CHAPTER 2 – adolescence and early adult
My mom made sure that before I got to high school, I looked a bit prettier. By prettier I mean I got braces for two years and my Dumbo ears were pinned back to my head. Full brain surgery looking patient for a few days!! Highlights were put in my hair, my legs were waxed, and she wanted to fix my pimples by putting me on the pill. Yikes! I had lied about getting my periods that year to impress her as all the other girls had been getting theirs, and now had to come clean that I hadn’t in fact had my first period yet. Things improved slightly after I got to High School as the teasing from the other girls stopped. We were in a huge new school and stuck together in the beginning. Ryan also wasn’t attending Camps Bay High anymore, he had left to go to Abbotts College that year – YES! I soon met some new friends who lived in Hout Bay, very close to my house and some even had horses! It was so amazing to find friends who had the same things in common with me, lived within walking distance, AND went to my school. There were also the cutest boys that stayed in the house on the corner of my road that went to my school and we started spending loads of time together. I was secretly quite infatuated with one of them but he started dating my friend and seemed to see me as just one of the guys.
As soon as I got my first period, I was put on the pill and my acne covered face was given a good dose of Roaccutane. With all these new friends (and boys!), visits to my father on weekends grew even less. Ossi and my mom then decided to have a child together and I prayed for a little sister. When I found out they were having a boy I had been horrified at the idea of another brother, and even more irritated that he was due on my birthday!! But when Nicholas arrived in November 1998 just before my 14th birthday, and I held him for the first time, I was smitten.
For the millenium we had a dream holiday to Mauritius. Ryan and I were allowed to each bring a friend (so that we wouldn’t fight!). My grandparents came too… and it was a really fantastic holiday. The best yet!
I got a new horse called Sassy but tragically had a horse riding accident on the first weekend of owning her in February. A friend of mine and I had decided to ride down to the beach for our first outride, and in classic cowgirl style decided to have a race (I had a new horse that was just off the race track, come on… Of COURSE we’re going to race!) We galloped off in teasing fun but after I think a couple hundred metres Sassy tripped, somersaulted, and landed on her back – with me still on it! Fortunately, Ossi had been on the beach watching us and called an ambulance while my friend Sian rode off after Sassy who had gotten up and wildly headed rider-less toward home. I was in and out of consciousness for 2 days, lost my memory, and injured my back. The accident had been on the morning of my first Valentines Ball at Camps Bay High School, my date must have been pretty pissed! My memory slowly returned after some time and I started physio, along with my horse, for our back injuries. My father and I were completely estranged by this stage and visits to him basically ceased altogether.
My memory of events around this period are actually a bit fuzzy – possibly because of the riding accident. The timeline doesn’t make sense to me… I might be confusing or combining stories of two years here in the next few paragraphs.
The world trade towers were attacked in September that year, I remember my brother shouting from his room for us to come watch what had happened. I certainly didn’t comprehend at the time what exactly this attack meant : the beginning of the war against terrorism. In South Africa the only bombing I’d been exposed to was PAGAD bombings at a Planet Hollywood Restaurant and some fast food restaurants in Camps Bay.
A boy kissed me for the first time just after my 14th birthday! But even though I was boy crazy, every time I started dating someone I would start to feel very confused. I felt sad a lot of the time in the first years of high school, there were so many beautiful girls at my new school, and my mother was often comparing me to my brother’s beautiful girlfriends. In my eyes, she made me feel that I wasn’t thin enough, my boobs weren’t big enough, I didn’t wear trendy clothes, I never wore make up, I didn’t have a boyfriend, I spent too much time on the computer chatting to strangers on MIRC when I should be tanning outside. She’d shake her head at my pale legs and say “you should go tan outside for one hour every afternoon on different sides, and then you’ll have a lovely tan all over!” I flitted from fling to fling until I fell in love for the first time – for an older guy who was sweet, funny, naughty and loads of fun, and he had a CAR!! I was absolutely hooked and we’d spend hours together in my bed kissing and touching. (To this day I have no idea how that was allowed by my Mom… A 15yr old dating a 18yr old and he can sleep over??!) After a few months though it was clear he wanted more than just touching, and started making a move on one of my friends. I was absolutely devastated and spent months crying in my room everyday listening to sad love songs. I can actually laugh at this memory now and feel a little frustrated at how much time I spent picking myself up after this dooshbag broke my heart! If only I had known then that life surprises you in the strangest of ways… how many more boys I would find and love and then grow away from in the cycle of life…
my introduction to depression
