5 August 2018
In Part 3, I described an unwanted sexual encounter in my early twenties when my resounding “No!” was ignored by a man with a sense of entitlement to my body. A common sentiment that “No” means “yes” is taken for granted all too often, without consequence. But what about the sexual advance on a 6-year-old, who has no comprehension nor choice in the matter?
My father sat in his favourite chair at our humble kitchen table in Mayfair. He had been living with me for a few years, having moved in with me after my divorce. I felt protected and safe and willingly gave up the dubious freedom of living alone. “Come sit here Radz” he beckoned me one day. I was 27 years old and had become closer to my dad who had evolved from being the sometimes-absent overpowering paternal figure, to be a bastion of strength and love. He was my teacher and mentor, and he made all the world seem well. There was something in his tone that day that made me feel uneasy. Being a Sufi, at that stage of his life, having passed through many of his own journeys, some of which had earned him many unsavoury titles and accusations, I had become accustomed to his esoteric sources of information. I sat down with a measure of unease not sure of what to expect from this conversation. He would sometimes reveal things to me that no-one else knew about, which, as his daughter, I found distinctly unsettling.
“Which one of them was it?” he asked. “Excuse me?” I retorted, my unease growing by the second. “Which of the brothers did that to you when you were little?” I closed my eyes and felt the blood drain from my face. I had never told my father about that incident. I panicked. What was he going to say, or worse, what would he do about it? As if reading my thoughts, he said “Don’t worry Radzi, you can talk about this now. It is time.” I slowly breathed out and felt relief sweeping over me as I revealed the name of the man who had molested me those years ago. He wrinkled his face and said “Oh, I thought it was his brother”. “No”, I assured him, “The brother had started something once and then abandoned it”. He told me that it was God’s mercy that he hadn’t known about it at the time. “I would have killed him had I known then, and I would’ve probably been in jail now.” I was overwhelmed by what he had said, having feared all the years that he would have somehow blamed me. He then said something that made me burst into tears. He said I was afraid to have children and settle down because I feared that the same thing may happen to my children. I had no idea why that triggered me, but I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably. He gently reminded me that I needed to examine who I was most angry with about the affair. He asked if I wasn’t angry at God because He had allowed that to happen to me. I sobbed even harder as the realisation hit me and I took to my prayer mat and let out years of anger, guilt, shame and anguish, all of which I had convinced myself over the years, that I had overcome. I turned in earnest to my Creator and seeking understanding. It took me back to that day in my Granny’s house over twenty years earlier.
A distant relative who was from out of town, spent the night in ‘Lenz’ at my Uncle’s house, where my Granny lived. As children we all referred to it as ‘Ma’s house’, which was up the road from our house in the then Indian suburb of Lenasia, some 30 km south of Johannesburg. We often slept over at Ma’s house and she spoiled us with food and treats. One morning after a sleepover, I was still in my pale green nightie when he called me into the room he had slept in the night before. The bed was still unmade. He hushed me putting his finger on his lips as if he was going to tell me a secret. I felt a sense of adventure and excitement that an adult was treating me like I could be trusted. I think he gave me sweets and continued to talk to me in hushed tones drawing me closer and saying he wanted to see something and that this is a big secret between us. He drew me closer and I looked very confused, as he lay me on the bed and started lifting my nightie. “I just want to see something” he said. Thankfully he did not cause me any physical hurt but did things to me which caused me to feel oddly pleasant sensations I had not encountered before. The most distasteful experience for me was the sight of a male sexual organ and to this day have an aversion for human saliva if it is anywhere except one’s mouth. I felt like I couldn’t betray his trust because he had been so nice to me and treated me like an adult. At the same time my 6-year-old mind I was stricken with a fear and shame. How could I be complicit in this? I knew that there was something inherently wrong with what was going on. What if my father found out? What if the rest of the family found out? They’d all think I was a bad girl. I remember carrying an incessant fear that I could be pregnant and was more afraid of how I would explain that to everyone. I had at that age heard snippets of information about the subject from other kids, not quite sure of the veracity of some of the assertions about pregnancy and the like, I assumed the worst. I was not even aware of the necessary elements to conceive child, such as sperm, a mature womb, a hymen that had to be pierced. I remember wondering whether a kiss could make one pregnant. I was fraught with fear of being found out and punished and I prayed to not be pregnant so that I could just forget about what happened.
