Saturday, May 22, 2010

Don't Give Up

“Don’t give up
'cos you have friends
Don't give up
you're not beaten yet
Don't give up
I know you can make it good…”

As Peter Gabriel’s voice came over the radio, I stood, a little wobbly, in my living room and stared. Oh my god, he thinks I’m trying to kill myself!

My day had started the previous day – Friday. Heading to work at 3 in the morning to get through another breakfast television show, after which I was scheduled to film a short documentary piece for the Saturday show. My cameraman and I headed to the theater to film B-roll and some interviews, including one with the awe-inspiring John Kani, before heading home to shower and change and get ready for the performance, after which there would be more interviews. Heading back to the studio for a long night of editing before starting my real job at 5 the next morning. By the time I reached home on Saturday, I had a migraine. A truly bad, horrible, awful, painful migraine, descending on me like some thunderous blanket.
I called my doctor. Sweet man who forgot to mention the prescription he was sending over was to be taken before the migraine strikes. No matter, it was delivered, and I figured if I was required to take one every 6 hours, then 6 pills should be more than sufficient for migraines to come.

Two hours later, my head still exploded from pain. I stumbled out and took a blinding walk to the nearest pharmacy for the pills I usually took when a headache was about to rock my world – Syndol. Someone once told me they should be prescription as they were addictive, but they worked. Always.

By around 10pm, I could feel the blood running in my veins. The weirdness of the sensation startled me. I couldn’t feel my skin, but it was as if my organs were all external and making their presence felt. I had overdosed. Somewhere in the desire to rid myself of the pain, I had done something.
I called my friend on his radio show.
“Peter. I don’t know what happened. I feel really weird.”
“OK, tell you what. I finish here at midnight. I’ll call you and see if you’re ok. If you don’t answer, I’m coming over.”
“No problem. I’m sure I’ll be fine, though.”
I turned the radio up to hear the rest of his show. And then his voice came on, “This next song is for a friend of mine, going through a rough time right now, and I just want to let you know: I’m here for you. Don’t give up. You have friends.”
And he played Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give up.”

What the fuck? Did he think I was trying to kill myself? Idiot man!

I walked. Back and forth, desperately wanting to lie down and sleep. Pretty damn sure if I did, I may not wake up again. So, I walked. My studio apartment not big enough for such walking, but I walked it anyway.
Past midnight. No phone call. Bloody men. Always say one thing, and then.. ooh, shiny object, and off they go.
Past 1am. No calls, but starting to feel my skin return to me, and everything that was supposed to be inside my body started to feel like they were heading back in.
2am, and finally, I knew that I could go to sleep and stay alive.

I woke Sunday morning, went down to fetch the newspaper, made myself a breakfast of toast and fried banana and went back to bed.
Monday dawned and I went into work, seeking out Peter so I could lambast him for being such a concerned friend.
I reached for a coffee cup and he looked at me, laughing, “Jeez, you’re shaking!”
“I know, you *fucktard* (I didn’t really call him that, even though I truly wanted to). I nearly died!”
He had to carry my coffee over to the table, berating me as he went.
“You were supposed to call me to tell me you were ok!”
“You were supposed to call me! If I was dead, how would I be able to call you?”
“I waited in the studio for the phone to ring!”
It was apparent that line wasn’t going anywhere, and I decided to shut up and focus on keeping my hand still long enough to sip my coffee as his friends sat by politely, trying not to stare at my shaking hands.

Back home again, I looked for an explanation. It didn’t take long. The evidence lay on the kitchen counter. In the space of around 5 hours, I had taken all six migraine pills, and around eight Syndol. Enough to kill an elephant.

*** *** ***

Monday, September 14, 2009


My dogs have been a huge part of my life, so be prepared for plenty of dog stories!

I dreamed about Nicholas the other day. Nicholas was my second Maltese, born in December 1988, and a dog who defied every description of a normal dog. He marched to the beat of his own drum. He had no need of approval, and the fact that he liked some people was only because they had worked to earn his respect. I bought him from a pet shop in Johannesburg when he was 6 weeks old. Too young to leave his mother, and I think that broke his little heart. Not that he would ever tell. Weakness was not his thing.

The first three days with me, he started real, nasty fights with Sara, 2 weeks his senior. They were confined to the kitchen until they were housebroken (or at least until Sara was - Nicholas, naturally, was a different story altogether). They both had the same amount of treats, yet Nicholas would start a fight with Sara to take hers. He was a brat. After 3 days of spankings and lectures in his face, he finally accepted that his behavior had to change.

