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Young Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Pain, the lines of beauty on the face of a lonely girl and her kindly cell, that furious secret place of depression, frustration, suicidal illness, (having otherworldly beauty was not enough for her, mouthing foggy love poems, progeny at her hip, North American prairies and beaches, Paris, her younger brother Warren the Exeter and Harvard man, New York, obsessively-written sonnets and short stories, Otto, Otto, Otto, the Nazi-lover, all the beekeeping villagers have been ripped from memory. The perfect love of parties, the tumbling into and of cocktail parties has gone too. Oh ghost, oh ghosts she was much too nice this empress, much too honest and dignified, she was much too pure, and where was the justice for this scholar, this thinker, this intellectual? How will she be remembered? Oh, just in dozens of books written by other starry-eyed scholars, thinkers and intellectuals and of course her poetry. She warned me, she warned me, she warned me with her words, with the force of her intellect, with her vocabulary, her mind’s eye’s perspective. No witch, atheist, pagan was she just a beautiful memory stuffed with a diary, notebooks, letters home filled with sadness. Did she pray, did she meditate when she was soaking up the sun on the beach?
And then she was thirty in a flat in London with two small children and composing Ariel, her masterpiece. Where was Ted Hughes? What was her last memory of Edward Hughes? In whose arms was he when she was looking for linen and sheets? Who was he sleeping with? What was the measure of the man? Was he extraordinarily gifted? Yes. Was he brilliant? Yes but did he know how to love, wasn’t he impulsive, wasn’t he a creative genius, wasn’t he a cheat? Didn’t he kill people, push and engulf women in sweetness or was it the woman who said kill me Ted, take me to bed? So he wasn’t a murderer, he was a poet, a broken man who suffered, what did he give up?
Men are cruel. Beautiful men are cruel. Intelligent men are cruel. And if girls reject them how on earth will they become transformed into women, transplanted into queens with kisses, how will they see the inside of a church in a wedding dress or a kitchen wearing an apron, perfect roast in the oven. How will they get that ring on their finger if they do not fall in love?
It is monstrous when bipolar leaves you numb, broken. There was always a quickness to it. How it enveloped her, how it enshrouded me. How did bipolar depression leave Sylvia Plath numb, clutching at straws, it left her with avocados in a suitcase in The Bell Jar? There’s nothing dignified about it and the end of love. It is not just the end of fireworks but also that romance is an eternal curve. What’s love anyway when you can write, when you can write poetry? Sylvia in a hospital bed. Sylvia and Anne. Anne Sexton. Sylvia receiving therapy. Sylvia writing. Writing poetry.
Speak. Speak. Speak. The pain felt sharp. It burned. And I felt burdened. The pain felt like a knife. Pain is poison, a silent feast for some, for the vampires camping out in the woods, a winter guest writing a poem.
Ashtrays and cigarettes fill his house, papers, verses, correspondence. His mother is dying in Yorkshire. He has brought his lover with him. His father won’t sit at the kitchen table with her. He takes his meals in his bedroom. This is domestic bliss, golden living matter. The sex is medieval. His hands smell like a butcher’s. He is Satan. He destroyed her and she destroyed him, the dreamer in him, the father in him, and the husband in him. He had knowledge of lovemaking, taught her everything he knew with his frozen skill, his soul’s map, his wide-eyed country of transformations, his white picket fence.
They are swimming in this dark room together, soft dolls with delicate cores surfing over their wounds, touching the surface tension of the interior, wrapped up in the knowledge of the grace of the physical, the mental glare is no longer there. No more anguish. No more Sylvia.
Look at them. We are glimmering, gulping, our flesh and blood is dwelling, shining, illuminating the world around us.
He anointed her. The physical body sinks into another physical body, gnaws at it, its eaten magic, and its sum, its language as they exchange fluids and there is nothing and everything logical about it. There is a story here. Is it love? Does it need to be told? She is here to stay. She needs belief. The exotic, alluring Assia Wevill. She is a killer. A convicted murderous, Ted Hughes’s housekeeper, Sylvia Plath’s rival, a lover, a wife, and a mother too. Will she be another German Jew survivor?
