The Writer’s Daughter

I have to learn how to trust again. Live a little. Let go of Santa Monica, autumn’s quaint country, cloud people, clowns with stars in their eyes, swept away by the ironic, the chronic city, the Hemingway sisters, Amy Brenneman, Tom Selleck’s moustache and Hawaiian shirts. I have noticed that when boys are angry they respond and recover differently than girls. They recover themselves quite well after being on the receiving end of love. Men were always doing that. Leaving me feeling betrayed, hurt and jealous. I have stopped wondering what is wrong with me.

I have instead started to wonder what changed their minds on me. What for them was the turning point in the revolution of the relationship? I thought I was always the last key on the chain. It is hospital days for me now. I am going to have to tranquilize the hell out of me to get some sleep. I had done the unthinkable. I had embarrassed him. Humiliated him but had he not done the very same to me. Done the unthinkable. Now I would never have him exactly where I wanted him. As marriage material.

That is how it is how a girl thinks. She will never be the queen of his heart. She will never learn to accept the future terms of the adult relationship. She believes in fairy tales in the same way that all writers would like their future literary endeavours to be ‘literary gold dust’. I know now that this, this kind of love was only my goal, my dream and what he was thinking was this. You must go now. I am tired of you. I am tired of your emotional manipulation over me. I am tired of this role-play but most especially the game you are playing lonely queen.

Can you never understand inexperienced girl, ingénue? This coquettish, this gamine, the nymphet I am not your king. I am not yours. I have a wife, a sunny road. I have those kids. I do not need another golden mouth to feed. Your need to understand what your identity in all of this is. I am not your kind of king. Not by a long shot as it were. I do not understand editors. They always choose the work I feel is the most incomplete or I think deserves a rewrite. I wish I could find a man who can say these words to me with absolute honesty, ‘I can teach you to love.’

Can a woman have the enviable task of teaching a man to open his heart and to love again? What kind of traits must a man like this have? Unruly behaviour, domineering, bursts of bad temper. Once, I made this man tea. I bring it to him in another life. I put it in front of him where it is within his reach. I say nothing. I expect nothing in return. I do not ask for love, respect, acceptance, adoration or affection. I do not even expect him to drink it. What kind of woman must this be who does this? She must have a soul. I knew I was making a scene at the end of it all.

A woman driven to despair and a life of hardship can do that to you. The trouble is ‘she’; my soul never listens to me. It does not matter if you are not on the stage or off it; you have one life to live (that ruined me for life). Save me from myself boy-man I wanted to say. All he did was save me. In the end that destroyed me. Always bow gracefully at the end. I am the heavy weight champion of the world. Over-eaters and pharmaceuticals anonymous. How many sleeps until we have the joy (my nephew) of our lives again? Four sleeps.

I would rather feel blue thinking of you than be happy with somebody else. Oh, my man I love him so but something has to give in this conflict situation. Someone has to do the letting go. I promise you it was not me. I promise you it was not me. After the television interview, I just did not want to do anymore after that. Yes, it was an invasion of privacy but they followed one after the other. You can fall in love with your best friend but do not in the end. This is the gathering stages. Hurt will follow. We are all in love with our flaws in the worst possible way.

Secretly. We flaunt the lives of our exes and ex-lovers recklessly. We do. It has more to do with the consenting adults within us than anything else does really. One day the house that I live in now will be a museum. I just love the idea of that. Just as I love the idea of immortality like Transylvania’s vampires, of living for eternity, of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That my manifesto will be another person’s hands. This person will perhaps be the curator of the person and of all my personal effects. In the end, I realise that I am okay with people touching my stuff, my things.

All men are rogues. All men are insecure. Brutes at their worst moment in history. Boyfriends became a bad habit for me. I could not stay with one person in my twenties. There was always perfection and a useful feeling in the letting go. Thin people are not altogether happy people.

I do not think of the pen being mightier than the sword. I think of it in lofty terms. I call it a bazooka. Well if the prize fits. Do you know I still love him? It still hurts. I have to keep telling myself that in order for me to live. In order for my own survival.

