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A Poet Trapped in Darkness
Today’s my birthday. I rather like birthdays. I get presents and cake and Mommy and Daddy pay more attention me. Sometimes wish I could go live in Boston again. I only lived there a few years; that’s where I was born. On October 27, 1932, but then three years later, everything was ruined when my baby brother was born. . .
When I opened my eyes today, it was sunny. Yellow light came in through the window and warmed everything. The birds chirped and the leaves on the trees rustled. I got up and walked downstairs to where my parents were eating breakfast.
“Good morning, Sylvia.” They said to me. Mommy took a drink from her coffee mug, while Daddy continued to read the newspaper.
I wondered why they hadn’t mentioned my birthday yet. They must be planning something. I figured I might as well ask.
“Today’s my birthday.” I stated. Mommy and Daddy looked over to me. Daddy raised his eyebrow.
“That it is.” He agreed, offhandedly. “Why don’t you run along now and play with your toys.” Daddy returned his eyes to what he was reading.
I sighed and slowly walked back to my room. Mommy and Daddy were always busy. Why should I expect today to be any different? It’s only one day out of the year. I sadly picked up one of my dolls off the floor.
“You remember my birthday, right Miss Cynthia?” I stared into the plastic face and the painted on eyes of the doll. I stroked her corn-silk hair expectantly, as if I thought she would be able to come alive and speak to me.
“I didn’t think so. But you’re just a doll. It’s not like you could talk to me or anything.” I set her down and picked up another doll, this one with thick dark hair.
“‘My name is Sylvia.’” I said in a deep, womanly voice. “‘Today I’m 5. I’m a big girl now. Happy Birthday to me...’” I tried to make my voice sound triumphant, but it just faltered and made me sound sad.
I sighed and sat down on my bed. How I wished my parents would notice me. But they were Aurelia and Otto Plath. An ‘enteemologist’ from Harvard and a teacher from...wherever Mommy came from. But she set aside that dream for me and Warren. Mommy never lets us forget that. ‘I gave up my dream for you children. You’d better be grateful for that.’ Daddy often like to study bees. He tries and tries to get me interested in them as well, but I just don’t like bees; they’re too harsh. I want to be a writer. Mommy and Daddy say that’s an “impractical wish” and that I should set aside my life for something “useful and profitable” Whatever that means.
I deeply wanted my parents to love me, but it seemed like no matter what I did, I was never perfect in their eyes.
And so the next day, I decided I would set out on an all-consuming quest for perfectionism. Everything I did would be exact and beautiful. And my parents would love me.
Three years later however, there was a tragedy. Father closed his eyes, and never woke up. He hated doctors; hated them with a passion. Said they were a ‘Waste of good time and money.’ Father had diabetes. And when he banged his toe on his dresser one morning, he refused medical treatment. The toe was broken and he let it fester, so his entire leg became infected. They tried to amputate it, but it was too late. Daddy closed his eyes and never woke up.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble heavy, a bag full of God.
Ghostly statue with one gray toe
Big as the Frisco seal.
It’s my entire fault he died. I’ll forever swim in grief that I keep trapped in my mind. I should’ve urged him to the doctor; I should’ve kept him safe. It’s my entire fault he died. I’m so sorry, Daddy. I have displeased you once more.
After my father’s death when I was 8, I began to write. My first story was published that year. In High School my poems were published frequently in Seventeen magazine. But mother still wasn’t proud. My poems were too depressing for her. As the years passed, I began writing out poems at an even faster rate; poems of harsh self-revelations and confessions of my innermost feelings, described through cryptic lines and messages.
I loved to write. Sitting in my room for hours, I would produce poem after poem of the anxiety and confusion that had haunted me, transmitted into verses of great power and suffering, born onto flashes of incisive wit. I felt alive when I wrote, but afterwards, it left me feeling empty and desperate.
Starting collage was a most wonderful experience for me. I met so many new people, and learned so many new things. But I couldn’t seem to fight off this cloud of despair that hung over me; threatening to rip open and engulf me. I tried to keep up appearance. I dressed and cleaned myself everyday. But I was ripped and raw inside. I’m like a dying tree--normal and healthy on the outside, but my insides are ragged and hollow; eaten away by whatever disease plagues me. I am haunted by oppressing guilt. Everything is my fault. I can’t escape this darkness; I can’t find a way out. God, please help me! Please end this suffering forever!
That night I decided to leave and run to my mother’s house, where I crawled into a dark, dirty space and swallowed pill after pill in a futile attempt to stop my heart. I had become a lost soul.
Mother sent me to the local asylum after that incident. She’s just dumping me off. It’s obvious she doesn’t care for me at all. I’d heard horrid stories of the asylums. Where you lay in the darkness forever, never telling if it’s day or night. Never lifting your head off the floor because you’re too exhausted, and you’ve lost your resolve. Three meals a day, but they’re made of rubber and laced with poison. It’s all in hopes of shutting you up and off. Like a flickering lamp that hides in an attic.
And the Electroshock therapy was the worst. Everyday I was jolted with blue daggers, in an attempt to scare my system back to normal. But nothing worked. I was eventually forced to lift my head from the ground, or the metal bed I’m on. I began to try again; I couldn’t stand living that way. Always trapped in myself, always scared, always blind. I want to life the dark clouds from my face and see the world again. So I try.