He still wasn't ready to accept me. My duty was only to feed him, walk him, and permit my hair to be used at night for burying anything he didn't want Sara to get. This, unfortunately, included rawhide. Great for teething puppies, but it gets sticky and mushy. When buried in one's hair while one is sleeping, it is then allowed to dry out. And it sticks. The only way to get it out is by getting a funky haircut.
I learned to wake up when someone was burying too close to my head at night.

Despite their rough start, Nicky and Sara became fast friends. Playtime during the day was sweet. Playtime at 3am, not as much.
I had a large two bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment with a long balcony. The Grand Prix would begin, usually in the bathroom, holding onto the end of the toilet roll. Down the passage, into the living room, out on the balcony, in the spare bedroom door, around the corner into my bedroom, over the bed and a sleeping mommy, and back to the passageway.
After a couple of months, Nicholas decided that, since I obviously going to insist he live with me, he would accept me by lying next to me on the sofa. But, I had not been forgiven for not being his real mommy, so touching him was out of the question, and I would receive a warning growl.

I always took heed of warning growls. Some dogs just give warnings. I have plenty of scars on nose and hands that Nicholas was very prepared to act if his growls went ignored.
It took 6 months before he finally, one day, to my utter joy, climbed onto my lap. I knew at that moment, I had been accepted.

Thinking back, it coincided with the time I gave up trying to housetrain him. And as soon as I stopped telling him he had to pee outside, was the time he decided that peeing outside was a pretty good idea.

He also became very protective. On our daily park visits, he would make sure to stand between me and whoever came past, barking and growling. The one thing he did have was a keen intuitive sense of people. I was allowed to have people come close, but they'd better be nice people.

"Michael", the con man written about previously, never met Nicky's approval. I would head to bed, Nicky and Sara accompanying me. During the night, Michael would decide to run to the store, taking Sara with him. He would let her sit in front (she was his favorite), pulling the car seat as close as possible to the front, so she could stand with her feet on the dash, watching where they were going. At the store, he would carry her in, letting her choose what chocolate and biltong she wanted.
Nicholas was happy to share in the spoils, but occasionally, Michael would make sure I was asleep, and then climb into bed with me.
Nicholas positioned himself on the pillow between us and growl. And growl. And would continue growling until Michael gave up and left.

It was so much better than rawhide in my hair, and those times were forgiven in this little dog's efforts to keep his mom safe. For by then, I was indeed, his mom.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Pinched nerve, pinched brain

As if the first offerings weren't self-indulgent enough, be prepared for a maudlin, miserable post.

I envy dead people.

There, I said it.

I cried last night.

I am so tired. Not physically tired. Mentally, emotionally tired. All my life I have wished for, yet never had, a supportive cabal around me. A family - whether of relatives, or friends. I am so tired of doing everything alone. I strive to fulfill my dreams, my visions, and get beaten down to a point where I go and find some unsatisfying job to keep the rent paid. I am so tired.

I have two and a half unemployment checks left to go. I don't know what will happen after that.
I try so hard to stick to my path - to develop creative things, to improve lives, to change the world in my own small way. It's a great idea, and somewhat easier to do when the rent is paid.

I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm not surrounded by supportive people who can mentor or guide me. I've never had that - not as a child, not as an adult. I do have people who pat me on the head and say, "You go, girl - great idea" and then they leave and go back to their own lives... when all I crave is for one person to sit down and say, "OK, how can I help you get this done?".

I envy dead people. They don't have to think about how to pay the rent. Or exist from day to day.

Last week, I read my horoscope:
"Your strategies are close to working. The results you've generated so far are almost useful, bordering on successful, and on the brink of being beautiful. My question now is: You won't stop now, will you? You've already garnered a measure of recognition. You've gotten a taste of victory over your old bugaboos. Will you be satisfied with these partial breakthroughs, or will you fight and kick and scratch to strip away the almosts and ascend to utter triumph?"

It's 100% true. I was astounded. Enough to print it up and stick it on my wall to remind myself that I should keep going.

I tuned in to see a minute of Tarantino on Charlie Rose, and heard him say, "This is my time to climb Mt Everest." It hit me: YES! I'm pushing a boulder up Mt Everest! I'm doing something groundbreaking and extraordinary and fabulous! This is my time!

Teddy Kennedy died this week. I stayed glued to the services and processions and interviews and eulogies. He overcame great tragedies and with perseverance, became a strong leader who changed lives and was respected by people across the world.
He never had to worry about how the hell he would pay the rent. He had doors opened to him because of his name. Fuck, I'd change the world too if my name was Kennedy and I had that kind of family! There's no excuse not to.

I envy dead people.

No, I'm not thinking of offing myself - although god knows that would be something to look forward to - but I'm so sick and tired, very tired, of trying to do everything alone. I'm pushing a boulder up Mt Everest, and it would be so nice to have someone push with me, or be on the other side, doing a little pulling.

