Rememberance

Today, 23 years ago, my father died. I was 12 years old and still at Leeurikskool.

I had had lunch and was falling asleep during the mandatory hour of rest we always had before being marched into the school hall to do the day’s homework. One of the laundry ladies had come into my room to call me to the principal’s office. I remember being startled, disoriented and instantly anxious – what had I done now? I remember her crisp, white uniform, like a nurse’s. I remember the hushed, tense atmosphere but not which one of the tannies she’d been or what she’d said. I remember that she didn’t tell me what was going on. I remember thinking – bizarrely – that perhaps there was something wrong with the principal and that they needed me for some reason.

I stood in the pose referred to as “at ease” in the military, in the principal’s office and he took a few moments’ pause before saying, “I have some news.” Another pause. “Your daddy died this morning.” An expectant look from him. A rush of mixed emotions from me; Disbelief. Certainty. Fear. Relief? As if, from hundreds of kilometres away, my father had been a looming presence even in his absence from my life. A constant source of anxiety. And now the thread, always taut, always pulling me upright, confining my movement to the  pre-approved set of acceptable actions, had snapped.

Recognition dawned as this realisation brought me back to where I was standing in the little prefabricated office of the principal, that he was looking for the appropriate reaction from me. And there was the approval clear on his face as the expected tears finally emerged. I thought it fortunate that tears were the only expression required of me and more so that tears look more or less the same whatever the emotion behind them.

Years would pass before I would feel loss over my father. And more than twice as many more years before I would begin to examine the dynamics of my relationship with him, such as it was, and recognise its many facets, the forces at play and catch the odd glimpse of love.

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Telling Time

So here’s the thing. I really need to get better at writing this blog.The decision to start telling the story of my time spent in the “care” of the state was taken some time ago – quite some time. And then ignored for ever.

And then, a few months ago, I started up this blog so that I could start scribbling a bit after a long, long time spent doing anything but writing. But it’s harder than I thought it was going to be.  Somehow, the words forming in my head don’t come out the same when I type them. Maybe it’s a little bit because, once they’re out and I’m reading them from a stranger’s point of view, I don’t sound like the kind of person I’d like to know. Kind of like the drug addict that ambles up to your car at the local Engen on your way home, with their gaunt face and bad skin and teeth, spinning some story about how they just need 20 bucks’ petrol to get home and they’ll totally see you get it back if you just write down your phone number on this little scrap of paper….

I’m not a drug addict and my skin and teeth are okay. But when I look at myself from the outside, the impression I get is of someone somehow sullied. Someone unclean, someone infected. Not with disease, necessarily, or grit from not having washed for ages. Something deeper. Something rotten from the inside. Something festering and contagious, however intangible.

But it’s also a little bit because, having put it off for so long, it’s incredibly difficult to describe the unique brand of institutionalisation that only a child who’s been through the “clinic school” system will ever recognise. And sometimes, it seems to me that the things I remember couldn’t possibly be the truth.

Ah, fuckit. This isn’t supposed to be some sorry lament. I am not broken for having lived my life. Sure, there’s lots of it I don’t like. Lots that I’ve never taken the time to make sense of. But it is my truth, all of it; the good, the bad and the grey areas in between. And telling it is a bit like ripping off the band-aid, so I’ll have to ask you to bear with me if it comes out slowly and full of holes. I’ll try to fill them in as we go….

Bring Your Daughter (To the Slaughter)

There are a handful of instances in my life that I can remember when my father was present in it, as opposed to being an authority figure on the periphery.

There are flashes of him in my memories of being very, very small. And the time he taught me to ride a bike. And the two times he walked me to school  to attend prize givings I’d been invited to. I was invited every year but he only attended those two.

Then there was the day I was summoned to the living room, where he would sit in the middle of the big sofa with his feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, a newspaper spread open on the floor between them, elbows on his knees and his right thumb grinding into his left palm, head cocked to the side and right eyebrow raised into a sharp, Spock-like, upside down “V”. This was the scene whenever there was Trouble Afoot. When we’d done something bad enough to warrant Personal Intervention from Dad, so I knew it was going to be big. This was the day I was told that I would be leaving for “boarding school”.

