Monday November 20 1995
I prick my face in desperation, squeezing till it’s hot pink, creating scabs. They heal, and I go at it again. I eat. I no longer try to control myself. At one stage I thought, I’ll lose 10 kilos if Michael’s interested in me. Now I go for the cake, the calorie-laden meat sticks and sweets and pastas and chocolates, the cold drinks full of sugar. I eat, eat, eat, not out of hunger, but this need to grab things, fill myself up. That chocolate cake on Friday night was no substitute for my life – but it made me feel good for a while. Eating out of a kind of desperation, crying, berating myself, saying, I deserve this. Doing things with Michael on Saturday night (not full sex because of my period) and telling myself, This is my choice. Sex without love. If you want it go for it, but don’t blame me if you get hurt. This is what you’ve chosen and you must live with the consequences. And feeling so hurt about everything. Thinking of Michael and his lack of caring for me in that one respect and just feeling so hopeless, so sad, so stupid. Wanting to rush off and latch onto a boyfriend, anyone, and yet really only wanting Michael.
Tuesday February 13 1996
It hurts so much. Does it ever stop? When will it stop? Everything is a painful reminder of him, or time spent together. I want to cry, I think of suicide, I eat too much and don’t care, and every night I wake up in the darkness and recriminations and fears attack me. Tonight I eat spinach and remember a supper at The Tankard, where Michael and I used to go, and where my calamari was served with spinach. I walk into work and remember a time when Michael used to phone me almost every day. The past survives as a series of snapshots in my mind, I take them out over and over again.
When will the fears go away?
Sunday March 9 1997
Metamorphosis. Images of Michael washing over me as I dreamed this morning. In my dreams we’re on holiday somewhere – him, me, Kay and somebody else (Kay’s boyfriend?). But Michael and I only look at each other from afar, and don’t talk. He has a girlfriend: we watch black and white movies of the two of them. They sit on the banks of a river, at some kind of picnic with friends. She is not particularly beautiful, but she is slim, trim, no fat bulges on her. I mention this as we watch the movie. At another point in the dream I am at some kind of writing class. Michael is there in the distance.
“Tell us about yourself,” says the instructor.
“Personal stuff?” I ask.
And then the regrets catch up with me. And I regret the sad sorry way I handled it: Michael powerless to help, trapped in and by his own insecurities. And I regret that there was no actual end beyond the slamming down of the phone, after I phoned one last time, trying to sort it all out. That we didn’t finish what we started: only backing away, on his part, still hurt by his relationship with his ex-fiancée, still trying to recover from that. Me reacting emotionally to all of it, unhappy, hurt traumatised. And perhaps, in some part of me, I acknowledge that I loved him. And love doesn’t go away – it stays neat and whole through the years. Like a small, red, glittering stone.
Sunday June 8 1997
It’s almost exactly a year to the day since I wrote Patterns, the story of the relationship of me and Michael. I started another short story last August or September and a member of the writing group called it “vomit from the unconscious”. Perhaps that scared me, put me off, made m decide that I couldn’t write. Or made me afraid that everything might be vomit from then on. It all makes very little sense, I’ve published poetry and short fiction, I’ve won two awards. I can write. But for some reason I’m holding back, fearful about going to my computer and typing – or even doing the pre-computer route of longhand, which worked so well.
Monday October 6 1997
So: my life. Working as a layout sub-editor at The Good Weekend at the Saturday Star. Working. Home. Going out. The weekends seem to be a rush of activity. It carries on. My birthday month. I turn 26. I feel I must have a boyfriend. In my fantasies men turn into women. Women turn into men. Sometimes men remain men. I am feeling dead-ended. I’m even and calm, emotions neutral, life on a flat surface, sometimes a bump.
Saturday November 1 1997
I drink cappuccinos out of sachets in order to stay awake. I eat crackers and cheese to try and get and stay thin. I’m 26. I work as a layout sub on a large newspaper and envy those who get bylines and meet exciting people – the journalists. But, at the same time, I don’t want the slog of being a newspaper journalist again. I take pills with chromium in them to get thin. I must admit they keep the lost weight off, but further weight loss proves agonisingly slow. I envy those who stay thin without really trying. My body, or my mind, betrays me with its soft, fleshy parts that jut out.