As time passed I slowly let go of the fear, realising that if I were pregnant it would have shown by then. The world changed for me. It became a place not to be trusted. Adults could not be trusted. I became aggressive and poised myself in constant defence mode, inevitable smashing any threat that came my way. I would beat up boys in primary school and bullied and dominated all in my path. In my teens, I recall relating what happened to some family members and they all seemed afraid to confront the matter. It almost seemed familiar to them, common-place. Something that happens, and you move on. I wanted to pursue it but thought it would amount to nothing. No-one seemed to think that sexual actions on a child was egregious. It must have been more prevalent than I thought. Perhaps that urged me to move on and put the whole sordid experience behind me. It took me many years before I could embrace the sexual experience in the way it was intended, but I soldiered on. As a mother, I try to de-mystify and take the taboo out of the subject of sex to my children and convey the beauty and utter responsibility that comes with it. I made them aware at an early age about the tactics of seduction of sexual predators and how to deal with it. Sex is a part of life. For me, a key component of marriage. The physical aspects of the sexual encounter are often still left to the realms of Life Orientation classes at school. The teacher’s job. The spiritual aspects associated with sex are either ignored or frowned upon. It is ironic that the very act that catalyses a human being’s entrance into this world, is so difficult for parents to address with their children. Why should such an important part of the human existence not be part of their life education like everything else? In the cultural ethos of my youth, this idea was not conceivable. It may have made a huge difference to my life.
In our kitchen in Mayfair a little more than twenty years after that fateful day, I felt spent after revisiting my pain. “No wonder you froze every time I tried to hug you or hold you” my dad sighed. I realised in that moment that my biggest fear was that my own father might do that to me. I remembered when I was a little girl how I would struggle to breathe every time my dad was physically near me. He’d call me to lie down next to him while he read one of his novels, holding it in one hand above his head and placing the other around my shoulders. All the while, I would be holding my breath and slowly releasing air as if not alert him that I was there, anxiously waiting to be released. As we sat at the table in the kitchen 2 decades later, my father pulled me towards him, lay my head on his chest and held me. My healing began. He made me write lists of words of association, broke down the concepts and fears that dominated me and led me towards my God again to discover how His love never ceased. The experience, made me strong, resilient and brave. I lost my childhood, but I gained so much more. 37 years later, I received the greatest gift of all, Forgiveness for a man with a sordid weakness for children. He hurt me but inadvertently provided me the opportunity to learn to forgive. I met him at a funeral I attended when my 16-year-old was just a toddler. Someone’s death marked a turning point in my life. I spoke to him for the first time in years. His face looked bright, unlike I had ever seen him before. I approached him and struck up a conversation. It was not difficult. This man had lost his young son some years before in an accident, and I recall feeling a sense of satisfaction at his loss at the time. I cried when I heard about it, and recall saying that he hurt other people’s children and now God took his child away. Yet, as I stood in front of him on that balmy evening, and he told me how his wife had just had an unexpected baby – a ‘laat lammetjie’ (a child born many years after its siblings) after fifteen years, his face beaming with a mild glow, I realized that he had to make his own peace, and that God ultimately is all forgiving and compassionate. God had taken away from him and given to him again. I had to release the hatred and blame I had nurtured so carefully over the years, and I felt the flood of forgiveness wash over me like a gentle waterfall. I felt an emotional release that was almost physical. My Dad had worked with me on dealing with it and had counselled me through the experience and I felt the culmination of that process when my heart released the hatred and malice. I no longer wished to see him punished. His accountability is to his creator as is mine.
I truly understood, that God’s mercy is in every situation.
It took me a long time however, to appreciate other aspects of the two major sexual encounters in my life. I had to go through another unsuccessful marriage, in which I was almost killed, before I met the father of my children and discovered the true beauty of physical communion between two people as it is intended to be. But more about that next time, God willing.
With love always,