‘We are a family of addicts. Of overacheivers. Of failures that we have given birth to and nursed and smothered. We are generous. Gullible. We wear middle partings and all sound the same when we cry… We thrive on chaos. We avoid conflict… We eat and eat. And we run. We run away. To Cape Town. To our rooms. To a studio apartment. We choose shit romantic partners… We feel inadequate. We are vain. We hold tight to the belief that we are meant to struggle… We. A family. That smothers and cries and eats and shits on love.’
Twenty-something writer, Christy Chilimigras, is aware that the idea of a memoir seems ridiculous to some, saying ‘I never intended to write a memoir, especially at 24’ . But when publisher, Melinda Ferguson, asked her if she would be interested in the idea she couldn’t turn it down.
That’s how the recount of her life, which explores addiction, sexual abuse and her ‘sexuality and sanity’- peppered with ‘dangerous humour’ (as Fred Khumalo, writer of Dancing the Death Drill calls it) and thought-provoking insights- Things Even Gonzalez Can’t Fix, began.
But Chilimigras’ only intention was to be searingly honest. ‘I made the insane decision to start with my own story, and it proved to be a catharsis of sorts – but that wasn’t my intention. My intention was to write a book that was solid and true.’
Just the Beginning
What’s clear when reading Things Even Gonzalez Can’t Fix is that drug addiction goes further than the addict in question. The repercussions of things like 3 am ‘crack excursions to Hillbrow’ go deep into their personal relationships and affect those who are close to them in ways that mould them, in ways they may not ever be aware of, or choose to ignore. When writing this memoir Christy Chilimigras did not intend to be right or wrong. She didn’t intend for readers to deeply connect with the intricacies of what it’s like to grow up with a father who ‘is synonymous with drugs’. She didn’t mean to comfort and validate the experiences of those who have also gone through covert incest. But that’s exactly what she did, when she began to map out the roads, side paths and pin points of her life.
At some point we all may have thought about or wrote of our lives in some form- be it a journal or random scraps of paper. But the decision to share something as personal as every detail of a sore or joyful thought, of highlights and moments of excruciating lows, is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s fucking brave. So where does one start? Well, Chilimigras started at the beginning, following her prologue with: ‘I was born bald in 1993. A bald, fat Greek second baby to a gorgeous Greek woman, whom I call Old Lass, and a Greek man known for his charm and bandy legs, My Father.’
Herein she begins to sink her teeth deeply, as she puts it, ‘into the subtlety and horror or covert incest, which is a form of emotional and sexual abuse that I experienced from my father throughout my life. It’s when a parent makes their child their surrogate partner.’
‘It feels icky and I feel icky’
The sneaky, easily disguised and, indeed, subtle but impactful act of covert incest is not a common topic when we speak of sexual abuse. There is a misconception that abuse has to be overtly sexual to be taken seriously, and that there are levels of abuse that deserve levels of emotional weight. But abuse in whatever shape and form is emotionally heavy regardless, and Chilimigras was conscious of this when putting words to her experience. ‘I didn’t want to have to be vulgar to be taken seriously, because sometimes covert incest doesn’t appear to be vulgar to anyone other than the child who’s going through it’, she tells me.
‘I didn’t want to have to fit neatly into the criteria of what abuse looks like.’
Especially sexual abuse. Sometimes it is subtle, and emotional, and sometimes you don’t know how to explain what it feels like other than saying, “It feels icky and I feel icky.”‘
Chilimigras’ choice to subtly thread the form of abuse she endured was purposeful. ‘Women should be taken seriously without having to prostitute their every single uncomfortable or awful experience. We all have them, and choosing to share some doesn’t mean anyone is entitled to all.’
Owning your sanity and sexuality
Chilimigras writes for Cosmopolitan South Africa, and she is particularly good at writing about sex. Her accounts are hilarious, from trying Cosmo’s most out there sex positions of which the brand is famous for, to her how-tos on rimjobs. Her writing in this regard is entertaining, relatable and always headstrongly honest.
But it would be naive to think that the abuse she experienced wouldn’t affect her later in that regard. ‘I was keen on exploring a twenty-something’s experience with sex – inside and outside of the scope of abuse – which sometimes feels impossible. To separate them, I mean.’
‘I want me, my nipples, my sanity, and my sexuality, for myself. ‘
‘I suspect that most women take a magnifying glass to their sex lives’, she continues, ‘and why wouldn’t we? It’s the most delicious part of life (after pasta).’ (Which Chilimigras shares her deep love for often on her social media). ‘I have spent so much time trying to separate my sex from the assault on my sexuality I suffered as a child because I want me, my nipples, my sanity, and my sexuality, for myself. ‘
Chilimigras’ internal reflection while writing held questions like ‘Do I like rough sex because I like rough sex or do I like rough sex because of the abuse? How do I tell my boyfriend not to touch my nipple because it triggers me? How do other women sex and fuck and orgasm with abandon and why can I and can’t I do all of these things and some of these things and how do I decolonise my sexuality?’
Fabulously frank conversations
We’ve gathered now Chilimigras’ appreciation of frankness, and the freedom and weight it can lift off of one’s shoulders that no doubt stem from breaking the taboo of speaking about first sex, then abuse, then addiction. In a funny way, the honesty and openness of speaking about these topics can be addictive in themselves. It’s been her favourite part of this project. ‘I’ve loved that people feel like they can be honest with me because I’ve been honest with them. It’s been amazing (and time-saving) to cut through the bullshit and have fabulously frank conversations with people.’
But further than the cathartic release honesty entails, it is the comfort of knowing one is not alone that she appreciates in the aftermath of the book’s release. ‘I’ve mostly been met with an overwhelming amount of love [in reaction to Things Even Gonzalez Can’t Fix]. It’s almost as though reading about someone’s dysfunctional family gives people permission to speak out about their own, especially in these ‘bubbled’ communities.’
What is next for Chilimigras? Well, her follow up book is definitely 100% fiction. ‘I’m in something resembling a blind panic’, she says. ‘I can’t tell you much’.
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For Nic, who always told me to just fucking write. Seeing our books on the same shelf is a pretty surreal thing. When I was a kid, I’d walk into my cousin Nic’s room and be blown away by his creativity. As a teenager I was in awe of how grown up and capable he made me believe I was. As an adult, I’m just so fucking chuffed that we’re great friends. And now I share a goddamn shelf with my mentor. #DoFailLearnRepeat
Follow Christy Chilimigras and Things Even Gonzalez Can’t Fix on social media to stay updated and catch her in Cape Town on the 5th September at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town.
Words: Zoya Pon
Feature image: Emma Braham Designs