Friday, June 23, 2017

Childhood should not be an excuse for bad adult behaviour. We all have a choice.

I earned it 
I remember one particularly horrendous night when you and my mom came home from a dinner and dancing evening.   You had given me your revolver and told me that if anyone came to the door I was to esquire who it was and if I did not recognize the, I was to shoot holes through the door.  He marked out the positions the bullets had to be placed in.  I was 12 years old and already familiar with guns as he would sometimes take me with him to the shooting range.  He had a huge cache of weapons and ammunition.  Not only was I a crack shot, but I could drive a vehicle and tractor, panel beat, lay foundations and strip and sand floors.  Wall papering was my best skill I learned.  We were the kind of family that would go from riches to rags in days because my father was not lazy and he was a really charming entrepreneur.  He taught me a lot of things that only a man would know and for that I am grateful to him.  I have always managed to fix whatever was broken, including replacing clutch cables in the clapped out Golf I owned when my children were small.  So, my father was not all bad.  I just had to be super vigilant to gauge his moods so as to keep my mother safe. 
I could hear him screaming at her before the front door even opened.  He was shouting something about other men looking at my mother and blaming her for it.  She could not help it that she had a beautiful body and beautiful skin and brilliant black hair with an olive skin.    I strained my ears to hear what he was saying.  My younger siblings woke up and I shushed them and put them into my bed, holding them close and telling them not to make a sound.   The fight moved into the lounge, just under the stairs.   I heard furniture being thrown and I heard him say, “I am going to fucking kill you………” and I started screaming, jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs.  He grabbed me by the arm and jerked me towards him.   He said in a very scary voice, quiet out of control, “You want to lie there and listen to us fight, now you go upstairs and bring your brother and sisters down here and they can watch us fight”.  
I begged you not to send me and to stop fighting and you pushed me up the stairs and told me if I did not do as you said you would kill my mother anyway so I ran up the stairs and collected all the little ones, trying to stop them crying and brought them downstairs with blankets wrapped around them and I put them on the couch in a row and tried to shield them with my arms.   And then you made my mother sit in a chair opposite us and said, “Now watch this!”  He hit her so hard that she flew onto the floor and started bleeding from her ear.  I remember sitting as quiet as can be so that nothing would send him over the top again, trying to keep the children quiet but at the same time being vigilant so that I could jump up and save her when the time was right.    She really did not have anywhere to go with five children.  Her parents had both died when she was really young, so when I just turned 15, we started hatching plans for her to get away to live with her younger sister in Port Elizabeth with only two of the smaller children.  We eventually did that with the help of Patrcik, the beautiful boy that I loved so much at that age.  Of course, that was forbidden too.  He would sit and get drunk with Patrick but would not allow me to see him.   I defied him and used every trick in the book with excuses of having to be at extra-mural activities and would run to Patrick for the duration of whatever excuse I had made.
I remember my mother going to hospital for 10 days to have her tubes tired.  She had too many children and the doctors advised her to get herself sterilized.  My father was so mad at her that he never visited her once in the 10 days she had been there.   I was almost 12 and I ran the whole house, from cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking, bottles, homework and even found time to visit my mom every visiting hour.   And I remember having bronchitis at the time but my father would not visit her.  And it rained a lot during that time so I could not take the little ones with me.  When she came home she take to take care of me because my chest by that time was very bad.
I was 11 years old when my mother brought Gizelle home.   She was crying and crying and my father would not let my mother get up to see to her so I slipped into their caravan, collected the baby and the bottles and nappies and took her to my bed.   And there she stayed until she was 4 years old.   She was my baby.  I fed her, took care of her, bathed her and only handed her over to my mom when l went to school.  She became my baby. So when the divorced finally came through, I am sad to say that the greatest hole it left in my heart is that my baby was gone.  That year brought me two surprises – one was the birth of a female sibling and the other was the death of my beloved grandfather.