Tomorrow, I venture out, with a fake smile on my face, and try to pull a simple seminar together. Alone.
Then, I try to get my website loaded and start looking for a way to make Element happen. Alone.
Then, I continue to worry about what happens two and a half unemployment checks from now and how will I pay the rent; will I need to move - and where to?; will someone send me a little work so I can keep going?
And all the time, I will envy dead people. They have no more worries, no more concerns. Their rent is paid.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


My memory is like a kite, flying high above me. The kite is a speck in the distance, and with each tug, a little ribbon reaches my hand, and a picture comes into focus. The kite remains at a distance, but I know, if I just keep tugging, the story of my life will be told. What I’ll get from the telling is just another distant kite. I may never know what it looks like – is one’s story ever told?

The last few days of finding an old boyfriend – well, he’s around my age, so not old-old, but we were together more than 20 years ago, for a brief moment in time. Another ribbon. The last few days we’ve been talking online – exchanging emails and posts on Facebook. Remembering and learning what we meant to each other. And it’s strange. We were in our twenties, young, not knowing what was of value, just being in the moment of our youth and inconsequential present. What happens when you draw back the curtains of the past, and find a ribbon and pull it, only to find the unexpected.

Let me step back for a moment. I Google. I Google a lot. I do it when I’m bored at home, and I do it when I’m working and bored at work. It’s how I reconnected with my sister after years of being unconnected. I Googled her name, couldn’t find anything, so Googled the name of the last boyfriend I had met. Since he’s a big shot at a hospital in Durban, an email address popped up. Never one to shy away from email, I contacted him, told him who I was and whether he still had contact with my sister. Excited beyond belief, he ran home to his wife and showed her my email, and now we share pictures and stories of our lives across the ocean that divides us. He still thinks he pursued her and convinced her to marry him. Men are quite sweetly na├»ve at times.

I fell into Facebook. My niece asked me to use it to stay in touch with her, so I did and wasn’t impressed. And then, I lost my job in the infamous recession that indicted the financial services of the world. I was now bored at home, and Facebook became my connection to the “outside”.

Another disclaimer: I am almost completely a hermit. I love being at home, and I rather enjoy my own company. After all, I’m quite a nice person, I think, and who has better conversation than I? Even when I disagree with myself, I can always negotiate my way back to at least one side of me. So, my friends who live locally ignore me until I’m ready to entertain them – which I do grandly and splendidly. And then they all leave me alone until my next social foray. And in the times between, Facebook has become my voice.

So, when I remember a name from my past, I Google it – or now, search on Facebook. And this week, I Facebook searched an old boyfriend. Unlike some names where one has an array of options, this time only one popped up with a picture attached, and my heart did a little leap as I recognized an older version of the boy I once knew.

And the kite came a little closer to me. Memories of our times together, the good times, the not-so-good times, and those moments when I lit my eccentric, non-conformist candle and he greeted me with a disapproving, but tolerant, look. Oh, I remember that look. But more of that later.

For now, it’s the wonderful times – the sweetness of sneaking into my sister’s bed while she worked nights and getting him out of the apartment in the morning before she came home. And how often they passed on the street, and she never found out. I had mere minutes to air the bedroom of any scent of our lovemaking before she came home and crashed into those very sheets. It was our way of having our cake and respecting her wishes – if that can be called “eating it”

The times she was out with friends, usually at church, and we would fall onto my little mattress on the floor and devour each other.

The time we went to the beach with friends, and I undressed in the car, and got a “look”. I don’t know if he disapproved of my brazenness or was turned on by seeing panties flying past his ear into the back seat. And then we reached the beach to find it was too cold and I kept my clothes on anyway.

We went camping once. I hate camping. I don’t do tents happily. For some reason – love? – I enjoyed sleeping in the tent with him. We got looks from other campers, and perhaps it was our legendary noisy nookie sounds that reached them. I didn’t care.

He calls me Minx. The dictionary defines that as either a pert girl or a wanton woman. I believe, even at my current age, I might fit both. I guess with Mother, I could have been a lot more screwed up than I am. And I’m not really that screwed up, so perhaps having that mother was a plus?

He met Mother. I begged him to take me out while she visited my sister. When he refused, I begged him to come into the bedroom and stay with me while she was there. He wouldn’t do that, either. He had no idea what was about to happen.

I had had no contact with her since she had disowned me. I think it had shocked her that anyone actually disagreed with her and probably the first time she had been unable to get her own way. My freedom from her authority was the price I paid. She thought that was a bad thing - and that was just one more thing we disagreed about.

