The Cosmic Drunkard By Abigail George

My brother has a breakfast joint, a lunch joint, a dinner joint and an after-dinner joint. I long for a drink. I have never had children and never got married. I am a writer and poet. People know my name in certain circles or not at all. I am a daughter and sister. Nothing much else I guess to write home about. I lived for a time in Johannesburg with my aunt and her adult son, then at a shelter in Hillbrow and had a stint at a psychiatric hospital Tara H. Moross Hospital. I was doing a rain dance around my siblings and my parents.

A dance of tears, aloneness, forlornness and sadness. My father begins the day with his spectacles perched at the end of his nose reading. Always reading. It’s Christmas. My mother is baking up a storm in the kitchen. The dogs have long solemn faces. I am in my room curled up under a blanket in the fetal position. I am in the mood for a samosa. Breaking up the parcel of fried spinach and salty feta cheese in my mouth. I want to be happy but I don’t know how to be happy. That’s my problem I suppose. I don’t have those tools. That skill. I have never acquired them in my lifetime. I must prepare, I feel, for the rain dance of my depression. It’s the season.

There are days when I feel nothing. As if I’m a cosmic irritant. When my mother says nothing to me as I sit on my father’s bed across from her. I feel as if I am this cosmic irritant when I help my father out of the shower and towel dry his naked body. Do my parents know what this makes me feel like? I painfully want to make conversation with my mother. She has never said for all of my life that she loves me or is proud of me. We’ve never had that love language. She has been overcritical, patronizing and condescending. She has behaved in underhanded ways towards me and has been resourceful in doing this and I have carried a torch for her my entire life.

I have loved her from afar and near, up close and personal. I spend a lot of my time alone now. When I was in my twenties working at a production company I longed for a solitary life. There are some parts of me that want to be absorbed into a crowd, that want an otherness kind of life around me. I have always wanted to be loved. The day is hot. I sit in the sitting room and wait for a man that will never appear again in my life. I think of the beauty of that interlude in my life. The touch of his hand on my back, a finger stroking my knee, his arm around my shoulder as he pulled me in close and kissed me. I didn’t know anything, flustered sometimes I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t long for him now as I did a year ago. I want to forget the woman I became in that time and space. Today it is hot.

The dogs are melting in this heat. They’ve eaten larvae that were in their water bucket. Are dogs always hungry for anything? I think of the vagrant who got an erection when I gave him peanut butter bread with coffee. I think of high school and the season. When my dad would buy us season tickets for the swimming pool. We were like dolphins in the water. I think of my time in Johannesburg when I was homeless and still going to film school. I think of the invasion of ticks on my dogs.

I like liquor. I like to drink. I drink alone. Sips of beer. Orange juice mixed with a tot of vodka. Deliciously cold going down my throat. I remember my aunt downing beers on a daily basis. Throwing them back like there was no tomorrow. Until the day she died. The sour effervescent taste of the cold beer at the back of my throat. I want to be happy so much but something keeps holding me back from its threshold’s meeting point. My brother bought four bottles of beer. The green bottles were cold. One was empty. The remaining bottles were half full.

I looked at it with longing, and such joy and happiness filled my heart. I didn’t want to think about my father asking me if I had a high sex drive and did I ever go to brothels in Hillbrow? There was a shelter in Hillbrow that I stayed at for a time. A place for abandoned women and children. Yes, I was abandoned. I had come to know it as a way of life. Being neglected, abandoned and abused. I am numb. I think of free radicals. I think of politics. I think of handsome poets and the stink in the kitchen coming from the sink of dirty dishes piled high.

I think of my mother screaming at me to clean up the sitting room where I built a fort with my nephew. How these days all she can do is scream at me. I think of how I have never found love or how love has never found me only sexually depraved men who exploited and took advantage of me and saw to it that that their own needs were met. My life has been very sad and so lonely. Loneliness fills the rooms of my childhood home, a manic depressive father and a sad and elegant mother. As a child I was obsessive, a compulsive over achiever in the face of hostile authority figures and in the face of a dominant mother, meek father. Now I learn things about myself all the time. My silence also has a voice and its own timeline.

