A Poet’s Life: Adventures in the Pixelated Maelstrom

Who created the wounded in modern war? Mad men in suits everyone. Did the Magi really come bearing gifts?

I’m fourteen. We’re at the gateway to the funhouse. We’re standing on burning sea sand, water, ocean waves within reach, the centre of summer, the perfect identity of the nuclear family not yet maverick, reckless, playing at adult games, playing at abandonment and neglect, walking away from responsibility, birthing a symphony of harmonic values. But there’s a sadness to the day. A kind of poverty as if we’ve lost our shot at the big time, social cohesion or lost something never to be found again.

And so we forget that the sun is in our eyes and we all blink madly at our tears but we’re mad with joy. We’re one big happy family just like in photographs, or in the television programmes or films. Mother, daddy, younger brother, sisters. Look. We’re getting laughs. It’s effortless. A kind of easy living. This living is the best kind of life.

And so we forget the sun.

Who created the wounded in modern war?  Mad men in suits everyone. Did the Magi really come bearing gifts? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. On good days I would remain prayerful because I thought that was what the universe was communicating me to me and my mother was the catalyst. If only I could reach her prideful wuthering heights. Her beauty, her pale skin, her aquiline features, her beautiful tennis legs, her roots, and her burning intelligence. She is territory. She is carrion. She is cruel to be kind. ‘Thin. Thin. Thin. Why can’t you be thin like your sister?’ and then she screams with laughter. I go to my room and listen to Fiona Apple.

I bang my door really loud so they all get the message. Films taught me to escape, to remain pure, prayerful, not wanting for what you need because God was preparing you for what He deemed you could handle. There was some good in going to Sunday school and watching Robocop on a Saturday afternoon after paying your thirteen cents in the collection plate. Way back when you could still get videos. I wanted the happy ending to come hell or high water. Good people deserve happy endings.

At first a woman in the bed (in the bedroom) slept there speaking nothing on disability, on alcoholism, and her wounds. I imagine now that woman could have been my mother. It probably was my mother and all I saw growing up in that hell house mad house loud house was her loss and her reaction to that. Her ongoing loss in life and all that she had was a negative reaction to that source. I don’t know if my father could love her enough so that she could forget the childhood that came with her from Johannesburg alongside Winnie, Mandela, and the Rivonia Treason Trial.

Alongside the suffering that came knocking on that door like a manic suffragette. There is always a man waiting to be found somewhere there in the middle of a space (any place for that matter) or a sucker for every minute. Storage, fertility, sea of hands, to have none of that waiting for you in an apocalyptic future (it is good to know I did not have any of this knowledge at nine years of age, I was so bright, shiny and new. I loved my life. Every minute of it. I was surrounded by friends. I could eat anything. I could eat cake three times a day if I wanted to. I ate bacon with the rind, chicken skins.

I would tear the chicken skins off the drumsticks and sticky barbecue wings smokey and tear at them with my teeth, chewing away at them happily. My mother never had the time of day for me. She was too busy with her own life, raising my brother and sister. Handing me over to my father because she couldn’t cope with me anymore. She had fallen in love with my brother like every woman does across the world when she gives birth to a boy. A younger version, newer version of her father or husband. She washed her hands off me. Anorexia Nervosa, alcoholism only happened in the movies way back then.

They made addiction look so pretty. I only watched films on television. My laughter was real. It was made of substance. Something so authentic. I would sit on my father’s lap and watch the news without any understanding of it. I believed in love like I believed in Oscar Micheaux, Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles and stream of consciousness writing, and the blended family. As I grew up, I surveyed the rites, the passage that was open not to every woman, not to every girl. You see, unlike everyone else, the other women in my father’s family I loved to read, to educate myself. I even read textbooks which were just things to other people.

My father was the most rare thing in my life. He was gold. He gave me everything. He was a principal at a high school in a sub economic area. Why is it always the vulnerable or loss that speaks to us? I waited forever for someone to sprinkle moondust in my hair like in The Carpenter’s song. But no birds suddenly appeared when the object of any of my adolescent affections were near. Oh what a tragedy that played out over and over and over again. When I began to starve myself it began to affect areas of my life that only in retrospect (decades later) I became aware of. It spoiled the child in me, that sweet, lovely inner child.

It roughly stained my innocence through and through with a distorted view of my body image, my self-esteem and how other people saw me, the modern world’s opinion of me. I am not making this up (the deep pain I felt, having the sensibility of it, of starving my body of important nutrients, pouring over the ingredient list on the back of the creamy mayonnaise bottle or of any salad dressing, drowning wilting lettuce leaves in it in order to stay alive and perky, in order to stay just peachy) to destroy any positive-minded thinking you might have on people who are disabled. Disability is not pretty. There’s nothing gorgeous about it. Survival is gorgeous. The line where brutality meets goodness. The line found in solitude. The source of solitude.

Your girl is a beautiful man always in motion, tethered to the generous union of the stars. Years have passed. Their novelty has still not yet worn completely off. And there’s been an awakening of sorts inside of me, inside of that festering internal me for so long. A kind of effortless pointless struggle (that seems pointless in the beginning, pointless juggling or acrobatics) but turns out to be a Darwinian revolution. Girls singing Cyndi Lauper just wanna have fun. Smoke nestles gravely in the air near her face from this thinner version of me, less of everything you got that right. You’re the expert who maps out the world, intimacy speeded up on her face, her physical body, her spiritual being. Everybody in the office knows you are sleeping with her.

My aunt was one of the most sophisticated and most beautiful women I had ever met but she was also an alcoholic. Addiction ran in the family. Nobody spoke about it. It was as if we had our own secret society. On Sundays we would go to church. She was a wife. She had daughters. There are always lessons in the mysteries of life. If there are ancient lives under Botswana’s sky then you can find rainbows everywhere even in Sudan. We would go to the Catholic Church in Mbabane, Swaziland. If only I had travelled more in those days. Durban was a few hours’ drive away as was Mozambique. There were wonderful museums and galleries, restaurants, little cafes where you could have coffee but teenagers only wanted to go out dancing those days over the weekends and watch terrible films with their friends where they could laugh at someone else’s misfortune. Nothing is set in stone. Everything is set in stone when it comes to a blood relative. You mourn for them when they’re making a terrible and life-altering mistake and say, ‘This too shall pass’. And when you lose them, when Death comes for them, when Eternity, eternal life comes for them or hell and damnation and you’re overwhelmed with grief and denial of losing them too soon, saying it was before their time then that too shall pass. Life is like that.

Abigail George
Abigail George
Abigail George is a researcher and historian. Follow her on Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram @abigailgeorgepoet.