She came in, chatted to my two sisters, and ignored me. I joined in the conversation. I spoke directly to her. She ignored me. I was invisible. I did not exist. I was not surprised. I think he and I went out soon after the effort to be polite and left my sisters to deal with a woman who was a stranger to me. To my man, she was probably just strange.

I once said I always think I’m invisible and somehow removed from humanity – I am always surprised when someone remembers me, or tells me I have influenced them in some way. It always takes me aback. I have radio fans who have touched me with their love. Why would you love someone who simply plays music on the radio? Perhaps because I’ve been known to tell stories from my life? I’ve been told I speak to listeners and make them feel I’m speaking to them individually. All I know is its’ a continuation of all the times I walk around talking to myself. Stick a microphone in front of my face, and the conversation simply continues.

**** **** ****

I eventually left Cape Town. It hadn’t worked for me. I had spent most of the year unemployed and finally got a job working at the famous Mount Nelson Hotel. During that time, I had met, dated and loved a man who had his own life. Perhaps that was why it felt “safe” to love him – he was unattainable, he wouldn’t want to change his life and move in or marry me. I was able to continue being free and single (and whether that is over- or underrated is yet to be decided).

He got me a job at SABC-TV, working on a program called Network. It was a current affairs show with in-depth documentaries of five to 10 minute duration. Since the management had informed the executive producer of the show that she was to find a position for me (did I mention my love affair was quite influential?), I was immediately up against an unwelcoming wall with her. That quickly spread to my colleagues when the producer I worked with decided that my talents were wasted on doing the mundane expected duties of my position and allowed me to co-produce with him. He was a maverick, also unpopular, but brilliant. We were nominated for a TV award for a show we worked on, and the resentment by my colleagues would have been overwhelming to someone with less of a spine and attitude than me.

After 6 months, I moved to the brand new breakfast TV show, Good Morning South Africa, where I lived for 2 years, having fun, producing mini-documentaries as a freelance producer, and having a riotous social life. Men loved me, and I flitted around, gathering rumors and gossip wherever I went. It was delicious. A good (male) friend would collect whatever was being said about me, take me for coffee, and spill everything. It allowed me to ramp up the salaciousness to unheard of levels. I was sleeping with so many men, some I’d never met, that if any of it were true, I would have been crippled. Happy and satisfied, but undoubtedly in a wheelchair. If I was as much as seen walking next to a man, it was on the rumor mill within seconds.

On one occasion, the major gossiper of the office asked me outright if I was still seeing one producer. I flippantly replied that we hadn’t seen each other for a while (since the one and only lunch we’d shared in the staff cafeteria – but I didn’t tell her that). She wanted all the details of the break-up. I realized at that point I could have much fun, and proceeded to do so, with the willing cooperation of some friends.

One morning, I called a friend in the building opposite. Ms Gossiper was at her desk and I deliberately chose a phone within earshot. My friend and I flirted outrageously, as I watched out the corner of my eye. If her ears could have flapped like an elephant’s, they would have been creating a breeze around me. By the following day, the gossip mill had us deeply involved in a passionate love affair. A few weeks later, we were, but that’s not the point.

Eventually, the hours and the work burned me out, and I left the SABC to pursue some freelance production. Falling out with the people I was supposed to be working with left me looking for another vehicle for my creativity. But what was to happen next, left me damaged and wounded and it would take a long time to get back to being me.

He was a police informer. I knew that – he was very proud of it. Apparently, he wasn’t as proud of his real name, since I only found that out much later, after the damage was done. It took me a while to discover he was a con man, by which time it was too late and he’d weaseled himself into my life, and I was stuck with him. Before he even moved in, I had tried to get him out. I had demanded, screamed and cajoled. I had no idea how to treat a person like that. My life had been filled with decent, well-mannered, good people and nothing had prepared me to deal with someone who, when asked to leave my apartment, simply said, “No. I’m going to have a bath and go to bed.”
It left me stunned.
Needless to say, the next few months were torture. I was extremely depressed, cried a lot, felt helpless, while he professed to love me. My friends had disappeared – who would want to be around him? – and the only friend who still cared was afraid for me, but felt equally helpless to do anything but stand by and watch me fall apart.

The day he disappeared, I received a call from his police handler. There was a warrant out for “Michael’s” arrest and he advised me to change my locks and be rid of him forever. I took his advice, and started to breathe a sigh of relief. Ha! Not so fast, young lady!
It started with literally hundreds of calls each day. I had started my own event planning business, so had no choice but to answer the phone. He cajoled, begged, insulted, screamed, all day, every day.
I contacted the phone company and they changed my number. The peace lasted an hour. Somehow, he got my number and the calls started again.

