I was born into the wild of this country. A wilderness of steel wasteland; sky and street shadow me like the white sun, yellow moon, star Hiroshima, moon Nagasaki people, thumbprints trapped on pages of long overdue library books. There are incidents that cannot be accounted for and the world is still, even when coming home from the sea. Sand like diamonds in my shoes and my hair. There is already a set rhythm, a resurrection of a child to a woman; a drowning woman in half-life, a wild flailing thing. Bloodlines visible from the neck down in peacock-blue circles, which slip beneath the surface, like threads no one, can see. There was another woman in the house, my doppelganger. Grief burned her in a rush of women-speak. So, as cat wrestles with bird, a mess of feathers everywhere and as red dots appear, I feel light-headed like I could disappear into thin air, with the mercy of flight because you, the sane me is no longer here.
Therefore, what if I know these playing fields like the back of my hand. These frontiers and borders of my own childhood making. I wish you were here daddy. Darkness comes to me even when I am lying in a hospital bed but I am not bitter just tired. I am past that stage. When that wave comes, there is a thrill. They have a name for it. They are calling it clinical depression. I am the one who has to live with it. I am ‘the experiment’, the case study under observation who cannot sleep in the dark. There is a mirror above the sink in my room and bars at the window. I do not think ‘they’ the establishment wants us to think that we are prisoners though. They want us to be safe, to feel as if we are well looked after. My mother cannot even look at me when she comes to visit with my dad.
They make excuses for the others, the rest of the family, the cousins I never see anyway, the aunts and uncles that seemed to have vanished into the thin blue air, my brother and my sister. They harp on that they are tired, they are studying toward their examinations and then (it took me years) before I realised they were on their own emotional journey and I was on mine. In addition, if three different individual’s journeys were not destined to meet then I had to make peace with that. Somehow, they forgot that I bleed as they do. I am human. Doesn’t everyone bleed? Everything tastes metallic here even the texture of the sandwiches we are served at tea and before we go to bed. The Milo makes me gag but I drink it anyway. It is warm and milky. It fills me up. There is a routine here like the military. I have grown accustomed to the nurses outfitted in their navy. They move like ghosts.
However, the thing is the in-patients move around the building and the rooms in exactly the same way. Here in the hospital, reality is blurred into a mix of auditory and visual hallucinatory images and sometimes there is something schizophrenic about mealtimes, the scrambled eggs, and fish fingers on your plate, the voices coming from the next bed or room during visiting hours. Yet it gives me a sense of comfort to know I am surrounded by the nurses’ physical health, their emotional wellbeing that I am certain they take for granted for, with their soothing choirgirl-choirboy voices, neat little haircuts and flashy, toothy ad-perfect and mint-fresh grins. You get to do a lot of imagining and resting when you are four to a room in high care. You have all the time in the world to sketch in compositions, write notes to yourself, and have whole conversations with yourself about the girl who left in the middle of the night with an ambulance. She wore black all the time, even black nail polish and told you to watch out for her, that she was a Goth and could invoke a higher power.
Then there was the woman who woke you up in the middle of the night and told you that she was the reincarnation of Jesus. She wanted to read Scriptures to you, quote it at you. However, it was the middle of the night, you were not resting anymore, and you did not want to imagine the end of the world at midnight, so you told her she could tell you in the morning what the future was going to be like. You were sleepy, your head like wool, just about to fall asleep so you told her before you turned around to go back to bed. You were not being brave just nonplussed. There were days when courage failed me and when I had no voice to speak of or opinion. There were just the chemicals interacting in my bloodstream nourishing me, feeding, overwhelming hospitalized me. All my stamina was leaking out of me and I was left apathetic. I did not want to eat with the other people. It was a pretty room with cheerful curtains at the window, wooden tables and chairs. It was supposed to feel homey.
But I found sanctuary in my bed, the white linen with the word ‘hospital’ written in blue, bold letters with thread, with me feeling blue as well but not so bold as all that. I could feel the sky as I walked outside. It was a sensation that I thought an addict would probably feel. I remember my flight from Johannesburg as if it was yesterday and the impulse of the recollection of the powerful flow and energy of the haze that came with it. I remembered feeling that all sense had left me and all I was left with was intuition. This was wrong and that was right. Red signalled danger to me as if something not of this world, alien and subversive was trying to contact me. There were not voices in my head but everything was heightened. My insomnia and confusion and when and if I was confused the world around me was a television world.
