Abigail George's Blog

July 26, 2018

Finally diagnosed with Bipolar and understanding God's purpose for my life

I've outlasted a lot of things. I'm over 35. I am nearing 40 years of age. I've made mistakes and lived with regret but I don't anymore. And I'm finally able to make peace with the mistakes I've made in my past. I can forgive someone who brought me pain. The suicidal thoughts that I've manages to overcome. I think of our happy my parents were in my childhood. I think of every childhood experience as happy except the memories brought back to me of apartheid. I don't have to tell myself anymore, you can make it. By the grace and mercy of God, I've survived. And it is God that has outlasted my storms.

So for the millions of people out there who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or have a loved one living with a mental illness, be brave. You are going to get through this storm. You're a fighter. You're going to make it and when you come out on the other side, talk about it, or write about your survival, tell someone about it, become a storyteller, or give your testimony. You might save a life in the same way yours was saved.

As I write this I think of Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and being fake-happy. Pretending to love being alone and not being the proper example of a good daughter. You want someone to love you until the end of time. I want someone to love until the end of time. I want people to love me. To remember me. In some way I want to belong to the world. I grew up with a narcissistic mother who passed this trait to her only son and middle daughter. That and beauty. That and arrogance. But beauty fades like fast cars. It's just tears I tell myself. Tomorrow I'd have forgotten about them. Anticipating waves or the vibrations of depression does nothing for the way you look on the outside. It is all for you. I do it, I write it for you. I don't know who you are. I just know that you accept me for who I am. I'm growing older and in the blue-dark I can't see that I am growing older. All I do, the poetry, the writing is for you. I'm selfish that way, I guess. I don't want happiness. I just want a brave personality. That and the writing is what gets me through the hours, the day, the night. And sometimes I try very hard through the tears not to even think of going there. Of letting go. Sometimes I think I love this world too much. I love you, the Reader. I do love you. Perhaps in the end you're the only thing that's keeping the chemicals from balancing me the right way up. It's all for you the Reader. Everything that I've ever written. You're the assignment. Perhaps you're the mission.

I was finally diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder after Tara. I spent 6 months in a mental institution in Johannesburg. Mental illness stamped on my forehead for all to see, alongside a stigma, a family (and paternal and maternal family) that saw to it that I quickly became an outcast, felt like an interloper when spoken to. I was ignored, and sat quietly by myself at family functions. It was as if I was in high school again. I never cried about it, but I don't think that made me brave.

I was half-mute like Princess Diana, and Maya Angelou as a child. Something had happened to me. Somehow I had been transformed intrinsically in childhood (it was because of my mother's mental, verbal, and emotional abuse), but was it the environment that changed, no, no. It was human nature. All the humans around me. Bright children, no matter how bright they might seem even if adult words come out of their mouths, all children are still innocent. And all children want is the mother-love, and I felt the lack of mother-love acutely with an acumen and focus beyond my years.

I was called insubordinate by a male teacher once. Years later when we met at a prayer meeting, he spontaneously embraced me. In that moment, I forgave him. For the corporal punishment he had meted out to me for letting someone else, a popular girl, copy out my answers in a test. I thought I would be liked. But I wasn't. I was still a goody two shoes. I still sometimes would spend break in a bathroom stall.

As a moony-moody teenager I would read. I was mostly withdrawn, serious, never smiling (I never smiled once at Collegiate, it hurt too much to smile, my mother would go on rampages then, hurling mental abuse at me in the morning for breakfast, afternoon tea, and supper which my sister made for us. My mother was depressed too in a sinister and deceptive way). Now let me get back to never smiling, and never playing team sports.

Let me talk about the (good) old days. Collegiate High School for Girls in Port Elizabeth (a Model C school). That year, 1995, I was of course a perfectionist. A bipolar perfectionist who only ever understood the world of achievement, achievement. It had nothing and everything to do with having a Khoi-ego, Khoi-identity, Khoi-personality. But I would only understand the knowledge of Khoi-anything later on.

In those days I relaxed my hair. My hair was so straight it made no curls or waves, and I wore it in a ballerina bun. I was skinny, not voluptuous or buxom like the other girls. Late to bloom, as the saying goes. At 17 years old, or 16, I forget, all I could think of was my shame. My shame that I was not White. The shame of not having straight hair. The mortifying shame of not being athletic, not being able to play sports, not being able to be singled out first for a game during P.E. period I did not play hockey, or tennis (my mother got her Transvaal colours for tennis in high school).

I did not have blonde hair, and freckles on my face, forehead, knees, and the rest of my body. I did not have freckles in secret places.

But I learned quick, and I also learned very slowly that people don't easily forgive, and forget if you live with a mental illness. This made me withdraw even more into my mute-self. For most of my life I lived like this with a mute voice inside of me until one day I began to write. I was 8 years old.

In later years cousins on both sides of the family despised me (because I was mentally ill). I could see it there in there eyes, as they did not meet my gaze whenever I spoke. Family despised me (because I was mentally ill). I was not invited to weddings, or kitchen teas. Women-fold women-folk kind of things. They despise you (this I told myself) because society despises lunatics, and for a long time I was happy encompassing whatever this word meant. Lunatic. It was me who was more in touch with reality than the ones who thought I was mad, I have come to accept this now. I have other much more important, and significant things on my mind, and I am about to begin to write my first novel. This is what moves me to write this for other people suffering in silence, people who are being told to pull their socks up (or that they 're beginning to be too big for their britches). Don't live a half-life. Don't live a half-lie.
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Published on July 26, 2018 04:37

July 24, 2018

God, thinking of the film "A beautiful mind", the life of John Nash and almost being misdiagnosed as schizophrenic

I've lived with relapse and recovery, the hospitalization of mental illness recurring every six months or so since my early twenties. I don't talk very much about my nervous breakdown in my twenties. I don't have the words. Perhaps they will come one day. I feel I have to write about mental illness now and I'm not just writing it for my dad who had his own uphill struggles or me, I am writing for millions. Mental illness affects millions. Mental illness is relevant for millions and everyone out there has an opinion about it. The more we talk about the more the stigma of mental illness will be removed. People say things. There is still injustice. How mental illness is portrayed in films, amongst family members who won't accept you or love you. You'll be labeled but I've come to understand that that is not the worst thing. The worst thing in the world is the stigma. The silence that surrounds the voice of mental illness. The voices of mental illness.