Now it is not the survival of the fittest. It is the survival of the thinnest. Hours to read. Hours to fill. Books and literature is all or nothing for me to look forward to now. You want childhood to last as long as possible. In Johannesburg, I was able to live on my own. Now I am not so sure. I need crowds in order to feel gravity. The pull of it holding onto me as if for keeps. Crazy, crazy girl. The end of my twenties was the end of the age of crazy for me. Where am I now? It could be another dimension. Hello normal world, hear my primal scream; I need a reality check of the wreck I left behind.

There is an ongoing electricity inside my head. One’s thinking was androgynous (Virginia Woolf). The other, Sylvia Plath is hypomanic. Yet they both met with the same fate. You are a product of your childhood. You are in turn a product of both your mother and your father’s background and their childhood and so forth and so forth. It is nobody’s fault really. Nobody is to blame for all the dirt, filth and the rubbish that filters through the media and society. Your generation is the lost generation. Your generation is the near-wasted generation. I am telling it to you now so you will understand how the world works when you are young instead of old.

‘Only drink when you are thirsty.’ the doctor says. He checks my sugar, my cholesterol, my high blood pressure. Everything is normal. Yes, for someone who is ‘obese’ I have a handle on some things. I am just retaining water but it has taken them six or seven years to figure that one. All the doctors got it wrong. If I say I have twenty books inside of me then I have twenty books inside of me. I just do not want to give up or give in. I want to fight. They are expecting me to say that everything is a struggle. Grief is a struggle. A death in the family is a struggle. Realising that your own father is in love with a boy is a struggle.

Doctors. I can tell they are shocked. They are visibly not very pleased with my cardiovascular matters. They must think I stuff myself with pizza and chocolate cake warm and gooey all day long. Yes. All day long, I can stare into their faces and say yes I am fat but so what of it. It is not as if I eat chicken nuggets and fried chicken every night. Actually, I mostly eat hardboiled eggs, whole-wheat pasta and tuna fish salad. Is there really such a thing such as a binary star?

Reckless lives. Maladjusted behaviour. Poverty-stricken. Darkness steals away childhood Voyage into dawn. Nothing holier than thou except the church hats of the working classes. Legs, feet, face, hands blubbery comes at any cost but I am thankful for my limbs. They have brought me thus far. Dog-eared pages and tears. That is the story of my life. Do it because you want to. Do it because you can. The show must go on. Smile. Speak the Queen’s English. All proper. You can.

Ant people on the lowest rung of the ladder even lower than the vegans and the herbivores. On holiday, I drank a lot. Ate a lot of rubbish but the day always started off with scrambled eggs in a non-stick frying pan and hot buttered toast. Nobody mentions Tara anymore. Whenever I do somebody invariably changes the subject in the family. I need to rest. I close my eyes. Shut out the light but it is hard to escape the heart of darkness that steals childhoods away in the Northern Areas of the Eastern Cape. I am the enemy of the state. I am the negotiator. I do all the talking but when it is my turn to listen, I make notes.

I pay attention. I take note. You will believe it from looking at me that I am an intellectual. I listen very carefully and I will believe every word you say you say especially if you come from the wrong side of the tracks or the rougher neighbourhoods where even the girls form gangs. If I can provide a meal to one hungry person in a day then I will go to bead happy. Job well done. Pat on the back. A just reward right? I need to eat. I need to eat but it is love and its familiarities, its necessities, its romanticisms, its contents, its syrups that I need. The want and desire the sensitive male.

Everything wrapped up placed under a Christmas tree for me like a bottle of champagne. I was a woman who poured her heart out in her writing. You are beautiful little girl. Men told me that all the time. It was only when I read Nabokov’s Lolita that I understood the true meaning of those words. You see, I became infatuated with Humbert. With their relationship. It is just a bone fragment from a diary. The awareness of compliance and complications. You are a beautiful little girl. I was, you know. I did not know it at the time but when I look at photographs of myself then I can see it.

‘Look Dad. Mandela is finally going home.’ I said.