My father has controlled me all his life. My mother neglected me. Every morning and evening she gives me pills. Pills to sleep and tranquilizers when it is time to go to bed. When it is morning she’s up and at it with vitamins for tiredness and my vitamin deficiency, pills for my blood pressure, my thyroid, a water tablet for my chronic kidney disease, my mood stabilizer for my bipolar. Perhaps I deserve this. I have to pay for my mentally ill sins. But there are other days when I am writing and the world is an undeniably beautiful place and all seems alright with my place in it.

I have a rather imperfect personality. I am rather tired of being sick, meeting relapse after recovery, I am tired of being tired, I am tired of this bipolar shadow hanging over me. Of having never been invited to weddings. There have been funerals but I don’t know how I will act, respond, react so I don’t attend them. I think of my family and how I get no response from them. How they want to put me in a facility, a psychiatric home. I write of how I wish at this moment (but I know it will pass) for death to come and how I want it to be easy.

How I want to be happy. I will it through imagination. My brother’s fiance has put the ultrasound of their child on her WhatsApp profile. I think of the Salinger short story “To Esme, With Love And Squalor”. How it’s become a dream to turn it into a short film but with a South African undertone. I doubt anybody’s life is perfect and beautiful most days. I have lost people along the way. I’ve lost interest and they’ve lost interest. I think of an editorship position I held.

The excited phone calls when I had been up all night with no sleep but how soon I slowly stopped functioning. Stopped sleeping. Then there was the proposal but I’d rather not speak about that. The absolute squalor of that experience. Two years ago before lockdown I was in a state of happiness. Two years later I am rebuilding my life. I am coping. There was a man who had been in the picture but he isn’t anymore.

I began not caring about anything. This morning, most mornings, I have lost the will to survive. I began to not care about my father especially. His conversation began to turn to sex with me more often. He wanted to escape. So did I. But I had my chances. I had escaped to Swaziland and from there I wanted to go to the London Film School but after I returned home Christmas my father hid the letter from St Mark’s telling me I had been accepted for A-levels. I was completely devastated. My life has been a struggle and perhaps if I had just taken a chance on love whenever the opportunity had presented itself I would have been alright.

Break, break, break. When it came it was like a knife in the air. A steak knife, butter knife, did it matter? There was something so fatalistic about it. Omg, I was so young. I was just a baby. Mental, mental, mental. This chord runs through me. The name calling (I know how relatives see me), the stigma, seeing things that weren’t there, delusions, paranoia, hospitalization and hallucinations, hearing voices. My depression is something like a rain dance. I am a writer, an author of books, a short story writer, essayist, poet and all that I have achieved is marked by depression.

I am sixteen years old, thin and artistic. I stare at my teacher from my desk. He wears thin shirts. He’s unmarried. He’s published a book for schoolchildren. All of these notes of information I store them up as I come to learn of them through rumors and schoolgirl gossip as I do my secret love for my English teacher. He takes the bus and every day he can be found in a thin stream of schoolchildren walking from school to the center of town, construction all-around of a parking lot. His fingers are the fingers on a guitar. So, his words become my words. Everything about him is electric. Remembering how futile everything seemed to be in the beginning when I had first found myself in this country. Swaziland. How miserable and homesick I had been, it had all been worth it.

In my mind’s eye in the time he takes with the short story he reads aloud with expression and the questions he poses to different students, while he walks around the class I devour the characters and the lines of poetry he recites like a flame. He constructs fire, cats, young love, symmetry, sleet beautifully. It is almost as if I can feel the young heroine’s passion. I am that young heroine cast aside in youth, that most high feeling not reciprocated, not given a chance to develop, transition into maturity. Secret love crushed, just a seductive experiment, a material concept for my wish-fulfillment ideals.

