TEENAGE MUSINGS FROM AGE SIXTEEN

Self-portrait of me as a teenager in 1972

Now she knows what it means to feel bewitched and lamed, just like that- as if a magic berry put to sleep everything that is sensible, anaesthetised it and brought with it a euphoric glow.

Where does a person start when you feel too happy, too mixed-up to find a start?

Let’s say that I sacrificed myself to nature today; tore myself open and exposed myself to its powers. I did not deceive him-for once I was totally honest.

I took my dog. He was in such a hurry to run- dash through the grass, up the mountain, down the mountain, that it made me feel good just to put his leash on.  Along the way in the wild whirlwind, I picked up stones, threw them up, caught them. Again and again. And it made me happy. The sun came from the front, struggled through the clouds to bewitch me and later, when only open heavens stretched above me, it sapped all my power and strength away. I was thankful for the luxurious wealth of green around me; grateful that it was so never-endingly quiet there on top of the hill—so, so happy that I could come and lie here and repair and re-think all those weary days.

Thank you, thank you so much that I exist.

(Written in 1972)

SIXTEEN   1972

One day I may die of sentimentality.  Try to catch images on canvass my sole demands, but my flesh longs for more- thus I write. But pen and ink do not satisfy as much as reality.  As I sit here by the table I look out on the countryside. The morning mists have disappeared. It is afternoon now and I look to the North. There you are somewhere as if my very life depended on you. I long for you my love, and I can but pray. Youth lends itself to that magical world of praying to an outside force.

To love is to run through your own heavenly green fields with or without the one you love.    When he is with you your laughter is his and you hate no one.  When he is gone, the countryside that you run through changes to grey mistiness.  Through the pines.  The whisperings of the tall pines become your beloved’s voice. You want to fly up into space-, maybe become an angel- and touch his fingers and then his lips.   You want – most of all – to hear his voice desperately- wait patiently- … but what is pa­tience?   Why is the world so cruel and dark?

By the way, you look so handsome by a flickering candle at night- so beautiful in the dark, especially when we speed through the night on the open road and the moon lights up your face.

Please live to be a man, then I will live to be a woman- but, when I’m gone…do not worship my soul.  Love someone else and love her more.

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS 1973

Here where I am, the willows are overfed with wealth. I live in a whitewashed house 103 long steps away.  I come here often to listen to the wind.  The wind is broken by a mass of swinging green. At each tree it has to stop.  This is always my chance to feel overfed too and the wealth of the willows is blown into my body. Its spirit stays here, forever.  I refuse to let it out. It is summer.  And summer is health and so much love that I am twice as much in love with you and in love with this spacious beautiful world.  Here where the willows grow and swell, where water and green plants and sky are one. Like my body, his, yours.  Take my arm away and it will be deformed and hurt.  So leave this world in its warm place.

Today it is autumn.  I walked the 103 long steps to come here…and to listen.  Today the wind has not stopped.  Like a child, it peeps through the empty branches, around them.  It clutches, but only for a second.  Turning again, it tumbles over the trees, over the loose, useful earth and its companions, the brown leaves, the mustard ones and green-yellow ones too; the brown that soothes me so. And then, as I say “hush”, it goes away through thin, sharp air, along tepid waters, over other brown leaves.  The brown leaves have partially eaten up the earth and the earth has pressed it to its bosom.  When night falls, they are so safe. The cosy summer blanket does not cover them during this half-empty, half-mature season. And where is my friend, the wind?  It goes through thin air, whistling quietly. It will come again in the winter.

When winter comes I take a blanket with me to cover myself.  I am human, after all. I hasten to the beloved place, but I am prepared for that desolate, deserted emotion.  The wind is more than empty now. It has become hollow and it blows through only a skull.  The wide fields around me: they were so full in summer… I love this place, but I would hate it at midnight.  If I had to come here at that hour, the darkest one, the graves would surely have appeared under the trees and the skeletons would be having their feast on rotten leaves in the midst of this pool of icy, grey water.  I am so utterly convinced.  You, my friend, cannot change what is human and what is me. The wind blows through a skull and it is afraid to touch it.  Sometimes, somewhere, in this wind, some hope is left.