Azania, the African continent, every African exile and citizen, you are gifted beyond anything than you could ever imagine. There's so much injustice in this world and so much evil. Let us think before we act, before we speak and then think and act with intelligence. The drugs, the chemicals give me a quality of life, a semblance of life. Illness, any sickness, disease is a mere bridge between two worlds. The links to health and ill health. How to overcome ill health, chronic ill health I have no answers for that if answers are what you are looking for but there is always hope and God and the writing keeps me sane. You have to find your own bridge, crossing over from relapse to recovery, health and ill health, find your own motion, you own motivation and movement across that bridge.

Risperdal, do you know it. Zopiclone, Pax, Ativan, Lithium (yes, the drug that has brought millions to their knees, that sent me reeling and flying into a coma, and nearly killed me). Do you know Epilim (the wonder drug of wonder drugs, the mood stabiliser), Centroforge (for the high blood pressure), Eltroxin (for the underactive thyroid). I think of the multi-vitamins when I can afford. The herbal teas that my sister gifts me with when she comes home from Johannesburg.

I have taken up raja yoga meditation (taught to me by my parents from a young age), read Chopra's books, "The Anatomy of the Spirit", and all I am doing is to hear the voice of God in that still moment. Prayer has become important. In those moments I talk to God. There should be nothing embarrassing about someone who is mentally ill talking to God (in prayer). It is people who make it so. Having a mental illness is the sickness of our time. In this, a time of technological advancement and millennial-fever. When I use to be a child-adolescent I used to think that the church was a lie because it was filled with Sunday-Christians. The women wearing their meringue-like hats on top of their heads. Dad said I should be forgiving. He still tells me this to this day.

I have a love for other people now. Especially other people living in Africa in these times. Although I am shy I find people lovable now. Everyone has a gift. Not everyone has a talent for finding what their gift is before they die. In sonic youth I had a profound self-confidence (because of bipolar). No longer, (because of the same reason, because of bipolar). The self-confidence (arrogance to most who knew me then in my early twenties in Johannesburg) has ebbed, ebbed, ebbed away-a-way out of me. I have become profoundly neurotic over the years. I cannot explain my neuroses away. They have helped me form this type of, kind of Khoi-personality, and then I think of Krotoa, and Saartjie Baartman. Ask myself, are they in my genes. They must be. They must, for my paternal family were slaves in some distant past. I think of St. Helena. The island of Napoleon's exile. The island were my paternal grandfather was born.
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Published on July 24, 2018 09:28 Tags: bipolar

July 23, 2018

Grace, mercy, human angels, thoughts while reading flashes of brilliance in Rilke's "The Book of Hours"

Yes, I believe in angels. Have come to accept that there is even angels who appear in human form. That there is their mission in life. To console the grief-stricken, to feed the hungry, to become teachers, role models that our kids can look up to, people who can inspire others in their deepest darkest storms. There are many of my teachers I'd like to thank. Who made a difference in my life. And without whose encouragement I wouldn't have become a writer and a poet and without their support and unconditional love I wouldn't have my goals and dreams. Find your own human angels and tell them how much they mean to you.

I don't know what people really think of me and if they really understand what a madness life is all about. A bipolar life. Motherhood has been on my mind these past weeks. What did I sacrifice, I think to myself. Did I make the right decision. Never marrying. Never having children. Never being in longterm relationships. Now I want a child. But bipolar is menacing and has sharp corners. It is misery and miserable. It is no good for anyone. So how could I wish it on an innocent. And as the years went by it became my national anthem. You can't be married and have children and be bipolar. That would be reckless. You won't imagine the pain and frustration that I've lived with having a brilliant intellectual writer of a father who was also mentally ill. I see children everywhere and I think to myself I see my smile there, that could have been my laughter, would I have had a son or a daughters. Sons or daughters. My sister is living her own life. She's off abroad again very, very soon. She's not going to look over her shoulder at me or my dad. She's going out guns blazing never to return. I wouldn't want to, put all that pain, wounded feeling and frustration on a defenseless child who wouldn't know how to deal with my moods. I am powerful beyond measure but a child is often powerless. At my worst I am a mess. No child can pick up those pieces without being as deeply traumatized as I was with my dad.

I'm not just mentally ill, or a depression sufferer, I am also a writer and reflect a lot on what is going on in modern society today, what took place in history to shape us into the individuals that we are today. And for the most part of that life journey we lived with racial tension, racial strife still to this day all because of apartheid and apartheid's social evils. We think it is being debated or discussed but if it was, thoroughly, we still wouldn't have the race issue on our lips.

I think of French women and the freedom that they have when it comes to ownership of their bodies and their sexuality. How they frame the physical, mental and emotional psychologically. Here's a literary bucket list of thoughts. She (I) wanted to write a narrative reminiscent of the context and rich language and experience of Simone de Beauvoir. Sartre's lover, and intellectual equal.

A madness life, a bipolar life is one in which every word has a right or a wrongdoing, a word can be subtle, mothlike, subtle in a complex, and uncomplicated way. So, what I do as a writer is blunder furtively into the distance, into the future, into tomorrow-land. Sometimes short and dumpy like the Humpty-rhyme, sometimes slithery, sometimes the bipolar is like a Radiohead song. Mostly "Creep". Sometimes "Karma Police". Sometimes you get tired of thinking all the time. What to do with all of this critical thinking, and then I have to visit the posh clinic again until I am restored to (a measure of brain-cleanliness, sorry I can't put it into any other sanitary word) sanity. I've become accustomed to that word insanity, and the other one sanity like the clouds that look like Napoleon on some days, and Gandhi the other days.

I forgive her for what she said. She was only a sister, after all (my sister who I thought sometimes saw right through me, and what she saw was the madness, and my insane life.) She was a blood relative, and dad always used to say when he was all there, lucidly, the words like a steady acrobat in the air holding everyone hostage, suspended in disbelief, dad always used to say you could never squeeze blood out of a stone. I had written "Stone Voice". It had come to me out of the blue murky depths of pain. It emptied itself out of me, I pruned the words harshly, but still it was accepted and is all there for people to read now. About Tara. Tara was a mental institution. I fell in love there, and I was loved there. I had friends there. And for a time I was popular too like those sexy high school girls who would walk past me in the corridors and not meet my eye. The same sexy high school girls who would not eat lunch with me. I had to hide away in a bathroom stall breaktime. I did have a friend. We would stand on the fringes, on the outskirts of the high school society, just watching, and observing life with dejected faces, withdrawn, serious.

