Slowly it dawned on me that those kids who seemed to have it figured out – the ones who had found “it” – were just as lost as me. They didn’t have it, after all. They were just as confused, just as unhappy and just as dense as I was. What they did have was lots of black clothes, proper Doc Martens and (some of them) expensive drug habits. I figured that out when I got myself the clothes, the boots and the Benson & Hedges, plus any number of over-exaggerated and embellished (in other words, untrue) tales of mysterious older boyfriends (plus a small assortment of real older boyfriends – handy, but not as mysterious), and still the meaning of it all eluded me. At the time, I thought maybe it was because I didn’t have real Doc Martens. Maybe the Truth of the Meaning of Life, Ancient and Arcane Knowledge of the Great Unknowable Universe is handed down only to persons presenting with the correct brand-name footwear. If you turn up wearing Shoe City knock-offs, you don’t get to pass Go and collect Infinite Enlightenment.
I began to suspect that there was nothing more to life, after all. That, yes, this was it, this dull and unimportant little life was all I could hope for. This, and more of the same – conversations about lipstick and boys and clothes – and variations thereof – forever and ever, amen. I was sad. Desperately sad. I was overcome by an enormous black cloud that I believed wouldn’t go away, not ever. The one thing that I’d been holding out for my whole life – the prospect of something better, something more, something just for me – was gone.
I took an overdose of assorted pills one morning at school (God knows why I did it there – must have been the classic cry-for-help thing). I didn’t think about dying, not really. I didn’t think of how my family would feel. I wasn’t thinking of anything much at all; I was too busy feeling. Feeling lost, raw, broken and sad. Having my head that far up my bum probably also made rational thought difficult. Somewhat muffled, you know?
I just wanted something to change. I wanted to turn the corner and come face-to-face with a parade – balloons and colour and a marching band with banners proclaiming, “Yes! You found it, Tracy! This is IT!” What can I say? I was fourteen. Fourteen-year-olds are dumb.
But I recovered quickly. Really quickly. Must have had something to do with the six kelp tablets I took – I mean, how was I to know? No major damage done, except some to my relationship with my mother. She was deeply hurt by what I’d done and very, very angry with me. It took her a while to trust me again – and I think things were healed properly only after Steven was born. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
You probably want to know how I got pregnant. The usual way, as it turns out. What’s to tell? Girl meets boy, much groping ensues and, well, you know how it all ends.
He was older than me and in college. He was a funny guy. He made me laugh. He lifted a little of the heaviness that had overtaken my life. My parents objected to the age difference, but I convinced them that it would be okay, that they could trust us. I thought so, too.
You know what it’s like – you’re on a diet, you think just a tiny bite of chocolate cake will be okay (after all, it’s probably someone’s birthday, somewhere in the world); of course you can stop after one little nibble. You tell yourself you’re in control, you can stop anytime – and then, suddenly, everything goes black. When they find you, you’re unconscious, face down, drooling into a cake tin with chocolate icing all over your cheeks and your jersey covered in sponge crumbs. The cake is history, of course.
What happened with David and me was something like that. It was awkward, consensual and over quite quickly – which is the best you can hope for at that age, I guess. It was also more or less inevitable. And before you ask, of course I knew better. Of course I knew about contraception – I was not ignorant or misinformed or pressurised. I knew it all.
Yet, at that moment, on the night in question, none of that seemed to matter very much. My usual sensible and responsible personality seemed to have taken herself off on holiday somewhere and the person she left in charge was a “whatever” kind of girl. I distinctly remember thinking this, that night in the dark: Whatever. It was so unlike me, a typical Virgo who usually analyses every situation, weighs up scenarios and consequences before eventually creeping along to a decision. I was a Good Girl, remember?
The Whatever Girl was a very temporary visitor. She buggered off shortly after, reappearing only once or twice since – when I least expected it, kind of like shingles. She didn’t belong in my head and she knew it. She hung around just long enough to get me pregnant. But whether she knew it or not, she saved my life that night. I believe I would not be here today if it weren’t for her. That black cloud would have swallowed me again and I don’t think I would’ve found my way out. I would have given up the search for my one special thing. I would have missed my parade.
But she was there, she did what she was meant to do and, some weeks later, I walked out of the casualty section of False Bay Hospital. And there it was: my parade, with bells on.