled of Opium. She sprayed it from a bottle. Each terrifying end of her bad temper meant the start of a new beginning to our relationship. It taught me to grow up quickly and I learned to fend for myself. I didn’t lack the education of getting attention. I always had that know-how.

When she was angry her gaze was dangerous. It was hard to keep your distance when you could feel her anger rising and her voice shouting.

Up close she was almost the devil in disguise. She would launch into scathing personal attacks, let it go, hung up in the air like dirty laundry and then return to a sweet, tender, cooing mama again like a hen over her chicks. We tried to do no wrong but didn’t know where to begin. We tried to look for guidance, an easy escape. No luck there either.

From a young age, I learnt to love to act out dramas and plays. It felt like home when I was standing on a stage giving it my all and it felt like I was finally living my dream. Being loved and adored for the first time was more than enough for me even if it was in front of nameless faces in the audiences that I captivated and whom I was in return captivated by. I only learned to call it ‘abuse’ later on when I was more grown up. I am also slowly learning that it happened to a lot of ‘us’. Girls I went to school with. Girls I didn’t go to school with. Girls from the wrong side of the tracks. Girls who didn’t come from the wrong side of the tracks.

Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.

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African Renaissance

Advice From A Mother, Missive To A Writer Father and Excerpt From A Book Forthcoming

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E-V-E-R-L-A-S-T-I-N-G. It could be a poem/or testimony/or the start of a new beginning. Or an extract from the introduction to “The Overcomers”. All I had was a wristwatch and a page in a diary. I remember the time when no one would speak to me. Now I speak to all the sassy particles and powerfully good dimensions of the world. Now I am flicker. Now I am spark. This I guess is my inheritance. And when I look back now to the time when I saw no beauty or imagination in the issues I was having, when all I had on my mind was body shaming’s dysmorphia and how much I was eating. When I considered a lettuce salad and yogurt a substitute for all the lack in my life. When I didn’t see one ounce of enchantment in my struggle or the battlefield of my mind. My inheritance includes a gold that is indestructible as God. So, I guess this is a full circle moment for me but for me everything starts and ends in movements ordained By God. And the lesson is that even though you don’t know what your inheritance will be, God knows. He knows exactly how cool you are.

Excerpt from the chapter “10 Things I Love About You”, a book I am writing about “Overcoming”.

1. “The fullness of your destiny awaits.”

2. “You realise everything moves in seasons.”

3. “I want you to accomplish all your dreams.”

4. “Every characteristic of your soul is built for and constantly being reinvented for success.”

5. “You have the response of competency in every situation.”

6. “You are the evidence of God’s blessing, promotion and inheritance in his life.”

7. “You know and understand what your inheritance is.”

8. “You believe in God’s unconditional trust”.

9. “You understand that the vision God has for your life He planted the seed in the past, is watering it in the present so that it can manifest itself in the future.

10. “When you know and understand the totality of failure and overcoming and winning over both adversity and adversary.”

Excerpt from the chapter “Advice From My Mother”. Give a man space. Give a man his space, daughter. Give a man room for his intuition to become like the frontiers of space, the boundaries of space, the territories of space. Give a man room for him to release and manifest this intuition and his potential. Daughter, understand that this is the fundamental reasoning behind making him happy. It will allow him to become the best version of himself. His faith in himself will increase and he will inspire the magnitude of greatness in others, and all the qualities of greatness in himself. You will then see the daydreamer in his soul, the childlike wonder he possesses when he is at work, atonement and forgiveness in his enduring love. Be the reading light in his world in daylight, and the innocent in his nightfall. Teach him to be an Elijah waiting for the abundance of rain.

Excerpt from the chapter “Positive Reports Of Abundance In Your Life”. This is something about the introduction of abundance in my own life. It is a story about transformative love, enduring love, redemptive love and a return to love and what I heard in my spirit today about setting up miracles into power, into redemption, into salvation in my life. Believing in miracles, in abundance means to stay encouraged in the face of absolute negativity, to be boldly confident like Captain Kirk, to think with unlimited power (knowledge is power, God is power, being authentic is powerful) like Zimbabwean-born Mufti Menk, and when your thinking is unlimited you begin to manifest love, see love, envision love and this is a love that is not subject to laws or principles or change as Mother Teresa portrayed in life. It is one of a kind and when you love like this you become one of a kind too. One of a kind people walk through life with grace and abundance. To love is the singular most important assignment we can have in this world.