I told myself I would forgive her. I would forgive my sister.

I think of the despair and hardship of displacement and being momentarily an interloper, then accepted, then I was an interloper again, then accepted again. And it would go on and on like this for what seemed like forever. Rejected by the coloured bourgeoisie, the middle class, the liberals. Was I too educated, too ugly, too misshapen by mental illness, by the bipolar that threatened my every move.

I'm afraid that we are going to have to start speaking about sexuality, our "apartheid", this separateness from a race, gender, faith and class issue. It's not just good mental health practice, let's us do it for the next generation and the generation after that instead of wasting our pride on petty jealousies, and the politics of the day.
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Published on July 23, 2018 12:59 Tags: equality

Thoughts after reading Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss"

You will experience happiness, I was the one who told myself this. No one else. The museum has invited me again to one of their lectures, but I never go. They will stop inviting, like they my father, one of these fine days, and then where will that leave me, and the fine museum built with my father's hands. The South End Museum in Port Elizabeth, at the cusp of the Eastern Cape where in 1820 the English arrived. Sir Rufane Donkin who was to be the governor of the Cape (did he plunder, steal, rape, colonialise I thought to myself or was it kismet, fate, destiny written in the stars. Sir Donkin came with a mad wife in tow. Was she a Mrs Rochester, like me, like me, like me.

Bipolar, mosaic, atlas that it is, well for me it did the impossible with its overpowering (aplomb), uplifting gift that it gave me. Sometimes the day itself is perfumed with good thoughts of T.S. Eliot, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, Nabokov, the Russian writers, the Russian poets, the Russian masters, Isobel Dixon, Ingrid Jonker, Plath and Sexton. To me the women had superpowers, and the men, intelligence seeping through their every pore, I wanted them to talk to me, pull me into their arms and hug all my sadness, grief, loss, loneliness, frustration away from the secret chasms of my heart. I wanted them to lull and pull the self-pity that looped itself like cobwebs about my self-worth. Beautiful people, the beautiful women, that beautiful lady that was my mother that smelled just like Yves Saint Laurent's Algeria, the beautiful men, seemed on the surface tension of things to get everything. They were rewarded. I was not.

I have this imperfect list of thoughts when I was reading Kiran Desai. Oh, how I hope to be a respected and wonderful writer as she and Anuradha Roy is. Arundhati Roy, the writer of "The God of Small Things". Sometimes I feel like a guardian, or rather a guardian angel when I write. I am hidden subtly, but also at the same time beyond opinion, and I also find that I am beyond caring for the approval of others. And by that of course I mean my sly and beautiful mother. Hair attractive as it falls about her face, hairpins/hair scarf/hair band loosened by her movements during the day and I try not to think of her telling me to make up my bed, or how they laugh at me, and look at me with this infuriating smile on their faces as if they know better. Sometimes I think to myself who is the enemy now. Is it me, is it me who has to every year be put away for a week for my own good, to recover from ill health

I was sixteen years old when my mother dragged me to the Indian-looking psychiatrist who had studied in Vienna. And as I think back to that year I think of my identity coined now. That "term" on the inhale, and exhale of every breath that I take. That of a Khoi-female identity. Khoi-writer of prose, and poetry.
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Published on July 23, 2018 12:17 Tags: grief

October 16, 2017

The Holy Spirit and Mother Mary

There’s a Eucharistic art to it that we must we aware of when we discuss the roles of the Holy Spirit and Mother Mary. The natural environment. The supernatural. The neurological. The psychological. The monk in prayer and meditation. The celibate life. The immaculate conception. I often gather new insight into modern religious doctrine and teaching from the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Let us look at the Christian in awe of God. In awe of the biblical teachings of the supernatural. From an early age, we are taught hope, faith, love.
 
For the church, for the believer, the non-believer, the atheist believing in spirit is a calling. As the believer is called to service. In suffering the believer must serve. In sorrow we are tested. In sorrow, the believer must serve. Conflict and war will always result in pain, emptiness, futility. Physical wounds are healed, scars remain as a reminder just as stigmata. It is psychic wounds that remain. Words that hurt. Words that challenge us to the very fibre of our being. When you give of yourself to the supernatural God, the believer is uplifted and empowered.
 
That there is still hope, faith, love for the soul of the non-believer and the spiritual progress of the atheist. Humanity is at a point in time where we are disregarding empathy foolishly and without a second thought. We no longer regard our eternal brotherhood as sacred. And so, I come to humility. The grace of humility and the gracious mercy it offers us. What is the meaning behind the organic semblance and docile acceptance of the living embodiment of Christ. The holy sacraments. The sacred positivity that stems from the rituals of prayer.
 
Supplication in the church, the crowning of thorns, the thirst, the Kingdom come, angelic realm, obedience and forgiveness are all sacred gifts like the fruit of Mother Mary’s womb. This is life. The figuring out on which side we are on. The simple matter or the complex mandate. How do we choose worship? How does worship exist in all of the pre-existing structures of the church? Why do we believe in the first place? We spend our whole lives celebrating ceremony, searching, studying, observing, education ourselves in rigorous teachings of past scholars.
 
Scholars that have come before us. Prayer, is it just subtle? Is prayer and meditation on the fruits of the spirit mere moral subterfuge. We have this longing for understanding of the divine and the mysterious, the sacred and the blessing, the understanding of our cultural gifts, tradition and heritage. What is the meaning and the purpose behind the moral fibre of our humanity? Where does it come from if not from an omniscient and omnipresent God? Now let me come to the holiest of holies. God, the Christ. The Christian Saviour. The sacred divine meaning.
 
The sacred purpose. The sacred sanctification. The moral compass. Is the living Christ a conservative God? A transformative figure that renders every psychological construct in the being of man, every paradigm shift in modern society, the framework of psyche and intellect, the mental and emotional faculties, the physical body and attitude that commands all self-control. That gives rise to a self-concept, the ego, the identity of man and church, the branch of motherhood, sisterhood, obedience, prayer, meditation, spiritual progress and confidence.
 