For today it is Spring and the wind is in love, not only with the tender green but also with the willows themselves. Body and soul.  My friend, I never want to die.  This is too wonderful.  I woke up this morning and I walked the 103 long steps.  Now I will never turn back- this is where I belong. This is home.

As I sit here the dreams fleet by.  They never stop.  I have a handful of fresh brown earth between my hands.  When I press it, the water runs down my arms. And always, always, the music blows through my body, to make mature this feeling of absolute bliss. Tomorrow it will be summer again.

Sketch of a forest walk by Hermien Zwiers 1973

1973

“Do you love me?”

NO!! The problem is that if I allow myself to love you properly, I will be vulnerable and you might hurt me.  And anyway, I cannot relate to you properly whilst I am dependent on you in my mind.  I need to feel free before I can love you and I need to be able to love myself first. I am in a state of chronic anxiety and I cannot love anyone until that passes.  And so, you see, I DO love you, but…I do not know… If I could lose connection with you for a while, I might be closer to you, if you see what I mean.  Anyway…well… It is not fair of you to keep asking me these difficult questions. 

1973

We   Searched For You Agapi

It is the remembrance of the best things that sometimes make me feel nostalgic. Happy too, yes. Al­ways, but mostly in dreams.

Do you remember the little nest we lived in there on top of the rough cliff by the sea?  At night we lis­tened to the waves that were struggling to break the rocks at high tide.  We felt so secure then.  Some­times I stood up at midnight when you were awake too, and we made coffee.  Just coffee with cream and a spoon filled high with sugar. That was wonderful was it not?  During the cosy winters, it was only you and I.  In the early hours of morning, you went out in the fresh blue world and came back again with dry logs of wood for the fireplace. Just for the moment, as always, you would look up and smile at me.

On Sundays I made such nice thick tomato soup.  You loved it. The quiet tickle of laughter over the yellowwood table was a firm tie.  There in our playhouse kitchen.  In the summers, when it was sul­try, we climbed down the cliff as children do.  You always took your torch with you; do you remember?  What a devil you were when the crab catch started!  Many times we just walked to feel the temperate water flow over our sandy feet.  The light wind always blew my hair in circles to make it a crow’s nest. We also had to stand still and watch- in awe and wonder when the white foam wanted, just wanted to flash through the dark.  Do you still know that calmness? How beautiful the world was in winter!  If there is one thing that I, strangely enough, will remember and will want to keep, it will be the white and the melancholy of those days.  It was as if the universe wanted to cast back the white.  There from the top of the cliff, everything looked so far away, so very far.  The sea too.  However, it was near, very near beneath me.  I could touch nothing.  The haziness and the mist and the moan of the wind were always escaping.

And those days when you became mouldy together with the manuscripts in the attic? That voice was always chasing you, was it not?  I brought tart and coffee.  The coffee grew cold and you spoiled ink on the tart.  I had to escape to the sea.  At night I preferred walking on the beach.  Up there it was Agapi and the manuscripts and down below, my soul and me.  When we sang, we searched for you, Agapi.  The sadness inside grew higher as your bundle of manuscripts grew.  I was actually relieved when the weather grew bad and angry for then I had the chance to shout out above the wind and the thundering waves at the clouds, bidding them to stop all their fighting.  All along the shining black rock I ran and watched as the massive stone bunk became one with the night above.  My breath chased and my haste burned with the climb back along the cliff.

There at the top I was at least inside the mad merry-go-round.  My senses whisper that you and the house by the sea are only a dream.

Just a dream.  Are you?   I feel the page of the book soft between my thumb and my other finger.  I feel unbearable pain.  Without looking where I last read, I stand up to make the coffee.

Coloured ink drawing by Hermien Zwiers 1973

10 February 1973

THE BRIDGE IN THE DARK.

The evening is clear.  All around me the warm yellow light soothes the inky blackness of the night.  I am on my rusty bicycle, moving through the old part of Amsterdam, dreaming my puzzling dreams.

I pass people and I smile at them.  I might not see them again. Then I stop and try to calm a crying little Dutch maid, someone I know. She cries and I caress her.  Then I leave her behind on a cosy corner of a street.  Am I not like her? I look behind me and the lonely look in her eyes disturbs me.

