My sister was by now dating a Pierre N. My mother insisted behind their backs that he must have coloured blood in him because of his short curly hair. This was pure Nazi mentality as well as South African Boer racism. My father resented him because he was not jumping at their every command or request and he did not “offer” to help either. They also did to them as a couple what they did to me already: suspected them of committing the vile deed of sex in secret, checking out Greta’s flat every time they went there. How was I to know that they were hypersensitive about their possible loss of status in the community? Their eldest daughter HAD to get married, did she not? They had had her enrolled at Stellenbosch University and she dropped her Medical studies halfway and disgraced them after all their initial bragging four years earlier. My mum made sure I heard all the awful rape stories that were in the newspaper and I shrunk and clenched my fingers under the table until they were white. I also had to endure stories of Angie, our coloured maid, having sex with her boyfriend and how distasteful and yuck that was. They were thoroughly disgusted with a near-neighbour’s son having had sex with a coloured and that it served him right to be jailed for that. And thus I was initiated into the world of sex through the eyes of my parents. I hated not being able to talk about anything intimate to my parents. I felt dirty and ashamed of myself, having wet my pants in class in Grade 8 and having suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a churchman, my friend’s father. It certainly did not help that my mother made sex dirty. The embarrassment even now, years after the pant-wetting event, at school, was connected with dirt. I did something dirty. In the years that were to follow, the result of my mother’s unspoken suspicions was that I became promiscuous in my own way.
The guilt and anger turned inward continued to lead my hands to my face, no matter how hard I tried. The destruction, the scratching, the fiddling; it was a bloody affair. At times I secretly had doubts about myself being human. Was I maybe a vampire that sucked her own blood? I was always sneaky about my awful deeds. I put thick cream on my sores so as to disguise them because I, unfortunately, used my bathtime in the evening to attack my face and I HAD to say goodnight to my dad. He usually sat reading the newspaper at the lounge table between the bathroom and my bedroom. I never could look my mum in the face when she came into my room or when I had to be with her at lunch or other times. Sundays I’d stay inside when the family had a barbecue. In the sun, or so I reckoned, my scars would look too visible. I hated doing gym at school, because I’ sweat all the disguising make-up off and I’d be forced to shower like the rest of the girls and then they would see my face in its raw state.
Back to January of that year:
Pierre N. and Greta took us to the Ster Drive-In to see “Die Banneling’, an Afrikaans movie. That week my brother and I went Ice-skating, something we did once every two months or so when we came to Port Elizabeth. I met Boy J H there and that evening he joined us on a walk at Happy Valley. We went swimming the next morning and there he was again. He escorted me to the fair, Playland, that evening and our family went for a last swim, then packed up and drove off. A few days later I received a letter from Boy, from the large farm in Somerset-West where he stayed. We officially became boy-and-girlfriend by exchanging a ring and necklace. It was all done because of some peer pressure to also be ’doing it, cold and distant, nothing more. Our letters displayed some passion, our one and only encounter later on pure emptiness and it ended pretty fast, with me demanding my jewellery back and keeping his.
March brought far more excitement in terms of boys. I travelled by train up to Irene, between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Celia, my current friend and her friends Margaret and Althea were to spend the following 8 days in the holiday camp of the Full Gospel Church of God. I had not been going back to my childhood church, the Dutch Reformed Church for two reasons at that stage: my new friend belonged to a different church that was far happier, and I was distressed that my sexual abuser was a deacon at my former church. We met some nice boys at the camp. On the last day, we went to Celia’sAunt, Jacomina C. where I met my future husband-to-be, Petrus C. I quite liked him, although I found his brother the more attractive of the two at that stage. That evening, after fish and chips, we watched the movie ‘Love Story’ from their small balcony. It looked down into the Drive-in in the distance below. The next morning when the two cousins and aunt said goodbye to us at the station, Petrus said that he was going to write.
In April my family and I went to Hogsback, a beautiful green place in the mountains. And in May, on the 17th, Petrus and I officially became boyfriend and girlfriend. During the June holidays, he visited me in Grahamstown, having hiked all the way down from the Witwatersrand.
Monday, June 26th:
I woke up that morning and it was like every other day. I was not happy, but not sad either. I only had regrets that I did not look prettier. I later heard from my friend Celia that Petrus would be here roundabout 2pm.
Petrus phoned and I fell in love with his voice and was happy. Right after that, I phoned red-haired Vera and excitedly told her about him. I was crazy about him. I laughed a lot too. Yes, I was laughing so much that I needed to lie on my back; a pleasant, happy laugh.