The sex object.
And now we come to the sex object who says, ‘Clothed, unclothed, shamed, and unashamed for now you are mine’.
Sylvia Plath, Assia Wevill, the daughter Shura, Edward Hughes are six feet under, pushing up daisies, dead to the world but not to the world’s imagination. There is a knot of silence pulled tight in my throat, and I am pushed to naming home. Love for me is not home. It will never be home, mean home to me. I wither, men wither, and stories wither.
It is a mystery to me why he did not, could not love me. There was no tenderness there, no constant craving. I could not understand my infertility. The knowing of pain comes after sleeping, after waking from his touch.
I cannot remember lust. I remain unmarked by it. I hurt. You have hurt me. Energy has left me. Humility is like a cloud in the sky with a silver lining. I will not behave. I will not sit still and behave. I will fidget like a lunatic until you say that you love me, until you say that you will not leave me, leave me for her. I am in the garden of fire, of the dead and the living. I am dumb. What do I know about love? I know this. I want to feel your skin, read your bones with my fingertips, bath in your bath as you stroke my back, turn your world upside down, and harvest your moon. I am a mess but I am not your mess. If I was your mess you would stroke my face and ask me gently why I am crying. And I would say please stay with me, don’t go. Tell me that you like me.
Suicides have no glory when they die, they do not go to the last resting place up in the sky. They are driftwood.
The women have no sun, cure, dress, heels, pot of rouge, no furniture to move around, no laughter to speak of, and their family is ghost protocol.
There is a gun, a piece of rope, a fur coat, a car left running, and a bridge, a running leap.
Smile or you’re dead. And then there was nothing. There was silence in the kitchen, children sleeping in the bedroom, milk and bread untouched and gas. There is no longer any breath, any oxygen in her throat. She is deader than most.
This is Assia Wevill’s voice. The voice of the sex object in this experimental article.
He means to put me in a cage. He thinks I have no skills to speak of. And if he loved Sylvia so much and grew to worship not only her but her writing to some degree why did he leave her and make his way to me? To me a cage means the kitchen, her kitchen. Perhaps it is stupid for me to think this way but all I want to do is to please him. Is that so wrong? Who built the universe that way, constructed it so that women can please men before they can please themselves and their children? And hidden somewhere in there are pets and children. Children stroking fur, licking out bowls, holding out their hands for chocolate, who press themselves against you. I am stupid. I longed for him. Pain is like the sea. Deep. You wouldn’t want to go swimming there when it is raining in case there is as storm or lightning. In case you won’t you make it back to the shore because of the current or in case you drown. Scrawling-scribbling-and-the-naming-of-parts. Boyish I-love-him-to-death-till-us-part. I-look-after-the-children, keep-house, proofread his work but still-it-is-never-quite-enough. He does that in his hut all-day-long. He never calls me the interloper but they do. He never takes my side. It is always there’s. Mama’s boy. But I am always intrigued by what he is writing and how quickly his mother seems to recover whenever he is at her side. How am I supposed to interpret that? When I take my meals alone with our little Shura how baffled she must be? What do I say when she looks at me and asks me, ‘Where is papa, where is Frieda, where is Nicky?’
Guts. Space. Breathing room. He is making me look very foolish as if I am running after him (but in the beginning it was the other way round) yet I feel exhilarated when I wake up and see him lying next to me in the mornings. Personal space he certainly seems to need it more than I do. Once upon a time I was so confident, so attractive to both men and women, so clever and now, now this. What he sees, what women of his generation call and want so badly ‘domestic bliss’? I have never wanted children but perhaps it is not too late. And then again what about my verse, what about my poetry, my literary pursuits? Stubborn, ungrateful, unappreciative of my efforts, arrogant but if I leave him now (kaput). All of his London friends think I’m too foreign. His family blames me for Sylvia’s death. Poor, fragile Sylvia. I think she was quite mad. I hate her. I hate her. I hate her and she hated me too I think. I think back to that weekend when they invited the two of us, David and me down to Devon. Of her taking off her shoes and sneaking up to me and Ted in the kitchen. It was him that started all of this not me.