Wonderful old Amsterdam is so calm tonight.  I am mute; I have no words.  So like before a big storm.  At 3999 Verhuizingen and Transporten I stop.  The light from the street lamps still plays on the water, on the rusty iron of my dated bicycle and on me.  I climb off my bicycle with neutral lifeless movements.  There are no more people around me.  The night seems to have become so silent as if it had become aware of me and was empathising with me.

Now I am walking across the bridge.  It seems strange that it is so quiet here on the bridge and how strange that it is dark here.  Nobody is rushing over the bridge as during the daytime or sauntering or running.  Nobody tonight, only the sharp sounds of a ghostlike figure’s feet can be heard.  Sharp sounds of restless feet.  Feet that belong to the restless mind of a glamorous young woman.  Then I bid the bridge farewell and my bicycle as well and left them behind in the dark.  I left them behind in the dark to go to a peaceful place, a glade in my mind.  Now my mind is calmer.  I have decided at last.  I enter 3999 Verhuizingen and Transporten.  Then I ascend the first flight of steps and open the old wooden door.  It smells here.  it smells of rats and old food and death.  My footsteps sound hollow in the passage.  I open another door and then I walk to my dead mother’s bed.  Softly I pick up her lifeless hand.  Dearest mother.  At least we had each other.  Now I have only myself.  Wait for me. Then the door is closed by me again.

A little later I am in my draughty room.  The wind has returned to move away the calm of the night. I close the door there too.  I take the contents of a bottle and swallow it.  Hungrily, willingly, losing some of my dignity as water runs down my chin.  And wait for the storm to break with all its might.  It seems as if the thunder is louder in my ears.  In the cafeteria…laughter, life, love and atmosphere…

Warm, yellow light soothing the blackness of the dykes…

The black inky water…The bridge in the dark and on it the rusty dated bicycle.

How unfortunate the little Dutch girl was- she knew no way to return, to relieve her pain. …I leave eve­rything behind in the dark and go to the glade.

It is light.  It is day.

People pass an old bicycle on the bridge.  Children run over the bridge and laugh.  The wind plays with the leaves on the bridge, teases them.

In one of the rooms of 3999 Verhuizingen and Transporten, the warehouse an old grandfather clock is ticking the time away.

And outside the wind is teasing the leaves in the silence on the bridge.

Still-life painting from 1973 by Hermien Zwiers

 May 1974

I saw a film. Only god can inspire this much. I don’t forget the four days when he helped me. I don’t forget a single day of the past. I see now and know now where everything led to. I’m staying here in Europe because I’d choke if I ever went back to Africa  (before I became a person), I’ll drown in graves, from rain and rot from ants. I won’t be weak and minute like other people; lose my magnificence.  Oh, no, it’s not just imagination. Other big thinkers WERE born.  No apologies for blowing my own horn. I was alone until here but too weak. As of tomorrow, I’m starting to live. Even if it is just until the following inspiration. I’ll be a newborn and not a disgusting, hiding-away mouse.  God, please hold my hand as in the past.  I’ll bury my past and only open it for those whom I can help- not to look for sympathy- Oh how exhilarating the baring of the future is. Tonight, in my dreams, tomorrow, I’ll cement my dreams, fix my days solidly, bury them, black on white- until I may die.

Hermien near the dam my dad built, Grahamstown, South Africa

1 May 1974

“To bear with unbearable sorrow” Whittaker sings. I wish to be relieved of all this dreadful sadness.

The inability to create anything. Because I fear you and myself.  I am frightened of my hands and what they do to my face.  Also of my appearance- afraid of reality.  Fear is darkness. And I see a dark hole every moment. And yet I can hide at night. I then rest peacefully with no one watching; blanket comfortingly up to my chin. I have actually become a joke, to myself, through these years. It’s all so ridiculous what I am doing to myself.

I stand now, in front of god, and know not how to approach him.

First time with my Dutch family in Drenthe, Netherlands after flying overseas in April 1974

The above is continued from my blog “FROM AGE FIFTEEN…. The 1950s–1970s, THE BEDFORD-GRAHAMSTOWN YEARS. All written by me, some as school essays, others just from the heart in journaling at ages 15, 16 and 17, in my teenage years, and quite ‘dramatic’ as one can get in those years. The blog will be continued withThe 1970s, THE AMSTERDAM YEARS“. I will continue to change names to protect people in the stories. As I do not adhere to organised religion and am spiritual but not religious, I use the diminutive “god” rather than “God”.