The believer sees the effervescent and vital energy, synergy and synchronicity behind the beauty and the ugliness of poverty and death. And in poverty and death, in the cultural background of poverty, looking at it from a religious perspective of piety and grace, we find supernatural signs there. Hidden meanings and a rich symbolism there. In death, the self-concept, the physical body is diminished. The physical in death renders itself to the ether. To the unseen, the eternal (eternity) and the hereafter. In death time stands still. Suffering ceases.
 
Look at this statement. That humanity is complete in the eternity of poverty and death but is it not our knowledge for the hunger of how we continue to exist that has perplexed humanity for all time. Death and poverty pulls and pushes the believer in the direction of ultimately being perplexed about what spirituality and the spirit really is. The biblical landscape offers us proof and understanding beyond the physical scope. The biblical landscape offers us so much more insight. Is the church nothing but an empty ritual or is it sacred beyond measure? It is not dogma.
 
It is not dogma that defines who we are. It is our longing for the fruits of the spirit. It is coming to the realisation that there is more to the ideology of the sonship, the fatherhood and the Godhead. For millions of years, this landscape that we know of as creation is nothing more but proof of the living and unspoiled legacy of the Saviour. Of Christ. Of our Lord Jesus, son of David that was promised to the disciples (the followers), by the sanctification of the brethren. All who seek an audience. All who sought the King of kings. The alpha and omega. The son.
 
To have an audience with Him, the son of God. The creator of the universe. Priests in ancient time were the gateway keepers to Abba, the living and self-fulfilling prophecy of Jesus Christ, the son of David. What perfect meaning does the Eucharist give to our lives. It is not an arrogant or proud or weak God that we serve. We are taught through the sonship about the privilege of the church, the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, the fact that he died on the cross of Calvary, that he was sent to earth to save us from our sins. Man, man worships with a sacred impulse.
 
It is a divine mystery. It means to honour, to obey. The ten commandments are a manifesto of sorts. In prayer, in silence, there is no moral ambiguity, no singularities of deceit, no acts of immorality or theological deception embedded in doctrine and religious treatise. No matter how much we would like to think of our holy Father as just being, He is also a mystery. A mystery of joy and sorrow, grace and mercy. In the past, the biblical teachings were taught about God in such a way that the believer was held hostage to an unforgiving God.
 
This is where purification takes place by partaking of the body of Christ. Humanity has laws and systems in place that govern us that continually test our faith. The living example of Jesus Christ lives through us. Our norms, values, belief systems that were taught to us through Mother Mary and the Holy Spirit protect us. God is forever omnipresent in these views and statements. We are given the Holy Spirit in the universal household of the church. Mother Mary is our mother. The sonship belongs to us. Holy communion, the body of Christ, the flesh and blood.
 
Mankind, humanity, the church is raised in the family. Mother Mary becomes the matriarch and the Godhead the patriarch in the family unit. Raised from birth to believe. From the cradle until death we live with the promise of eternal life. We are taught from an early age that the mother-figure is nurturing. The father-figure is caretaker and protector not only of his children but also of his family. It is the same for the living Christ and the resurrected figure of Jesus Christ. We are all descendants from a higher unseen power. A power of spirit. Of holy Saints.
 
That in and of itself is a powerful statement. Another, the descendants of the Lord Jesus Christ, son of David, the religious teachings, mandates, doctrines passed down from generation to generation, the fatherhood, the sonship, the holy spirit and Mother Mary when taken out of the church makes for an important and significant statement. It is the good news of the Redeemer. Of the Saviour. The eternal trinity. The fruit of the womb of Mother Mary when the immaculate conception took place was a blessing veiled in disguise. It teaches us to have a forgiving heart.
 
The psychological framework and truth of the spiritual Father, the Christ-like energy and progress is not something that is a complex ideology. The Christ-like effigy, the absolute energy of the Saviour is never arbitrary. We are making a serious mistake (but this is common) if we look at the Christ-like figure as a grave illusion. This Christ-like figure is capable of love, hope, faith and empathy. For without empathy there can be no religious doctrine. Our spiritual maturation comes with the understanding of benevolence and devotion and worship of Mary.
 
To realise what the gifts are of the holy spirit and Mother Mary is to look at the biblical perspective of the sonship and the Godhead. The gift of the truth belongs to the believer. We only have to contemplate, meditate upon, worship this figure, of Christ, our Lord and Saviour who leads His believers. It is the Godhead that reigns supreme.
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Published on October 16, 2017 17:43

April 22, 2017

Call it a difficult review

Mishka Hoosen is young. She is also intelligent. She is brave and she is brilliant. She is also very clever, funny and wise beyond her years. Her style is flesh. Let me explain what I mean by that. The beautiful, haunting lines of ‘Call it a difficult night’ will leave you breathless. Her pain and internal struggle will leave you numb. Her protagonist’s suffering, is a human stain and her words a playful meditation. She’s an artist and she knows her medium. Is ‘Call it a difficult night’, a cross between a love letter and a love poem to herself or to a lover? Has she been here before, I asked myself. I kept coming back to the stimulus, origin, and process not only of the protagonist but also of Mishka Hoosen. I thought of her, the birth of this book, what she channelled her way through, meaning, here, the time frame of the book, and the psychological framework of the writer.

I was ‘rooting for both of them’ as the Americans say. Is Mishka Hoosen fragile, I asked myself? Is she delicate, vulnerable, or just tough, determined, and brave? The protagonist was in that wretched place that so many people who suffer from clinical depression, problems with rehab and addiction, alcoholism, mental illness and any form of mood disorder find themselves in. I kept searching for a muse. Told myself that of course, there had to be one here. That I would eventually find one. I kept on searching for a masculine and a feminine energy and found them there staring back at me on the page. ‘Salt’ becomes lyrical, something magical in the hands of Mishka Hoosen. ‘Fists clenching and unclenching.’ What happens when you recognise yourself in the writer’s world of bipolar madness is this. You don’t feel lonely anymore and you don’t feel tragic and you certainly don’t feel lost, hopeless or alone.

