cock’s crow

after lying awake for at least 4 hours, at 02h45 this morning, i posted this tweet:

It’s been 20 years since on this date, at almost this exact hour, a man broke into my house & raped me. Wish it didn’t still keep me awake.

the irony is that for many years now, the date has come and gone without me even noticing it. this time however, maybe because i was home alone, i succumbed to paranoia. i knew that i’d armed the  security beams, yet i still got up at least once to make sure. on more that one occasion i held my breath, training my ears for any perceived sound, making sure that this time no one had snuck into my house, that there was no-one lurking outside my bedroom door, unlike that other time.

it reminded me of the one time i stayed alone in my other house after i’d been raped in it. i spent the entire night walking the length of the house, from the front-door to the back-door, convinced that the guy had come back and was trying to figure out a way in. and ironically i was probably right because not 2 weeks later, when i was out of town and had 2 women staying in the house, he found a way back in and nearly broke down the bathroom door to get at them. fortunately they fought him off, but i came back to chaos and having to change all my locks, as he’d taken off with my keys.

last night i lay and listened to a cock crowing inappropriately somewhere out in the dark. i tossed and turned and tossed and turned some more. and when i finally fell asleep for 45 minutes, i had a spectacular nightmare about someone trying to break into my house, wielding a huge knife – with my screams once again stopped in my throat. silenced. helpless. mute.

i wrestle with thinking it weakness – that i once again allowed that man power over me, my life and my actions, versus recognizing the strength in realizing my vulnerability and making sure to defend it –  like putting in perimeter security beams after waking up to find 2 men on my property.  some people might think that 20 years is a long time to still be affected by something, but i don’t think that they realize that rape changes one forever. you will always have a different perspective than someone who hasn’t experienced that violation. you will never again consider yourself immune. that’s the biggest loss. and the journey to healing is one you’ll travel till it ends in a grave or a pile of ash.

i did later tweet this, in honor of all survivors and also in honor of myself:

On this day I’d like to say to all survivors: there is a steely strength in even your most fragile moments. Know you’ll be ok. #thisiknow

i might have stumbled on the side of the road last night and bumbled bleary-eyed through my day, but know that i will get up. in fact, know that i am up – and moving right along. some of you are ahead of me on this journey and some are coming up behind.

i wish us all strength and maybe i’ll see you out there on the road.

sugar monsters

if you have not yet read “dear sugar”, do yourself a favor.

till a few months ago, nobody knew who dear sugar was. there was a huge, much-anticipated reveal and we now know that dear sugar is actually published author, cheryl strayed.

i don’t care.

what i do know is that i go through phases of reading the column and then my life takes over and i forget. then someone or something reminds me and i fall in love with her writing and humanity and the pathos all over again.

it’s real, it’s visceral, it reaches out of the computer and squeezes your heart until you feel you cannot breathe and sometimes the tears that streak your cheeks leave trails of blood.

like tonight in her column, “monsters and ghosts“. it seemed like it was written for me.

earlier today, i had a more than 2 hr interview with a journalist who is writing an article about me for a woman’s magazine. of course, even though i keep reiterating that i am not my history, that it is merely what happened to me… despite so many years of healing, today’s interview still left me shaken – this journey backtracking down dark roads, unexpectedly overcome, vinegar tears squeezing, unwanted, past guarded lids.

i have to remind myself: today i am standing firmly in the light. i am the guardian of the 4 yr old within, the 4 yr old from whom her childhood was abruptly and abusively ripped. i keep a watchful eye. i protect her and reassure her that she’s safe, that the monsters and ghosts have been long buried, that no one can harm her. they might still sometimes try to resurrect themselves to wreak a similar devastation of years gone by, but now they are mere chimeras, powerless unless we feed the insatiable maws of memory.

i am grateful to have travelled so far down the interminable road of healing. i would prefer not to stare into the distorted mirrors of my past, reflecting the mangled monsters that for so long haunted me. however, i do understand that for many, knowing that they are not alone and hearing that someone else, too, knows that “here be dragons”…is a comfort. it makes me peel back my eyelids and hold up my flaming torch.

i don’t taunt the darkness, i don’t draw it out.  yet i’ve stopped fleeing only to find it nipping, vicious, at my achilles-heels… instead i bow to it in respect and i say namaste.

in the insistent light the monsters and the ghosts, slowly, almost imperceptibly, melt like the watery wicked witch. in my heart, safe and protected, where the only thing grimm is a fairytale, my ruby-slippers sparkling, i am home.