After a while I moved back into the family home but was supposed to spend as much time with my grandmother helping her to get over her grief over my grandfather.   The most I remember was her making me lick stamps onto black rimmed envelopes and her constant pre-occupation with my bowel movements.  If I had not had a bowl movement, she would force me to remove my panties and insert a glycerin suppository into my rectum and make me wait and wait until she had decided I could go to the toilet.   I hated that but afterwards she would give me hard boiled imported sweets and tell me not to tell anyone about it.   It was good for me to get rid of all the junk that my mother fed me, she would intone.
Every Friday we would go down to the sea.  We would either return the night before or in the early hours of Monday morning in time for school.   All school holidays were spent at Coffee Bay.   There we were brought up as sea urchins.   If we had not packed sufficient clothing for the time we were away, that was our problem.   The smaller children’s packing, Yolanda and Gizelle, was my responsibility as well, so often when I had forgotten something for them, I would have to go without a jersey or whatever it was that was needed.  
Joy was my father’s favorite.   I remember him swinging her on a swing one day.   If Joy wanted something, she was only to ask Dad, and he would provide it for her.   I remember we were both asked to go to the hostel dance.  Joy wanted a special pair of high heeled silver shoes that cost a fortune.   Her dad bought them for her.  I had to use my mother’s shoes with cotton wool stuck in the front so they could fit.   He never hit Joy or called her names.   She missed out on much of the abuse and when I asked him why years later he told me that when she was born she nearly died in his arms and he made a promise to God that if He would save her, then she would be his child.    Joy always had more and better, but I never resented her for it.   I wonder why?   Probably because she was a special person in her own right and I love her much still.  At that age, I figured that my father was disappointed that I, the oldest of the children, happened to be a girl and not a boy.
 My mother still loved my father to distraction and when he told her to come home, she was beside herself with joy.  She arrived he asked her, “What are you doing here?  Go back to where you came from”. I cannot begin to comprehend the enormous amount of hurt she felt.  She and the two smaller kids moved into a caravan on my uncle’s yard for a while until she was on her feet and she returned to Port Elizabeth.
I thought her return would be happy ever after but it was not to be so.   Leopards never change their spots and life continued as before.   It was during one of those holidays at the wild coast when my mom’s families were down when they noticed that my mom had been beaten.   I don’t remember why the three older children were in a caravan park with my father and the rest of the family were in the cottage but my father came to us and told us my mother was leaving again and she had decided that she did not want to take us with her.   I was devastated.
I did not know at the time that he had told her the same thing and so we were separated by lies.   For years afterwards, my mother blamed me for choosing to stay with my father.   That blame lay heavily on me for many years and no matter how I tried to convince her otherwise, she did not believe me.   It hurt me deeply. When my mother eventually overcame her love for this madman, we were able to sit and talk about how it had come about that we had been separated like that.
My last hiding I got from him was during my Matric exams.   I only had one more exam to write and that exam was the next day.  I wrote that exam with a dislocated jaw, bruised ribs, swollen and blue eyes and lacerations down my legs from the horse whip.  The children in the class laughed at me until the teacher told them that they were lucky not to be beaten as I had been. 
I had one more exam to write before finishing Matric.  As soon as I could manage it, I asked Patrick to run away with me to find my mother in Port Elizabeth and for us to go to the Welfare for help.
I was living in England and my father still contacted me, phoned me and asked  me how I was.   I give monosyllable answers as though I am speaking to a stranger but sometimes find myself telling him something that I think he might be impressed with.   Why do I still need that acknowledgement?   Why does he brag about me to others?   Perhaps being diagnosed the same week with cancer, we finally found a place of reconciliation.  I was sad when he died … for he was alone and with no one to hold his hand.  But I am pleased that he cannot hurt me with his words anymore.  He never, ever stopped pushing Patrick down my throat, telling me that he saved me from the devil.  It was anything but.   When I think of him now, it is only to wonder how his body looks in the mausoleum that the Ama-pondo buried him in.  He was an elder in their tribe so he had to be built above ground so no ground would touch his body.  What a waste of a charming, intelligent, popular, charismatic person.  He loved us in the only way he knew how. 
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