Mishka Hoosen, perhaps in your short life you were not oblivious to pain. I felt sorry for the protagonist that she had to ‘feel’ (that acute physical pain of the body through cutting herself and the pain of of the mind, being hospitalised) to write about it, (the protagonist’s pain became my own), her suffering became my own, and I often felt giddy, ambivalent, bereft, cast away with the celebration of life. Yes, the energy of life was often there. In humour mostly. The flux of hospital life. The nurses, the doctors. The other patients in the ward. You, Mishka Hoosen reminded me of my own youth mostly spent in books or inside the school library. The protagonist's demons and battle reminded me of William Styron’s depression in ‘Darkness Visible’, her loves reminded me of the shared intimacy in the relationships in John Updike’s ‘Couples’ (I could only draw on the experience of heterosexual relationships), and of course, there were the two Lolita’s of my life. The unforgettable Stanley Kubrick’s celluloid vision, and Vladimir Nabokov's classic ‘Lolita’. I read Styron, Updike, and Nabokov while I was studying for my O’ levels in Mbabane, Swaziland just because I wanted to and because there was nobody to tell me that I was being (can’t get to the word I am looking for, thinking that it is precocious) or forward, or rather way too forward thinking for my age.

I said I wouldn’t do it. That I couldn’t review this book. I said the book was too difficult. Like J.M. Coetzee’s ‘The Childhood of Jesus’, Richard Rive’s ‘Emergency Continued’, and Nadine Gordimer’s ‘Oral History’ there was something about this talent.

I was sent on a journey into a hellish territory. I picked up the book, put it down again, and picked it up. For two whole weeks. There was no jacket photograph of the novelist to stare me down daily. I had nothing to go on about who she was really. I played this game for two whole weeks. The book was placed on the shelf alongside my library but it was not forgotten. I spoke about it for two weeks to my father, my sister in Johannesburg, my mother, and my brother. These are the most important people in my life. I wanted to do, and still want to do Mishka Hoosen’s book justice. I hope that I do. I praise her honesty about writing about a very difficult subject matter. I praise her hope, depth, sincerity. Most of all I thank her because bipolar is the eternal never ending struggle for those who live with the mood disorder or any mental or chronic illness.

Hoosen has a satellite kind of language about her. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a few sentences. By that I mean that there is an inheritance of space between the words. The writer’s experimental prose gives you time to reflect, study, gather, harvest your own thoughts. I found myself in the dreamy force of her language. Reading the book was like watching ‘Montage of Heck’ on a small black and white television. ‘Montage of Heck’ is a documentary on Kurt Cobain, the musician who took his own life. His life flashed before my eyes as I read ‘Call it a difficult night’. His music like certain passages in the book brought an anthem to a doomed youth. A lost generation. Interviews with the people who were closest to him. Cobain, the persona. Cobain who would always personify the youth. Like his music was his gift to the world, this book is Mishka Hoosen’s gift to the world.

Is this what language of colour is? Is this what is meant by black writing? Writing for the African Renaissance? Literary endeavours that has a feminine mystique? After reading the book I sat back, asked myself has she done enough or too much as a writer. The protagonist has a maternal instinct in the ward. You pray and hope that she comes out of this experience, through all of this all of the way. She’s scornful, loving, attentive, giving, and generous. We’re let into her love life. She says the word ‘fuck’ a lot. She’s rebellious and has a lot to say about authority figures (and I wondered not for the first time what her second book will be like). I wondered many times if this is this an anthem for a doomed youth. Not just for a post-apartheid South African youth but for a youth on another continent, in another world because we live in one where we’re so eager to pop a pharmaceutical to tell the reality we live in to go away. Reading this book, just like reading NoViolet Bulawayo’s book We Need New Names made me realise that Hoosen has a powerful presence too. She can move people.

Are all female writers from this continent like that? It left me with many questions. ‘Call it a difficult night’ when I started to read it properly, from beginning to end, with no breaks in between, and not cheating my way through it through reading random passages to test myself, test my confidence as a reviewer, trying to find something negative to say about the writer, about the book, about bipolar madness or mental illness, or life in a mental hospital. Trying to find the words which would be appropriate instead of inappropriate but not walking on eggshells though. ‘Call it a difficult night’ would not let go of me. The book is difficult. ‘Madness’ itself, the very idea of it, trying to wave it away, make it go away, make a joke about it because it is so embarrassing being confronted by ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, is difficult to talk about.

The book like I said before is difficult but it wouldn’t leave my hands, and I returned to it repeatedly. The prose has a poetic energy to it, so forceful, sharp, and sexy. The language is clean, and pure. Mishka Hoosen’s ‘Call it a difficult night’ shows more than a lot of promise. It is also a thing of beauty. I hope that the birth of this book, and her appearance on the literary scene that she will forge a path for many who come after her. Many young women of colour and young men too.

Whenever I think about Mishka Hoosen now I will remember her when I reread Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’, when I reread Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’, when I reread Jean Rhys’s ‘After Leaving Mr Mackenzie’, reread Noviolet Bulawayo’s ‘We Need New Names’ and reread Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’.
She is just that kind of writer.
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Published on April 22, 2017 09:38

Photographs

The flowers in the vase although wilted still hold a sense of wonderment for me. Also the thought that in some way I was abandoned by her. The pink light of the bloom is a flush against my fingertips.

Red seeped through a tear in my finger where it had caught on one of the thorns of the roses. The thorns scratched me. It left red dots behind on my skin. When I heard her voice, I would sometimes close my eyes and all I could see were tears.

When I was young I could already foresee the rough times ahead of me in the future. It was called for. I played jealous games with my brother and sister. I called my sister 'princess'. She has a posh accent and two university degrees. I also had a posh accent but not the academic smarts for two university degrees from a fancy prestigious South African university.

In Johannesburg where I was studying film and television production at the college I was accepted to I could hear the wind blowing when it moved, when it howled in crevices, in deep places where you could not connect to the very being of it, possibly even when you are sleeping to dream. It rushed through the branches of weathered trees, ruffled feathers on the backs of birds and touched delicate wings.

The joy and cheerfulness that comes from happy people that I met later in life when I was in my teens came in patterns of elegant, dancing, colourful spots of bright lights yet I always felt lonely against the light especially in my childhood place of birth; Port Elizabeth.

