••• The International Writers Magazine: Extract from 'Winter in Johannesburg'
My dad is one of the lucky ones. His voice merges alongside mine like beautiful scraps of material. This is a story about a man but not about any man. It is a story about my father.
Fathers are special people. Mostly they encourage you. You tell them about your list of goals and in return, they inspire you to fulfil them. They are the ones standing on the side lines. They are the ones who give you that standing ovation. They are the ones who mouth the words ‘I love you’ and ‘I think that you are brilliant’ when you feel like you did not do as brilliant as you should have. They are the first ones you go to when you feel sad or when you are happy. All my life that is what my father did. He was not all of those things all of the time.
Sometimes he was sad and as a child, it made me feel very angry and confused when daddy cried or was upset. Now, I imagine him as a young adult as a hunter. A lonely warrior whose head was bursting out of his skull, his brain cells tormented by the Periodic Table, smashed up against elegant words like bilateral symmetry, biology, anatomy, dissect, zoology and mitochondria surrounded by a mountain of books, hills and green valleys of physics and chemistry textbooks.
My father was like a beautiful shadow, my beautiful shadow that always lingered in my presence. We will talk for hours on everything and nothing at the same time. I do think that I am a poet because of him because are not all writers are poets at some stage in their lives or at least have the potential to become poets within them. He is a writer and a teacher who wanted to become a medical doctor but life had other plans for him. He has been writing all his life to get to this point in time and even now, he is always in pursuit of something or other. He believes in many things and most of all his spirituality, the nature of his soul is like that constellation beyond the trees. Primitive, ancestral, universal and that of a dream catcher. My father is a funny and sweet man. Understanding my love for this funny and sweet man who in his own words has had a curious relationship with his hair on different continents and with the pencil test, whose life story reads like a book of secrets, claustrophobia, vertigo, therapy and it has set my life journey on a trajectory that is (simply put) out of my hands.
Human beings do not know as children whether they are truly destined for great things. Whether or not they will be the follower or the leader but all children have the potential for greatness. What unlocked my dad’s greatness? I really do not have an answer for that question. Maybe that surprises you. Maybe you expected me to say that perhaps it was his depression or the fact that he had a mental illness. Most of all, I want your life to be changed by this man’s life and the people who came to love him when he was at the crossroads of the depths of despair, isolation and rejection (and don’t we all fear rejection) and the edge of hypomania.
I think that every person who suffers from a mental illness has a hidden life. When you are depressed, it is another habitat. You are closed off from the rest of the world. Shut off from the rest of normal (what is normal anyway humanity). You are in that void, that black hole separated from the people who love you the most and there is nothing, nothing that can bring you back from that brink. People tend to think that people who suffer from a mental illness cannot recover completely from it (I think people who think like this think that recovery is the furthest thing from their mind). Depression damages people and that is a fact. The ego has a mind of its mind here when it comes to chronic illness and the road to recovery. I have seen my funny, sweet, generous and forgiving father happy and unhappy. Seen lucky him, my best friend, through laughter, tears, and the grim winter of depression.
After her bath Anita hung her underwear and stockings up in the bathroom pausing for a minute to study her reflection in the mirror. She smiled to herself. I am a likable person. She thought to herself. Lovable. I am lucky too. I have everything going for me. I am a beautiful person inside and out. Any man would be lucky in his boots to have me. I have a wonderful heart. I am giving, and gracious. Don’t you remember, Kwame? Those are the reasons that you left me. I was too wonderful. I was too giving. You left me because of your wandering eye. Your wandering hands that could leave me feeling hot and cold all at the same time. I could read you inside and out. You could cry in my arms at night but you’re not here anymore, and I don’t have to pick up your wet towels on our bedroom floor anymore. I don’t have to listen to your rock music pumping out of your car stereo as we went to visit my father at the frail aged home. I knew you then as I know you now. That you are a very unforgettable creature, you, you psychiatrist. You could read your patients at the government hospital so well. There was a pill to medicate this and that. You were full of fatherly concern and advice, you baby. I remember how you lit your Camel cigarettes. You, called yourself ‘the ultimate Camel man’. Puffed your cheeks up and blew the pale smoke out. You said, I can’t see you anymore. It’s not right. There are boundaries.
© Abigail George July 2018
Extract from Winter in Johannesburg by Abigail George
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