by Abigail George
“God took you out of my life for a reason.”
Arms as pale as milk, black eyes, little foal, innocent and tender as Zelda Fitzgerald, genius wonder boy of the family – in this dark house we celebrated his birth in the same way my mother celebrated the stars and tempted fate by reading her horoscope.
With the tiniest sunlight cupped in my hands I poured myself into the little boy and remembered my first love. Love can make you do that: will you to become a visionary, thinker and philosopher, and turn the dreams you planted once, years ago, into memories; into the plateaus, hills, valleys and mountains of Catherine.
After a bath she is dripping wet. In old age I know I will still remember her and the intimacy we shared one night. Her futility is my futility; an inseparable part of me. The road inside her sins has vanished into the sun beaming down; the road that grew and grew and reached progress and spiritual maturity in the muddy season of the rains of winter.
Catherine’s soil was once my soil. Fertile. It held the depths of success. I was helpless and poised in her arms but I could still hear my mother’s voice inside my head.
“I did not bring you up like that. What would the minister say . . . society . . . the people that we know, and your God-fearing aunts and uncles? And Heaven forbid, the Assembly. Think of the brethren.”
I was certain it was winter and then it turned into a beautiful summer the day I met Catherine.
So I gathered the conjuring secrets of my swooning lotus for I had always wished that my love would give me a birthday present. But there were still things that in the beginning I had no use for because I could not read her and because we weren’t lovers yet.
She was a private person but also an organized extrovert. She was my home but so was Eric, the missionary. I knew I wanted to grow old with her and that we would always be in our honeymoon period. Her hair was gold; her cooking and baking skills delicious. She was also a witty visionary. The dream image of her lying next to me in the inspired blue-black dark will remain with me forever. My own limbs, wooden, grateful for her, feeling abstract as she breathed in and out next to me. Love in my country is moving. The air hums there with mock abandon. Everything is bliss. Life is delightful.
When I read about the love between a man and a woman I think first of my parents then my first epic love and all the wrong – the all-too formidable ex-boyfriend who never really fitted). But really all I can see was Catherine. The way she wore her hair would spin inside my mind. I knew in that instant that if she could touch my intellect, she could touch my unstoppable soul.
Yes, Catherine was intelligent and well-read. She could sing and was a great dancer on the floor. Man, she liked clubbing, drinking whisky, shooting pool. She didn’t care about the world, about my opinion about the world around the two of us. “It doesn’t matter what they think. Just kiss me. It’s not about them. It’s about us. Live a little! Damn, why don’t you?”
In this dream she is sleeping and I don’t want to wake her. Her hair is spread out on the pillow next to mine. She looks like an angel. Honest. Angelic. Peaceful and all that, and I want to stroke her face and pour myself into her and I know that after she kisses me good night on the lips that I will be her silent dreamer.
The moonlight is positive, oozing vitality and optimism. Anything can happen, right? To me, to her, to us? But upon entering this shadow of light, this volcano, I can sense her loneliness, her fear, the death of each day. As she turns in her sleep, I can sense her passing from fragile life into the next – nature, sobriety and immortality on her side. She is like honey in my hands with her peacock-blue eye-shadow. Catherine became the mother I never had in childhood. When she ate in my dream we were always eating at the kitchen table bowing our heads as we said grace.
I have no more use to explain the concept of death to a two year old nephew who plays gangs and cowboys with toy guns, who is a delight to watch grow, who mimics and laughs and waters the wilderness of the garden and for whom history does not stand still and who dances head bowed, eyes closed solemnly, face expressionless and hard to read with a red poppy in each cheek. I have no more use for wishful thinking or believing in the spirit of Christmas as a hot December beats down from an almost existential and sacred and listless blue sky laced with licking flame, confetti foam and the dog hair found on a pair of pitch black leggings.
I think of frog, moth and butterfly. Whirling feasts of sleepless nature that calm and center me –mostly calms and centers the mania of bipolar. In my time I have learnt that a broken heart and a handsome face can be mistaken for a smart charm, a poser’s swagger, or a deviant personality; a hard arrogance.
Once I loved a man with my whole heart but that is also one of the things that I have no more time for: pain, hurt, suffering. And most of all, I have no more use for you, Eric.. I do not live for you anymore. I do not live to serve you, your every need, anymore: to cook, to clean, for you to desire me. My ‘murder’ of you has become a beautiful career.
Yes, it is hot. The smell of fish cakes in the air, dripping with spatters of oil, grass in my hands, the bone bouquet in the cemetery that I drive past when I go to the store or on the way to the mall. This is all coming from my soul. Yes, I loved him. But he did not love me enough in return. Time ran out for me in a wet and rainy Johannesburg – that year we lived in warm interiors and the car seats became so hot that we parked in the garage.