My mother had a slender figure, red lips that chanted and she smelled intense like her moods, she smelled of Opium. She sprayed it from a bottle. Each terrifying end of her bad temper meant the start of a new beginning to our relationship. It taught me to grow up quickly and I learned to fend for myself. I didn't lack the education of getting attention. I always had that know-how.

When she was angry her gaze was dangerous. It was hard to keep your distance when you could feel her anger rising and her voice shouting.

Up close she was almost the devil in disguise. She would launch into scathing personal attacks, let it go, hung up in the air like dirty laundry and then return to a sweet, tender, cooing mama again like a hen over her chicks. We tried to do no wrong but didn't know where to begin. We tried to look for guidance, an easy escape. No luck there either.

From a young age, I learnt to love to act out dramas and plays. It felt like home when I was standing on a stage giving it my all and it felt like I was finally living my dream. Being loved and adored for the first time was more than enough for me even if it was in front of nameless faces in the audiences that I captivated and whom I was in return captivated by. I only learned to call it ‘abuse’ later on when I was more grown up. I am also slowly learning that it happened to a lot of 'us'. Girls I went to school with. Girls I didn't go to school with. Girls from the wrong side of the tracks. Girls who didn't come from the wrong side of the tracks.
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Published on April 22, 2017 09:32

I speak of freedom

The divine meeting of the class system in South Africa, the failure of our curriculum, the failure for the 2016 matriculants, the fees must fall campaign that attempted to set wrong right.

So many failures. So little time. So little freedom, right? With freedom in Africa came the unity of the people, independence, a sovereign state, and a more humane humanity.

Those kinds of stereotypes, of racism, fighting affirmative action still speaks to all of us in significant ways, regardless of whether we are black or white.

The collective ‘us’ having a tribal enthusiasm for the establishment’s gravity that we worship at will will speak to us all forever whatever kind of folk we are.
We must now find our freedom in decolonising the mind. In the second African Renaissance. It is not up to us anymore and perhaps it is easier if we look to our artists. Say ‘it is up to our artists’. Our musicians, visual artists, writers, and poets.

Human lives are the stakeholders here. There is always talk of that most primitive war (revolution) when a country has no growth in unemployment. When the consciousness of the people is troubled.
When the political way is not there we must turn to distinctions and not moral ambiguity. I want to remain innocent in the face of speculation and not fear isolation.

Now we must cross gender boundaries effortlessly, and take corruption in our stride as if it has never happened before in history.

We must secretly develop our own solutions to war, to climate change, to the global recession, to the Trump dynasty that is playing itself out in the media. That we all are living vicariously through whether we want to or not.

I want to believe in a non-sexist Africa. A non-judgemental Africa but I did not know where to find this Africa. I was looking for a ‘free’
Africa but I am afraid that freedom comes with labels and a price tag.

It made me feel quite sick at one point in my life when I realised that people around me were more educated than me. Knew more about their own culture, heritage and traditions than I did.
Women were more articulate. Other mothers progeny had more profound dreams than I did when I was young but this is my happiness, this is my freedom.

That I had to discover that entering the life of a country (South Africa) means something quite different than to inhabit a continent’s (Africa) frail desire to be an emerging world power. I want to be free. Free from the constraints of being a woman, thinking like a woman, talking like a woman, dressing like a woman.

Those are much more simple freedoms than just being a compatriot.

When I look over the lake near the stadium nearby where I live I am reminded that everything in life is temporary. Transitory. There is a change for every year, every season, every cadence in a troubling and harsh reality.

In the end, everything is relative. Everything is suffering. To suffer is to become like Buddha or Jesus Christ. To suffer is existential.

Freedom comes out of suffering. Certainty comes out of suffering.

With suffering comes the policy of fear. That misconception that can make you leap across a bridge or fall on the flat edge of normal.

We all want space. It is something that has a holistic meaning to all of us. It means ‘freedom’ in so many detailed ways. In a democratic South Africa we still believe that we are free from radicalised thinking.
We believe that we are free from an onslaught of racism at any given time. When our personal space is overshadowed, when we are given a glimpse into racist thinking, there is a paradigm shift. This is still home but it does not mean that we are free. Far from it.

Tribal alienation came first to Africa (or was it fear?).
Indoctrination came a close second. Mission schools with their missionaries. Religion. Church. Scriptures.
Did we have freedom as Khoi, San, Xhosa or did we barter for it with the Settlers? Here we are thinking that ‘freedom’ was a synonym for ‘safe’ in those bygone days.

The stigma was there too informed by behaviour, the language of alien nations. I speak of freedom now because (truth) I can. It has become important to me. I know of its power. That is its strangness.

I didn’t know of freedom as a child. I knew of shelter, abandonment issues, and loneliness. I spread my wings, fell in love, understood the stigma of chronic illness, disability early on in adolescence.

With that kind of stigma, came my own freedom.
Your ‘freedom’ might come differently. I don’t pretend to fully understand ‘freedom’ and her life choices. ‘Freedom’ came late to me in life. I was late to bloom but there was a reason for that.

Freedom should prepare us for all eventualities in South Africa because our freedom came at a price. We must be aware of this now more than ever. The wheel of hate is turning, turning, and turning.

It is not a comforting thought but an important one that we must take cognisance of. The success of our emotions or the success of art lies in the fact that we are able to traverse boundaries, have empathy with anyone that we choose, and that is where the cornerstone of the foundations of our democracy lies.

We must anticipate freedom before we are stuck in the foot traffic in everyone’s head! People have paid the price for our freedom with their lives. Steve Bantu Biko’s ‘Azania’ was meant for everyone.
Consciousness is consciousness.

We have challenges but we also have hope if we believe in freedom.

Every simple little thing needs breathing room to grow, to be processed, for us to follow its progress articulately.

The world keeps ending, the light at the end of the tunnel flickers (it comes and it goes) but freedom keeps showing up like a dance or a wedding reception in a church hall marking vows forever and forever.

Freedom cannot exist without us. Our life choices. Our kind of artists. Our bodies. Our words.
Just remember that. We are all here because of spirit, burden, worry, care, need, spirituality, and of course ego, and ‘freedom’ too.
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Published on April 22, 2017 09:22

When bad mothers happen

Nobody talks about the abuse or the familiar hands that we suffered it from now that we're (my siblings and I) are older. When we were going through it, it was like living in a war that left us nowhere to run to when we were growing up. The abuse didn't have a voice or give us one while we were growing up. My mother's love was a hell we could not bear.

