Attempting Suicide: The Human Stain, Lady Macbeth and Sylvia Plath

I was always looking for love. Here, see, my gorgeous wrists that I tried to slit once upon a time maybe because of him or because of what he did not say or because he was not in love with me. I built bridges with my hands and realised that perhaps not every voyage in my life was a catastrophe. Childhood was hell. Adolescence more so as I grew more and more competitive, more and more confident, and accomplished. After winter’s gorgeous ice, its crucial moisture a sweetheart of nothings seeped into me and my suffering (that has always seemed perpetual in my inner child’s life). I discovered Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth and Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus. There’s a slippery emptiness in both yet, yet also something crooked, fluid night work. You see it was then that I saw my real enemy’s face. Perhaps it had the likeness of my mother’s, my sister’s, or all women for that matter. Plucked, moving forward, the interpretation of untranslated language, and there, other women finding love, discovering that reading can be a secretive pastime, happenings remembered, happenings forgotten, sounds spied upon, people becoming monsters or birds, larks, Ted Hughes’s wrens. Owls touching a living world filled with sleep, wind, syllables, vowels, consonants, gestures. I think of love as this. The imaginative before it is lost. The sea is within me. Andre Brink’s Ingrid (Jonker’s) sea is within me, her tan and her white bikini. Wherever her soul goes, and her spirit follows, I go, I move, I went there in my twenties, I still make preparations for images like a camera. Andre’s Ingrid will always be an iron rose. I will always be lost in the translation of an age of iron.

The frenzy of autumn

(Where is the river)

I think that men and women when they make love that there is a divine intimacy to be found there. And then everything becomes dark (for me). I ask myself where is this river leading me to. Where is this memory, mostly of Johannesburg, leading me to? There was Tara and then there was the man. Perhaps even the image of silence in the room of that night. It will become a shroud, shrivelled, broken although its existence will still remain eternal, otherworldly to me just like the man in my life that night. The idea of silence will always remain in my young, inexperienced mind. I am woman now. A woman who is not so young and inexperienced when it comes to men anymore. That night, I felt enclosed like a parcel tied with string. And throughout the night, that particular night, I found myself come to untie and tie the string again and again and again. I thought to myself that there was some reality to ‘this string’, that it would give me courage if I felt the deep pain of being ‘easy’ and that I would never be loved again. That night, I felt that I could never again be mysterious to this man who was lying next to me. I felt brightness go out of me. There is nothing savage about love but there can be about lovemaking. This is the domain of roses, of Jean Rhys’ wild Sargasso Sea, splendid books, the virgin who knows that there is no turning back now (she knows she must suffer bravely now, put on her bravest face, and that this night-time tension will soon pass as she must turn from girl into woman).

The vertigo of winter

(Young woman with the graceful neck)

And in the end, there was no mother to embrace me, to read stories to me, to offer me advice about my poetry or love or gentle-men. There were no companions’, only sleeping tablets in a glass of water for my insomnia. There were only English teachers, film school lecturers, and Holden Caulfield’s Salinger for me to fall in love with but not really get close enough to. For me, in my time, most adult men are alcoholics or addicts of some kind and their women and offspring follow in their footsteps. Most of their thoughts are unholy. They want and want from a material world who gives only to those who work hard and are committed. They write love poems to each other (flesh a prize) as if they understand what the meaning of that word is. In my neighbourhood, men are always resolved to drifting while women nurture. It is just what I have experienced. It might of course be different for other women. I have to live with the choices that I have made. And if those men and women’s children are disasters in the end, they do not blame themselves. Somebody must be to blame but not them. The adults that I have met and come across think that they are pure. It’s impossible for them to do wrong in the eyes of their own children or the law or society. They blame society, the taking of barbiturates, their children’s friends, and teachers and that is why I will never understand humanity, I will never get to grips with the insensitivity, the brutality of man against man, crime and murder and rape.