Excerpt from the chapter “The Daydreamer Chronicles”. This is one of the pages from my diary that I journaled this morning. I was hurting this morning so this is what I wrote to counteract feeling wounded. One of a kind people walk through life with grace and abundance. They realise when failure and dismissal by others come to you it is only an abundance of rain teaching you how to be an Elijah, a force of good in the world, a force to be reckoned with, a force of bold confidence, leadership ability and greatness. To be great. Where do I begin? With the years that I have lost. I have notched up twenty odd years of lost. What you have lost can never be measured. The only person who can measure that is God in all of his supersonic dimensions. I have realised that the word “lost” means it is only a season that becomes your reckoning for a divine harvest.

How will we exist without illusion in all the dimensions of the non-reality that we are living in now. It is the space, the inter-connectedness, how we relate to each other across the widening spaces of humanity’s birthplace, earth’s almost sovereign rank in the universe, that will either count as the final frontier. There is the catastrophe of wildflowers at the back of my hand. My grandmother’s porcelain teacups are as delicate and fragile as her consciousness. Nobody loves a warrior at first. Then they’re called epic or legendary. So they gather reputation, praise and adoration to themselves like Rilke did with his Orpheus’ sonnets. Rilke danced around the sun, embraced the moonlight found in nightfall. Hemingway was a captain. Salinger a tuning point. In Updike’s features a vulnerability showed itself there in the pages of every domestic scenario that he ever wrote about. Last year, we ate ice cream and cake on my brother’s birthday and like a comet around the sun, I felt him slip away into an impatient man from my reach. I let him go. Saw in his eyes the empires he would build in flight. Away from the world he had known as a child I called them red furious beasts, my brother called them flying-monsters. He wanted a family. Truthfully, I wanted a family too. God had a family. He called it humanity at large. This was amazing to me. His complex sensibility at work. Here we go. Here we go. Into the aqua-coloured veins and texture of platelets of the virtual world where sea meets sky and azure is really blue.

Sorry about this. I keep apologising. I am writing a love language unto myself to exit out from the realisation that I am losing the singular most important person in my life, my dad. So, I am writing love letters to myself today, all day long. Dear dad, you exist for me like the sun, two suns, moonlight, the stars, all the planets in alignment that our atomic God created. I am because of you elderly statesman, articulate and expressive orator, defender and giant of all who you knew once an autumn ago. I thought when I was a child that you only lived to exist for me as I exist for you. You have survived the volcano, and deserve all the thoughtful support and positive praise that I can give you now in this autumn. I adore you dad. I always will. You teach me daily to master the pain.

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African Renaissance

Tears: The Water Diary, How To Live Alone And Be Inspired By Murakami

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I hated learning how to drive. It didn’t mean the gateway of indepence for me. The driving lesson filled me with anxiety and impending doom. What it meant was that I had to leave childhood behind. There is ‘us’ for every breadwinner after an unsettling homesickness. Friendships fell away after my

mania in this neighbourhood. Girls as old as me had babies after quietly graduating from university. Everybody had the varsity blues. They settled down with their families dividing their daily hours within the workplace, their households, the framework of career.

I drive. I drive past my high school. Pass houses, pretty leafy suburbs, Muslim schoolchildren. I can smell fast food in the air. It’s a mix of rotisserie chicken, Chinese food, Cape Malay, mystic pizza, and strays. Open fields where children played soccer. Bipolar is a gift of fire. In the middle of the night those same children would wake to the syndrome of gunfire and now we come ‘to walking’ away. The lessons we learn from it. I tell myself to breathe.

I do know what it is to miss a thing of beauty. All I know is I am tired. I am tired of lying down, sleeping a lot and taking deep breaths. I try not to think about abortion. The memory of fingerprints, the mysterious invisible, Joshua and Moses. Of course, I know that Lazarus is just sleeping. God was looking for disciples. He found them in fishermen. Not women. Not girls. Certainly not feminists. I try not to think about it. The song I just heard playing on the radio. Where the American girl goes to have an abortion at a clinic.

The people in the WhatsApp Mental Wellness Group that Ashley added me to was for single men and women living with bipolar mood disorder. The other people in the ‘tribe’ complained about me. They said I was sending too many messages and keeping them up at night. Ashley shouted at me. I didn’t say a word. My brother captured a bullfrog in the garden and put him in a bucket in the kitchen. We covered the bucket with a pane of glass so we could watch Leonardo’s movements. We named him, fed him and gave him water. Then one day he died. The circumstances seemed mysterious to me. I phoned Ashley with tears streaming down my face and amidst sobs I told him my sister and I were fighting. He told me in no uncertain terms was he going to feel sorry for me and to stop my psychotic behaviour. That did not shut me up. It just made me cry harder. He said he had things to do and that we’d talk later. I felt as if I was undeserving of this kind of suffering at this point.