I developed severe depression. I was struggling with my back pain, it was absolute agony to stand for more than a few minutes at a time and weekly physiotherapy sessions weren’t helping. Horse riding was causing me more anxiety than therapy! Sassy used to trip quite frequently and every single time would give me a mini heart attack. It wasn’t the same at all after the accident and I felt empty, directionless and unloved, and started cutting my arms with knives to escape the heart ache I felt inside. The pain of cutting my arms distracted me from the emotional pain and felt like mini battle scars to me. The cutting got worse over time though, I was desperate to slit my wrists and end my life but just couldn’t bear the pain of cutting more than a few mm in and was so pissed off I could never hit that vein! I decided to overdose on Myprodol the day my Mom and Ossi left for a short holiday. This was the worst idea ever and the memory will always prevent me from trying to kill myself again. When I woke up the next day I felt absolutely panicked. My mind was completely groggy and I couldn’t function properly. I felt like I was almost trapped in this body that couldn’t cooperate. I thought I had brain damaged myself and in panic confessed what I had done. Before I knew what was happening, my bags were packed and I was on my way to Kenilworth Clinic to be admitted for a month. The clinic was horrible, they made me feel like I was an attention seeker and alcoholic for drinking occasionally on weekends (like ALL of my friends did – we were teenagers!). I confronted my father about things my mother had claimed and we discussed everything. Although my memory had been rectified, things were now feeling very awkward between my dad and I, and I felt more alone and depressed than ever for causing such a stir. I didn’t want this attention – I just wanted to die. I felt like I really didn’t belong there. I lived in this massive house, had my own pony, went to a ‘snobby’ school, we had two live in maids and a gardener, I got my food served to me three times a day…I had the life!!! While everyone else had these horrendous reasons of why they were in the clinic and terrific life stories, and here I was – spoilt little rich girl who gets everything she wants – depressed for no reason whatsoever. I couldn’t understand why I was sad, when I had everything I ever wanted materially and seemed to have the perfect life. I ran away from the clinic constantly in the beginning (I actually still have a good giggle sometimes at how I escaped every time) and didn’t stop until they allowed me to be an outpatient so I could be with Sassy in the evenings. I only got home after 5 so by the time I returned from outrides it was often dark. Ossi used to drive slowly behind me on the way home every night because he was scared someone wouldn’t see me on the road verge and crash into the back of Sassy. At the time I was so embarrassed by this and angry that he did it, but looking back I can appreciate how much he must have loved me to do this every night after a long day at work. This memory now actually just makes me want to cry with regret that I did not thank him or show my appreciation for his love and how loved he did actually make me feel with this action.
I was put on anti-depressants and life went back to normal in many ways. My mom decided the two of us would embark on a fitness mission together. She was always very concerned with her looks. We each got personal trainers at the nearby gym, and my mood was finally picking up! Gym sessions were loads of fun. I absolutely hated the exercising part of it, but our trainers kept us laughing for an hour straight! I was spending lots of time with my best friend Claudia and she was so confident and had such a love of life and being a nerd along with me that she soon got my timidness out. My anti-depressants really seemed to be boosting my mood and I found myself being more spontaneous and adventurous than ever before. I was daring and bold and remember this short period being among the happiest in my life, mainly because I truly didn’t care about what anyone thought of me or what I did, mostly thanks to time spent with Claudia, Justine and her older sister, Theresa. I used to enjoy getting a thrill out of shocking people and making them laugh which just made me more audacious. But after a while this died down to a more acceptable level :) Or perhaps life just quietened me back down. With my new mood, confidence, and attention from boys, it seemed my mother was actually jealous of me? I started constantly getting the feeling like she actually didn’t like me anymore because of the attention I got from Ossi, my friends and boys. It was weird because she would bring it up as if she was proud of me and say how she never had as many friends when she was young, yet somehow she would end up making me feel like she was subtly punishing me for it. Its something that has bothered me for years but I haven’t been able to connect this in my head until I read an article a few weeks ago titled Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers. I literally could not believe what I was reading – they were describing MY mother.
I started spending some time with the personal trainers outside of our gym sessions, even kissing my trainer one weekend as he happened to be friends with Claudia’s sister and moved into their house so I saw him every weekend!
In June 2000 I embarked on a holiday to Bali, Indonesia, with three friends; Claudia, Justine, and Becci. It was a mad party beach holiday, with us shopping or beaching it during the days, and dancing it up at Sari Club in Kuta til the morning! For our first week we stayed at the Century Saphire Hotel on Kuta beach, and before long became locals at our new favourite restaurant – Gland. Our first visit to Kuta beach was an interesting experience – being absolutely bombarded by street sellers! The best beach we visited by far was Uluwato, and got treated to massages while overlooking one of the most beautiful views in the world! Our next destination was Sol Lavina to swim with dolphins! It was the most magical holiday and I will always treasure this opportunity.