When it does surface, it is haunting like a ghost from the past, it makes you live like a lie that just won't let go of you no matter what, that won't let you surrender it. It made us invisible yet it still ran like a thread, as wide as my back, like a river through fog, smog hugging a city skyline, smoke and mist, it left us begging for mercy, left us with no easy solutions for reconciliation between my mother and the rest of my family. It affected us so much that it felt like picking at an open healing wound with raw fingernails.

You are left with no choice but to fight against the sorrow and the pain that you are feeling; feeling uncomfortable and confused. I tried to protect my brother and sister yet the three of us still felt humiliated in tiny devastating blows, emotionally damaging ways on a daily basis. There was nothing that we could do about it but be witnesses to the rage, the red, furious little beast that was my mother.
I missed the sea, the seawater and the white sun on my back when I was in the hospital after my 'episode'.

It was pretty hush-hush. Nobody speaks about it in the family especially in my own home. I wish I could take it back but I can't. I only relive it in my when I'm dreaming or in flashbacks. My little 'episode' was not little and it almost cost me my life. I now wore the label 'attempted suicide'. Few people could or would understand what that meant especially where I was coming from. The flashbacks come whether I'm awake or not. They break through the sealed lid that I've shut on the past. It's something I've had to live with. It comes with the realisation that I can't completely fix something (my life that's been broken up into a million little pieces’ times infinity).

I was born with my mother's airs and graces and made sure everyone knew about that I came across in school and college. I was highty-tighty, a 'coconut' and high-minded. I never had a close circle of friends only perhaps only one or two close girlfriends that I told all my secrets to and that I shared everything with.

I thought growing up in a home where you were sad sometimes as a child, spent nights crying yourself to sleep into your pillow was normal. Where you felt lonely, confused, helpless and hopeless when you could hear your parents raised voices having an argument in their bedroom late at night.

We swallowed the pomegranate seeds of my mother's pain, sensitivity, shame and mistakes from her own childhood and teenage years whole. It was a bitter pill to swallow. It was harder to live with, to grow up surrounded by people you loved who were in the state of mind my parents were in but my father's love more than anything made up for my mother's reckless and uncalled for behaviour especially when there was too much going on that we as children had no control over.

Activities at school made up for that. I took on as many as I could possibly fit into my schedule. I wanted to shine. I had my head up in the clouds. I basked in the glory, chaos and mayhem of rehearsals for a school play and editing the school newspaper. I was in my element.

I hold my mother's face in my memory whenever I have one of my phases, when I am going through a reverie; when I face the darkness visible that is depression. Other people like to use words like 'melancholy'.

I don't. I don't find the word 'depression' as menacing and cold to the touch as other people do. I have learned to deal with it well.

I don't think she knows me well enough at all. Sometimes I wonder does she know who I am and what I stand for. Am I noble, am I a good girl, do I work hard at what I do in school, will I ever be over it, will we ever learn to compromise?
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Published on April 22, 2017 09:20

September 29, 2016

Fireworks

I feel like a volcano when I wear this dress. The innerness of the ghost dress is made out of metaphysics, evaporated moths, gauze, and yes even a numb wound, the memory and desire of Jinny, Rhoda, Susan, neuroses, rain returned to silence. Rwandan butterflies, measured with a rose garden where I scraped my knee, nostalgia, hem it in (and yes, my legs are matchstick skinny). I look beautiful in it. My anatomy says so. He waves at me. Of course, I remember you I say. We take to the floor at the church hall moving fast, then faster, and faster. I know at the end of the evening he will want to kiss me. Boys are like that. Rough. Flawed. Glaciers compared to girls who are lost at sea or river dust. He held my hand as if he never wanted to let it go. Wait for me. I want to cry out. His fingers arrows. His smile dark. His palms flat. The touch of his hand is bright. I know he will want to take a long walk afterwards.

All I can think of is the colour blue. You see, my second mother died. In the stillness, the boy has stopped dancing, he is smiling shyly at me and all I can think of is the family that is making the funeral arrangements while other families are celebrating the holidays. I do not want to think about the fact that this will be the first Christmas without her. I have to leave soon. Take my medication. I am not wearing my glasses. They said there would be fireworks tonight. It is cold out. I imagine a world in which I am nineteen, independent, living in my own flat with a black and white television, eating out of tuna fish cans for supper with a boyfriend I was too numb to feel angry about anything about. A boyfriend who put his arms around me every time I cried when I saw a cancer ward on a television documentary or the word ‘hospice’ mentioned. A boyfriend with fingers that steal me away from this world into the next.

It will be Christmas in a few hours. What is the measure of a frustrated man who forgets about his teenage girlfriend? They were trying for another child. He wanted a son. His wife wanted another baby. His wife wanted to move. He wanted to get more involved in youth ministry. I had seen his wife a few times. Why did she not want to support him? I observed the sympathy of her lovely head. The portrait of it a wasteland to my ears, eyes and female intuition. It was a still life of nothing to me against a mysterious blue sky. It is late, I must dial him. What if his wife picks up the telephone or their young daughter? I feel invincible in this dress. Like I said a volcano. I can even say, ‘Merry Christmas Pastor. You are missing the fireworks. Where are you?’ I knew the telephone call would spook him but next year I would not be around. I knew the telephone call would crush me.

The height of defeat would crush me silly, into the blazing, dazzling ground and I would remember the red creeping across my sweet face. The seat of my pain as he hung up the telephone, and recognised my voice. He called me a prodigy with potential. Read everything you can. Education can take you places. I am stuck here. Praise and worship. You could be anything. He was always telling me. You could be a politician in the making strutting my stuff from darkness to light in the blue. Mysterious. He taught me that it was not a waste to suffer in life. He learnt that the hard way. He came from the school of hard knocks. Abandonment. Neglected by a single mother. Rejected by an absent mother. He would cry. I would place my hand at the nape of his neck as he said repeatedly, ‘I should not be doing this. I should not be doing this. I should not be taking advantage of you like this.’