Supper. I said nothing of the research paper. Research papers are harmless from where I come from. After supper, there would be loneliness. The nephew that had filled all our hours with inexhaustible joy has now gone home to his ‘family’. It does not mean that we did not love him any less. You are strange. None of the girls used that word though. They called me ‘weird’. Of course, it would gradually take years to realise what it really meant. It would mean illness. There is magic I have realised in loneliness, in literature and even in illness.

A writer can find magic anywhere and in everything. Do all writers write with imagination or do they write with a sense of sensibility of time, pace and place in mind? Do they write of places that are partly autobiographical in origin or is just make believe? I do not know. I write with the psychological framework of imagination in mind. It is beautiful there, strange, the sea roars at me, blots everything unteachable out and I am never alone amongst all the mountains of magic. My throat would long to swallow all the water in the rivers and swim in their dark waters. I have known traitors but I have also known kind, decent people.

The most ordinary folk in the world and the most extraordinary. I love you. I said. He looked up at me. He gazed at me. I wanted him to continue looking at me in that extraordinary way and then he looked away again and said very, very sadly so only I could hear. I think girl, that you are emotionally unstable.  The last thing a girl who has love on her mind wants to hear from the object of her affection. He could have ended it there but it did not end there. It ended months later with scenes. With loud scenes. With my humiliation. The thing is I never knew what love was until I met him.  

I sent away the book awaiting her reply. She was someone famous. A famous South African filmmaker. Of course, you will not hear from her my father said. My mother said she was too busy but I sent it anyway hoping against hope that she would read my book and write the introduction to it. I asked her to write the introduction to the book. Still after months passed, I did not hear from her. I wrote it down as just another ‘return to sender’. Do not be hurt by it. Whatever happens my father said just do not be hurt. He knew it and I knew it. Of course, I would be hurt. I looked at her face in the newspaper or on television. She was very pretty.

She was very pretty and talented. You must love me. I expect people to love me. I told the picture in the newspaper. Not just to admire me for who my father is, the community leader he is, not just admire me period. I do not expect people to call me brilliant to my face. I do not expect introductions at parties or for you to attach yourself to me. For us to become friends. Love me. You do not have to have a particular reason. You do not have to have read any of my books. Love me. Whisper it. Write a sonnet about it. Feel inspired by something that I wrote. It was not the first time a person had walked out on me.

It was not the first time a man had walked out on me. Left me. Loved me or loved me not at all. Left me weak at the knees. All men leave me weak. I love men. I really do but they hardly seem to do what I want them to do in return and that is to love me back, hard and fast as if I was a woman. As if, I was wife material. Most would condescend to me, patronise me, despise me, leave me, threaten to leave me, boldly, bravely threaten me, and cold slap me in the face. My mother is now an expert at making hummus in the food processor. She adds chilli. Voila. A gourmet meal. Inexpensive ingredients. All that is required is a can opener.

What does he see in her? What do I project? What does he see in me? Certainly inner beauty. I am losing him to her. I am losing him to a girl called Lisa. I tell myself. The world replies. You have already lost him. He must make a fortune quickly to get us out of the mess we are in now. Every time you humiliated me. Now I will never be a part of your life world and you of mine. To be desired is not everything. It is as if I am not a real person anymore.

I am a persona. I do not mean it in the way you are thinking it. As if I am having an out of body experience. I just want love. Give or take, I just want to live brilliantly. It is impossible. There is no happy conclusion. Have you ever loved someone so much knowing in the end someone is going to leave? Someone is going to be the wounded fool at the end of the day. Someone is going to be the scoundrel. Someone is going to say, ‘this far and no further. I will not be made a fool of anymore.’ One the inexperienced ingénue and the other the man. Of having low self-esteem. The capacity to love so far.

All I can hear are these words. My father is in love with a boy and the other words ting-ting-ting inside my head from a man who co-existed in my personal workspace for a few months fifteen years ago. I can only love you so much. I cannot give you the world. No more. No more.  No more. No more. You are not easy to live with and you my dear are certainly not easy to love. He looked at me as if to say sorry. Sorry this did not work out for you kid. Sorry your life thus far has been so unhappy. We were not even friends. You did not even talk to me. I finally got your attention. I pull my tongue out at the world.