My mom and I were spending quite a bit of time together during this time, she called me from the beach a few times while I was at school and ask if I wanted to bunk and go join her. Are you kidding? Of course I did! My friends were so jealous! I had the coolest mom. She was also known as the MILF by the boys I knew. But inside I always thought that I actually just wanted a mom…. not another friend. She seemed to be competing with me on things such as weight, length of hair or other silly things. One weekend we decided to drive up to Gouritz River for bridge swinging and stay overnight in Groot Brak Rivier. My gym trainer joined us, and I must have been such a fool at the time for not seeing this, but my mother and my trainer MUST have slept together that night. When I woke up the next morning and went to her room, she was in her dressing gown and he was in her bed. He was a big flirt so at the time I probably thought nothing of it. So naïve! Now it makes me sick to my stomach knowing that my mom was with someone I had also been with.
It must have been shortly after that weekend that we decided to swop trainers. I loved my new trainer and we’d spend lots of time exercising on the beach or taking kayaks out for a paddle at Clifton. My mother seemed to be incredibly jealous of my emerging friendship with her previous trainer and I clearly remember some incredibly awkward moments; being at Clifton lifesaving parties and my mother would arrive to join the party. SO EMBARRASSING. I was watching movies with my trainer one evening, when my mother arrived to join us, and promptly made herself comfortable on the couch in between us. She claimed she fell in love with him and things were really awkward in the months after that.
my introduction to addiction
My brother went to our mother for help some months later. He had allegedly used heroine for the first time on the day I was admitted to Kenilworth Clinic, and was now battling an addiction. We naively believed in the beginning that one dose of rehab would sort that out and our lives would continue on as normal. We were so wrong!!! In the months and years that followed the home atmosphere was one of shouting, violence, and increasing aggression. Our lives seemed consumed with overdoses, hospitals, detoxes, rehabs, lies, confusion, and severe mood swings with every relapse. I tried my best to give my brother support, writing him letters of encouragement and often visiting him in rehabs, even spending Christmas lunch with him one year at Stepping Stones in Noordhoek. We still fought like mad, but it was more like general sibling rivalry and I was used to his manic mood swings by now. I also tried to support my mom who was very stressed out over Ryan’s addiction; we’d attend Nar anon together, and I’d help investigate and organise things for rehabs. He was arrested for credit card fraud once and we visited him in jail, followed by attending his court case.
For my 16th birthday, Mom and Ossi treated me to a weekend away at Lakeview Chalets in Hermanus with my three best friends Claudia, Justine and Hayley. A few weeks later, I was sent to Mauritius with Heidi (our aupair) and Nicholas. I can’t remember why but it probably had something to do with Ryan.
Then the stock market crashed (think it was called Nasdaq or something) and Ossi lost all his investments. Our lives seemed to crumble a bit around us as we down-scaled our home and I needed to give Sassy away. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse and my mother became convinced that there was a curse on our family. Interestingly, my mom and I enjoyed going around looking at show houses together and developed a connection through our mutual love of homes and interior design. Our new home had one three bedroom house, and a two bedroom flatlet, so Ryan and I lived in the flat while my mom, Ossi and Nick stayed in the main house. One morning before one of my final matric exams, I found a sight that I truly wish I could forget. My brother lying on his bed with a light blue plastic bag tied tight over his head. I ripped off the bag and I hysterically called my mom. The minutes before the ambulance arrived felt like hours as we desperately tried to wake him up and/or resuscitate him. In the panic I don’t even think we could tell if he was alive or already dead. The paramedics seemed to walk in slow motion as I met them in the driveway and showed them where to go, and I vividly remember them jabbing him with an injection like in Pulp Fiction (but not in the heart!) and then taking him to hospital. I had to still go to school for my exam so I only heard later how he was doing.
It was decided that as a last resort, he would be sent to Nourpoort Rehab Centre. This was a few months after the terrible story was featured on Carte Blanche about how addicts were treated there, but nothing had helped my brother thus far and our mother considered this tough love approach as her last resort (I cant even begin to explain how bad things were for my mother to send her beloved son to Noupoort!!). Every time the phone rang there was more bad news. Something else had happened. I think four scenes stand out the most for me through this period. Once was when he was taken to Groote Schuur and while things were touch and go – the gentleman in the bed next to his died. The wails of the family next to us were unbearable for us to witness as we waited for my brothers fate. I remember seeing him with charcoal all over his mouth that night. The second; when he tried to kill himself with a plastic bag, third; when he wrote off his car driving, fourth; and when he had been locked in his room by our mother as she waited for guards to collect him for Noupoort. I was told to guard his window so he didn’t jump through the glass. I hadn’t liked the idea of Noupoort and he would alternate between speaking softly and earnestly, looking at me in the eyes while tears streamed down his face, begging me to let him escape so he didn’t have to go there. While I struggled with my inner voices he would jump back into addict mode, aggressively threatening me and practically spitting with hatred ; hardening my resolve to keep guard.
