Chapter 1 goes back in time to my early childhood and my experiences of divorced parents and sexual and physical abuse.
I was born at Mowbray Maternity Hospital, making an early arrival at 1.55am on 24 November 1984. I was born to William and Janet McIntosh, and joined a brother of 2 years, Ryan. Unknown at the time, my birth was unfortunately the beginning of the end for the small McIntosh family.
My mother developed post-natal depression and found it incredibly difficult to cope with a new born as well as a demanding 2 year old. My parents were not getting along with each other at all and within 18 months after my birth she had moved out, leaving my brother and I under our father’s care after he got custody when I was 17 months. A divorce followed when I was 2, and a few months later she started dating our father’s boss, whom she married in 1988.
My earliest memories are of living with my dad in Table View. They are mostly happy memories, I adored my father and he would call me his sunshine girl. I remember watching the news and cartoons in the mornings before school, this was still in the old days when there was a rainbow image and that really irritating high pitched sound on the TV before anything would actually come on haha. My father would make us breakfast which was usually Jungle Oats porridge or toasted egg sandwiches cut into squares, which is still my favourite breakfast! My brother and I went to a nearby daycare called Lilliput where I spent most of my time driving around those little pedal foot cars on the pretend road playground which was complete with traffic signs and robots (it was awesome!!). Our father would collect us after work, cook us dinner while we watched cartoons on TV (Tom and Jerry, Smurfs, My Little Ponies), or McGuyver. Sometimes we’d play Monopoly or Pictionary with the neighbours, and other times Ryan and I would have karate play fights in the lounge. On weekends we’d go visit my dad’s friends who had children, go driving on sand dunes with the Jeep, spend a day at Big Bay beach and eat ice cream, go to the nearby Waterpark or play at the neighbour’s house with their 2 younger girls. They had one of those big sunken trampolines and the raddest skalectrix set. This might have been where I got my love of cars and driving fast, I always remember my car going flying off the tracks because I was going too fast.
I grew up with a Christian religion and Sundays were strictly for Sunday school. I still remember hating the times I had to go sit in another room with the other kids and not go into the Church with my dad.
I had a lot of fun with my Dad, even though he could be very strict and got cross easily when we didn’t listen! He had clear boundaries and my brother and I both knew when we were doing something wrong or disrespectful. I can still hear the dreaded words in my head “meet me in the green bathroom”, which is where we would get smacks if we were very naughty! Once he felt like we had learnt our lesson, everything would be back to normal and he would carry on being fun dad. I remember him taking great joy in being cheesy and making people smile. For Valentine’s Day he would tie pink and red balloons to his car, and I remember floating hearts with candles in our pool for a valentines party one year. He had multi coloured bulb lights all over his garden which I loved to look at when it was dark, flowers planted everywhere, and classic love songs playing…. My favourites included Tina Turner, Michael Bolton, Joshua Kaddison to name a few. I definitely get my dorkiness and love of all things cheesy from him:)
I also got my impatience and explosive temper from him!
Our mother remarried when I was 4, to a wonderful man named Ossi. I liked him from the start. I am vaguely aware that there was a lot of talk around this time as to who my brother and I should be living with.
When I was 6, Ryan and I were sent to a few sessions with a Child Psychologist called Rigsby in Cape Town, where we were involved in role playing and general therapy. Unknown to me at the time, this was for the custody battle between our parents. I don’t remember wanting to live with a specific parent or voicing any opinions on this but I may have been swayed toward my mother as she was always buying me lots of toys and was never strict, allowing us to do exactly as we liked. One memory I do have is playing with dolls and the one doll got a hiding from her father and she ran away to her mother. I can only imagine how this must have appeared in court before a judge and I still carry guilt. I actually find it a bit disturbing that something so small could have influenced the course of my life and personally feel it is wrong to put children in that kind of circumstance where things aren’t explained clearly at the time but as time goes on they remember certain aspects and, had they known or understood the situation, their actions may have been different. Custody was granted to our mother and her husband, Ossi, after a private settlement was reached. We packed some things and went to go live with our mother and stepfather at their home in Camps Bay in 1991 and I changed schools from Table View Primary to Camps Bay Preparatory School. I had a whole new life.
Weirdly, I seemed to become the “popular” girl for a little while; all the girls wanted to be my friend and all the boys wanted to catch me in “kiss catch”. I didn’t make any solid girl-friends, but I absolutely loved my teachers, and loved the school, and of course the attention from the boys, which was something previously unknown to me.