The sun came out like sin and everything was golden but there are shadows too. The small child that belongs to me but does not belong to me is eating ripe cherry guavas. The seeds rain on his t-shirt. Memory in the flesh: with an almost fearful concentration on his face, this boisterous imp, his golden hair unruly, stretches long, skinny legs in their Jesus sandals. He has the tendency to scream out in joy when he discovers something new in the garden, in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in the family room . . . a new toy. Already I wish that he will never know the image of departure but I know this will come in time.
I want to tell him to always believe in himself. To tell people to ‘go jump’ when they laugh at him. He is perfect. He is as perfect as day and I love him like the cool air that comes with nightfall, the explosion of fireworks heralding the beginning of a New Year or a Guy Fawkes celebration, birdsong that seemed to be wired to the air and the frightened little girl that I once was – bullied, invisible, tragic, with the filament of a blue heart.
I learned at an early age that forgiveness must start somewhere and that it began with a choice: the rub of love, a leaf that swum clear and bright with all the presence of warmth and luck in the wild. And here I am again but in a different situation. I don’t like using that word “conflict”. I prefer “challenging”.
I remember what she, Catherine, said or perhaps it was the love of my ‘other’ life, Eric, the Irish missionary, that said this. I get mixed up sometimes.
That was the life my paternal grandmother wanted for me. Most of all my mother. To be settled. I couldn’t imagine it.
The sexual transaction, dancing with him in my arms as I had danced with Catherine. I couldn’t imagine kissing him as I had kissed Catherine but I had loved him. His eyes were blue. Eric. Eric. Eric, the man. Eric, the Irish missionary. I still tear up sometimes at the sound of his name.
The Christian brothers and sisters of the Assembly of God church, our holidays by the sea, prophets who had visited the house, prayed for me (the socialite me of Johannesburg, the sinner me) passed through my mind that first month of 2017.
That hot, sweltering January that saw rain and thunderstorms. I thought of the Johannesburg people. My peers who were now married and had children of their own. What was I so afraid of? What was I missing out on? The fear was still there and perhaps with it (not only of the depression returning or Catherine, my lover) but the the pathetic frustration, the anxiety and the letting go of all of these ‘ghetto’ images. The negative.
The heat of the 7th day of 2017 zapped all my energy. I couldn’t do anything but think. Think some more about how I was going to cope. I knew that after the holidays my nephew would return home. He would be back with his mother. Her side of the family. Aunts, uncles, granny, grandpa and with the child gone home, we all would seem to have nothing but time on our hands: My own mother, the matriarch of the family, my manic depressive writer of a father who now spent his days organizing the 2000 photographs that belonged to our family. Instead I think of the small child with the dark eyes. Intelligence staring back me. I thought of Daniel and Bianca, old school friends from boarding school in Swaziland. Handsome Daniel who had lost his life in a car accident. He had been speeding. His mother had been sitting in the passenger seat. By some miracle she had survived but he had been killed on impact. A memorial had been held at the school.
Yes, I had a lot to think about. And I thought about an Indian guy (the first boy) I met when I went to school in rural Swaziland. I thought I wasn’t beautiful but he thought I was. “I am lucky,” I told myself. “I am a lucky girl to have been through so much and to have survived it all so prettily.”If you come to my house I will show you bone, disenchantment, flesh, blood, spirit, the claustrophobia of the sky, the body in bites of half-light, birds perched on the branch of life, Virginia Woolf in the flesh, inside and out of her River Ouse. I will dance to the tales of my mother. I don’t really want to remember Catherine now or the night that she took me, a virgin, into her arms.
God was a tomb, so was grass and the sea, the birthing ceremony, the womb. Catherine whispered in my ear (or was it Eric in the silence of the bedroom? I forget), “These hands will protect you. Your angst is my angst. I love you. I see you in everything and nothing at the same time. I see you and don’t see you but I know that every part of your soul is vital to me. I promise that I will never hurt you. Have you ever been with a man before?”
Then I remembered it was Eric’s voice. I was young and I believed everything he told me. My sister and brother slept in their own rooms, quite innocent. My parents were away and I was in love, in love with Eric the missionary and in my heart he could do no wrong. “Come.” He said. “Come to me.” When I hesitated, he said those words again.
It is Sunday. Church. A bright morning. Eric has gone back to Ireland. Catherine. I do not know where she is.
“God took you out of my life for a very good reason.”
I believe God has a reason for everything. He must. Otherwise life will not make any sense. Otherwise the thread of life will not make any sense in this house or today in this church.