It was the grownups in my life that dissolved away my innocence.
In South Africa I lived a very protected childhood, where the search for beauty, and the enjoyment of “good” “cultural” or “educational” was right. Our family had a “the children mustn’t see this” censorship in place. I was the bad one – curiosity ruled me. I got a heck of a beating with the slipper the day my Nanna caught me peeping through the keyhole at Grandpa in the bathroom. In a family of women, I had just wanted to see what a man looked like, but it would be years before I knew – when one of my boy cousins changed into swimming trunks behind a bush near the dam. I thought it looked absolutely horrible, so strange and lifeless dangling helplessly in a most uncomfortable place between the legs.
My education in sex was so poor that when my friend told me how babies were made I told her she was a “bloody liar!” – the very worst swear words I knew. One day at school, I began to bleed. I am sure any hypochondria I suffer now stems from that day. Being a reserved and private person, I told no one. I knew I had some serious illness. I was probably going to die. I became more and more terrified and stressed as the day progressed, replaced the bunched loo paper in my knickers a dozen times and arrived home a wreck. Eventually I collapsed in a gibbering mess of sobs and stories of death and dying, blood and gore.
Afterwards I had been “educated” to know that I wasn’t dying – but that what was happening to me happened to all women and it was something to do with making babies. But the damage had been done.
Lifelong damage, really, because of my mother’s timidity.