FROM FIFTEEN ONWARDS

1972
January:
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.

GOALS IN LIFE

Wild horse and sleeping foal. From a walk just a few minutes from where I live in England. 2022

I’ve been feeling low recently and couldn’t  understand why. Some of it is possibly still too much sugar  in the day which leads to big mood swings, another one not an early enough caffeine curfew and less nurturing  sleep therefore. Another reason is simply  that I’ve gone through massive changes in the last year. Anyway, I thought it would be good to make a start at re-writing my goals. Rename what my identity is: such as “I am someone who …

FROM TWELVE YEARS OLD

Hermien at Stoneshill Grahamstown, South Africa

1969 

All that mattered now was academic prestige. That would assure me of love and admiration and keep quiet the gossiping kids and their parents.  And I did achieve 83.2% in the first term, 82.6% in the 2nd term, 88% in the 3rd term- an A with distinction. 

In April the grade 8’s and grade 9’s went on a school tour to Cape Town. It was a good time and we saw many places.   I only did tennis as a sport during this year. I couldn’t do athletics anymore because I had hurt my ankle the previous year, but believe me, I was thankful to be relieved of the stresses and superficialities of athletics. During our three-week holiday my mum, Greta, Boetie (my brother Willem) and I went on tour to the Orange Free State as it was then called before the days of Nelson Mandela. We went down 5300 feet into a gold mine and had a look at the Hendrik Verwoerd dam.  This dam’s name has by now changed.

L to R: Mammie, Hermien, Greta, Mum’s friend at Goldmines

We visited Uncle Theuns and Aunt Martie.  All adult friends of our parents were Aunties and Uncles.  We did not have any other family in South Africa, such as grandparents or real uncles and cousins. They all lived in either Holland or Australia. As a child of Dutch parents, I felt like an outsider too, apart from my self-imposed exile due to sexual abuse. Home was really actually in Holland, not there in Africa.  My heart could never find roots there in Africa and my esteem suffered. 

Back at school my favourite subjects were Art and History. Then came the summer holidays. Willem and I initially spent it at the house of an English family as cultural exchange students. Up the east seacoast, near East London, Eastern Cape. We were to learn English better, and they were to learn Afrikaans better. Their surname was Wuim, and we spent 5 days at Kid’s Beach with them and then a few days feeling out of place in their posh home in East London on the east coast. Willem and I swam the dangerous waves and canoed, all unsupervised Huckleberry Finn feelings.

Dog Tasha, Hermien and brother Willem at Stoneshill, Grahamstown

Then we prepared for Christmas.  On Christmas Eve we opened the gifts. I received a diary that I used well in months to come.  We lit candles and sat listening to the radio. Television was only to come to our country six years later, in 1975. I had difficulty falling asleep as usual and wrote a long Christmas letter to my friend Elmarie in the Cape, where she was holidaying. On New Year’s Eve, Henrika, my eldest sister and her new family came to us and spent the night there. That night I made my New Year’s resolutions as usual:  I would be more patient and friendly in the coming year, but I had my doubts about it, being 13 turning 14.  This year I had seen the movies Romeo and Juliet and cried, and The Battle for Anzio as well as Far from the Madding Crowd

1971 

The year in which I turned fifteen. The year of my first and second crush- on a man and a boy. 

My sister Greta flew to Johannesburg, eighteen and off on an overseas trip.  We drove from Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth to see her off and spent the day at the beach. Jean E., a former near-boyfriend of my 26-year-old sister was there too.  What was it he said again? “If you were grown-up, I would marry you or…. when you grow up I’m going to marry you”. I mean, my God, fifteen-year-olds take this stuff pretty seriously.  Don’t men know any other way to get attention except to make impossible compliments and promises?  Anyway, it was a fantastic day.  I felt SO-o good. 