And then, one day, came a knock at my door. A tall, young man stood there, asking me if he could speak to me. “Michael” had been paying him to follow me. He had sat outside my apartment for weeks, watching my every move. “Michael” had told him I was a member of the ANC and was smuggling guns, so it was this poor man’s patriotic duty to watch me and report, so they could arrest me.

As soon as I heard the story, I called an attorney friend. This poor man had been conned out of thousands, setting up a store with “Michael”. Together, we called the police and my stalker took us to the apartment building where “Michael” was staying. I shall never forget the look on his face as he stepped out of the elevator. I was the first person he saw. Then he spotted the attorney. And then he saw the police and started to run. They forced him down on the sidewalk and arrested him.

It was a good Christmas, knowing he was in custody. But, being a police informant means there are some people who don’t want to see you in prison, so after spending the holiday weekend in jail, he was released, and free to continue to torment me. He even went so far as to call my manager, and spread complete lies about me. Since I wouldn’t allow him back in the apartment, he sued me to get his furniture and clothing back. Court officials came to collect everything and I was relieved to have the last of him out of my home. I won the suit but the attorney representing him misunderstood the judge’s orders and released all his belongings to him. When I confronted the attorney, he drew up papers to drop everything and an agreement that “Michael” would never contact me again.

It was time to leave Johannesburg. It was time to go somewhere far away from wherever he could find me, disappear for a while and recover from the ordeal.

My best friend at the time, Sarah, had friends who owned a farm in Harrismith. They thought I’d last a month and then go running back to the city. They underestimated my need to get away from humanity and just return to being me again. As healing as it was to spend so much time on the farm (and a couple of farms subsequent to that), it also sparked the start of the hermit life I continue to lead today. I realized I really didn’t need people around me to be happy. It made me more aware of having people in my life who offered something positive, and to leave the rest. My motto became: if you’re not bringing something good into my life, and I can’t do that for you, then we can’t be friends. Harsh? Frequently. Self protective? Yes. Lonely? That too at times. Worth it? Absolutely.

18 months on two farms in Harrismith, plus a month living on a private game reserve, and it felt time to return to Johannesburg. Instead of diving headlong into the city, I chose to take an intermediate step, and moved to a farm in Magaliesburg, about 45 minutes from Johannesburg. On my first day, I found a job at a local hotel. It was an interesting time, and many stories and happenings took place in my life over those 18 months in a little SA village. Most of the experiences were unhappy ones, but my time in Harrismith had strengthened me to a point where nothing scared me. I was daunted by nothing and I lived life on my terms again.

Back to Joburg and after a few months, found a sweet little house for me and my dogs. It was a lovely time. I didn’t date, hung out with two beautiful girlfriends, and shared many dinners with friends. I became known for my cooking and entertaining, to the extent that friends would cancel holiday plans and work in order to make one of my dinner parties. I hated them doing that, but they would insist.

Johannesburg has a time limit. I can live there 3 years before I get antsy and want to get out, go anywhere. My plan is always to return, because I truly love the city. I just sometimes need a break from it.
The decision this time was fairly clear: return to Cape Town or do something completely different. Something completely different meant doing some research because wherever I went had to accept my five dogs and me. It also needed to be somewhere that wouldn’t present any other challenges, since having that many dogs was going to be challenge enough. The result? I figured I’d lived in Cape Town before, so why not go to America? See what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t that unfamiliar – god knows, I’d been inundated with American music, television and films my entire life. I had a pretty good idea what to expect.

Or so I thought.


What is it about us that directs the journey we take in life? Is it something genetic? Pre-determined? Fate? Chance?
In 1982, I moved to Cape Town from Pretoria on a whim. Initially, I went for a 2-week vacation - and spent that time walking into things as I wandered the city, staring at the magnificent Table Mountain, looming like a protective guardian over the Mother City. I could not take my eyes off it, and I could not get that silly grin off my face. There is a magnetism that holds one enthralled, and yet, the city is like an enclave and one has to get over that mountain to enter and join in the beauty.
On my return to Pretoria, I resigned my job and headed back to Cape Town, to continue a life filled with strange journeys.

My boyfriend, Charles - was leaving to sail the world shortly after I arrived and we understood the relationship would then be over, since neither of us expected the other to wait or expect anything more than to simply appreciate what we had had together.
I found a job at some or other company - I remember neither the name of it nor what it really did. Like so many jobs, it was boring and I believe I was only there for a few months before being fired. It was a relief. It led to a very long period - several months, of being unemployed and a burden on my sister, but it was also a good time for I met the man who has recently come back into my life.

