Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Memoirs-3

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.

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