After that experience, I wrote and published my first book. The Bell Jar was published in England under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas. Between the pages lie the painful memories and darkness of my collage years. The Bell Jar broke through the barriers of traditional form and symbolism; revealing personal demons that had never been unleashed before.
Years after my depression, I was dragged to a party by a friend of mine. A party that would change my life forever. I remembered when he walked through that door, his eyes filled with unspoken words. He was gorgeous, and I had to know is name. It was Ted Hughes, a poet I admired deeply. I felt a deep connection with him, stronger than anything I had felt before. And he obviously felt the same, for four months later, we were wed. Bringing together what would become the most influential writing force in the 20th century.
However two years after, my heart was ripped open. I was looking for Hughes, when I finally spotted him. I’m was to call out when I saw another figure by his side. A petite woman with brownish hair and large doe eyes that were upturned to look into my husband’s. Her khaki Bermuda shorts covered her long legs--but just barely. Ted’s arm snaked around her small waist bringing her to him. He was about to meet her lipsticked grin with his own when I screamed. He quickly turned and saw me there, my eyes wide and my face drained. His expression completely mirrored my own. He tried to assure me it was nothing for than two friends out for a walk. I was furious; I spat in his face and yelled profanities towards his mistress. Ted tried to stop my rage; tried to calm me down. But I slapped him across the face and ran.
Despite this episode, however, I soon gave birth to his child, Frieda, on April 1st. I loved her with all my heart, and very much wanted another. But my second pregnancy failed and I miscarried. I was heartbroken, and in my fragile state, I couldn’t take anything I thought was another blow.
One afternoon after lunch with my daughter, the phone began to ring.
“Hello?” I heard a woman’s voice on the other line, one I’ve never heard before.
“Who is this?” I found myself asking. She replied that she was a co-worker with Ted. They were working on a project and she needed to speak to him. I felt my stomach drop. Was this another mistress? What project was Ted even working on? The only thing was his latest story...
I had an idea then.
“Stay away from my husband!!!” I screamed into the receiver, and slammed the phone down. I looked over at the stack of papers that were his latest draft. If he didn’t have his project, he wouldn’t need to see his woman.
I picked up a match and held the dancing flame next to the papers. Once it was caught up in the fire, I picked the stack up and threw it out the window. Burning my hands in the process.
Later that night, Ted came home. I asked him about the woman on the phone, to which he stated she was simply a co-worker. He walked over the is desk and saw there were no papers. Leaning out the window, Ted saw the ashes in the bushes; his manuscripts. He was furious, and demanded to know why I did it. After hours of yelling, we decided to sell our apartment, and get out of the city. So I would feel safe, and Ted could work without suspicion.
We sold our apartment to David Wevill, a young Canadian poet, and his beautiful wife Assia, and bought a small home instead. After moving, I was blessed with another pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Nicholas on January 1st, 1962. While I couldn’t have been happier, I felt myself slipping again. Into the familiar dark portal I had been lost in so many year before.
While I struggled my with my inner demons, Ted continued to work even longer hours. When I asked him about it, he shrugged it off; he was busy, and I needn't worry.
But that was another lie. I received another phone call that was obviously meant for Ted. Assia Wevill called one afternoon attempting to disguise her voice. She went on about how wonderful their night together was and how she loved to do it again. On the other end I was slowly suffocating. That bastard! He’s doing it again. He’s cheating, and this time he’s sleeping with her. He’s sleeping with that whore. He doesn’t care. He’s sleeping with her...probably in our old apartment. I tried to block all the thoughts and ideas of what kind of things they could’ve been doing behind closed doors. What about David? Did he know any of this, or was he joining in as well? Maybe they were all behaving like animals while I sat here alone and wallowed.
Something in me snapped then. My resolve that I had worked so hard to regain fell apart. I ripped the phone out from the wall and grabbed my children. I then drove to my friends house and stayed there overnight; not willing to see Ted ever again. I did return the next morning alone, and stormed past him. Ignoring his questions and feigned concern. I ran to his office and found what I was looking for--his latest manuscript. He ruined my life, so I would ruin his. I hurled the thick stack of paper out the window and laughed bitterly while I threw the match down. I wasn’t going to burn myself this time. Ted was furious again, “Son of a--what the hell are you doing!?” He had spluttered out. I think he was mostly upset that he was caught. He was a dirty, rotten, lying man. He could burn in hell for all I care.
When I was done at the house, I went back to pick up my children and we moved to a small apartment in London, England. I wanted to be as far away from Ted as I could, and if that meant moving across the ocean, then so be it. We struggled to get by there. Barely any money, so I couldn’t pay the bills. We were constantly shivering from lack of heat. Yet I still tried to support my children.
But in the end, I couldn’t take it any more. And now, sitting in front of my oven, I think about my life. I had accomplished so much, but had grown so little. Inside, I was still the broken, fragile little child I was so long ago. Just looking for love and a way out.
Salty tears dribble down my cheeks. I was going to leave my children alone; who knows what kind of monster could come and take care of them. Ted Hughes, my mother, the Social Services. I should take them with me, but I can’t protect them any longer. They have their own lives to live, and their own dreams to fulfill. I set a last meal for them in their rooms, so when they wake up they’ll know that I cared enough to say good-bye.
I carefully lay the cloth in the oven and set my head inside.
“ Good-Bye.” I whisper one more time as I turn on the gas and my world fades to darkness.
Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I’ve a call.
The date was February 11 1963, in London, England. Sylvia Plath was 30 years old.