It didn’t start well. I left home under something of a dark cloud, communication with my mother in pieces. Once embarked on the crappy Luxair plane, just before take-off, I suddenly realised that I was making a horrible mistake. I was going to a country I knew nothing about and was completely unprepared for. Without the luxury of the internet, I had no data whatsoever. It was truly a step into the unknown. And I was also going with a guy I thought I was in love with but actually didn’t like very much and who made me feel stupid. It turned out I was right, though in those days, the words “coercive control” didn’t exist.
We didn’t fly straight to the UK but stopped off first in Amsterdam where the boyfriend wanted to meet up with an old friend who had fled to the Netherlands to escape the army draft in South Africa. My mother had bought me a brand-new suitcase with wheels. Five minutes on the cobblestones and they all broke off. Later, we sat on the edge of a canal, the boyfriend and the friend and his girlfriend chatted endlessly about things I knew nothing of. Not only was I painfully shy and lacking in opinions, I’d also had a very sheltered life and was quite unworldly. Suddenly I stood up and ran. I ran away from these horrible people, this horrible guy I’d gone away with, the horrible, grey squalid country I found myself in, running and running and running until I had no breath left.
The boyfriend ran after me and reprimanded me for making a scene, for embarrassing him, for being so impolite and selfish. You’d have thought I’d realise then but I didn’t. I never did. I never realised anything. I just lurched from one bad scene to another. I got away from that boyfriend into the clutches of one much, much worse, and the one after that that almost destroyed me. I spent most of my life running. I ran away from everything until it became a metaphoric escape – nowadays I escape into dreams.
It can’t be a coincidence that I fell pregnant when I was thirty-six. I was, by that time, divorced, working full time in a bookshop, doing an astrophysics degree and still trying to get published. Twenty years later and I have a fab daughter doing an astrophysics degree, I work in a library, and I’m still trying to get published. The best I can say is that I’m still writing, writing, writing.
The first shock I had when arriving in London was the weather. I had been told (by my mother) how much colder it was, that it rained constantly, that the weather was soft and gentle. Maybe global warming had changed things since the 1960’s, but this was not the London she remembered. On the sixth of August, 1984, London was grey, sticky, humid, filthy and utterly horrible. The weather thirty-six years later is exactly the same, only much hotter. Other shocks followed.
The dream of London was a lie. I couldn’t write. I had no education. I’d like to say that in the intervening years these things have changed, that I’ve found my dream, that I’ve taught myself to write, that I’ve managed to educate myself about life; in fact, all that’s happened is that I’ve learned to live with it. I don’t care as much. The word “failure” slams into my head often and I have to pick myself up out of many dismal days and dreadful disappointments, trying to find the strength to go on.
It’s all very well wishing that things had been different. I wish I’d gone to Stellenbosch Uni after high school and read English. I wish I’d lived in Cape Town for a while, away from my parents but still in the same country, before embarking on a more successful tour of Europe. I wish I’d been able to think for myself, to make my own decisions, to find a path in life that actually led somewhere. I wish I’d grown up knowing my father, even remotely, visiting him once or twice in New York, and settling those issues. I wish I could have offered my daughter a better beginning, instead of the abject poverty I found myself in when she was born, abandoned by friends and relations, living on wishes.
Ugh. Once you go down the “I wish” path, there’s no way of finding your way back.
I ended up hating August because it was the month I arrived in the UK. It's the hottest, stickiest, greyest, filthiest month of the year, and the rain – if there is any – is just sky sweat. I’ve tried to get over this anniversary of hell. I’ve tried not to succumb to those feelings of failure every 6th of August. This year it all rolled back: the sky is full of grey, sticky sweat. It’s clammy and hot and horrible. My future is uncertain, my past a hellhole. But for the first time, I’ve decided to change it. I’m no longer the unworldly girl who couldn’t decide anything. Whatever life taught me, it at least gave me stamina.
So here it is: Instead of wishing my life away and not living it, instead of trying to SEE what’s down the road, trying to shape futures out of nothing, trying to force a life to live, I’m just going to –
I’m going to –
I’m going to enjoy it.