He drove me there himself, a couple of days later, and I remember him telling me that if I behaved well, I could come home anytime I wanted to. I cried when he said this.

The place looked big and imposing when we arrived and we were greeted at the main entrance to the residential portion of the the compound by the principal himself. He was old (at least in his 50’s) and came across as being firm but fair. I would come to know him as Oom Weber.  He and his wife, a short, dumpy woman of around the same age, with short, curly black hair, ran the school. I suppose the idea was to give parents the impression of family – family values. Old fashioned, Afrikaner-style rules and discipline. With weekly visits to the resident psych thrown in. Oom Kobus.

Oom Kobus would spend many of our visits together telling me what a naughty little sexual deviant I was and how he knew I knew I really belonged here at this school, didn’t I? Not to worry, they’d get me all straightened out.

 

Some (Little) Girls Will, Some (Bigger) Girls Won’t… Some (Little) Girls Need a Lot of Lovin’ and Some (Bad) Girls Don’t

Little girls (and not-so-little girls) will respond differently, I’m sure, to sexual overtures from grown up family members or friends. Most little girls know, even when they’re very, very little, even without having been told, that it is wrong for grown ups to touch them in certain places, in certain ways. Most little girls would feel frightened when confronted with an adult making sexual advances on them, perhaps. I cannot know. I was not most little girls.

I can recall, long before any inappropriate gestures, intimations, allusions, touching, etc., ever took place (that I was aware of), being a sexually excitable child. I remember masturbating at around age 4, and the explosive and deeply pleasurable sensations that could be experienced when touching certain body parts just so.

It was both implied and assumed for most of my life after, that I was the victim and the man in question the perpetrator in those instances of inappropriate contact between us. It has always been taken for granted that it was initiated and instigated entirely by him.

What most people don’t know is that I loved the attention – even sought it out. What does that say about me?

This was the man from whom I learned how to kiss. Meaning, kiss, kiss, not the pucker-up your lips and peck kind of kiss. When I was eight years old. And I was attracted to him. I loved that a (then) attractive, much older man thought me grown up and sophisticated enough to want to engage with me on an adult level.  To think on it now, I am repulsed. But it was what it was and no amount of denial will make it anything else.

Of course, I have since learned that this is exactly the kind of impression that peadophiles want to make on the little girls they target. They prey on that longing for recognition and validation, grooming their mark for intimate interaction so that it seems perfectly acceptable.

Let me say here, for the record, that I was never penetrated vaginally by this man. I managed to hang onto my virginity until I was 14 – but that’s another, later part of my story (if I ever get to it). And for many, the fact that actual, full on sexual intercourse never took place puts all of this outside of the scope of “abuse”.

Certainly, I was not innocent. Clearly, I was a “vroeg ryp, vroeg vrot” case. I wonder, sometimes, whether someone, somewhere in the “system” at the time recognised this in me at the time. But as a parent, I can tell you that if I got even the slightest hint that some adult was teaching MY daughter how to french kiss and/or allowing and (non-verbally encouraging) her to rub herself up on him to get off, I’d land up in jail.

But then, I can’t say that my father wouldn’t have done the same because, when I finally drew attention of the unwanted variety to myself with regard to this man, I never told anyone the truth. Instead, I made up the most ridiculous story:

My father’s wife was pregnant at the time and, although I was old enough to know how it all works that I really should have seen how utterly stupid I would look, I went around school trying to impress the other kids by pretending that I was pregnant, too.

And of course, it was brought to the attention of a teacher. And inquiries were made. It was assumed that the man had engaged in sexual intercourse with me and I remember being called in for a chat by the school’s counsellor. She told me that, if there had indeed been sexual intercourse, the man would be charged with statutory rape and sent to jail. I admitted immediately that there had been no sex. And then I kept my mouth shut about anything else that went on between me and the man, knowing that I would get into trouble for being a little slut if anyone found out. So, officially, there was no story, no problem. Just a little girl desperate for attention.

And I guess that’s why my father thought that the best solution would be to have me shipped off, rather than confronting anyone or digging into it at all.