Hermien, older sister Greta and brother Willem seeing Greta off at Port Elizabeth airport, South Africa

Maybe I felt even more guilt though when Elmarie’s father continued his sexual abuse. I was becoming very sexually aware.  My upbringing said to obey adults, thus my only way out was to become pretty good at avoiding the man. There were times, however, when I had no escape. He took us to swim in a pool in the evening and would swim to me when I was on the dark side and stick his finger up me not too far from his own daughter! I did not know how to tell her that I did not want to go swimming. I was going to have to end this friendship without shaming myself and without telling her the truth. I could not tell my best friend what her father was doing to me.  I don’t think she ever understood why I was so cruel. I had to face the pain of the near-hatred and disillusionment in her eyes. It was to affect all my future efforts at making friends with other women. I felt distressed at my inability to tell the truth. Telling the truth met with near-disaster in our family all those years and I was scared stiff of encountering it with my friend and her family too. It set a pattern of avoiding conflict at all costs.  The man took Elmarie and me for a driving lesson on a dirt road. When I told my mum, she was extremely angry. How could I even begin to tell about my suffering?  Not long after the break-up in my long friendship with Elmarie, I visited the doctor with my mother. She reckoned my problem of destroying my face and acting awful to her could be fixed.  The doctor put it all down to nervousness and sent us on our way. With anti-depressants.  It left us in the middle of nowhere. I wished so badly that I could talk to my mum. By July I made a total break with my friend. By then she had made friends with someone else too, a girl called Vera. I soon had a painful argument with this red-haired vibrant person and felt as if a major disaster was about to strike. Some drastic change HAD to take place.

***

First I had a crush on Jean, a man, and then I developed a crush on a boy a year younger than I, a certain Stephen. It made my day when a schoolmate, Ilse, said that he had told her that he “kind of liked me and that I was cute”.  I felt flutterings every time I walked past this guy at school. 

My birthday was kind of nice. I laughed and was a bit sad at the same time because I felt that I had failed myself.  My goal of having my face spotless had not been reached and it was hard to have my parents’ friends, the Timpers, over. My parents liked to ‘show off their kids’ and I especially hated to be on display that evening with my face full of spots.  I got a nice alarm clock from my mum for my birthday and I had another bit of excitement: I received a record (LP) because I had won the Tienertempo, a record guessing game on the radio. Was I thrilled!  And thrilled to be congratulated at school the next day too.  On the 17th of July 1971, I received my first cosmetics. Another thrill.

And let’s lighten the load even further. These are the movies I saw that year: 

Heidi; Yours, mine and ours; Love Story; Live a little, love a little; Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang; The Gentle Bear; The mind of Mr Soames; David Copperfield; Sien Jou More; Beneath the planet of the apes; The restless ones; The out-of-towners; Ryan’s daughter; Song of Norway; My dog, the thief; Two a penny; Anne of a thousand days; A new life; and Airport.  I also went to a theatre production of Alice in Wonderland and a musical called The golden Dixies. 

I went to my friend Elmarie’s house for the first time in months by the middle of October. We went to choir practice together that evening. But I did not go back there much.

In the last week of October, I made a few decisions: I would go to boarding school the following year; everything had been organised. My mum and dad were planning to attend the Munich Olympic Games. In 1974 I wanted to go overseas to Germany, Holland and France. In the three years after that, I wanted to study Languages, Sociology and Psychology at the university and in 1978 I would like to become a Flight Attendant (an air hostess as we called it then).  Neatly planned for sure-never works that way though, as most of us know.

On the 29th of October, I experienced a twinge of jealousy as Elmarie was chosen as the school prefect above me. I gave her the expected kiss but it was a bitter one. Somehow, though, I was also relieved. I did not really want to be in that position with its expectations of keeping kids quiet and getting them to all walk neatly in a row.  That evening some of my self-esteem received a boost back as I won 4 prizes for academic achievement, the books We Speak No Treason, All the Best People,  ‘n Man en Sy Hond and the Archimedes prize for excelling in Science.   On the 30th we prepared for a big party. It had been my dad’s birthday the day before.  All the members of the Zwiers, De Klerk and Timper families would be present.  All of us ‘foreign’ lot feeling comfortable with each other and sharing some cultural ties, therefore. (except for Andreas who was too much Boer and myself; mainly because I did not like the empty shallowness and being on display). 

My brother Willem and I on the dam my dad made, at Stoneshill Grahamstown

In November I stayed home from school one day. The doctor paid us a visit- said it was nerves. He gave me tranquillisers. I certainly calmed down! What do they expect? And felt on a high and decided, naturally, that I could certainly tackle life again and would certainly take care of my face and not muck it up any longer. I had a serious case of dermatillomania, although I did not know the name for this self-harm at that stage. Life seemed rosy after all – briefly. 

