bipolar
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Abigail George: The Taste of Summer Wine

There are days when everything hurts. You drink from the cup until nothing is left…

‘How’s my favourite woman?’

I would say those words over and over inside my head always with the smell of deep-fried chicken in the air slowly filling the kitchen, slowly falling in love with the man who had first said it to me. A man who was old enough to be my father. Joseph Richie attended the prayer meeting on a Tuesday afternoon that was held at my house with other men his age. Today, I thought about the things I would never forget in my life, people who swam out of my reach touching my fingertips. People like Carol, Vincent, my mother and my sister. People like Joseph Richie. It’s almost as if we’re dancing around each other on our bare feet.

As if we were innocents exchanging gifts and ammunition (as if, at the end of the day, we’re at war with each other). They were people who I once thought were the most important people in my life as a child (besides Joseph Richie, I only met him in my thirties). All my life I continued to search for love, starving for love, the love of my life. Those days my sister phoned only to speak to my mother. Carol was my mother’s sister. Her eyes were brown. My eyes were brown, too. Pale fire spilt into the air after her phone calls to my mother. I imagined her fierce, beady little brown eyes filled with snippy arrogance. Mine were deep and watery. She was the oldest daughter. Vincent was an only child, Carol’s son.

*

When you live with manic depression you live both a life and a half-life. On the one hand, you live with your stone voice just as well as you do with the mask of deceit and deception. You all are my greatest happiness. Carol, Vincent, my mother and my sister, and even Joseph Richie in a way. If my mother has never known that, then if she reads these words, she will know that now. She, after all, is my wish fulfilment. Memory is touch and glory. Memory is a glass ceiling, rock, paper, and scissors. It is I who permits my mind to feel. It is I who permits it to feel the tracks of sadness like rain. As if the heavens are opening up to meet me. I’ve learned that you are never quite prepared for wisdom. To keep my senses alive I must watch you, dance within your blind reach mum. Your village ravishes me.

You’re everywhere with your summer mouth. My soul mourns in dreams. My soul speaks to me in fragments of silence. I cannot change what I am. It is only at the end of the world when we realise what the meaning of betrayal is, decay, death and solitude. It dies with us the same way our instinct does. My mother plays the piano in the morning. I can see where all her focus is streamlined to the page in front of her. Once I could decipher those notes but that was when I was a child. Our love is intense. Does she know that I would die for her? That I, I would die a succession of deaths for her. You’re emptiness at this instant, I say to my reflection in the bathroom mirror. To me my mother is spontaneity. Gossip never scratched the surface of ears, lips, teeth in our house. I think to myself.

I want silence but I want the words too. I want personal space but I want the personal space of dead writers too. When I was little I was easily amused. I would go around wearing this disarming smile on my face thinking that I was better than everybody else. I know I am weak. I am moved to tears by a film, by an argument with my mother. We think that it is language that simplifies everything. It isn’t. It isn’t by a long shot. It is ghost yielding feeling, feeling triumphant or put upon, the positive objective or being engaged by the negative. Here I am now. My arms (healing rain) believing that I can live forever. The moon is everything. Carol taught me how to love, how to see beauty in things around me. She taught me how to write hate poetry, to hurt with feeling, to wound, to forgive, to be vicious.

To remain unloved in chapters for the longest while possible. In the end after childhood my sister became my mother, beautiful, elegant and sophisticated. I loved her, needed, wanted, and desired her in a powerful way, in the same way, I did my mother. I stutter with this hate in my heart and in this way, I have built up my resolve against the world, against anything pretty, likeable, lovely that I might break. My mother and my sister left me behind. I couldn’t catch up to them. They took turns. I write to write (as I am doing now). Words leave the pen. I don’t know where they, these words, came from. Half the time it felt as if they didn’t come from me. Vincent taught me how to hate myself, soak up all his insults, put them away in the depths of pockets and lose them like lost keys. He taught me to find something different in myself, taught me to focus specifically on the negative.