My life seems an endless battle for sleep, rest, time and inclination to write. I put up these restrictions: can’t write tonight, you’re going out in a few hours; can’t write on a week night, have to get up early and be bright and cheery. I have dreams about sex: men’s bulging bits, faceless figures. I feel a rush when I look at women’s bodies, but that’s only when I’m awake. At night I dream ordinary, conventional heterosexual dreams. I go out to movies, theatre, restaurants. I enjoy myself, the entertainment is good, the food is tasty.
Saturday July 5 1998
Picked up Kay yesterday and we had cake at Keith Kirsten’s nursery along DF Malan Drive. We sat inside, among English country-style tables. Kay’s moving out of the townhouse she shares with her boyfriend, Brian, and has found a cottage for her and her eight-year-old son. Ironically though, she and Brian are getting along better than ever. Spoke of my desire to be in Europe and London, and all that’s waiting for me there, of the string that is pulling me there. And of not wanting to start something with anyone here because I don’t want to be tied down. We had both briefly thought of Michael at one point, it felt as though he was there in the shadows. That’s the thing with old friendships – your shared histories that lie between you like a river. I still wonder what Michael is doing, and whether he is happy, and has he got married yet? I remember reading off his engagement in the paper in January this year.
Dropped Kay off, again we’d skimmed conversation, not really getting into the nitty-gritty of anything. Am I at fault, wanting to maintain a calm neutrality after all our blow-ups and disruptions of the past? Same old ease. But it takes time to trust each other again. It’s hard, if not impossible, to go back to where we were.
Monday September 28 1998
Just under a month to my twenty-seventh birthday. Panic. Sleepless nights, menacing dark thoughts in an empty bed. All those things I’ve written about in short stories. Twenty-seven on October 27. That’s really, really adult – even more adult than twenty-four or twenty-five or twenty-six. It’s twenty-seven – three years to thirty. It means that you’re no longer on the edge of teenager hood, or just skirting the parameters of emerging adulthood. You’re an adult, slap-bang in the middle of it. But there’s more to it, of course, my inability to get over Michael, and that my friendships are often fragmentary, troubled, incomplete and unsatisfactory. This really disturbs me. I know the solution and have finally made an appointment to see a therapist. I moved out of home this year, made another home for myself, and that pleases me. But my life has not really changed. I do the same things as before: go to work, go out, try to eat fruit and vegetables every day, see movies, plays, musicals, eat out, cook for friends (ok, cooking is a new thing). I seem to be locked into a solid as ice pattern of fear, rejection, being hurt, retreating. These things come rolling up to greet me when I go to sleep.
Wednesday October 7 1998
I wrote a short story* on Monday night. The opening scene occurred to me one night last week. I dashed it off by hand, left the characters brewing in my mind, Monday night I could not put it off anymore. Came here, typed those first few lines and the rest just flew. 5000 words later, near 12, hair washed sometime in between. It’s the story of me and Oliver, observed at the beginning and at the end by a middle-aged woman who turns out to be the younger female character. It’s set in Knysna, where the “opening” of the affair took place. It isn’t the way I would consciously have chosen to tell the story – but I like it. It flew, propelling itself, just pouring out of me. I write fast when I do write. I liked the feeling of it. I hope it’s good. No name for it yet.
It’s as though the floodgates were opened, as though I had given myself permission to write again. Had thrown off the inner censor that said, “Where the hell are you going to publish this?” and just went for it. The point is to write – not to give a fuck about where to publish.
*This story, titled Couple on the Beach, won the 1999 Sanlam Award for an unpublished short story. It was subsequently published in New Contrast and in Post-Traumatic (Botsotso, 2003) and has been translated into Danish and Italian.
(Diary extracts was published in Bleksem No 7)