The tenderness of spring

(My first swim at Tara Hospital before the first time)

I felt I could finally identify with Bernice Rubens, Ann Quin, and Anna Kavan, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, Bessie Head and Ingrid Jonker. I too had become the elected candidate now giving way to medicine. Lithium therapy. Cognitive therapy. Mono amine oxidase inhibitors. Were there really anti-depressants for intelligent people who were too imaginative, too intelligent for their own good. I lost my voice like so many of the ‘creatures’ at the hospital. What is this vagueness? It’s all coming back to me now and I don’t want it to. It’s going on a rampage inside my head. This room in this ward in this hospital is loathsome. I am loathsome. Every day a wave of psychology. It is like hitting my head against a brick wall, a chemistry textbook, the Periodic Table. I did not feel emancipated or sexually liberated in any way. I felt that there was a seismic-scarcity of something. There were threads that were not communicating in any way, or threads behaving as a catalyst.

Summer

(I never had a man bring me flowers and a good bottle of red wine in my twenties)

All I felt was a vicious and menacing mentality towards everyone around me but in the swimming pool I found grace and mercy there at Tara. The nurses, the doctors, the patients, and the flowers in the gardens. Traumatic experiences that children have to undergo, shock, terror, intricate victimisation. In Port Elizabeth, were gangs still going on a rampage with sticks and knives, guns in the air. Shots ringing out like church bells ringing. Half-in-pain, half-vacant I will lie there (half the girl) until the early hours of the morning tying and untying this string. The man who lies beside me. Well, his flesh is sated. Will probably give me some money in the morning, put me into a taxi, give me enough so I can buy myself a coffee or some breakfast in a restaurant. I will still be plunged into a pit of ice. Frozen, naked I tell myself I feel nothing too. Nothing except the humiliation of a ‘loose girl’. I will blame him. He will blame my youth if I decide to make a scene, or my inexperience. There had been a flicker of acknowledgement between both of us when we had first met.

Autumn

(He bought me my first cappuccino)

And I hurried, and he hurried to our secret rendezvous. A hotel in notorious Hillbrow. We both rushed. The room was clean. The sheets were white. Spread out like wide moonlight. I was nervous, hands writhing, in a panic. Was left wondering what to do when I discovered that I had nothing to do really. I was not the one who was in control of the situation. Hurrying and peaceful, was what I thought of him before. Now I just felt suffocated, alone, lost, a stranger. And then I remembered my appendix scar and my birthmarks (I wanted to shield his gaze from that), and I no longer felt shimmering or glamorous. He looked different. He looked much older (a son was in the picture). And suddenly I was very frightened, but knew that he was holding out his hand to me and there was no turning back now. So, I decided that I would feign indifference. I could not speak. He didn’t say anything either. I could smell the alcohol on his breath. He offered me a cigarette but I shook my head, said I didn’t smoke. And now in the moonlight I was the victim. This was not love. I could see now it would just be another traumatic experience that I would never find closure to. I could see my domineering mother’s eyes in his eyes.

Winter

(The hunger)

I could see the hunger there. Hunger in a man’s eyes! It didn’t feel strange at all. My face went all blank. It was as if my body was made out of glass. Precious glass or precious stone. Tiger’s eye. It had to be if I had to live through this. I detached myself from the lovemaking (which made me feel damaged, haunted, I felt banished from my body, guilty). There was no bond between us like there had never been a bond between me and my mother. The world is a sad place filled with wrong people who think they are right all the time. There’re also people, interesting and peaceful people who do not know or understand how to communicate, that perhaps they are not right all the time. Human beings are hunters. We are gatherers. We are nurturers. Stunned at our own vitality, and then the transition from youth to becoming elderly.

Spring

(Taking photographs)

What is magic really? Childbirth, a birth pang, and hallucinatory illusion, languishing with a book? Can you smell that? Its territory, borders without words to mark them. And when the suicidal illness and all the ‘madness-experts’ my parents paid left me, so did the man with the small child in the picture (my first everything). It left permanently, and I did not find it strange in my thirties that men did not look at me anymore with desire. In my twenties everything had just happened by accident. It had just been an accidental offering, and an-experimental-passage-of-sorts. I still find myself thinking of him. I don’t think thoughts of me though ever cross his mind, but for me my soul is still on fire when I think of him or his sensitive hands.

Abigail George
Abigail George
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.