Of course, life did not begin in Cape Town when I was 23, even though the circle has come back to me from that point. Life began in a lovely, big old house in Moseley, a suburban environment near Pinetown. We had an enormous property - my sisters and I tried to count the trees one day and barely got halfway around before we lost count. We hadn't even reached their favorite gum trees at that point, but there were jacaranda trees, and avocado trees and everything you would find in a sub-tropical garden. It was the perfect place to grow up. The shelter of the massive jacaranda tree outside the kitchen provided parking space enough for several cars, and the driveway wound around under it to the garage - long seconded by my father. He loved to make things, loved wood and what it could become if you handled it just right. He made a bed for me that I was loathe to leave behind when I finally left home. It wasn't all that comfortable, to be honest, but it came from his hands. And for me, that was enough.

My father was a kind man who married a woman who bewitched him and lived a life regretting that decision. Mother was powerful, strong, spoiled from a life as an only child, a princess - and demanded she always be treated as such. There was only one way - her way. She ruled over her realm with an iron hand and flashing sapphire eyes that could scare the strongest person into submission. Everyone feared her. All she had to do was give you a look.

As kids, my sisters and I spent as much time as we could at the local ice rink. I loved skating, and tried my best to do figure skating. The coach was a former Olympian and seemed to enjoy teaching me. Our times on the ice would have been perfect, but for the glowering spectator sitting waiting impatiently for me to finish my class so she could get back to her own life and interests. I eventually succumbed to the unspoken pressure and gave up figure skating, leaving my fun to the times when my sisters and I could all go together, and I wouldn't inconvenience the queen.
My teenaged sisters made friends with a group of guys who spent as much time at the rink as we did, and they would come over to play table tennis - ping-pong. Or as my father preferred to call it, pong ping, since rules usually went out the window and the focus became sheer fun instead.
The guys would sneak around to the back of the house to avoid meeting Mother. I think she enjoyed the power that gave her.

My father had a wonderfully perverse sense of humor. Mother took up painting and would hold exhibitions with her friends. We were all required to attend, dressed to the nines for the opening. My sisters and I were co-opted to serve snacks and wine to the guests, and my father hated every second. To make it bearable, he would invite Uncle Sonny.

Mother had been dating Sonny when she met my father, and they had stayed lifelong friends. So, Sonny would put his best suit on and join daddy and their evening of antics would begin. Critiquing the art was the least of their interests as they sat on the sidelines, wallflowers in union, and tell stories about the legs they saw on the other side of the screens that held the paintings. It would be their challenge, when the person appeared, to see who had been more accurate in their descriptions.
The evening would inevitably end with them doing something that would enrage Mother - turning abstract paintings upside down was only one memorable finale. Why she insisted he continue to attend was beyond anyone’s guess.
Later, Sonny’s health problems prevented him from saving daddy from an evening of stupor, and he would lounge against a wall - a tall, dark-haired and handsome man, bored out of his skull, proving an irresistible target to every woman in the room, who would ply him with wine and food and flirty conversation. It was endlessly entertaining to me - I got him. I later determined I was the only person in the family who did.

When he was hurting, he would hum or whistle as he walked away. One sister said it was because he didn't care, but I knew differently. It was because he cared too much, and his sensitivity had to be veiled in the face of an unkind wife and teenage daughters who took her side. I was too young to do or say anything, and watching him walk away from the pain felt like a knife through my own heart. I cried for him, and I cried against my mother for bringing him pain. Not that crying and railing alone in my room against Her was an uncommon occurrence. My rebellion was always internal, since nobody wanted to take on the steel in her eyes. I reserved my strength for the first time I would challenge her - the first and only time I chose to disobey her orders.

It was my first real job. It was possibly the worst working experience in my life - at least initially.
As a child, I was the shyest person who walked the face of the earth. I know, hard to believe now, right? Well, my first job reformed me into someone who could actually walk into a store and do more than whisper at the store clerk. Self-service shops were easier for me to deal with, but those places where I actually had to ask for something, I would either have my sister ask on my behalf, or be forced to repeat myself a few times until the assistant could hear me and determine what I needed.
My first job was selling magazine subscriptions to people who weren't interested in buying them. I traveled the country, building character and confidence. My first sales call saw me sitting in a huge conference room, with a man who was probably too kind. I hid my pitch script in my lap and read it in a quiet, trembling voice. He patiently let me finish, told me no and showed me the door. I left to sit on the fire escape and cry for the rest of the day.
To my credit, I went back the next day, and the next, and the day after that. In three months, I was promoted to manager and had my own crew. It was a horrible job, but possibly the best thing for me at that time.
At the beginning of August 1979, the two crews - mine and the company owner’s - headed for Durban. Up until then, my mother and I had communicated by phone and letter. She consistently wanted me to return home. I consistently refused. She accused me of doing things a shy and very naive person like me had never dreamed of, and was not convinced that I was completely innocent. In every way. No, mother, I was not drinking champagne and dancing with married men. I was however, celebrating a staff member’s birthday, with my boss and his lovely wife. If I avoided her calls, she would continue to phone all night, until I showed mercy on my colleagues and answered the barrage of accusations before I could go to sleep.