16 days… a lifetime

i was 4. auntie kay’s sons held me down and rubbed up against me in the pantry, threatening to tell everybody what my stepfather was doing to me if i told anyone.

at 8, my favorite cousin jacques did the same thing in the potato field above my grandfather’s house. another secret to add to the BIG SECRET i was already spending all my energy guarding…

at 9, dulcet-toned uncle arthur told me he’d give me 5c if i opened my mouth when he kissed me goodnight.

i was in the principal’s office for career counselling when i was 12, when he nonchalantly stepped behind me and slid both his hands inside my shirt and over my breasts while telling me that i was smart enough to be a doctor.

around 14, the dirty old man who was my piano teacher, forever made me toss aside any aspirations of music… and my mother never could understand why.

and then there were the countless perverts i stupidly exposed myself to, hitching to and from school each day. all of this in addition to what was happening when my stepfather could get me alone…

we’re nearly at the end of the 16 days of activism for no violence against women and children campaign. a campaign which always leaves me ambivalent, seeing that i think 16 days is an arbitrary and somewhat ineffectual amount of time! this needs to be a year-round campaign.

after working on the slutwalk for so long this past year, i was a little exhausted and had to just take a moment to step back. however, 2 nights ago an hour long interview i recorded months ago about being a survivor, went out on kyknet and ever since, i’ve been overwhelmed by messages in my inbox from women and men who are walking the same path. so, the reality is, there are still too many of us. the statistics are still too high – and in my opinion, if it stood at 1, it would still be too high. there are still too few of us reporting, speaking out, realizing that no matter what we were doing, wearing, saying, sexual assault is never our fault.

if you’re a survivor, report, find someone safe and trusted to speak to, carry your head high and realize it’s not your fault. and know that YOU CAN SURVIVE THIS. if you’re someone who wants to know how to help, there are many organisations which work with survivors. buy a heart on the rape crisis website or make a rape care handbag for rape crisis or the jes foord foundation. 

during last year’s 16 days akona ndungane of akmosaic and i were motivated to start a website called i said no, a place where survivors can break the silence and tell their stories, anonymously or otherwise. there are also links to resources. if you have a story to tell, why not start here?

p.s. despite those incidents listed above, i would like to thank the many wonderful men i have met in my life who have proven to me that not all men are monsters…

letter to a survivor

when i first moved back to johannesburg to act in the soap i’m now working on, it felt like there was a much bigger reason for my return.  i decided that i would go public about being a rape and incest survivor. i felt like i’d been running for so long and that i’d finally turned around, faced the demon and gone, “BOO!” i did a number of interviews, set up a website with resources for survivors, called phoenix flying and though i’d really rather not be the poster girl for rape and incest survivors (there’s so much else that defines me), from time to time i am contacted by women who make me realize that there will always be a huge need for someone like me. i got a letter from someone on face book and this was my response to her.

thank you so much for sharing your story with me. you know, i tend to think that the only use for experiences like you and i have gone through, is to be there for the next woman it happens to, to be an example, to say, “you’ll be ok. you can survive this.”

i too fled johannesburg after what happened to me – 10 000 miles away, to be exact and it took me 12 years before i was strong enough to come back here. i’m amazed that it’s taken you so little time to get to this point where you can say that you’re over it. it took me much longer, but the path of healing is one we walk our entire lives and we go through different stages on our journey.

you say you’re trying to make sense of what happened to you. i can tell you, what happened to us makes no sense. it’s not something you or i deserved, it’s not because of something you or i did wrong. we were victims of someone else’s lack of morality and lack of humanity, but the thing that sets us apart is that we can choose to be SURVIVORS and not victims. 

how are you and your family after this? did your husband cope? and your child – does he have any idea what happened and how are they dealing with it? 

you say you want to help other women – the best way is to make sure that you’re ok first. you know, all we can do is be there for the women who come after us in whatever situation we come across each other. 

Sunlight in Knowth's western passage on the Equinoxi went public with my story because i thought it was important for people to know that this can happen to anyone. i thought it was important for other “victims” to see that we can survive anything. that we can transcend the dark night and come out into the light and that’s all i can hope for any of us, to come out of that long dark tunnel and out into nurturing sunlight.

by the way, after 3 years back in johannesburg, i’ve revised my perception of my return. instead of turning round, facing the demon and saying, “BOO!”, i’ve clasped my hands together, bowed and said “namaste”.  

i’m making peace with it.

bite me!

this has been one of THOSE weeks where the actual events blur, but the emotional hang-over remains. days have blurred into each other – working hard, lots of scenes, long days at the studio, little time to write. 