When Petrus and Celia arrived a little later, she felt nothing for him and was rather disappointed with herself- maybe it was the shock of seeing him again, or in real life probably after months of romanticising through the medium of letters. I felt sick from reasoning about it. That evening felt more romantic, fortunately. School started a few days later but he was still there for a few more days because his school started later in the other province of Transvaal. In July I had some glamour photos taken of me in town at Herbert and Evans.
In September Petrus and I sneaked in a holiday together. My parents were overseas and I was to spend the holidays in the Karoo with my friend “Pit”. I am amazed at how much her parents put up with, in retrospect. We spent many evenings kissing and cuddling in one lounge whilst the older sister of “Pit” and her adult male friend did it in another part of the huge farmhouse. It was pretty innocent between Petrus and me. He was certainly more familiar with my breasts before I plucked up the courage to ask him to kiss me. It was a very unfeeling and restrained, unnatural kiss, that first one. We rode horses bareback in the day. He said goodbye to me in the room I shared with “Pit”. Goodbye, dear, wonderful, pure friend.
On the 13th of October, we put on a high school matric farewell. with masks, dinner and dance. It was the job of grade 11s to do it for the grade 12s. On the 17th my mum and dad arrived back from their time in Europe and at the Munich Olympics. The very next day my little cat drowned in the cement dam and the day after that was the school’s award night. Elmarie was appointed school head girl. I received a trophy for Art. Then it was my dad’s birthday and the engagement party of Greta and Pierre N.
I daydreamed that it was a carefree youth with self-made worries around self-made turns. Those worries mattered because I imagined that Petrus’ love would mature in the process. His love was like quiet autumn, calm yet stormy at times, but warm and rosy in its essence. I was enough for him in life; he needed nothing else to make him happier. He was young, seventeen. A young man should feel happiness chasing and pleasure surge through him. Was it in him? I could not tell, because he was sombre and quiet and always in deep thought. His life was to glide over the ice, sit by a playful mountain stream and ride horses. And for me? Those things were all wonderful. I wanted to climb mountains, ride horses, ice-skate, ski, just about everything, in any event, everything he was interested in., but more than that. The unrest in me was like a chewing rat. One day I truly wanted to find happiness in the quiet, blue clouds above. The unknown was like a mature man whom I admired, deeply admired, but did not love. It lured me. It was bewitchingly male- the symbol of all the ambition, ideals and the promise of spontaneous love for which I was waiting. Impatience, the unreachable, awakening desires: it rocks a man, a woman around on an endless ocean. I thought I loved Petrus, but I wanted his love to be different even then. I did not want it to be hesitant and insecure. I wanted him to be my master. His love was sincere. I knew that. But it was not the love that I imagined all teenagers would be showing. I needed a vibrant, mad love, without worries or fear, but still with unfathomable depth and purity in it…
Depression hit me at a stage and I questioned my god as to why I was here. What was I looking for? What? It was all so cold and dead around me. It seemed cold and dead everywhere else too. No place to run to. I was looking for warmth and sincerity. Would I find it in myself? You are cruel, World. How on earth would I find it in myself? Where must I start? Do I even possess love myself? It was so necessary. I wanted to die, but where would I go then? I’d be cold and full of mould. Rats would chew and chew…
The self-destruction led to a complete withdrawal. Things were bad at home. Mum and dad were continuing to threaten us with divorce, because, so they claimed, the kids wrecked things between them. The total taboo in our home as far as feelings were concerned, continued triggering off the withdrawal. We were not allowed to stand up for our rights. I never got a chance to make a choice AND get my parents’ consent at the same time. I had to do it sneakily. I became an expert liar and was disgusted with myself because of my Christian upbringing and value system. With this bad image I had of myself, close to a monster, so to speak, with hating my parents so much, lying, even stealing at times, sexually rotten, covered with thick slimy make-up, I continued the self-destruction. I could not show any aggression and could not solve the effect this had on me, namely to take the aggression out on myself mentally, and from there, physically.
I tried to be positive at times and felt inspired. Two days before the exams I wrote: Maybe it is wrong to feel this way, but it is the first time that I understand the situation and the workings of god as I understood god and the devil. Naturally everything will not come right instantaneously, but god works in me and I am therefore very thankful. There is something new in my heart now and I do not think that it should ever be allowed to slip away. It is too wonderful, it HAS to stay. I must have attended an evening service at Celia’s church or seen a religious Cliff Richard movie with her!
The above was continued from my blog. Previously “FROM AGE TWELVE:. THE EARLY DAYS…. The 1950s–1970s, THE BEDFORD-GRAHAMSTOWN YEARS. Written by me from a young age in Afrikaans and later translated by me. Most names have been changed.