It was also at this time that a certain sort of nightmare began.
My brother seemed to change, and not in a good way. He got angrier. Our karate fights which had been so much fun became rougher; often ending with me nursing a body part after a particularly hard tackle or punch. Sometimes it seemed like it wasn’t a game for him anymore and he had a cold look in his eyes when we fought. Dad put a stop to our fighting on weekends because it always ‘ended in tears’, and I was secretly quite relieved. My relationship with Ryan was very different; he didn’t seem to like me anymore and didn’t want me doing the same things as him. He suddenly seemed to hate having a little sister and everything I did irritated him. I took it all very personally but looking back now that I am older and a bit wiser, I know all kids fight and older kids always find their siblings irritating. It still hurt at the time though and I hated feeling unwanted by my big brother who I adored.
I was roughly 6 years old when I caught Ryan in my bedroom cupboard one night, watching me get undressed for bed. He said he just wanted to look at my boobs. I shouted at him to get out and he ran out laughing. I don’t remember thinking anything more of it at the time, I didn’t even have boobs!! But it was soon after that when the abuse started. I don’t necessarily blame him now, he was a child too. But abuse is the only word fitting for what I went through. The following depicts what became a regular occurrence for me and will always be a strong memory; sitting at the computer playing solitaire when I feel his hands on my shoulders. They slide down my collarbones to the top of my shirt where the curve of my breast starts. He was stronger than me and would push his hand down cupping my breast area for a few seconds before I would be able to twist my hands out of his grasp and get away. It is so ingrained in my memory that to this day, I HATE it when people touch my shoulders and it always makes my whole body freeze and tense up instantly.
It happened again and again, catching me by surprise and usually at a moment when there was no one nearby to shout to for attention. If I tried to get away he would either strangle me for a few moments or hit me in my throat with the back of his hand so I couldn’t breathe and ended up lying on the floor desperately trying to catch my breath. When I did manage to get away… he would make my life so miserable for the following weeks. At first, it would be small things like finishing my coco pops when he usually ate rice krispies, breaking the heads off my Barbie dolls or hide my favourite Barbie clothes. He would leave me out of his activities and when his friends came over he forbid them to speak to me.
I soon learned that if I didn’t fight him, he would be a really cool big brother; play Mario brothers with me, share the neighbours skalectrix set, let me come with to ride our bikes outside, and let me play tok tokkie at night with him and his friends. But as time went on it became more frequent and demanding. He would lead me to a nearby room and make me touch him or lie on top of me, with me pleading for him to not do this anymore. I tried everything I could to avoid any opportunity of anything happening and started paying more attention to activities and people around me. I would keep note of where everyone in the house was at all times, lock my bedroom door when our parents were out of earshot, and plan sneaky bathroom trips. This constant vigilance came with massive amounts of anxiety and an overwhelming sense of responsibility for my own safety. If the opportunity wasn’t there then sometimes it meant I would escape the after wrath. I sometimes wished the abuse had come from anywhere except my brother, it felt like it would have been easier to report. Maybe there would have been less shame, guilt and utter humiliation. Sometimes I tried to fight back, I used to will myself to just punch him and run away but I knew from experience that even if I got away now.. I was making it ten times worse for myself later on.
Disregarding my brother, life was good. My stepfathers company was doing very well and I adored my older stepsister and brother. They were much older than us and lived in their own houses, but they were lots of fun to play with. We watched the Never Ending Story probably a million times with our stepbrother. We had moved to a mansion in Clifton and I still got all the toys I could ever ask for, and two Border Collie puppies joined the family. Heaven! We had a nanny called Margaret who was simply the best. She was gentle but firm and I spent a lot of my time following her around the house as she cleaned.
Some of my worst memories of abuse happened in this house though. Ryan would sit outside my room for hours sometimes trying to irritate me enough to make me come out. He would sing “Andi’s a pea brain haha, Andi’s a pea brain, haha” over and over for hours and hours and hours. He even recorded it so he could play it relentlessly. It sounds like a puny form of torture as I write these words, but trust me, hour after hour of hearing a recording of the same thing and you start to feel like you are going mad. I would be stuck inside my bedroom crying, Ryan just outside my door, driving me absolutely crazy. When he caught me he would grip my wrists in a vice, squeezing the side of my wrist bones until I thought he was crushing my wrist. Strangling me was also a big favourite of his. He would take every opportunity he got to hit, pinch, punch or kick me; whether we were in the car, walking in a mall, or sitting at the kitchen table. I would beg to sit in the front seat on car journeys. I suffered terribly from motion sickness in the back, and I used this to negotiate, but my main reason was to get away from being punched or kicked. 9 times out of 10 my brother would win this battle as he was the oldest and most convincing whereas I had been conditioned to step down from conflict.