Lifted. Fated. He can’t see what he does to women but I can. All his women, these women who are madly in love with him, clearly besotted, half-smitten, blinded by his creativity, his mad good looks, his seductive charm. I am already losing him. I can see that now. He can see that. And that is not to say that he is not a good man. Ted is a good father but why can’t he accept Shura and me. Why does he shut me out? Why does he make this odd list of do this, do that, run my household, teach my children German, play with them for an hour a day, and introduce a new recipe every week? I must be a terrible housekeeper, and an even worse mother, step-mother. They say he’s a tyrant. If I withdraw then I’m becoming just another version of Sylvia. I can feel this cloud of doom coming over me. Swiftly sweeping the exciting London life as I knew it away, away, so far away and the Assia I once knew doesn’t exist anymore and her ghost. Sylvia Plath’s ghost will she always come between us? Will she always be there? I have never wanted to be a domestic goddess. Goddess yes but there was never anything domestic about me. Monster but wherever he goes I will be sure to follow in his footsteps in this lifetime and the next.
‘Come to bed Ted.’ I think she must have said, the sex object, the filthy exotic dreamer in her orange silks and bangles at her wrists said pouting.
‘I’m writing Assia.’ I think that was all that he could bring himself to say. I’m writing. Leave me alone. I must be left alone to my own devices now that I have you he could have been saying. I must be everything to him. Yet, but I’m a failure in every department. I’m crumbling. My spirit is no more and no one has a kind word to say about me, the adulterer leading the very willing man in this picture to the slaughterhouse. I am made out to be the woman who took an already crazed woman out of her mind to her death. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES OF EVENTS AND HOW THEY PLAYED OUT IN THE END. But who cares right? I am just another one of Ted’s women, the assassin with his potent words that are and always will be his weapon. I have no friends to speak of. Perhaps it would help this situation if I had friends. I could invite them over to the house and it would not feel so hostile. You can sometimes cut the tension between me and his father with a knife. I did not hold a gun to Sylvia’s head that fateful night. How was I to know that me and little Shura would soon follow her, that I would murder my own daughter, my beautiful daughter and that I would take my own life and afterward all anyone would say in his circle of friends, and neighbours she had it coming. She only has herself to blame after all. Assia Wevill destroyed Ted Hughes. And the arguments. All those bitter, bitter telephone conversations that I wish I could take back but now I never can.
One day I felt brave enough to ask him, to stand my ground. To finally look him in the eye when I thought he was at his most vulnerable, not surrounded by his friends, his family and especially that sister of his who adored him and who could see that he could do no wrong.
‘What about my work Ted?’ And he smiled as if he was looking at Frieda and after that the conversation became a blur. There was no reality. There was no longer the dream of having a life together. Normal. Was this normal? To always be treated like a slave, always slaving away, cooking meals, scrubbing floors and one day he had the audacity to rub his finger along something I don’t remember what and turn around to me with Frieda in his arms and ask me, ‘Really Assia, is this what is meant by cleaning house?’ I did not know what to do. I only knew I had to get away, get some fresh country air in my lungs and then I began to cry once I was away from Ted and the children and his beloved Frieda who he treated like a pampered doll. Shura often forgotten. My little one. What have I done I have often thought of bringing this child into this world? I thought perhaps he would come and find me and comfort me, apologise and say, ‘Silly me Assia it meant nothing.’ I was working all day while he was plotting against me to get away. I was tired. Three small children with so much energy. So of course I was out of my depth sometimes but I wanted him. My Ted but then again there were my hands. My once beautiful hands with their manicured nails were rough now. I had started to bite my fingernails. And the tantrums had returned that I had left behind in Tel Aviv. I had just become another version of Sylvia Plath’s ghost. My hands they felt like Braille.
