I am the ultimate comeback kid. I have made a beautiful career out of it as far back as I can remember. I happily reinvent myself if the occasion calls for it, brush aside any flaws in the old design and then I get on with the business of living, surviving, using my skills that I nurtured to take care of myself. Then I take the world head on – the ‘Mouse’ becomes the ‘Giant’ in all matters except those concerning men.
I am unrecognisable in former lives.
This brings me to the happiest times of my life that I can remember, being on holiday with my family. My nose became freckled once after I stayed too long in the sun one holiday at a heated springs resort between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp. Everything was like an undiscovered jewel in this dry landscape. The buzz of cicadas hovered in the air, grasshoppers flew, beetles were mighty at digging and lizards appraised human beings with a knowing eye. As a child I was not spiralling out of control yet. I still had a forgiving spirit. There was a surge of panic flooding through me that all of this loveliness one day might not be there anymore. We communed with nature, swam in the natural hot springs pool where the water was so hot it would make you gasp when you stuck your big toe in. Older, wiser, more appreciative of my father’s warnings and my mother’s advice I escaped to Johannesburg and eighteen months later came back home again with my tail between my legs – a difficult child. I challenged nothing, tense and anxious, all my energy was spent on writing poems that rhymed and haiku.
When I came back my past was still there, my childhood. Nothing had disappeared or vanished overnight. My childhood best friend who was missing had not mysteriously been found. The paedophiles that approached me when I was a child that day in the park and during a church service when I naughtily skipped the Sunday youth service and went to the shops were there in memory. My brilliant, depressive father and my elegant, narcissistic mother. The ghosts of a former life had now reformed themselves with steely determination into damaged, strangely repressed, disorderly, rearranged lives and conversations were marked for healing. My love for my newfound career came from the fact that we all had caught mysterious illnesses as children. My brother had asthma, my sister, bronchitis and I had appendicitis. I hated the whirring sound the machine made that my brother had to use every night when he was little to breathe easier. I sat in front of the house and pretended to watch television and look at the shiny pictures, mouths moving animatedly, eyes without a trace of sadness, when the actors died, they didn’t really die because it was only make-believe. I loved Tom Selleck’s smile, his Hawaiian shirts and he made me laugh. I loved his eccentric mentor and his friend who had a helicopter. You didn’t see a lot of black actors on television in those days that weren’t more than a sidekick.
I loved their fast cars. I hated it when the lead actors kissed. They looked so silly and it made me feel embarrassed for them. But I liked dogs like in ‘Magnum P.I.’, they didn’t say anything and sometimes human beings would be cruel to them but the dogs were always kind and clever and the story always had a good ending. I never thought they were silly for wagging their tails so much, sticking their tongues out so much because of the heat, looking mournful or wearing a hungry look on their face. I don’t feel weary imagining the perfect romance because it plays itself out over and over like a stuck record like something out of a children’s fairytale. It is not in Technicolor, it is from the pages of children’s storybook – I am a mermaid, Bluebeard’s wife, Sleeping Beauty. I will never grow old, or cold, I just fade away like a sunset, always thin (to my mother’s delight). I don’t have to feel anything. Nothing is expected of me but to be beautiful. I don’t even have to speak. Words speak for themselves.
I liked stories where people helped each other like ‘Quincy’. He was a doctor, he gave people medicine and he saved people’s lives. I escaped from that house in stories, books and the world of imagination. I didn’t want the things around me all the time to remind me that there were serious, grave illnesses we could have died from as children. The gravity of that statement does not escape me. We couldn’t go in to see my sister when she was sick. Only my parents could go in and my mother lifted her up in her arms and she stared at us through the window in the door, smiled at us and waved. There was a lump in my throat and I felt as if my heart would burst. I picked up a library book that we had brought with us and pretended to read it but the picture began to swim in front of my eyes.
In any woman’s career she will selfishly guard the relationships she has with the men who mentor her. They are the ones who give her fatherly advice, let her open up unashamedly about her problems, her unique situation, and her ambitions and let her cry on their shoulder. They would never take advantage of her.
I write for them too because they have never drowned out my voice selfishly but they give me a voice to speak. It’s the difference between letting someone believe you believe in him or her and then the flipside of him or her finding out it’s all been a beautiful dream and you hadn’t been completely honest with them.
The promise of a career in television taught me to consider the shape of a girl as a metaphor. Beautiful girls become depressive women – they are the most unfortunate because they never grow up. Mean girls become miserable women. Silly girls become affected, hysterical and emotional women and sometimes intelligent women cause more harm than good. They empower others with their do-gooder causes; become advocates for relevant causes, their children feel emotionally bereft in childhood, which manifests itself as illness and genius later in their lives.
Coming back to my would-be career, which I don’t dream about any more, entertainment, is still the stuff of pure genius rather like dolphins swimming in the bay in Port Elizabeth. These animals offer an intensely exquisite and heavenly peek into a world quite unlike our own minus the overkill of violence, the insensitivity of brutes in a dangerous underworld.
The television of my childhood promised a delirious escape. The unconventional potential became a temporary antidote to all the lechery by older men you experienced as a child, the negligence and crime in your community where cognisance is long over-due.
It clouds your intuition with imagination and obsession just like every sensory mode does which kicks in when you watch a film and when your brain is not opposed to reliving some of your happiest childhood memories.
A word renders you the writer invisible and very quickly your heart hardens against love. It is much more seductive to live without than to be so much hungry for more and to want to eclipse every success that came before with a greater one. There is so much well-meaning intent to nourish your soul and your body but there is so much more beauty through the lens of a camera when you live vicariously through. It is like a secret code unravelling to the depths of your psyche for a whole eternity. Secretly you wouldn’t want that to happen and you refrain from making protests about love.
I remember what it was like behind the lens, crouched in the buzz of it. Faces in this fantasy world are otherworldly and beautiful, and eyes are haunting. Closer still they are accomplished at what they do and they are thin. They are all different shapes, sizes and colours. Some look happier than most and others look withdrawn, edgy. There are those who have a cruel, hungry look on their face but it disappears as someone comes up to them. Their faces change in an instant. I think about the private tendencies they might have. I know then that there must be a lot of things we have in common.
They do not notice me yet because I am almost invisible.
I have written another haiku today that I am especially proud of and a poem and that is my work for today. I need an audience and for now these painstaking devices keep my brain sharp. It is with a great clarity of mind, with speed that I jot these isms down and then reflect upon them.
There is no reason for me to speak my mind because I have been liberated from inconveniences.