I spent many hours swimming but eventually I didn’t swim anymore when he was swimming as he would try and drown me. Trip me when I was roller-skating. Throw things at me like cans, pens, hangers, remotes, keys, books or anything else within reach. I was desperate for some sort of attention or acknowledgement that I was suffering and used to run away quite frequently. Sometimes not even running away, but just hiding in the garden or house. It usually backfired with no one noticing I was gone, leaving me to sit there for hours hoping someone would notice I was missing but they didn’t, which left me feeling more alone, and when it got dark I’d meekly make my way back inside.
When I was 7 I was asked out by a boy called Jonathan. I was absolutely smitten by my first boyfriend; he had the most adorable smile. I remember travelling with his family to Clanwilliam and going out on a speedboat. I absolutely loved the time I spent with them, which was always filled with laughter and fun. So unlike my own family. One evening I ran away from his house because I was terrified he would also start making me touch him. I was on my rollerblades and tried to skate all the way home from Camps Bay to Clifton. Ossi was on his way to look for me and caught up with me outside Camps Bay High School. I was halfway home but by that time I was crying uncontrollably, knowing I had made a bad call. It was pitch dark and I was so scared, cold and tired. Rollerblading home at night was NOT my best idea, but I made up a story to my mom about a man touching me on my ‘private parts’ near the Camps Bay Cricket Club. She figured out I was lying though and my attempt at getting some kind of attention or help was smashed. This wasn’t to say my mom didn’t care, she just thought I was an attention seeker and liked to make up stories. It was no secret to me that Ryan was her favourite. And perhaps she didn’t realise the extent or effect Ryan was having on my life. She was mainly very gentle and soft spoken, hugging us often, but very obsessed with her looks and quite self-centered. She would call me Squirrel Monkey or Andy Pandy, always buying me the latest book of my favourite series such as Thoroughbred or the Famous Five, and looking after me so lovingly whenever I was sick. I still crave her when I feel sick. But with the gentleness came a side that left me with something else to look out for, she had crazy mood swings and when she was having a particularly bad day it was difficult to understand why she was shouting at you as often it seemed to be brought on by nothing you did, yet you were still to blame. Occasionally I would get a smack out of nowhere when I least expected it, for doing something I had done plenty of times before without any repercussion.
Our parents were always fighting; badmouthing each other terribly to us, dragging us into the middle of their battles. It tore me up inside hearing horrible things about my parents, from my parents, when you are a child and you have no idea who to believe or what to make of it. How are you expected to side with one over the other? It was a terrible conflict of the heart, an emotional burden that stays with you for many years. My mom was the worst, often telling me terrible stories about my father and when they lived together and that she thought he had molested me. The danger of bad mouthing a parent, which I only discovered much later, is that is actually results in the child resenting the one who did the badmouthing. Whether the stories are factual or a perception doesn’t carry much weight at the end of the day. The short term repercussions are the child starts to withdraw from the parent who is being vilified and this unfortunately led to an estrangement between my father and I when I was a teenager.
I started horse riding lessons in Hout Bay at the Riding Centre when I was 8. I was utterly hooked from that day on, even though my first ride was rather interesting with my allocated pony, Lightning, deciding that the mare nearby looked rather sexy and enticing that day;) I leased a pony called Snuggles and pretty sure I loved him more than life itself. He was the favourite of the Riding Centre as he was the nicest to ride, even though he was a grumpy bastard and the hardest horse to catch!! When I wasn’t at the stables, I spent a lot of time in my room playing with my little ponies, lego horses, Barbie horses and staring at all my horse posters. One of my favourites was in my room at my father’s house. There was a picture of a grey horse running on the beach with the quote “Within each of us burns an untamed spirit, a desire to be free.” I will never forget those words as long as I live.
In 1994 we moved to a dreamy smallholding in Hout Bay called Longleat. My mom had befriended a woman who lived nearby who had offered her a horse. A beautiful big chestnut gelding called Jumbo. It was also the year Nelson Mandela was released and the rightful freedom granted to all races of our beautiful country. I don’t remember knowing anything about apartheid at the time or even celebrating this occasion, but I wish I had. I was clearly just living in my own little bubble of life and don’t remember my parents ever discussing politics around me.