It was my mother who taught me how to nurture. Shake with the mere ordinary flux of an idea. I don’t have explanations anymore. What does love have to do with talent and success anyway? What is real, what is positive, what is enlightenment, what is spiritual poverty? All I knew was that my mother didn’t love me in the same way that Carol loved me. I never pleased my mother. This saddened me. In the swimming pool, I swam until I turned blue, until I turned prune, until the daylight turned into a cool evening. Until everything inside of me, the internal struggle, the inherent disposition that I keep my head up high drowned alongside the inhibitory. The wonderings of love, sympathy and empathy was like a tightly clenched fist.

*

If we left my childhood home my father and I, we’d live like other people did and that was my greatest fear, fingers clenching and unclenching. I never really understood that love was a journey. It had a beginning, middle and an end. The end was death, a crossing over into the hereafter, the crossing into eternity. I know what daylight feels like. I knew ever since I was a child that I was different from my mother, different from my sister, different from Carol. I was the famished interloper, my speech silver. Silence golden. My mother and my sister were both a strange language to me ‘lost in translation’ and in an age of angels made of iron and clay. This is for both of them. You can love. You can run. You can win-win-win or lose the game in the end. You can feel pain.

You can accept the negativity or you can move on with your life to greener pastures. Accept the pain. Acknowledge the negativity. You can quit while you’re still ahead. I still love the most important people in my life. I still love Carol, Vincent, my beautiful sister, and my elegant and sophisticated mother, and even Joseph Richie. There is always history when it comes to love. As much as love can be emptiness, it can also be pure. Never forget that it can also heal you. Sadness for most of my life has been this light in my heart. I can remember having this feeling inside of me for the longest time, ever since I was a child. When I think of people I want to climb a tree and hideaway amongst its branches. These branches would provide me with both a mask and a shield against the world.

More people, if they climbed trees to pray in trees, would discover that true loneliness is just another death, another body in half-light. Perhaps it is just this idea of Carol, wise, arrogant and Vincent, her son, with his handsome, wise and arrogant face that he inherited from his mother, my sister and my mother lovely in their summer dresses, scarf at their throat, magazine hair, dollied up, brazen and dazzling with all of their accessories, accessories, accessories—perfume, bangles, earrings, all dolled up with heavy peacock-blue eye-shadow, creamy pink lipstick, painted lips, smile, exotic talons for nails—looking like they stepped out of a catalogue. After all, perhaps it is I who is the arrogant one, who is dumb and who says hurtful things.

Perhaps it is I who walked out on them when I said hurtful things, when I didn’t get out of bed until two in the afternoon. I had blue days and blue nights (if you can understand that). I experienced numbing highs and crushing lows. Clinical depression can do that to you. It is almost like having two of everything even two souls. I am almost afraid to love. To like, that’s within my grasp. That I can deal with on any day of the week but love, that’s something else altogether. I am tenderness. I am a nomad. Yes, you can see things that aren’t there. On the good days, you can write epic poems, prose poems and love poems. You can even write books. You can write books that you sell to family and friends. You can even write books that nobody will read. On the bad days, the terrain is hellish.

Believe me, you will want boundaries, and everything and anything can set you off. It is quite easy to understand and accept the terms of bipolar. That one day you can be you, the best of you and the next you are the most obstinate, intolerant person in the world. Only you find your jokes funny. I am bound to these five people. These are persons of interest who I have come to call the most important people in my life. Carol, Vincent, my sister and my mother (even the ghost identity of Joseph Richie). It’s a sacred bond. I can say that now since I have left my insecure, ‘doubting Thomas’ twenties behind me. I had been full of good luck, fire, and desire in my twenties. Grief and loss cooled me in my early thirties. I am a storyteller. I am a poet.