I just took my glasses off (they were a part of me now) and wiped them clean pretending I did not hear anything. Sometimes I thought we were like two children who had two journeys. I thought our friendship would be of the everlasting kind like flesh. Do not ever live in the past, or with regret or with bitterness in your heart. He would say that repeatedly like a crazy person or a mantra. I often wondered what I had in common with his wife. He always told me I was a good listener. Do you know how awesome you are, he would often say. People do not always say what is often on their minds. All I thought to myself was that I had dreamed me up a man and God had delivered. In the end, his victory was mocking. He started to call me ‘Glasses’. ‘Glasses’ this and ‘Glasses’ that. Nobody will believe you if you tell them anything. Soon I began to believe it too.

This Christmas he is in the kitchen with relatives, family, his wife and his young daughter surrounded by people who admire him and his chicken. Surrounded by people who admire his noodle dishes. Everybody is hungry at his table of olives, and hummus. Tempura. I have not been invited. My mechanic slate is in flux, a void, the black hole. Yet, still I am in love with him. Lying in my bed, I pretend his arms are still wrapped around me and this time he will not let go. He has picked me up from school in his car and we will go for long drives. He will mock his wife. Tell me that she whines and nags him all the time. I will ask him why he does not leave her if it really is as bad as he says it is. He will stare out of the window for a long time not saying anything at all. Finally saying, it really is not that bad. We go to the beach. He surfs. In my castle of glass, I love him and nothing else really matters.

I know he is just being kind to shower me with so much attention. It fills me with so much pride that he had singled me out.
‘You are a baby. Must I teach you everything? You probably have not even kissed a boy yet, have you? I mean properly on the mouth.’ As he fumbled with her shirt, fondled her he said ever so sweetly, ‘Is that a birthmark?’
Then he gives me his telephone number. If I need anything or if I just want to talk. It is his office number at home. We will be alone. His wife will not be able to hear anything. I write him. He tells me he loves my letters. He tells me he loves my poetry. He tells me how he wishes that he could write the way I do. He would give anything to write the way I do. Why did my aunt die? Cancer, I say. Tough, that must really been tough for you, he says. I did not really know her all that well. Tough going for you. In my castle of glass when I watch him from where I sit inside his car the sea shimmers and I cannot make out where he is exactly now. I think that it is cool that he loves dogs, that he surfs and that he goes fishing. I love him and nothing else really matters. Will your mother not find the letters you are writing to me he asks me one day. Surfing is a healthy swimmer’s territory. Clever girl trying to change the subject. Are you not scared that there is a shark out there? The pastor laughs. He looks as young as the teenagers with acne-scarred faces that he leads in the youth’s praise and worship.

‘I do not love you.’ He says. ‘Look, I understand that I am breaking your heart in a myriad of ways but I cannot undo that.’ He began to stroke her face and there it was again. A flicker of a flashback to a warm night. ‘What do you want me to say kid? I am moving on. New town. New baby. You must be happy for us. It is what my wife always wanted. We must have had a hundred conversations about her. Remember what I told you about bitterness. Bitterness nearly killed me. Landed me on the streets before I was saved. You are moving on too. New life. New job. All that is left is fragments. You are waving from one glacier and I am waving from the next. I told you we were soul mates. Are you looking forward to the fireworks Christmas Eve? Are you going to the dance in the church hall? You must go. You have so much more confidence now and friends. You have friends now.’ He said it as if she had never had a single friend before. ‘I will remember to look out for sharks next time I am in the water.’

She wanted him to call her Glasses or Songbird or My Pleasure. It did not matter, did not care to her that before every touch was golden silence now it was a blow, was scar tissue. You must not even think of leaving me. I am pregnant too and I will not get rid of it. I will not have an abortion but the pastor had been careful. Had made his exit beautifully. She could tell him she was depressed again, that she was going to the hospital again and then who would come to visit. I have been seeing the world in neon again. The world is a mass hallucination of colour, chronic illnesses of people who have renal impairment, the dark side of mental illness, social isolation and nobody even cares. She remembers the days when the pastor used to tease her about her love of politics.

‘Explain to me what social cohesion is then or climate change, missy. Isn’t what we are doing right now cohesion. Come a little closer as if you need any more motivation.’ She would blush and giggle a little. Her glasses would fog up. ‘You know, seriously. You are much cleverer than I am. I think you are brilliant. I mean you have all of these profound thoughts. You see when I am with you I can use a word like ‘profound’ without thinking that I am not using it in the proper context.’

He would tell her ghost stories. Say things, ‘I birthed a woman.’ She would wish infertility on his wife. She would think that he, the pastor who surfed and fished in a flowing river was her only reason for living, that he ruined her, the sky in her throat, was the cause of an alphabet of mistakes but whom was she kidding. She was fifteen years old. She was Glasses. The pastor swaggers in the sunlight. Everybody has come out to say goodbye and wish them well. Gifts exchange hands but Glasses stayed in the car her face wet. She composes a letter to her family in her head. For my ex-family, I am going to become a missionary in the Ukraine. You will never see me again. Post-apartheid South Africa is your country. You were built for melancholia Glasses. You were made for it. Her parents invited them over for supper. It was weird. She hid out in the kitchen most of the time.

‘Pass the spinach and I would like some of those sweet potatoes too. I love this. This is a real family life. I am going to miss country life. I am going to be a radio man now with my wife in the family way.’

Her parents whispered to each other.

‘Oh leave your daughter alone.’ Her mother said.
‘She is behaving badly.’ Her father said
‘No, she’s behaving like a tortured artist. She likes to read. She is reading somewhere.’
‘That’s fine.’ The pastor smiled. ‘I do not mind.’

She remembered finding a dead fish on the beach. Remembered prodding it with a stick of driftwood. Halfway down the stairs of her childhood home, away from the painted sun on the walls, her father, an extraordinarily gifted and very brilliant man, her extraordinarily gifted and very brilliant mother she thought to herself. ‘Poet falls to her death from the bridge of death.’ ‘I am rushing to get somewhere off this bridge of death. What does it feel like to be a wife with a baby on the way and with a husband in the ministry? I know how to do many, many wonderful things. Why is that not enough for me?’

Brightness faded away. Youth next to beauty. He needs me he just does not know it. Splash of dangles red in my lungs. I am grown and empty. I read futility in those words. The memory of war.
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Published on September 29, 2016 09:39