Friday, July 1, 2016

Where my Need to Protect comes From

Me at 14 with my brother and sisters
All the things I write about are things that I have experienced myself. Sometimes I change the names, sometimes the places, and sometimes I just tell the truth.  This is one of the latter stories.

I was 12 years old and the eldest of five children.  Our parents used to argue a lot, but my father used to use his fists.  It was particularly bad when my father came home from the pub.  In those days, all pubs closed at 11pm by law.  I would lie quietly awake until my father came home and if it was quiet and peaceful, I would then go to sleep.  I could not sleep until I knew that my mother would be safe.   There were often times when he did not come home before midnight; those times when he was prowling the streets or the party was continuing in someone else’s house.  When I think about it today, I feel so sad for that little girl who could not sleep for fear of her father killing her mother. 

It was never quiet outside because we lived in a house directly opposite the train station.  The tooting and shunting of the trains was always in the background.  But in our home, we tiptoed around my father.  I got so clever at sensing his mood that I would know whether my mother would be beaten before it even happened.

As I got older, I also learned that when he was in that mood, I could save my mother from a beating by doing something to take his attention away from her, putting myself at his mercy.  I was given more hidings than I can remember, but there was always a pay-off.  I knew that after a hiding, his mood would change and my mother was safe for the next two to three days.  The reason for the beatings was always because “You are too much like your mother”.

When you are a child, you see things very differently.  I know today, that my plan to get my parents to stop fighting would never work, but at that age, I came up with a plan.  My plan was for all of us to run away.  I discussed it with my brother and sisters, arguing that if we ran away, our mother and father would be so worried about us that they would stop fighting to find us.   For such a serious discussion, we had climbed out of the upstairs window and were sitting on the roof, overlooking the railway station.
“How will we go?” asked my sister.
“With the train….we can buy tickets.  I have got R12.25.  Do any of you have any money?” I asked.
Together, we had just over R13.00.   I do not remember, but perhaps that would have been enough to buy tickets for five children to somewhere.

There was an exchange of ideas, including a discussion about what we would eat once we had run away.  Our plans came to nought when my brother said “Let us go when we have eaten all the food in the house”. 
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