Leonardo had become my friend. Our mind is powerful. It can elevate us to success or help us pursue happiness. If only Ashley had listened to me and felt sad because I felt sadness in that moment. That the condition of the world changed even when an animal passed away was not lost on me. I left the group soon after. I would start the day with an affirmation and full of enthusiasm and wish everyone well and to be the best version of themselves. So much for positive reinforcement to carry you through a stressful morning. I felt that I was not acknowledged in the group and then felt ignored. There was a gay filmmaker. She was a lesbian but she also had affairs with men. I thought if you were gay that you were gay. I didn’t know that you could switch sides. There must have been about eight of us in the Whatsapp group. Four remained quiet, not saying a word but witnessing my gaiety and whenever Ashley took it upon himself to take me to task for my errant behavior. I would be publicly humiliated. He would say pointedly, ‘you’re not special Abigail’, or ‘there are others here just like you with their own story and problems’, and then the cliffhanger, ‘some here have a family, a child, children and I’m sorry but you’ll just never know what that feels like’. He meant to have a child and a spouse and to live his life and be happy on top of all of that. Ashley never allowed me to feel the way that I was feeling.

In the years to come we saw each other on and off again. He would come and visit me, talk about himself and chainsmoke in my parents’ sitting room. He’s living in another country now teaching videography and media studies to kids. He’s met a girl. She’s not Michelle Brown. Michelle Brown was aggressive, stubborn, and headstrong. Michelle Brown was a principled intellectual teaching English to Chinese businessmen who struggled with the language. The girl he’s met is the polar opposite of Michelle Brown. She’s a girl that Ashley has never introduced me to. They like taking selfies together that appear all over his social media platforms. I miss him and I don’t miss him. I miss his dark head, the smell of his cigarettes, his sunglasses, his smile but these are the same things I don’t miss about him. He did a documentary on his father that I feel he stole from me. Let me explain. I tend to overthink. He asked for funding from ECPACC which was the exact place that I was going to ask for funding from for my film on my dad’s life. I went on and on about this to everyone in my vicinity. But he had achieved what I could not achieve in that moment. He’s not your friend, my mother says. My sister advised me to stay away from him because he was not good for my mental health. He sent me his father’s documentary from the country he lives in now. I miss him asking me for an ashtray.

The group gave me an identity. I began to miss it. Nearly a year later or perhaps it was a few months I asked if I could be added back into the group. Ashley said so many people had left he was no longer running the group. He had also become too busy to run the group. I missed the group even though I had only really spoken in depth to two people. I had only spoken to someone whose name escapes me now and Ashley. I have great and fond and deep memories of our times together and of our friendship. He was and is very forgiving and is a gentle soul. He was always there for me and I think of the times I could have just called him up in a heartbeat when he lived in the same country as me.

There’s a shadow in my face that only the man could see. I have to look after my father. The Johannesburg producer is asking me to come for a Christmas holiday but he’s not willing to pay me for my content, my intellectual property. It’s driving me insane. Trying to land proper paying writing gigs. I don’t know what to do. I’m frightened but this is the way the world works and I am only learning this now. I can’t. I tell myself and slowly type the words. I have to look after my father. My father has mentored me all my life. I can’t abandon him now that he needs me the most. The Scriptures say to honour my father and my mother and my days will be long. Sister Joel, a very good friend of the family, tells me Allah will reward me with paradise one day for what I am doing for my father. This gives me hope when I feel hopeless. The light that was dimmed is awakened once again. Sometimes the door is closed because Allah wants to protect you. I saw that in a post on Facebook yesterday late last night while I was scrolling. No matter how much my present circumstances hurt, wounded me, drove me to distraction or made me feel emotionally damaged on a daily basis I must understand that there’s a bigger picture in the frame and it’s having a spiritual outlook on one’s life.

I am angry at the world today. Dr Jordan B. Peterson is right. There’s suffering. There’s worship of that suffering (I’m guilty of worshipping my own suffering). There’s malevolence in the world and unspeakable horror. I’m suffering because I’m tired, overworked and underpaid and I am watching my father die in front of me, withering away. He is alive but he doesn’t want to be and in my tears there is a water diary. It feels as if I am drowning everyday but then I make dua. (what the Muslims call prayer). That’s the difference. Prayer and meditation on all the good in this world and in my life does wonders for the soul. The universe and the soul is somewhat renewed. You begin to see the truth and beauty that Keats spoke about. I listen to Sam Harris on the Waking Up app. He is talking to a poet.

Dear Virgil, I am so sorry I didn’t know how to love, how to love you back and I was always so frightened of what the future might bring and the separation from my mentally ill parents. I hope you can forgive me one day.

I turn to the world and say, I am ready for what will come. Life is short. Time is precious. The future is now. I tell myself not to give in, not to give up. I say to the world. Let us once again believe in hope and reconciliation and social cohesion. Let us bow our heads and go down on our knees and pray for peace.

