Wednesday, August 26, 2009


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.

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