For my tenth birthday I was given a pony, 13hh dapple grey gorgeous mare called Melody, which was a dream come true. I spent every afternoon horse-riding from then on. I could write about her for days, millions of memories replaying in my head. She was such a smart little shit. So mischievous with the cutest face and expressions. It would take me hours to tack her up sometimes, from running around the paddocks trying to catch her, to just getting the reins around her neck in the stable and she was so little she would run round and round the stable with my hanging on for dear life! In the beginning I often yearned for a pony that had been schooled already and did whatever I wanted but looking back she was all I ever needed. Living on a smallholding with my pony being able to just go play with her whenever I wanted was priceless and a gift I wish I could bestow on my own daughter one day. I remember often just watching her in the paddocks feeling like my heart would burst from happiness, sneaking to the stable to see if she would be lying down at night (most excitement ever), out rides all around Hout Bay and especially cantering through the waves at the beach.
Riding a horse made me feel free and alive. There is nothing in this world that I have done yet which can compare to the feeling of being on a horse, and having a connection with that horse. The wind in your face, the feel of the powerful, graceful animal moving beneath you, the giddy feeling of happiness and laughter that you can’t help from bursting through you.
It was also the best escape from my brother!
Our male Border Collie got out one day and mated with the Border Collie down the road, and for my 11th birthday I was given a male 6 week old border collie – right out of a box with a red bow!! He was another dream come true for me, I absolutely LOVED fluffy soft border collies. He followed me everywhere and I called him Shadow.
For years I begged my mother to protect me from Ryan’s physical abuse. To punish him when he hurt and teased me, but she never seemed to take my pleas seriously and always had the same responses; “It’s just sibling rivalry, he’ll grow out of it” “he’s just jealous of you because you have more friends / you have a pony / insert any excuse”, sometimes she’d buy me a gift and I’d forget all about it, or she’d start telling me tales of her brother bullying her when she was growing up, I heard this one the most “My brother Ian once shot me with a dart in my leg!”. It was not the same. I was being tortured.
I started carrying my riding crop with me everywhere in the house, but if I used it on him there would always be a big family fight. “The riding crop is not to be used on your brother” my mother would say. Ossi would often jump to my defense but there was no telling my mother what to do with her son unless you wanted to unleash the she-devil. I never mentioned the sexual things. I was too embarrassed. She said he would grow out of it when we hit puberty, then she said he would when he was 16, then 18… I never stopped demanding my mother to protect me from him, thinking that without the physical and emotional torture, I wouldn’t have to endure the sexual things. Since Shadow had come along he’d also been using him against me, kicking my puppy when he saw I would see. Margaret, our beloved nanny who I adored, did what she could but Ryan could be vindictive and would start mentioning lost items that ‘must have been stolen’ from his room if she dared get involved. If I brought it up in front of Ossi he would want to punish Ryan and they would start arguing about it and I hated it when they fought. I was terrified of Ossi leaving us and I guess was irrationally paranoid they would get a divorce… which would mean me alone with my mom and Ryan. Horrors. Ossi and Ryan didn’t get on at all, so Ossi and I developed quite a close relationship as I would spend as much time with him as I could when I wasn’t riding Melody.
I was getting changed out of my riding clothes one evening when Ryan stealthily came into my room through the balcony door, but I was quick and ran to kick the door closed again, silently cursing myself for forgetting to check the balcony (we had doors to a shared one). The door bounced off his foot though and he picked an empty can of coke up off the table and threw it at my face. I gather just wanting to hurt me, but it somehow landed perfectly on my face, slicing a 2cm gash in my upper lip right through to my teeth. It was one of the few times I had ‘proof’ of assault, and it happened just after 6pm when Ossi was home. He flew into a fit of rage upon hearing my screams and seeing my face and immediately whipped off his belt to lash Ryan (the first time I had ever seen him do that!). My mother immediately intervened; appalled that Ossi would even consider such a punishment. What ensued was an endless night of fighting and screaming, the shouts from the main bedroom echoing through our big house, and I wished I had just done whatever Ryan wanted. It would have been over and done with, and I would have been sleeping by now. Not sitting in my room with a cut lip crying with anxiety and guilt over causing this. I hate fighting. I can’t cope with angry people shouting; to this day it just fills me with an overwhelming panic. An incoming train of anxiety. I cry immediately if anyone shouts at me, it’s really ridiculous!
