I hoped that, with so much already behind her, life would give her a break as she entered high school and the dreaded teenage trials. It was, in fact, just starting…
She had moved to a small town after she finished primary school and if she had felt different before, she would soon feel as if she was from a completely different universe to everyone around her.
The Outside World
The year was 1994 and the dawn of democracy in South Africa. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of the country. Many celebrated peace, many stockpiled cans of food and spread fear… some simply tried to survive the day in one piece.
She had moved from a big city school that marched for peace, welcomed all races and religions, where children were taught not to recognise colour; to a school in a small town where every single face was the same colour.
On her very first day of high school, she knew nobody. In small towns such as that one, the other children all knew eachother or at least knew of eachother. Things that were considered “cool” in the big city school were unheard of there. Before she had even spoken to anyone, these kids were all rounded up and the initiation process started, as was apparently the done thing when starting high school. They had to remove their shoes and socks and parade into a packed school hall. She was watching the floor in front of her and when she stole a look to her left, to quickly survey the hall, all she saw was white faces. If she had the vocabulary at the time, she would have thought, “What the actual fuck?!”… this was the twilight zone.
It couldn’t have been a worse start.
Being exposed to so much racism and hatred was something that weighed heavily on her. The fact that she made it clear to how sickening and unacceptable it was to her, made her not only more unpopular but made her a target for racist taunts.
In saying this however, it was one of the things that taught her compassion. She couldn’t put herself in their shoes or understand how they felt but she could recognise that they were only repeating what they had been taught, growing up in the way that they did. She felt sorry for them, finding it so hard to adjust to “The New South Africa” and hoped that they would eventually learn to live in peace with other people.
In the big city, school had been a safe place for her. There, she had lost that safe place.
High School Daze – Very Cliché & That’s Exactly What It Was
She didn’t have much more to say for high school life. It felt like one very long cliché. She did make friends and they came and went. There were fun times, less fun times, heartbreaks and teenage dramas, later on there were parties, mischief and underage drinking. Later in her life all that would really seem like just a daze.
Of course, there was a boy. In that very first, horrendous year of high school, there was a boy who she may have possibly loved at first sight. In fact, most girls probably loved him at first sight. He was that dreamy boy from the high school TV shows and movies. The prefect who played for the first team in every sport; so charming, charismatic and always smiling; beautiful, piercing eyes as blue as the sky. Whenever she was late for school, she would inevitably run straight into him. He would jokingly tease her about it and she would quietly melt into the ground.
Her first year there was his last year there but being in a small town, she would run into the Golden Boy again.
It Was A House She Lived In, Not A Home
Every afternoon, she would walk home from school. Her adoring cat would be waiting for her on the corner of her street and they would walk the rest of the way together. When she was home alone in the afternoons things were okay, most other times it was far from okay.
Something she hadn’t mentioned previously was that the woman who lived with her and the mother, was a diabetic and not a well managed one at that. The girl was eight years old when the woman arrived in her house, in her green car and since then there were ever present needles, mood swings, doctors, hospitals, foaming at the mouth attacks and diabetic comas. It was a daily, constant concern and it was often extremely frightening.
The aggression and violence in the house seemed to only intensify over these years and was a daily, terrorising presence in her life. She didn’t remember anymore what they would fight about but it could have been something as simple as rice that sent her into a blinding rage. Like a charging bull, her eyes would become wild and abnormally round and her nostrils would flare. She didn’t kill with a look, that look would have obliterated anyone in it’s aim.
She was a strongly built woman with crazy hair, a deep, projected voice and an already intimidating presence. When the raging bull was added to this, the terror that engulfed the girl made her want to crawl into a little ball and die. She saw the woman grab her mother by the throat and throw her up against a wall, she lived this endless nightmare of screaming, crying, destructive madness. The girl could do nothing. Nothing but try her best to stay out of the way. Nothing but try her best to be invisible. Why did the mother not make it stop?
The sound of a glass breaking was a sign to run, act fast, you were going to find someone with their wrists cut open, bleeding all over the kitchen. Razor blades, the car in a field. Rushing to hospital. There were so many of these… too many to remember.
Safety In Freedom
Fortunately, she still had her dancing and joined a new ballet school in the small town. The girls there were so different from the girls at her school and because of their shared love for dancing, they formed strong friendships that would last a lifetime. She thought of the teacher as an angel on Earth and she would become a very strong influence in the girl’s life.
The ballet school was not far from her house, she estimated around two kilometres, which made it easy for her to walk there. When the house blew up, when she felt alone, when she just wanted to escape, she would pack her little kit bag and walk there.
It was a few precious hours of freedom. Even when it wasn’t her class time, she was allowed to sit and watch, to dance as much as she wanted to, help the younger girls… she was allowed to just “be”. This would continue right up until she left school.
When she was 15, her grandfather bought her a bicycle for her birthday. It was freedom on wheels. Some days she would climb on her bicycle and ride around for hours, visit a friend or go and play tennis or squash. Anywhere in the general direction of “away” was a good place to be.
Friendship – A Saving Grace
Sleeping over at a friend’s house presented another opportunity to relax. It didn’t happen very often, but the girl was quiet, well behaved and parents didn’t mind at all having her around to visit.
When she was 17 she was introduced to a new friend through one of the dancing girls. They immediately connected and soon became close. This would become a lifetime friendship and through good times and bad, they would be there for eachother. Coincidentally, the friend’s aunt lived across the road from the girl’s house for as long as she had been there.
The friend was an only child as well and her parents were quite protective, rightfully of course. The girl would be invited to stay over quite often and they would make food, watch movies and talk about life as teenage girls know it.
Many years later, when they were living in their own homes, drinking wine, watching movies and talking about life as grown women know it, the friend told the girl how her parents had never allowed sleepovers. No friends were ever invited to her house until her mother was told by the aunt (who lived across the road) that the girl lived in a house with a demon and that they needed to get her out and keep her safe. This was something that touched the girl so deeply, because those days and nights of freedom and the people who gentle and caring, were truly her saving grace.
A Closing Thought
At the end of this chapter, she felt that it was important to mention how some people are blessed in with the strength and insight to rise above. There were children who grew up in houses with alcoholic fathers, who would in turn bully others or act out in some equally destructive way. It was never lost on her how many wonderful people, beautiful souls, came across her path and taught her to know better and to want better than what she came from.
The story is far from over, but by that stage in her life, just about 18, she had come to realise that the raging bull woman was much like a puffer fish. Puffing itself up and showing it’s spikes to intimidate. The terror she created gave her more power and one day, while being towered over and screamed at over laundry, the girl looked into the glaring eyes and flaring nostrils. She blocked out the noise and calmly, gently smiled and said “Okay.”
Not getting the reaction it expected, the raging bull stopped, turned around and stomped off in the opposite direction.
To be continued…
Have you ever had a similar moment of truth or discovery in your life? Let me know in the comments below.
Recap Part 1 HER STORY
Recap Part 2 LITTLE GIRL IN A BIG WORLD