There are molecules in everything. Even in sir’s feats of pretty things he left behind when halfway through the school year he disappeared on me leaving all of us half-smitten schoolgirls with our skirts hiked up high, brushing against thigh, knees quite bare and long-sleeved white blouse, dark heads bowed over their readers, textbooks and binders behind. There was no warning that he would leave to teach at another school. So, it was something that took me by surprise when the new English teacher introduced himself. And I had to learn how to cope all over again.

Stars far off were whirling away at a swift glance with a pure, pale rush on this sleeping planet. Loss I learned bound you, the beautiful, the fragile and the rare and in the swan-like wonderland of this ancient countryside I remembered playing with dolls, the wounds children would leave behind that mushroomed, exploded like torture and that was slow to vanish.

I melt into the river of darkness all around me in my dreams in this foreign country. (Swaziland is a swimming goddess on the end of my mother tongue, all I want to do is translate it), darkness like a decorative shroud covers me up from view until it seems I can hardly breathe but it is for my own good. It is to protect me from witches, vampires and werewolves, zombies and the apocalypse. No more Mr Smith to protect me.

The other learners are more unforgivable yet less conniving and wild than other girls and boys I’ve come across. There was part of me that was scared of growing older, celebrating another birthday, going through with the ceremony of all of that. All my life I’ve been, well, frightened what other people would think of me. So, this is where my conversations with Buddha and God come in. I found in silence a song of love and the older I seemed to get the more that song seemed to give way to a theory of flight and I simply came alive to see what escape there was in it.

Like shooting stars falling from the night air’s skies orbit to the earth, they do not journey gently in dreams. Mr English, K.R. is still three suns exploding in my face and in his leave of absence I found that there could be a continual sense of healing found. Healing multiplied in name, identity, space and peace of mind. When he was no longer there, I would pretend I was writing to him in class, that he would get my letter and that I could touch the fine-fine threads of his silver hair, trembling, that I could run my hands through it, through my fingers, pinch his unkempt hair. I would write to him in equations, promising solutions, graphs that could be negotiated, essays, assignments. I knew, I knew that no relationship would ever come of it.

I was still a relatively young girl on that stretch of open road reaching emotional maturity, a spiritual existence, a sense of my physical being and the sense of the more experienced, less giving world around her. And that I was as present as present was present. I did not yet know that as a woman I would-be capable of many wonderful things in my future. I did not know then that I would become a writer. That the wisdom I collected in youth would only be put to use later on in life. I had no idea that that high school stage would pass, like the age of 16. It was a world that I didn’t quite feel up to the challenge of taking head on, made up of chiefs and tribes of men that I didn’t feel I completely belonged to naturally.

Sir made me wish to be united against this world with someone who could speak for me, protect me against the harsher, darker elements, harmful dimensions. Already I was depressed but I didn’t call it depression then. Then I called it being quiet, being slow, soaking up the sun, sucking hollows into warm chocolate Easter eggs melting in my hands, dreaming of the syllables unfolding in my imagination of haiku. In Swaziland, everyone knew that I was weird-different and in accepting that I was different took the shape of the Nile.

I finger the bottle. I think I am going to have that drink after all. I can feel the sour effervescent coldness in my mouth, as it slides towards the back of my throat and I swallow. In that moment I felt such a sense of freedom. The dogs need to be fed and I get up, make my cup of tea first. A cup of black tea. I leave it on the kitchen table to get cold. So it will be at room temperature when I come back inside. I have alcoholics in my family. On both the maternal and paternal side. My mother likes stout.

She would hide the bottles in her wardrobe under blankets and clothes. We’d find it as children and laugh and pretend to drink out of imaginary bottles and then we’d stagger around. Did Hemingway have beer for breakfast? Then I must be in good company.

Beer for breakfast, beer first thing in the morning, that’s the behavior of an alcoholic, isn’t it?

This personal essay was published on February the 14th, 2023 online in The Kalahari Review.

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