In addition, there I was the camera, seeing, viewing everything around me as if it was a kaleidoscope or a foreign film with subtitles in a language I could not understand. Noise was louder. Traffic was a line of cars blocking my way through to get back home to my parents. All I wanted was the two of them looking at me with pride and love, loving me in the state I was in and addressing it. I knew by instinct that they would know what to do. I wanted peace. I wanted quiet. I told the cab driver to turn his radio down and I refused to pay him. I said that I had no money. Nevertheless, he was determined in his own way. He said that I had to pay him. Therefore, I told him to wait and knocked on my front door. Everyone was still sleeping. No one knew I had come home. No one knew that anything was wrong yet. I still had the ghost of a blue shirt and cigarettes and the language of first love inside my heart, parading around my head as if I had given it permission to be there.
Of course, when they took one hard and long look at me they knew something was wrong. Was it drugs? No, it was not drugs. I had to say that with commitment. My mother gave me money to pay for the cab. In the days that followed, I wrote on walls (my own brand of graffiti), I drew pictures in my own blood. I pasted broken glass on cardboard and called it ‘art’, flipped out when I was confronted and colored as if I was in school for beginners again, calling the faces in a rainbow of watercolours ‘my angels’. I would take a knife when everyone in the house had gone to bed, the one with the sharpest edge in the kitchen drawer and just to take ‘the heat off of things’ I would ‘cut’ myself (though not very deep). Just enough to wound my spirit, to remind myself I was alive, part of the living, a human being. My parents were nice about it in a sane way. They would tell me how sick I was making myself.
I had to stop doing that (they did not like the pictures I was drawing), that I was still their child, their daughter and that they loved me. I wished they had said that repeatedly. I wish I could remember them saying that they loved me repeatedly but my mother began to see past the things that I was doing and overall my father ignored me. He had his own depression and his own questions. For my mother it was obvious that all the turn of events in the household since I returned from Johannesburg was psychological in origin. Therefore, the role she had played in my father’s life since they were married was one she had to repeat with me. I do not know who brought up the discussion of ‘going to see the psychiatrist’ first. I cannot remember very well how I got there only that I was in a hospital. There was a passage with many white doors and names of doctors on them.
Receptionists sat with ledgers in front of them writing down the name of the next appointment, soon this scrawny, lovely face though one with her hair bobbing around her face would write down my name and the date for my next appointment. Soon I came to one of those doors and it was my mother who opened the door. I cannot remember if the door was already open but I do know this. She was the one who was holding my hand, leading me in, into my future and not my father. It has taken me over a decade to confess this and no one thing, unfortunate event, a death in the family has led up to it. She is gone, gone, gone, many people who knew the private and the public persona of me could have said. I did not listen to anyone’s negativity but my own. People stopped talking to me. It was then that I decided on the doppelganger, the two me’s, the blue, depressed me with the sorrowful face and the intense writer of ‘into the black divide’ poetry.
Then there was the other me, the manic interloper intertwined with that most intense part of me together like yin and yang. The one could not exist without the other. I was all of nineteen with youth being ‘the grass is always greener’ side on the one hand and on the other side, darkness was always visible. In addition, at some point food in all of this, the ‘wasted decade’, all that time I had lost became my friend, the best friend with the sweet face I never had. Food would smile at me all the time, love me when I was up or down, reward me when I was anxious or raging, furious at myself most of all because all I had to do was to take a pill. There was one for sleeping, one to stabilize the mood and then there was one for the depression. Other people’s lot in life was hell and compared to theirs mine was a corner of paradise. Before I became ill, diagnosed and really started to suffer I liked eating cake and then I started loving it up too much.
Stuffing the cream and the butter icing in my mouth and licking my lips. Broccoli was boring and vegetables too nutritious. I slowly started to hate the mirror, that perfect looking glass. If the eyes are the windows to the soul I soon felt that I could never meet that gaze that was once so fiercely independent of other people around her again. I had failed so many people, my grandmother, my mother and my sister, modern society. I had wounded myself with serious intent. Lesser, although I do not like to think of any person in this human race as being lesser, mortals have been punished for that. I still do not like to think of what women my age are doing. The wild, single life or the quiet home life of newlywed bliss.
Those who are of the marrying kind and who celebrate their birthdays with their friends eating restaurant suppers in seafood restaurants. I am not that kind of woman. I left that power-driven, power-hungry world behind me. It did not embrace me anyway. I know what other people think of me and the way I live in. It does not fit in with society’s norms and values. I do not value the material things of this life.
I sense more the spiritual basis and home of things. I hold that dear. I hold onto it for life. It moves me in this golden aftermath, graces the internal, what I feel is most pure. It is what I hope to glide on from this world to the one in the hereafter.