So, when we all headed for Durban, I avoided telling my parents I was back in town for a week. And then I called them. They came rushing to the beachfront hotel, and we sat in the car while she demanded I return home with them. I refused. They continued to try to convince me. I say “they”, but really it was She whilst dad tried to show support for his wife. His discomfort and distaste for what was happening was obvious. By that time, I had started to discover the strong spine that would later guide me through so many events that might have crushed a weaker person. After all, by that time I was a manager, I could speak to strangers - I had become a different person. And that person was someone they had never encountered. For the first time in my life, I stood up to her, and said "No."

So, she told me that if I got out of the car and didn't come back with my belongings, I was no longer their child, no longer a part of the family, and no longer had a home.
I got out the car and walked away.

Heavy-hearted and free, I walked away from them. I had become my own person, and the ties that bound me to my mother had been cut. Never released, for that would suggest a willingness by my parents to set me free, and that certainly was not the case.

The final weekend the company was in Durban, I chose a Saturday morning to go to the house where I had been born - the only child of four to have been born at home. I knew Saturday mornings were time for shopping, so I could get into the house, collect the remainder of my clothes and belongings and leave without them knowing.

I walked around to the back door, knowing the front door would be locked but that they left the back door open for the dogs. They were both in the kitchen. The first words She said to me: "What do you think you're doing here? This isn't your home."
My father left, went to his workshop, whistling quietly, as Mother reconfirmed that I was no longer her child.
I collected what I could and left.

Back in Johannesburg a couple of weeks later, a friend told me the police were looking for me. She had reported me as a runaway, and the police were instructed to find me and take me home.
I called my father’s younger brother and he came to collect me, buying me a ticket for the train back to Durban.

For a couple of months, I lived with them, but soon enough, Jacqui and I found an apartment and I could leave - this time for good. I saw them rarely over the next year, and the final day I spent in Durban was with them, begrudgingly and in stony silence, taking me to the train station. I hugged her farewell, but, true to character, received nothing in return.

**** **** ****


Disclaimer: In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that as a child, I fell out of a tree and landed on my head. I think it almost certainly bent my spine, but whether it had any other lasting effect on me is open to opinion.


This is not my autobiography. If it were, I would have to start remembering everything I did from my first memory, and since I can barely remember what I wore yesterday, that would require a degree of accuracy that just isn’t going to happen. So instead, this is a memoir. It is my memories of what my life has been like, up until now. If anyone finds themselves featured in theses pages, and disagrees with my take on events, please feel free to write your own book.
I say this because if Oprah ever wants me on her show, and then finds out I may have fudged a few details so I come out looking simply wonderful, I don’t want her to start leveling accusations at me for being a liar. Heck, who doesn’t lie about their history? Maybe one day someone will write a book about her, and she won’t be happy about the portrayal. Ah, who really cares? This isn’t about Oprah. It’s about me.

Around now, you may be wondering, who is this person and why is she writing a book about herself? Good question, and apart from the fact that I’ve had an interesting and challenging life, there’s really no reason at all. OK, honestly? My temptation is to stop doing this and go shopping, but then I need to find out where the balances are on my credit cards, and I know that’s more depressing than sitting here, gabbing on about my life.

So, unless you’ve already put this down and gone to do something fascinating, keep reading and come with me on a little adventure that I once thought of calling, “Places I’ve slept”. Yes, ladies and gentleman, sex will be mentioned. I say here, categorically, that I’m writing this now, because my life is quite boring at the moment. Unless I get that job as George Clooney’s personal body washer, it’s probably going to stay that way for a while.

But, let’s go back in time to an era of history that was safe and sweet and innocent, except for the political movement that was about to explode and change a country and millions of lives.

Ha! Now I have your attention, and that fascinating jaunt you were about to take just got cancelled, didn’t it?

This volume of my life story takes place in the last 3 decades of South Africa’s apartheid era, and will take me up to the point when I left South Africa to travel – a few years into the country’s new democracy. Now that I live in America, I realize that American’s lives aren’t really reflected by the politics of the country to the degree that growing up in a place like South Africa affects one. It permeates every part of your value system, your beliefs, expectations and the way you live each day in a way I haven’t found from many other nationalities. As you read my book, I hope I can explain that so you can understand what I’m saying. Or maybe not. It’s really difficult to explain this kind of thing to other people. Everybody thinks their government or the policies of their land affects them and to an extent that is true. Living in South Africa was different.

