Steve from the gym said something to me last week which caught me off-guard – he said I shouldn’t get angry so quickly. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what he meant, so I eventually asked him, because I don’t see myself as an angry person, and I really hope other people around me don’t perceive me as such. He explained to me that it was just something he said and that I shouldn’t take him so seriously. But I can’t help it – I’m serious by nature. I haven’t had much choice – life has made me that way.
I was even a serious child. Mom attributes it to the fact that I grew up as an only child – and back in the day when I was still a kid, it wasn’t necessary for kids to go to a creche, play school, or the like. I only really began to interact with other children when I went to primary school at the age of seven. Sharing my things came naturally, as did compassion. One thing that I hated was that I was often the last child in the class to finish a task – not because I was intellectually stunted, simply because it had to be perfect. I will never forget how proud I was to be awarded the “First in Class, Grade One” at the end of that year – it was a book prize called The Little Duck Annual. I loved reading from a young age, but receiving that book was the catalyst that had me devouring real books – by the beginning of Standard One (Grade Three), I was way beyond reading Dick and Jane’s Adventures and See Spot Run. At the end of Standard One in 1988, I received another book prize for being “The Most Improved Reader, Standard One”. The book was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Twenty four years later I still have that book – it is one of my most sentimentally prized possessions. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked…
Growing up in Johannesburg, with only Mom really being around – my biological father would often disappear for days at a time – I was taught from a young age to be independent. By the end of my first school year, I was going around the center of Johannesburg paying Mom’s accounts each month. On one of the few occasions that my biological father (he and my mom were never married) was home, he offered to attend a PTA meeting and I wanted to go with to the school. We caught the train to the school, and that night walking across the bridge that connected the platforms, we were accosted by six men. One held me at knife point, while the other five robbed my father of everything he had on him, including his shirt. Not once did he plead for the man wielding the knife not to harm me, he simply gave them what they wanted. The man holding the knife kept telling me that he wouldn’t harm me though.
I remember another occasion when Mom was talking to someone on the phone about a lady called Annette, whom she thought my father was having an affair with. It turned out he was – I was off school for a few weeks with chicken pox when there was a knock at the door. A woman stood there and simply told me, “Tell your fucking father his child’s been born.”
Many South Africans will remember that during the late1980’s a number of young girls were abducted, allegedly by a man called Gert van Rooyen and his partner Joey Haarhof. The girls were never found. I remember hearing about the missing girls on the news and although my parents never spoke to me about the missing girls per sé, they did tell me never to talk to strangers. They didn’t have to tell me more than once either. Strangers could hurt you, and that was a serious matter. I recall an incident where I pestered my parents to go to movies and eventually my father told my mother that I should be allowed to go – after all, I was allowed to roam the streets paying accounts. So, I got to go to movies on my own. On my way home, I was trudging up a hill towards the Johannesburg High Court when a white bakkie (SUV) stopped and the man offered me a lift home. I told him quite simply that my parents told me never to talk to strangers and I ran, as fast as my little legs could carry me! I can’t say with certainty that it was Van Rooyen, but it could have been. I didn’t fit the profile of the girls he abducted – they were blond.
At the age of nine, my father was more absent from home than usual, so Mom packed me up and we came to live in the town where she grew up. We weren’t here long when Aunty Carol introduced her to the man that a few years later became my step father, although I don’t think of him as such. He is my dad – everything I imagined a father to be – caring, generous to a fault, compassionate, funny, warm, gentle and well…the list could go on and on. He and mom were married 20 years last September…again I’m getting sidetracked, sorry.
At the age of almost thirty-three, this serious woman is still living at home – and wondering… is the fact that I’m so serious what scares the good guys away? I can’t change who and what I am, but other people can’t change their perceptions either. Sounds like I have a catch-22 situation on my hands…