‘What about your work?’ he answered in return. ‘Whatever do you mean by that? You wanted a family and have I not given you one. And one day we will find a house of our own to live in. Of course you will have to make that decision yourself. Things have not been easy for me either. You wanted children and have I not given you one.’ I have a dead wife. I have a dead wife. No, that is what he was telling me. What have I done? And was it I Assia Wevill who created the scandal. It was him who asked me to accompany him to that house, that ghost house that morning.
No, no, no I wanted to say. I wanted to scream in his deadpan face because I could see deep down he did not care for me anymore. You were the one who gave me two children, two flowers, two forget-me-nots butcher. I proofread your work Ted. I think you are brilliant but I am nothing like her no matter how beautiful I speak English or write I will never replace her.
‘What about my work. My poetry. Does it not interest you that I write too?’ But how soon he forgets me. I’ve become fragmentary in the same way that Sylvia Plath was doomed to become.
‘But all he said was this in return and I knew I was doomed and Shura was doomed too.
‘You have your hands full with running around three growing children Assia, keeping this house, my house in order. What more could any woman your age (and I thought when he said those words ‘any woman your age’ I thought I would just die on the spot. He was killing me. Striking me again and again and again but I had to take it because this was love and this was the life I had chosen).
So I write to my sister in Canada who has three children of her own, a home, a family and I ask her to come and visit me because the loneliness is killing me. Ted Hughes is killing me and the behaviour of both his parents towards me is shocking. Wasn’t it enough for me to escape Nazi Germany with my family, to hear and see and glimpse up close the laughter, the boots, the handsome blonde, fair-haired and blue-eyed SS soldiers walking up and down and then up and then down again on the train. We escaped the concentration camps, and Hitler. I could not ask for more trauma for trauma in childhood is enough to damage you for good, for a lifetime. I thought that we could build a life together. Ted and his Assia. Assia and her Ted. We were made for each other. I could not take my eyes off him since the very first moment we met.
Rain is pouring into me like liquid sun. My moods go up and down like a pendulum swinging back and forth. And every night she hovers at the foot of our bed as if she has a right to be there by virtue of being the dead wife. Ted falls asleep immediately as soon as his head touches the pillow. I lay awake for hours thinking of our dream house in the countryside. Get here as soon possible my dearest sister because I think I have had enough of his mind games and of him controlling me. I never thought he could be this cruel. I never thought he could be this brutal. His brutality washing over me and my little Shura. Frieda and his Nicky are his two angels. Sylvia’s angels. AM I ENOUGH? I am afraid I will never be. I have changed so much. All he wants to do is write and write and write and I am afraid he wants me out of his life. I am waiting for those words on his lips, ‘You do not belong here anymore.’ I am so afraid. Help me. Only Fay seems to understand. My only friend and I cherish the moments we spend together. I confide in her over tea whenever I am I London. I think she wants me to leave him but how can I do that when I have already invested so much in this relationship. Sometimes I think I could just murder him in his sleep, put a pillow over his face but he is a strong man. I know he will fight back. He, everyone they ever knew as a couple have now put Sylvia Plath on a pedestal and they worship her. He won’t even read my work and I won’t show him anything that I have written to him anymore because he is too critical of it and sometimes I catch him smiling as he is holding my papers, my verses in his hands almost as if he is thinking to himself that I of all people think I can replace her, that I bewitched him and not the other way around. There’s an inflated cut that eats my guts. A wound and I wonder if there is a cure for it. I read S.P.’s work. Brilliant, bold word for word and know that I can never catch up to her. Her love medicine was her children. Her mother was as far as I know a Pandora’s-magic-box sealed shut. I know this, that she did not leave a trail of a layer of clothes on her bedroom floor. Her poetry, her short stories, her sonnet was her conversation with rapture. I tell my sister I need proof. Ted is in the garden now. We have a patch of garden where we grow beet, leafy green vegetables, all kinds of things, herbs and I watch them from the kitchen window forlorn and in despair. This man is killing me, killing me and soon I know he will retire