Body, Sometimes I forget to hide; or sometimes I am late and tired and cannot make enough time to hide, mimic a shape without rot. Sometimes I think everyone knows well the etiquette of minding their own business, knows to watch the dripping in their own life, wait upon their soaked brim, their bloody overflow before they ask after the sound and shape of mine. ‘Everyone’ is the person your mother screams about, is not my friend or my family, and cannot be kin to my secrets or trouble. I hate it when a person from the tribe of ‘Everyone’ asks me if I am okay, It makes me not okay when I’m not okay but trying to suspend emotion until after the completion of a task. Because being an adult has been about waiting while working (whatever your work is), I am often holding off as much feeling as possible to free my hands for my work. Sometimes my life and its conditions sit on the surface, in my poems or in this essay. ‘You wear your heart on your sleeve’, my High school Speech and drama teacher said to me. ‘You are easy to read’ a lover I want to remain remote from but close enough to touch for a kiss says, ‘Everything you feel flashes across your face the moment you feel it’.
I begin to self harm during my first year of university. For the first time in eighteen years I have a room of my own, twelve bus hours away from home. Here I can struggle with myself without my sister walking into the room because it is her room too, or my parents walking in because every room is theirs. In a room of your own all the shadows have one body through which to talk to you about the riddles of your distress. My body ministers the script. Their routine is to talk against you all at once, repeating a fear in various inflections. This goes on until I am so desperate to stop the shaking and the throwing in my body that I break a wine bottle in a plastic bag on the floor of my dorm room and use the sharpest piece to cut my wrist, to puncture the loop and make it still. I cut and watch the soft teeth in my wrist open for the red, for the quiet that rushes into its place. I make more cuts and watch the red overwhelm a memory, a panic. This is the way I learn to speak with my body about the thing I cannot manage to make voice for. This is the year of many firsts, of suicide attempts, and sleeping through whole days, of therapy, and lying down to approach the light.
When I was in high school a girl in my neighbourhood asked where I lived and I pointed to my house, ‘I thought no one lived there,’ she said. ‘I have lived there all my life,’ I said, refusing to disappear. I have lived in my body all my life I say refusing to disappear. I am a good thing, I say refusing to disappear.
I take a shower at Andy’s apartment because my then girlfriends’ place has no water. My then girlfriend is a woman of many droughts. I noticed when I was getting dressed that I didn’t have the piece of cloth I use to wrap the scars on my wrist to hide them in a way that did not shout ‘hiding mental illness.’ So I turn my wrists down and away from her during conversation, away from shame. But the conversation is long and playful in the way it can be with a friend who holds something of your heart. I forget that I am hiding still and I see her watch the cuts on my wrists, see the fresh red. She says nothing until we get to a restaurant, and when the waiter leaves, she looks at me and holds her wrist, as if the pain of my body is hers and says, ‘So your wrist girl, what’s going on?’
At the hotel Bar in Berlin, the possession that is my life sits in my newly small body, a starved garment. My body, in its size and shape has not been loaned or bought for me and so it has always been mine to reshape, cut, and hold away from nourishment. It is my transport through a sojourn of old abandonments. In Berlin my clothes vine loosely around me, in a way that makes me feel like controlled prose. Before Berlin I lost my appetite for weeks, lost weight, narrowed into a relationship with a woman who made me feel publicly and privately unwanted. I quarantined her isolation in Johannesburg-the new city she called home; she inflamed my loneliness which aggravated my depression. My poems during this time were more afflicted than usual, each line was ravenous for belonging, went without love or safety. I went home to my mother to lie down in the dark behind a locked door.
My sister and I are twins. we count the people in our bodies, in her mirror is daddy’s skin and a white woman’s nose. My mother and my father together make an almost white woman. ‘You speak so well,’ the white man says, I hear almost like a white woman. My sister is the sun and I am the moon. The moon looks at the sun, thirsty for daylight, for the boys that only look up because the sun is walking past them
Once, I forget to tidy my wrist before I leave home. I do not salt my house-this memorial of lineage. I leave the skip of old wounds around my wrist exposed and go to a poetry show. At the poetry show I extend my hand for the stamp that grants me access and frighten the poet giving me the stamp with last weeks scars. She holds my arm and says she wants to talk to me about it. I am a bright bouquet of nah’s, nope and this is none of your business. She is being helpful the way people who do not know you can be. Later, to coax a more familiar relationship than what we have out of this moment, she says, ‘I was talking to x and he says you are always depressed’.
My Mother who has been a nurse longer than she has been my mother has lived at home two months a year for the last ten years and so cannot know the twelve months that is this daughter, picks up the box of pills in the dining room table vase, inspects them and disapproves before she asks, ‘whose anti-depressants are these? ’ I do not remember if I told her they were mine, I remember the hot shame rising up my neck and into my mouth like red ants, like chilli cut into an eye. I remember looking away when she said ‘all these medications will deplete the medical aid’. I remember the guilt I felt for burdening my parents with the payment for my mental illness. My negligence sits like a fork in my chest and worries my breathing. I don’t fill my next prescription, I don’t finish this one.
When I cannot find a love within myself with which to satiate my mortality, to make myself whole, I appraise my beginning, which is that I was urged into the world by chance, and multiplied by two to exaggerate a miracle. Yes, but…if I am an iteration of a God with a superfluous love for abundance then whose days am I living when I feel like an unfurnished word, a lack.
Then Girlfriend sees my scars the same day Andy sees them and says nothing, waits weeks later to tell me that in a fight. ‘I saw them’ she says, to tell me I am irresponsible because I can trigger her mental illness with my mental illness. I apologise, I say, ‘I’ll make sure you don’t see it’. Then Girlfriend is a feminist. Then Girlfriend may still call herself a mental health activist. Then girlfriend has many droughts.
There are wounds near the blooming. They are tapped like a palm tree by a phrase or a doing that moves as fast as smoke from one room into the next until I run inside myself and lie down to smother the flame.
An alternative to the word flame (fire) is ‘wound’. Example:
‘Girl…you’re fire on that stage, it’s…beautiful’
‘Girl…your wound on that stage, it’s…beautiful’
When the flame is touched it makes a sound that doesn’t stop.
The tap leaks and eats a path into the stone under it, disfigures the bone. Trauma follows the same path. I am made of softer bone-of lung. I am the kind of bone that drowns.
Sometimes I think my body has lived all my lives. Tomorrow comes and I tattoo a bloom of books over my wrist.
Tomorrow comes and I wake up to one more life.