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African Renaissance

Memoir Of A Renaissance And The Powers Of Silence In A Letter

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Everything is so environmental these days in my life. I am cold even if it is summer outside. It’s summer now. I have been dictated to by film my entire life. Right now I am waiting for a sunrise to come up. I am thinking of my childhood. I am a stream-of-consciousness multi-dimensional type when it comes to my literary work tutored in the success of law and principle by my faith and I can’t focus. I can’t seem to concentrate because all I can think about is your sadness and your broken heart and your faith that carried you through all of that. It is your raw and unflinching honesty that moves me, that is my muse now and a desert. The psychological framework of a desert. I think of all of these narratives that you carry deep inside your heart as yours, as majestic, as promising. You’re magnificent in every way possible, you’re a man of honor and valor and excellence. Happy birthday for tomorrow. Always.

Another chapter in my life has come to an end.

What is this cool poetry that runs as deep as unchecked art? What are these times I am living for? I remember what it felt like as water tugged at the very essence of my soul in high school. Inside the amoebic depths of the local swimming pool I was mitochondria. I am alone in the stillness of the day turning into night. The dogs are giving me a tutorial in venting hunger and anger. I fed them eggs and rice last night in a cocoon of blackness. That was what the realization, the paranoia, the delusion was encased in. The universe was a duvet of starry filled blackness as I watched the three females eat. The man was never coming back and an agitation moved through me. I was chasing the sea again. Once I knew what swept off my feet romanticism was and even felt like. To see agency in a man. To be a woman and to have access to that energy. To have that invitation. I live for language and the performing arts now. For this kind of poetic transformation the world offers up to me now as captain as I write to reach that swept off my feet romanticism repeatedly just to feel alive in the moment again.

What poetry offers the soul in times of loneliness is solace at the end of a relationship and the beginning of closure. The silence and the hours are all around me. A vagrant has come to my door. He always comes and begs for something to eat but his manner has turned into advances a few times and I had begun to feel frightened and torn. Not safe on so many occasions. My mother did not stand up for me. My father was elderly. He knew this. That I was a flying solo bird and he was beginning to exploit me in the worst possible case scenario. I think of the man who is my muse now. The soldier on the battlefield carrying a gun and nothing but strategic thinking holding him up. The man taking care of his mother, taking her grocery shopping, taking her to the clinic. It has been a year. He is knocking. The vagrant. I ignore the rub of that persistent knocking. My mother is tired. She lies curled up like a child under a warm blanket on the sofa in the lounge drinking her coffee. I remember her lipstick mark on a mug from childhood. I am a novelist now. The book was released in August of this year in Australia and the districts of New Zealand. The book Letter To Petya Dubarova. It was a Pick Of The Week in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Brisbane Times and The Age just this year. Am I proud I wrote a book on my personal experience of mental illness and suicide in my family to another poet? I don’t know.

Then I am flashed on a screen on a weekday afternoon being interviewed about this book and I go there. Of all the places in this world I could go. I go there. I say, “I Googled suicide and depression” (like an expert on the subject matter). Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that because in the Q&A afterwards someone asks me hesitantly, tiredly, wine-tired (there had been a wine tasting before I zoomed into that room in a small town in the Karoo) about that. I answered as honestly as I could and with care. I gave it some thought beforehand and took it upon myself to answer sensitively. I only have the sinew of wit for company now and Netflix. The man is long gone into the shadows. Am I writing this to him or for him I don’t know. He told me he belonged to a club. An aviation club. He loved airplanes and flight. He had been in the air force before the army. He was an avid skateboarder as a youth and had even placed in competition. When I think about him I think of poetry and the girl I once was in high school that he had loved from afar. There had been others. Always others. In the last email I read from him he had written I have moved on. I had difficulty letting go. He is and was and always will be the love of my life. How Jane Austen.

The evening is pale. The silence is tender. The words are golden and in my hands they’re an emboldened tapestry with multi-layered threads. All I have are these words now to remember the shine of the afternoon as I waited barefoot for him in the sitting room of my parents house. He would pull up in the driveway in the wide expanse of his silver car. I would talk and he would listen. He would talk and I would listen. Now there is nothing but isolation hidden in the waves and vibrations of day, in the light, in the powerful blue of the sky. I am crying and I know why. We had goals, plans, dreams. Had I imagined them? They are more of an illusion now. Illusion withheld, illusion encountered, oh you bewildering illusion. The man is caught up in a novel era. I am distracted. I can’t fall asleep like clockwork. Not the way I used to. I’m still up in the middle of the night counting sheep. You see, I can still hear his voice inside my head and he’s still a vessel of pure light. It’s been years now. The hour takes me under. I am alert and the sound is psychological. He was a catalyst in unchartered territory where waters run deep. I carry his signature upon my heart. Always.

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