Then one day the sexual advances stopped. I can’t recall why or whether something triggered it, perhaps Ryan got his first serious girlfriend. But it was over. I shut the moments out of my memory.
I was starting to have a really difficult time at school. I was teased horribly in Primary School by the other girls and remember getting in the car crying almost every day, knowing that I was just leaving one hell for another kind of hell at home. I wasn’t really interested in the same things they were, I was more of a tomboy. Riding horses. Smelling like horses. To this day, nothing brings me more joy than walking into a place where there are horses and catching that first whiff in the air of HORSE. Horse riding or being at the stable yard with my riding friends was the only time I felt happy. I spent lots of time riding around Hout Bay with my best friends Tehri and Erin, and when Tehri’s family moved out of Hout Bay and she moved her pony to Lane Stables in Constantia – I followed. Even though we had stables at home, it seemed fun to join Lane Stables for a bit (and I think my mom and Ossi understandably wanted a break from the responsibility of having horses at home). I will never forget hours spent at the stables whether it was riding in the arena dedicating hours to schooling, friends having friendly jump offs, chilling in the riders room talking horses, mixing up food for the horses and getting their stables ready, swimming on horseback through dams on pony camp or even my friends all bringing their ponies to my house for the weekend. Some of the best days of my life!
Melody and I worked, played, learnt and grew together and soon we were even winning some competitions. I still look back with love and horror at some of the crazy jump off turns. Expecting her to sail over jumps when I turned just a metre in front of it! And she jumped. My precious pony always jumped. She loved it. Until I pushed her too hard with Eventing trying out for the Western Province team and we stopped having fun in between. My biggest regret and most shameful memories are of hitting her with crops when I considered her to be ‘naughty’. Riding Instructors would urge me to smack her when she refused to go in the right direction and there were older riders that I thought were really cool who used to smack their horse as they jumped. It looked cool so I also did it a few times. I will never pick up another crop as long as I live. She was feisty and always got her own way and taught me my greatest lesson – horses are not ours to tame or control or use for our own benefit. They are wild and beautiful and majestic. They have spirit and that spirit should be respected and loved.
When I started horse riding competitively, I felt my mom was pushing me to do better and better. I think she loved that her daughter was a ‘winning’ show jumper. But after about 3 years or so of relentless early mornings, plaiting manes & tails, and trucking to venues for Dressage, Show Jumping and Cross Country every single weekend, horse riding competitively was losing its appeal for me. Even Melody seemed to not want to jump anymore. We were both tired and had lost having fun somewhere along the way. I took riding lessons with an instructor in Hout Bay and one rainy afternoon Melody and I were on our way to a lesson… As we turned into the gates Melody started performing her new “I don’t want to work today” moves and decided she wanted to go home. She tried to turn around and we battled with each other for a few seconds before her hooves slipped on the steep wet driveway and she fell onto her side, crushing my left foot. She got up and I managed to hang on to her mane and withers to get back in the saddle, but I gave up fighting her and let her lead us home, trying my best to keep my foot steady as every jolt filled my eyes with tears.
After X-rays it was determined my foot was broken and I wouldn’t be able to ride for 6 weeks. I was bitterly disappointed that all our work appeared to now amount to nothing, as I would miss the WP selection (it turns out they wouldn’t have chosen me anyway). I felt I should have been happy that the shows were over, but I was sad. Incredibly sad. and feeling empty. I think after the years of shows I struggled to regain the sense of childhood joy of riding ponies like cowgirls and just having fun. I stopped riding Melody as I was getting too big for her and we gave her to our vet who had a beautiful farm in Hermanus.
I was heartbroken without my pony, and the pain and restlessness I sensed inside was growing… I was the good daughter who was always polite and helpful, considerate and respectful, while Ryan was grumpy and aggressive, threw tantrums, broke things and generally was just an unreasonable dick. Our mother would come into my bedroom at night, tickle my back for five minutes and then say goodnight. I would then lie in bed, often crying while I listened to her in the next room, tickling my brothers back as they chatted and laughed for what seemed like hours. I wished she would love me as much as she loved him. But Ryan was hilarious and very charming when he wanted to be; even I had to give him that. On a good day he would have me in stitches and I could forgive him anything.
In those lonely moments I used to talk to God and prayed for his help. I didn’t want to feel sad or confused… but life seemed sad and confusing. I never felt like I got a response though. I never felt like anyone was listening. As I got older, I tried again and again to invite God into my life – it seemed he didn’t want to be part of it.