You are a sharp little glacier that is just coming into focus now. You are a book or half a book and half the narrator/protagonist filling up my mental faculties with juicy little details. You are capable of more, of doing me in, of destroying me for good and in doing all of those things you have become king of your castle again. You are a survivor. You are a Viking. You plunder and plunder and plunder. I remain in the distant past always watching from afar. I think I will dry my tears now and go to bed. You think that it is easy being me giving effortless performance after performance. Then we became friends. Then you started to talk to me.

You think I battle on so effortlessly. It is just a persona. At the heart of it, I am persona non grata. I am a living, walking, talking, and breathing personal space. I am starting to write like a space cadet. As Hemingway did in Cuba and Key West. Every day. Every day. In some ways, that truly scares me but in other ways, it is awesome. It is lovely. It is exciting. It is enriching. How can I say that it is tiresome? How can I say it is a torment? What does touch, taste, taste, taste in every narrow space that exists on this planet, sunlight and cigars cost? Mother rise up to meet me in the shadows. To meet me everywhere I go. You are so quiet.

Elegantly so. You have hurt me. I have hurt you but the show must go on and we both must give the performance of our lives. Youth excites me. Beauty does not. He made me feel exquisitely shy and high at the same time. Ecstatic. Elated. Glowing from the inside out. Now she says nothing. The winner takes it all. Waiting for my coffee to get cold, I compose little dramas inside my head. Little bits and pieces like a mixed tape masterpiece that your penpal sent you from England once upon a time. I will never see Sean again. All of them.

Those prolific female writers, giants ahead of their time have hypomanic brains. The winner stands alone. This cold figurine ghost of a mother no longer haunts me. She is the winner. She stands alone. I will return to my former glorious life as if I had never gone and so I will return. I will return to my former physical body. Thin. Thin and grinning like the Cheshire cat but inside melting and being licked off the burning asphalt at the same time. I think my mum; she looks at me with awe, grace, mercy and a great amount of disbelief that she could have done such a great thing such as this. Bring me into this world.

By then I realised he had come to his senses. I cannot stand the thought of him being celibate or of him being with lovers. Most mornings are like this. I cannot stand the thought of losing him repeatedly and again. It crushes me. I cannot stand the thought of women not just a woman or one woman or many sharing his bed. I noticed when he could not stop looking at me. I also knew when he stopped and turned away with a look of pure regret, hurt and sadness. I knew then what I had lost was a gift. Not only love, respect but friendship too. The prize of a lifetime but other prizes soon followed. The prize of publication and that was enough for me.

The one thing I have always wanted has come true. Can you understand the principle that everything in my life has worked on? The future is working out for me. The inevitable never happens without hard work. It crushes me to say this. The research paper was all my dreams come true. If I was to have no children to raise, no husband, no house to run. I have left all the penguins, cats, dogs, wolves and sheep’s clothing behind me for good. I have known love, a garden that smells like a farm, dogs underfoot, death and grief, the measure of loss. Altogether now, threaded, threaded, threaded I am better than sane.

I have known bastards and I have known people. I have known men in the system, the working classes, the elite, the snobs, the wealthy, the upper middle classes and the establishment. I have known men with dirt under their fingernails, who smell, whom I loved for their empires and their research. I do not want to know whom I write for. It is enough for me to say that I write for the working class men and women and their children because I know at the end of the day if you are a heterosexual male or a homosexual you read, do you not. You read the paper or you watch the news.

You want to educate yourself, to read the paper, and to watch the news is enough. What else is there when all your dreams come true? You live and you find life and meaning in activities. My home is an integration of the minds of all of these men that have left me, betrayed me, loved me, admired me, and admired my talent. While I was conscious of being frightened, they were conscious of me being of the opposite sex. Very much aware that I was an achiever, an alpha female. All that is left for me is to read with a voracious appetite and to continue to visit museums.

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.