Not many people are raised knowing that by the very color of their skin, they’re automatically considered the scourge of the world. For the duration of my childhood, I wasn’t aware of that per se, although I always had that uneasy feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t quite right with the world. It was only later, as I retreated from my family and into my own life that I started to understand what that feeling was.

List of main characters: I do this here, so I don’t have to keep explaining who is who.
Father: nice guy
Mother: spoilt, aristocratic Elizabeth Taylor-wannabe, bitch (yes, I just said that)
Margie: eldest sister, 8 years older than yours truly
Jacqui: 6 years older
Sandi: 4 years older
Me: my age

Anyone else, I’ll introduce as I go along.

I have always been a calm, composed person. I have never had a temper. When people do bad things to me, I get annoyed and then I brush it off and get on with my life.
So why would hiding my dolls make me snap?
The two middle sisters, Jacqui and Sandi, were real tomboys and grew up climbing trees, making cows stampede, and other wicked stuff that a lady like me would never consider doing. My life as a child was spent alone, usually designing fabulous clothes for either my Barbie or paper dolls. My dolls were very important to me – they were my friends, my companions, in my lonely little childhood.
So, when my sisters decided it would be funny to hide Barbie from me, I got mad. There may have been more than two occasions, but these are the two I recall and have been reminded about throughout my life.

I couldn’t have been more than three or four when this happened. In fact, I have no recollection of doing this, although Sandi remembers the experience very clearly and has spent a lifetime reminding me of it. She hid my doll, which, as I explained, was a cardinal sin. I pushed her up against the kitchen counter and standing behind her, held a bread knife to her throat, demanding she give me back my doll.
I have no doubt she did.

Jacqui had her moment in the spotlight, too. I may have been six or seven when this happened, but the height difference is what counts. She was wearing think crimplene-type fabric shorts and panties that weren’t exactly thin cotton. Again, my doll went missing. This time, I had her up against the wall and because of that aforementioned height difference, I suppose I realized a knife wouldn’t do it, but my teeth were sharp. I bit her backside as hard as I could. She yelled with pain, and showed my mother that, through two fairly thick fabrics, I had drawn a little blood.
Again, I ‘m pretty sure my dolls were returned promptly.

I imagine my temper was unleashed because of that alone space where I spent a large part of my formative years. By the time I was born, the last of four daughters, Mother had given up on presenting a son and had long since lost any interest in children generally – around the time of daughter #2, in fact. So, there I was, left to my own devices, pretty much raising myself, and allowing my imagination free rein as I developed friendships with all the invisible people who inhabited my world. My dolls represented some of those friends. My loyalty to people has always been an issue, as I tend to be loyal to a fault with people who sometimes don’t deserve it, but it was something I learned back when I was little and defending the friends my sisters kept hiding high up in the branches of the gum trees at the far end of the property.

My eldest sister, Margie, or Margaret-Ann, as Mother referred to her, or Margridan as my sisters pronounced it. Now there’s a piece of work. She definitely held herself as the eldest child and all the superiority complex that came with that position. She once pulled me out of the car and dumped me onto the ground because I was sitting in the front passenger seat, and as the eldest, she had dibs on that seat of distinction. The three younger sisters had trouble relating to her because of her complex. My clearest memories of her were all the times she tried to run away from home. She had a boyfriend, and perhaps this is why I wasn’t allowed one until I had left home. One day, Sandi was in Margie’s room, and found a packed suitcase under her bed. She dutifully reported this to Mother. That night, our parents were on patrol, saw a car lurking outside the property, and on investigation, discovered boyfriend’s father, waiting for the runaway girlfriend. I’m very sure he regretted getting involved, as Mother’s wrath was not something you wanted visited upon you. Obviously, Margie was as unhappy living with us as we were with her, and I can hardly blame her for getting married to the first man who proposed.

Now, I haven’t been to many weddings in my life, and I was pretty sure that the groom isn’t supposed to be completely drunk at his own wedding, but perhaps he knew at that point what we all knew – that this was a woman you didn’t really want to have to deal with on a regular basis. Too late to back out, he married her and they stayed together, largely unhappily as far as I could see, for about 13 years. It was all so very wrong – for both of them. He was a nice guy with issues. She was the eldest daughter.

What can I say about my father? He was a lovely, sensitive man, for whom I had such deep sympathy. I hurt for him. I was in such deep pain for so many years, watching what he went through with Mother, and feeling helpless, imprisoned in my childhood, to defend him. So, I kept silent, and guilt ravaged me for my silence, even though I knew I couldn’t help him. As I write, you’ll learn more about him. His beauty shines through every aspect of my life, and his quiet strength is something I walk with every day.

Mother I shall leave for the various stories that will come, and you can draw your own conclusions. She was a complex character, and a paragraph of descriptions will never capture her spirit.