to his hut, to his writing and he will not feel forlorn or despair tormented by the past as I am. I already know that he has chosen Frieda above Shura. Is this love? What is the matter with me? All I know is this, and that is I cannot survive without him, without Shura at our side. People are cruel, women crueller. Is it because I have won? I’m afraid he doesn’t respect me anymore and it is all my fault, he’s pushed me to one side, there’s another beauty in the picture now. A beauty who looks like Marilyn Monroe. I think it has something to do with my childhood and background. I think it has something to do with his childhood, his father, his mother who must have adored him since birth, his background, and his good looks. This Marilyn Monroe lookalike keeps showing up at the house. He tells me she is just a friendly neighbour concerned but he must think I am stupid, dumb. Does he not know he has already sabotaged us? Our telephone calls from London to Yorkshire are bittersweet. We fight, tigers in the night and then we make up, make plans for a life together. We bloom but I am rotting even in the dark. It is only Ted who sleeps soundly. I have no shield. I have my suspicions and every day they are vast and new, incomplete and they make me sick inside to have all these unpleasant thoughts. They are like a museum where my spirit plays. The dead spot of S.P. I cannot get out however hard I try and rub it out. Ted knows nothing of this. I am tense all the time and am convinced that this Marilyn with her blonde crotch is a spy. I am weary. Perhaps I should go back to Vancouver. Go back to school. S.P. wrote about bees and villagers and now they praise her but Ted does not tell his friends I write too. There’s too much history here, too much growth and mourning. I make jam now, and breakfasts. I speak in German. It is on the list. It is on the list. He talks about my curves, that imaginary zone less and less and less now. Women are merely an artist’s sexual object.
I should have burnt that hut to the ground that he wrote in but then again there wouldn’t have been much difference between Sylvia and myself if I had done it. I am also charmed by women but I want to kill them all if anyone of them comes near Ted. How he enjoys their attention and it pricks my imagination, and my subconscious. I know he mocks me sometimes, makes a joke out of me in front of his circle of male friends. They are wise. Women are not. But I still give myself up to him even in my grave as he stands at the mouth of it. I remember when he flirted with me, our love letters and how he erased me and Shura out of his life. In Ireland the fields were beautiful and our love, our family life was the best sensation that I had ever felt in this universe. The world was full of flowers, of a green feast in his garden patch, this kind of life of a landscape was meant for a poet, a writer. There were perfect scrapes but we got through them and I felt catapulted into the air. Pity that the sky was blue every day. I loved the rain although sometimes it made me feel sick, troubled, and depressive. And I would look at the knife on the table and I would think to myself is now the time? Perhaps he would look at me, finally look at me with bandages at my wrists and see me but then I would think of Shura. I knew he did not love me anymore. We were not invited for Christmas in Yorkshire.
This bold and shocking creation that choked me until I couldn’t breathe and then my darling Shura began to cry as I did, began to feel as confused as I did as to why her father couldn’t love her as much as he loved his Frieda. I don’t know why I couldn’t love David Wevill, my third husband anymore. I only knew I had to get out now. It was done. Shura and I was done for and then perhaps then I was the traitor. I wanted to scream. We had a German au pair. So I sent her out and then the deed was done in Clapham Common and we were erased forever from his life. Gas, Gas, Gas. When you discover a traumatic incident like a suicide does it live with you forever? I will never know. My soul is still fertile. His betrayal. My betrayal. Snow falling not self-consciousness, as detailed as the gods, the noises of a mother clinging to her daughter, her eyes shut, heart stopped beating as if by a stray bullet, what was my weapon of choice? It was a glass of water and headache tablets, a mattress dragged into the kitchen. A copycat murder. And then there were tears, of course there were tears for my Shura. I had such a mind-blowing headache that I thought it was a headache after that first deed. I should have told Ted that he did not know what love was. He could not love women. He could only undermine them. He could only love children and wanted Frieda and Nicky to grow up in the shadow of Sylvia Plath and not Assia Wevill and Shura. And now it is my turn to execute myself.
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