So the end of the year came with its New Year’s eve resolutions: I would do exercises every evening; I would brush my teeth every evening; I would not pick my face if it was not necessary; I would not chew the skin around my nails; I would not hit our maid Angie; I would try to not lose my temper, to always be friendly, even at exam time, because I then write better. I would not moan  and finally, I would keep my distance emotionally from Elmarie and Vera and not tell them much, not trust them  , especially with private matters from  home.  Now I had even less of an outlet for my emotions – and my face truly suffered the consequences as my rage was turned inwards trying to be so damn nice and not having anybody to really turn to. 

The above was continued from my blog. Previously “UP TO AGE 8”. THE EARLY DAYS…. The 1950s–1970s, THE BEDFORD-GRAHAMSTOWN YEARS. Written by me from age 11 and older in Afrikaans and later translated by me. Most names have been changed to protect people.

FROM EIGHT YEARS OLD

Nearly 12


1967
I was 11 in this year, a year of innocent gangs and loss of innocence. Rin Tin Tin’s Rinty and the Heidi books look ridiculous in the eyes of the abuse I was to suffer towards the end of that year at the hands of my best friend’s father.

Nevertheless, my friends and I started the “gang” in July. We imagined being threatened by the “mask” gang quite often and nonchalantly shrugged it off. I did get into trouble with one of the gang members and smiled behind everyone’s backs in glee too. Everything seemed to go fine after that. The “Voortrekker” gang, as we called ourselves, was called to a halt for a while. To our delight, the “Mask” gang disintegrated, with us again smiling maliciously. They were destroyed, at least, that was what they had decided themselves.

At Christmas time, our gang put on a Christmas concert called “The baby of Bethlehem”. We made a few pennies, also trying to sell drinks, and sent the money off to a charity organisation. We were flourishing, feeling so good. My friend taught me how to play a bit on their piano. “Chopsticks” was a hit.

The year ended and so did my primary school years. We were going to move into our new house on Stoneshill in the following few weeks. I still wore a size 4 shoe (probably a size 5 in Australia)

Opa, Mammie, Pappie, Hermien

Opa’s visit to Stoneshill: My Dutch grandfather Harmannus Luinge came from the Netherlands for an extended visit after the death of my grandmother Marchien Koops-Luinge.

1968
What was 1968 like for me? Neither child nor adult. Exiting and yet mundane. Sunshine, boring barbecues and movies. The Saturday movies were my fairytales: Follow me Boys, Rough Night in Jerigo, Navadan Kelly, Sabrina, Countess to Hong Kong, and You only Live Twice. Who’s minding the Mint?, Hercules, Samson and Ulysses, Bennie Boet, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Deadly Bees, Circus World, Rosy, The Deadly Affair. Having numbers mattered: our telephone number was 1378, our post box number was 16, and our car registration number was CF 2509. And my number in school? First in class. This meant that I mattered; I was noticed.

Three Generations, from left to right: Brother Eddie, Opa Luinge, Hermien with Tasha, My dad.

In January my sister Henrika had her birthday and we phoned. I did not start school at the usual time because of sores on my head, a premonition of worse to come. Then it was back to school, Sunday school, and the Dutch Reformed Church with its proper hats, stiff upper lips and uncomfortable silence. We were even afraid to cough. No warm feelings, no love or joy. Our dog Wagter was killed on the road when my sister Greta had her 16th birthday party and somebody left the gate open. I attempted to knit; I did needlework for school and played with my friend Elmarie. For my 12th birthday I received pyjamas. Punishment at school included writing out 100 times “I must do my homework properly and in time” and an essay called “What do you think about Punishment at school” had to be written. Our exam debate was about whether boys and girls should be together in one school. Our duck hatched babies and two died in the first week. We brought a new dog-called Peppie into our lives. My brother Willem had his birthday roundabout Guy Fawkes time. Henrika and her husband Andreas came to visit and then it was the end of my first year at High School. I was relieved that it was holiday time and enjoyed painting, reading, playing table tennis, repairing clothes, attending to my silk worms, writing out some recipes for my mum, learning to plait my hair and grooming my nails.