tuesday started with a huge blow-up between the head of the make-up department and i. we are usually friends, but i’ve been experiencing a really snippy tone from her on and off and on tuesday it turned out to be that straw by which this camel’s back refused to be broken. all i’ll say is that it involved knee-highs and hairdryers and time constraints, and took all week to (almost, but not quite) resolve. i suppose when one works with people for such a long time in such proximity, the fit sometimes begins to chafe and needs some adjusting. i also think that when one first meets people, the possibility for friendship exists, and you go on that presumption and you work at creating a friendship. one day down the line you wake up and you suddenly realize, “wait a minute! we’re NOT friends – and it’s okay!”. and you stop trying.

oh man, self-righteous anger… it feels so good, but really who does it serve? reminds me of that other 12 step maxim, “resentment is the poison we take expecting the other person to die”. there’s some sage advice.

i realize that my many years of childhood abuse have shaped me in so many ways i’m not always aware of. that the past from time to time comes back to bite me in the butt.  it took me 12 years to realize that what was happening to me wasn’t my fault, but when i finally did, i got really pissed. for a really long time. and at that time it was what i needed to recover. now that’s no longer necessary, but i still have the same pattern. i’ll take people’s shit for the longest time and then one day it’s like i have an epiphany of outrage and explode. and the reality is that it’s no longer necessary. i’m not that helpless little girl anymore. i am a strong and empowered woman and i need to speak out at the little things which bother me – you know, deal with the mole-hill before it turns into mount everest. because i can.

and the past can bite me!

wow, i didn’t know i was going here when i sat down to write today. so maybe it’s appropriate that i add this here:

it’s always been my intention to do hoop workshops with abused women and children and just over a year ago, i got the chance with a group of school-girls and another group of women, organized by FAMSA. it was a very emotional week-end which started with me racing from the studio where i film to get to a town 2 hours away in time to get to the girls before their school day finished. these girls have so little that their gratitude towards me for showing up, talking to them and hooping with them was overwhelming. they couldn’t believe they could keep their hoops (even though i was somewhat disappointed at the crappy quality that we managed to get donated for them). the average age is about 12 and many of them have been either raped or molested or abused in some way.  

the workshop with the women happened the next day. i gave a 20 minute talk about being a rape and incest survivor and we then had a huge hoop taping session so the women could personalize their hoops, followed by a hoop demo and then a hoop jam/teaching session. it was overwhelming how many women would sidle up to me, whisper their thanks and then proceed to tell me their stories. and all i could do was listen, hug them and tell them it does get better. 
just as i’m reminding myself right now – it does get better.

the springbok rugby player’s sister.

 

yesterday i got a call from a journalist. she wanted my opinion about rene burger (springbok rugby player, schalk burger’s sister) revealing her identity in the wake of her rape ordeal a few weeks ago, seeing that i, too,  went public a few years ago about my experience. she wanted to know if i’ve had any reason to regret revealing the fact that i’d been raped.

i regret being raped. of course. but i don’t for a moment regret standing up and identifying myself as a survivor of someone else’s attempt to make me a victim. unlike rene, it took me years to reveal that information to the public, but if i had to make the choice again, i’d make the same one. and i think she did the right thing by pre-empting the media. i remember when my rapist went on trial. the media obviously could not reveal my identity, but one journalist subtly hinted by describing my friend and i as i sat waiting to testify outside the courtroom –  “two women quietly sitting smoking (can you blame me for smoking back then?), one white, one coloured.” it was a kind of signaling and i think rene probably just wanted an end to the speculation and the subtle hinting as to her identity.

we did not have a choice about what happened to us, but we do have a choice as to how we react. i think the only worthwhile thing which can come out of being a rape or incest survivor, is to be there for the next woman it happens to. because there will always be another woman it happens to. unfortunately. there will always be numbers to add to the statistics.

i went public in order to show other survivors that it is possible to overcome this experience. that even going through most women’s worst nightmare, does not mean that the world comes to an end. i went public in order to show that it can happen to anybody. that you can survive. that you can get through just about anything. that life goes on. oh, most of the platitudes you can think of, i am an example that they’re not just that. i am a woman who has been, more than once, through no choice of my own,  to the dark side,  and come out into the light. i don’t think rene has come through the dark yet, but she knows where she’s headed and i commend her and wish her well on her journey. 

i would like to wish her as much dark as she needs in which to cocoon and heal and abundant light to keep at bay the monsters of memory that live in the recesses of the dark. as i like to say, “even a single pixel of bright, defeats the dark.”  

sterkte rene. 

p.s. i have a website i created for survivors.

http://www.phoenixflying.net


 

it hosts some of my poems and images as well as online resources and phone numbers where survivors can get support.