I will do things like that until my death, until all of life empties out of my soul, until my last breath. I have made promises. I have made mistakes. In return they have shaped and returned to me my innocence because without innocence, you can never believe in anything. I’ve counted on every image in my life giving everything living in and of its self back to me. It has served me well as inspiration, imagination, creativity, skill, and perfection. Without believing and knowing that you craft and create perfection as an artist, it will leave you lost, hopeless, helpless and a little at a loss for words. It has made a painter of dreams out of me as well as a dreamer. I know what the meaning of survival is now. It’s simply two words. Let go. In my twenties, I had identity crisis after identity crisis. I struggled to know who I was.

Was I the girl from a small city by the sea, or was I the woman in the big city who understood what life-world and experience was about? There are days when everything hurts. You drink from the cup until nothing is left of the lukewarm liquid that fills you with a milky comfort and warmth with its sweetness. It gives you memories of being in your paternal grandmother’s house in the afternoons after school. After that, the veil rises and you understand this is as good as it’s going to get. I am living the impossible dream of my childhood. A gifted child, that turned into a gifted adult but there is simply no place in the world for gifted people. Gifted adults I mean. What do you pine for? Do you want someone to swoon over or to swoon over you, I ask my personality? Do you yearn for something?

Desire it? I was a woman now. To be emotional is sacred to me. Everything for me is spontaneous, borderline do-it-yourself, analyse this to death. I imagine Carol and the spreading of her wings. How it lights up her disposition and moral compass. How she gathers to herself (‘her’ Switzerland, the nail polish of ‘her’ Switzerland), the cold, her rouge, her pink and mauve creamy lipsticks (her makeup is the first to go). Her pans, ingredients, her kitchen cupboards, next her son and the illusion of the husband she never married are the next to go. She says the wave is her companion. The appearance of chronic illness is unexpected at this late point in her life. The origins of breakfast on the table stare back at her, chronic illness unexpected and disturbing. She is a tragic winter guest. She has advice.

‘You only live once. So, make the most of it.’ Jean’s wig is cut into a shiny black bob. She gathers her wifely things to herself. A poet is made if you are the type of person to listen very carefully with swift contemplation to the wind. To the wind that moves through you with her fractured song and it feels as if I am about to break or cross the River Jordan with Moses and the Israelites into the Promised Land. In my dreams, I see visions of the ‘burning bush’. Everything tastes like honey and milk to me. You’re a poet if you study the night. Observe the day. Listen to the prayers from the mosque a few streets away in the early hours of the morning. Life is what you were made for. To survey the stretch of land (like an owl) that my mother calls ‘garden’. My brother calls ‘sanctuary’, that I call ‘landscape’.

*

We all sit around waiting for God in the waiting room, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for a prescription, waiting for our name to be called and to confess all our secrets. One button is missing off my father’s shirt. There is sadness in the woman who sits across from me in her eyes in the waiting room. She carries it around in her mouth, the circle of her waist. I’m done. I’m through, I’m through with inheriting the sadness of my mother and in a split-second I let go of everything. I decided I had to forgive my mother in the end. She was the one who had given me everything that was important and powerful in my life. She was the one who had given me my first typewriter in high school. I would hold onto these words, cling to them, make a song out of them, “How is my favourite woman?” and I would remember how I had not looked up in Joseph’s direction when he had said those words to me.

How I had felt my cheeks grow warm and the light-hearted skip in my step in his presence. Something was lit inside of me like flame.

How I was almost dancing in my bare feet like an innocent exchanging gifts, a warmonger exchanging ammunition. Look, I want to say. Look! Look at all of us! Dancing in our bare feet!

———

Image by geralt on Pixabay

Written by
Abigail George

Abigail George studied film and television production for a short while, followed by a brief stint as a trainee at a production house. She is a Christian feminist, writer and poet. She lives in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She has had poetry published in print and online. She has had short fiction published online. In 2005 and 2008, she was awarded grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg. She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing full time. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. She writes for Modern Diplomacy and contributed bimonthly to a symposium on Ovi Magazine: Finland’s English Online Magazine. Her latest book Winter in Johannesburg is available on Kindle via Amazon.

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Written by Abigail George

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