My best friend Claudia left South Africa on the 29th January 2002… I used to spend almost every weekend at her house in earlier high school years. But her mom got very sick with cancer and passed away. Our group of friends would often end up at Claudia’s house after parties, and her mom’s passing was a loss felt by all of us. She moved to Scotland to live with her dad and I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. How was I going to survive without her? She was everything to me and has always and still feels like the only person in the world who understands me and really loves me as I am. I still vividly remember the day she left and I was saying goodbye to her at the airport. It was the longest teary goodbye, and she left…. only to be stopped by security because she had a compass on her. She ran back to give it to me and we had one final hug before she walked off again, I leant right to hug the person standing closest to me but in the midst of my tears I hadn’t realised it was actually a vending machine ;) hahaha!
Quite a lot of my friends left in the beginning of 2003. We had just matriculated and everyone was going off to different international destinations on their gap years. I was still filling in the paperwork for a UK visa. I had been wanting to either go live and work on a ranch in the States, or work on a horse farm in the England countryside. I opted for London as that’s where more of my friends were. In hindsight there were so many wonderful opportunities open to me, I wish my friends or boyfriends had never played part in any of my decisions.
It’s early March 2003 and Ossi has just left for a business trip to London. My mom and Ossi have been fighting so much lately, in fact I have also been fighting with Ossi more than usual lately. He’s gotten much stricter and shouts at me over things he’s never gotten upset about before. I think they might even be thinking of getting a divorce (but maybe every child jumps to this conclusion when they see their parents fight). The next day, Maurice called us from a hospital in Austria to say there was something very wrong with Ossi when he got off the plane and he was immediately taken to hospital for investigation. We were so confused, what was wrong?? And why was he with Maurice in Austria when he told us he was going for business in London?? It all seemed very strange.
Maurice explained that they were supposed to be going skiing together in Austria, not London. As far as I remember, the hospital said he needed to return home for more in depth testing.
Ossi returned home and appointments were made for him to see some specialists. My driver’s test was scheduled for 10am on the 1 April 2003. I was so nervous, but I passed! First time! The feeling of absolutely happiness and pride ended abruptly as soon as I got home. Ossi’s test results had come back. He had a huge brain tumour in the frontal lobe. Apparently the most aggressive, fastest growing one you can get. I think they said something about the pressure in the plane caused it to expand more which explained why when he got out the other side, he couldn’t talk or really make any sense. The doctors gave him 6 months to live. We were all in a state of utter shock. Crying and hugging each other.
After talking to them, we decided that I wouldn’t be going to London anymore. I wanted to stay at home and spend time with Ossi and help while he goes through Chemo. It’s probably for the best I didn’t go to London anyway; I was suffering more than ever with my back pain. I couldn’t stand for more than ten minutes at a time and no doctors seemed able to alleviate the pain. I think someone said it is still scar tissue from my accident with Sassy that just needed time to heal. But I was beyond depressed living like that, barely able to walk without intense searing pain. The brain tumour changed the person I had known as my father who was a strong, kind, intelligent businessman, to someone who could not get dressed or even tie his own shoelaces without assistance. He couldn’t accept that he should not have been driving and for months he would insist on taking his car out, only to either call us and be unable to explain where he was or even in what suburb he was in, or we’d have to go out looking for him when he’d been gone too long. It was an endless, heart-breaking battle to get him to hand over his car keys and was just an awful period all round.
lasting effects of sexual abuse
I had started to see a pattern forming with my first serious boyfriends. After the relationship got to the comfort zone, I became very anxious at the thought of sex. I would start worrying in the morning about how I was going to avoid getting intimate. Sometimes when boyfriends touched me my brother’s face would appear in my mind. I was so disturbed and confused as to why this was suddenly happening to me, as well as shocked that I had forgotten all this. I would get waves of memories at a time of my childhood. I confronted my mother one day about it, telling her about my sexual abuse at the hands of my brother and she told me I was being silly and that all kids “fiddle”. I tried to accept that and move past it.
In September I shared a drunken kiss with one of my best guy friends, and things quickly turned serious. Initially things were amazing in the bedroom, but after a few months we realised there was a problem. A big problem. I had never experienced this before but any kind of penetration became absolute torture for me. I really cannot recall how it came about but my mom ended up taking me to see Dr Eve / Dr Marlene Wasserman. I saw her for about a year or two to work through my sexual issues, and thankfully this therapy was successful as far as pain and visions.
Fighting between my brother and I had escalated terribly after my sexual issues had cropped up. I confronted him about our childhood years and we had a massive physical fight. His mood swings were still out of control and I gave my mother an ultimatum to kick him out. I refused to live in the same home as him any more but she refused to tell Ryan to leave.
The automatic reaction of fear and avoidance is something that may take a lifetime to overcome. Even 25 years later I struggle with the thoughts of what will happen if I say no. The way your body tenses at the slightest touch. The turbulent inner resistance to being any sort of tool for someone else’s pleasure.