My dog Tasha 1968

An uneventful year, one would say. In retrospect it was probably one of the worst years of my life, because I could not share the guilt I felt every time I left my friend’s house and her dad had had a go at me again. I knew my mum would react with “But didn’t YOU do something to cause it”. I felt weak because I did not know how to get out of the sexual abuse. It was to shape the rest of my life, along with my mother’s constant disgust with men and her reading the rape stories in the newspaper to me. I was so overly and unnaturally aware of my genitals that it was frightening even to ask the teacher to go to the loo. In my young mind, all I could think of was that he would know that I had a vagina! How awful! The result was one of the most humiliating experiences of my entire life: I wet my pants and the entire area underneath my school desk because I could no longer “keep it in”! My relationship with my friend was to continue for another 2 years on a superficial basis because I was starting to distance myself from all and everybody. I was going to show them all how good I was academically and rid myself of the ridicule and shame. Most human contact from that point on was filled with fear and distrust. No twelve-year-old should have to carry such a burden. My emotions had nowhere to go but inward and a long lonely path of self-destruction started, never to leave me and only to be conquered. But how?

To be continued…

The above was continued from my blog. Previously “UP TO AGE SEVEN”. THE EARLY DAYS…. The 1950s–1970s, THE BEDFORD-GRAHAMSTOWN YEARS. Written by me from age 11 and older in Afrikaans and later translated by me. Most names have been changed to protect people.

UP TO AGE SEVEN

When I was little, I dreamt that I could fly and also that I was rolled up in a carpet filled with spiders, one dream of exhilaration, the other of sheer panic. I ate sand. I walked in my sleep…………

Willem and Hermien 1958

At the age of two and a half I had to have an operation on my neck glands. My parents took me to a hospital in a big city and left me there for a week with total strangers. They were very sad to do this, but knew of no other way to deal with this, especially having my one year old brother too. Even my older siblings protested. My mother came to see me once during that week, but never showed her face for fear of triggering off great sadness. How I wish she had actually come in to hug me!  

I played with my brother Willem in the sandpit our dad had made for us and at other times absolutely hated him when we fought and my mum mostly considered me the guilty party. I was too little to attend my sister Henrika’s sixteenth birthday party, a big affair with beautiful clothes, but I peeped in at the door of the big lounge. I climbed over the tall backyard gate and nearly got run over by a big truck and then received an enormous hiding for having terrified my mother. She bought me a little lamb at the farmer’s market, little knowing the South African town rules did not allow this, so we had to sadly say goodbye to this lamb by the time it became a sheep. The neighbors had put in a complaint by the council. One morning my brother and I asked her to put tea in our baby bottles from long ago and we walked away, sucking happily. I was four years old.  

I frightened my parents more when my brother and I sneaked past our big brother Evert one night and went to sleep in a tent on the lawn and had a candle burning all night. At age five I could have had an accident with that candle. At the time I resented my mother’s lack of trust in me. I swam in the cement dam one evening with my sister Greta, with my Sunday shoes on and gave them more grey hair. They came up the driveway, lights shining on us and discovered us after their evening out. I had crooked teeth and had to have braces in later years. I learned to ride my bicycle all by myself in our driveway and had plenty of falls since we had no side wheels in those days.  

When I turned five I received a doll with long brown hair that I named Elmarie, after my brother’ Evert’s girlfriend. I took it for a walk to the neighbors and I still remember their son hiccupping. I played shop in my dad’s huge garage, with the boards that he used as a builder and I really enjoyed that. We also built a post office and had stamps and pretend money. My tonsils were taken out when I was 5 and I enjoyed the attention from the hospital staff. We had a spare room attached to the kitchen, a sort of a playroom with a big blackboard in it. We were left to “carry on” with our lives, so to speak and much of our creativity and intelligence springs from those years of non-interference from our parents. I remember the pain in that playroom too, a terrible migraine and sobbing, and learning to knit with the help of our maid in the little garden in front of that room. I remember my dad swinging me high up into the air when I was little and running to my brother Evert with gusto and doing the same. 

There was a game of Gymkhana on the big rugby field and we went to watch. Our early holidays were spent at Brenton Lake near Knysna. Father Christmas brought me a Big bear one time and after that, I found out that Santa was not for real anyway. 

