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.