I went to the people closest to me. My mother’s response was, “ask your father.” As it is, as it was, always, so, I did. This is what he said. His mind goes to South End. Where he was born. He tells me I loved pets, listening to stories of the distant past which he narrated to me. He closes his eyes and thinks before he murmurs. “You followed my instructions.” He says I was joyous. Then he says I carried out his instructions joyfully. I don’t have anyone else to ask. Which is a bit sad. Everybody’s gone. They’ve moved away, grown older, died or should I say more appropriately “passed away”. I don’t know school teachers who will remember what kind of child I was, or a policeman or a shopkeeper.
I can make something up. I can pretend. I can fake it until I make it with pretend language and a fake persona. My father doesn’t sit for long. I’m still typing on the phone and he gets up and leaves me with the hour falling all around me. Silence comes crashing through the walls. I was quiet. She was quiet in drama class, Miss Marjorie Gilbey would say. She moved to Montagu with her asthmatic sister oh, years and years ago. What a joy to be back in her house, to inhabit her waiting room before the speech class begins in the smart hall in her backyard. She’s a ghost that haunts me now. It’s her memory that lingers, captures my soul and that captivates my heart. I remember her English complexion and the Trinity examiners that came all the way from London, England with their posh accents and proper English. I’m so sad now I can almost cry, sob with a kind of urgency, longing for both release and a kind of relief that she isn’t here now to see how I turned out. Gail, the interloper. Abigail, the poet but would she be proud of her brown mouse. I’m not being unkind. I’m not lying either. I was shy and everyone played the numbers game. Extrovert this and extrovert that.
There is no one to tell me what I was like as a child. There’s only Babs. My mother’s sister. Their brother passed away last year. I couldn’t make it to the funeral. I know. I know if my mother had told me that she loved me, held me close, said she was proud of me, hugged me, brushed my hair like Donna’s mother brushed her long honey blonde hair after school that I would have turned out differently. I would have turned out like a bed made with neat hospital corners and not ‘generally sad’ and ‘uneasy’ and ‘uncomfortable’ with immediate family members. I know I wouldn’t be feeling the way I do now. Blue, depressed, wounded, hurt and emotionally damaged. I know I would have a family of my own, live in my own house and have a career. I know. I know I would be happy and on the days that I was not I would aim for contentment, satisfaction or fulfillment.
I took an overdose of lithium and I fell into a coma. I can’t remember how long it lasted. I remember waking up and being in so much physical pain. I remember when they used to come and take blood. It also hurt so much the first time the ICU nurses washed me because I hadn’t moved in weeks. The needle would prick my arm (on the inside of my elbow and afterwards it would always feel as if I was a piece of steak being tenderised. That little spot). It would hurt. It hurt for a long time. All over. I had vivid dreams about James Dean, the actor, and my general practitioner’s brother who also happened to be a doctor. A doctor not a physician who now lives in Ireland. Not once did I think I was dying or going to die. Mind over matter? God? Supernatural encounter with the divine?
I attempted suicide. Took lithium. Survived.
Barely. Just. I’d had enough of life. Life had certainly had enough of me. I took the pills.
I knew it would certainly kill me if I took enough. I survived. I barely survived. I landed in a coma. I woke up and couldn’t walk. I experienced the ‘manic’ and hypomanic phases of manic depression (the ‘curse over our family’ or ‘blessing in disguise’ whenever we prayed) and was hospitalised. I had to learn how to walk again using a walker. I made a miraculous recovery. There was no brain damage. Maybe memory loss. It was a miracle. Well, at least the people closest to me said so. Maybe my mother started to pray for me. I turned to God, faith, indoctrination by the church, Scriptures/the word of God, meditation. I started to pray earnestly. I developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I could have done all those things. I began to forget some of the bad things that happened to me in the past which was a good thing. There were certain things that I started not to remember and not to want to remember.
I had my appendix removed. The first time was a miss. I recovered overnight. The next day a nurse had to help me put my brassiere on because of the drip. I was nil per mouth. The second time my appendix burst. They operated on me. I could have died.
I was held in an isolation booth for two months at Provincial Hospital in Gqeberha at the beginning of lockdown. I tested positive for COVID-19. Another bipolar relapse. Lost my boyfriend when I came out. My mother never told him where I was. What she did say, tell him was that I was out enjoying myself with someone else. I thought I was going to lose my mind. The experience was worse than Tara in Johannesburg.
Then there is heartbreak. The ache that feels like death. The longing for a person that said they were going to marry me never goes away for months and then years.
The paedophile who followed me in a car in Central when we were attending Pearson Street Congregational Church. He got out of his car and waved at me. Motioned me to come to him in a busy street. There was traffic. The street was congested. Filled with people going to the shops. I turned around and ran. I ran fast. I ran to the safety of the church vowing never to play hooky from Sunday school again to get back at my parents or racists and to go to the park by myself and to CNA to buy an UPBEAT magazine and to walk around like I was an invincible superhero or something and not 12.