At the age of 5 and a half I had been trying to follow my sister to school so many times out of a desire to attend school myself that my mum approached the sisters at the convent to see whether I could also start. I was not really supposed to but they let me anyway. I had much freedom during those six months, doing “my own thing” often and never expected to actually come and sit down to do my lessons. I could go outside and play whilst the others continued with their reading, etc. and then come back in to continue with mine when I wanted to. Then, at age six I started at the Afrikaans school on the hill and walked each morning up the dirt road with my little suitcase. I was already trying to win my parents’ love by being the best and came first in class with my schoolwork. I was also appointed class captain and my job was to help keep the class quiet when the teacher went out. I failed at this task and for that or some other reason, lost my “position” and felt disgraced. 

Sub A, First primary School year at Templeton, Bedford, South Africa

I loved going to the town library and the independence of walking up the street to go there and take out my own books and walking quite a bit further with a sister to have a milkshake at an ice cream parlor. All this took place in our one and only L-shaped Main Street. I bicycled through the town, through areas of which I had the vague feeling that they were forbidden territories, such as the black township, where the blacks and coloureds had to live separately from us whites and the scary, dreadful places such as the abattoir, toiling with danger in my little mind, daring it. I also went for a swim in the BIG pool, without informing anybody, just borrowing a blow-up tube from another little friend. The excitement of doing forbidden things was there from an early age, the start of a rebellious mind. Down a short flight of steps, in the “ironing” room, I used to swing around in a mad wonderful twirl and I hit my eye against the corner of the table. Nobody hugged me. It was my fault, and I felt lonely and sore and abandoned. I still enjoyed feeling pampered and getting full attention at other times though, such as when I had to have my appendix out and my sisters brought me heaps of coloring books. I was so thirsty after the operation but was not allowed any water, so I painfully snuck out of bed and got myself some water in the hospital bathroom. I was caught in the passage by a nurse. 

I had still spent my 7th birthday night in my mother’s bed because my dad was away because of his job. Andreas, my sister’s fiancé, had left a doll from him next to the bed. Now the family was all gone. They had gone to the lagoon at Port Alfred for their holiday and Henrika and I had to wait to be collected. I remember walking in the garden. I tried out a small red hot pepper and burned my mouth terribly on the side of the house where the sewerage lorry put its pipes into the appropriate holes to empty the week’s contents. When we were holidaying I dug deep holes and became annoyed when others mucked it up during my absence, such as when we were called in for the evening meal. I wanted to be an air hostess (flight attendant) in those days. I swam and went where the current was the strongest near the bridge. There was also some wire that was supposed to protect us from going further into the river. I took out Sarie and Trompie books at the library in our holiday town, stories about mischievous boys and girls. I won a sand sculpting competition. Back home I wrote long letters to my sister Henrika, often about stories I listened to on the radio. We had no television in South Africa before I turned 19. The government was afraid that it might corrupt the people, and that they might become too rebellious if they knew too much.  

We had photo day at school and the elastic of my underpants had broken so I had to use my tie to keep my underpants up. One day I arrived at school with long pants on. I think that it was OK with my mother. It certainly was not OK with the rest of the school. I was ridiculed. I went to the music room to practise tedious music notes and was reprimanded severely for daring to make a noise whilst the grades 12’s were busy with their final exams. I felt as if I couldn’t do much right. We played wolf-wolf at the big dam, as well as other games. Ecstatic feelings still surface when I remember my first participation in a musical (cheerful “lyric” opera). I was a little dwarf and had to wear a paper nose and beautiful shiny clothes and I sang with such energy and joy. On the first day of spring, our school celebrated it with floats riding through the town, trucks decorated with white crinkle paper and white flowers. We wore white dresses and had blossoms that we had picked from the fruit trees and we were allowed to bring our little siblings to school. As always there is a fall from grace. At home I let the budgerigars fly away by accident and played innocent. I felt horribly guilty and worried about the moment that my mother would discover it; the moment when people would discover the real me. 

And then I turned 8. It was 1964. 

*** 

To be continued…

The above was continued from my blog. Previously “. THE EARLY DAYS…. The 1950s–1970s, THE BEDFORD-GRAHAMSTOWN YEARS. Written by me when I was young, in Afrikaans and later translated by me. Almost all original names have been changed to protect people.