1993: In which she tries to explain herself and widdles on her shoe
You’ll have figured out by now that I had my son when I was fifteen years old. Yep, that’s right. I was just a month shy of my fifteenth birthday when I found out I was pregnant. I was in grade nine and I had been – up until then, at least – A Good Girl. Quiet, reserved and painfully shy. No trouble at all to my teachers. Mostly invisible to my classmates. No real trouble to my family, although fourteen was a bad year for Mom and me. I’m sorry, Ma. I really am. I was difficult and obnoxious and sneered a lot. Much time was spent being what my mother called “awkward” and “otherwise”.
I remember a look in her eyes when we fought, which I took to be anger and dislike of me. Now, as a mother myself, I realise it was a look of utter panic. Terror and dread of all that can go wrong – and you just know it will be your fault, because you’re completely clueless. It was a look of “Fuckfuckfuck! She’s not doing what she’s supposed to. I’m messing up. What do I do now? Will someone please tell me what the hell I’m supposed to be doing?” Hanging on to your composure by a very frayed thread indeed, because everyone knows children can smell fear. If you let go for even one second, if your paper-thin veneer of Motherly Authority slips just an inch – they’ll be on to you like a pack of hyenas. Gratuitous National Geographic feeding frenzy scenes will ensue. Especially daughters. Daughters are good at spotting the cracks and are handy with a crowbar.
I’m familiar with this look from the inside these days. I feel it in my own eyes sometimes, and I know it’s only going to get worse. A sense of humour helps a lot. Once again, sorry, dear Ma. As penance, I promise to look after you in your old age. Bring on the bedpans – I deserve it.
There are people who think they have the whole “tragic teenage pregnancy” thing figured out. They don’t. They don’t know squat, in fact, unless they’ve been there themselves.
So, what can I tell you? That my childhood was traumatic? That it’s all my parents’ fault? That they didn’t love me enough? Or loved me too much? That I was a wicked, wanton harlot throwing myself at anyone who’d have me? That I was an ignorant and naïve child, led astray by a bad older boy?
Sounds good, sounds like what you’d expect. Pick any of the above scenarios – we all have the makings of a juicy Virginia Andrews novel in there. Except, none of it’s true. Sorry folks. It just wasn’t like that. All the stupid things I did, all the typical teenage shit, were just a cunning disguise. Underneath it all I really was a Good Girl.
I always had glowing reports from my teachers; I did well without really trying very hard. I was definitely not one of the cool girls – but I wasn’t totally nerdy either. Most of my classmates would probably have to think really hard if asked to describe me. I was just sort of nondescript. I was good at schoolwork, sucked at sports and wished that the Afrikaans mondeling had never been invented. In fact, if I never had to speak to anyone at all I’d have been happy. I spent most of my school years in a kind of permanent, whole-body cringe at my own ridiculousness.
I also had an overwhelming sense of waiting. I can clearly remember a time when I was about seven or eight years old. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon after school – that magical time around four o’clock: after homework, before supper – a time you were free to do anything at all, be anyone you wanted. I sat outside and listened to the birds. The air was still, there was no wind; it was quiet enough to hear the sea and the cars on the other side of the valley. There was a smell of “summer’s coming” in the air. I still smell it sometimes these days, and I remember being seven. It was a special sort of day. The kind you remember for the rest of your life. You don’t get many of those days. None of us do. Looking up at the sky, I remember feeling really small (maybe because I was?), and really sad. I remember asking, “Is this it? Is this all there is? Is there something else out there for me?”
Is there something else out there for me? No answer came. Not then. But I believed there had to be. Of course there was. Isn’t there some unique, important destiny waiting for each one of us? I suppose I was impatient. I wanted it now – I prayed and wished and longed for “it”, although I had no idea what “it” was. I spent years trying to find it.
I grew up with an anorexic self-esteem, minus the sparkling personality and self-confidence, if you’ll pardon the generalisation. Needless to say, I didn’t have the slinky figure either. I thought that everyone else in the world belonged to some kind of fabulous secret society that I’d never be allowed to join. I felt as if I was on the edge of everything. Even when I was happy and having what passed for fun in those days of red jeans and Dr Alban, there was always some little part of me watching from the inside, reminding me that this wasn’t real, this wasn’t it.
I looked for it in my friends, in books and in horrible, suicidal poetry. I looked for it where others seemed to have found it – the ones who seemed so cool and mature, the ones who seemed to know. I looked for it where they did – in cigarettes and alcohol, in boys and in obscure, depressing music.