When I was little, May 31 was a nationwide holiday in South Africa, and a great day for all manner of sports. On one fateful day – soon after I had turned six – my sister, 10 years older than I, went down to the high school to play netball, and I was taken to my school in order to participate in running, sack races, and other competitions there, before my father (considered quite a hotshot golfer and expected to win the "Hine" cup for the second time that day) went off to the golf course. I would actually have preferred to have gone with him, because I had my own little golf bag and clubs, and had frequently been taken with him to practice the "rudiments," but this was a day for "serious" golf!
The sports were fun, though. I won two races (but was disgusted when I was awarded a measly box of embroidered handkerchiefs for each!) and all too soon it was time to go home, which meant just crossing the street.
As I opened our front gate I subconsciously noted the unusual number of cars parked in front of it; yet, strangely, upon entering the otherwise silent house, I was able to hear the sound of a kettle boiling as I approached the kitche, which was strange because judging by the cars outside, there must have been quite a number of people in the house. What was more surprising was that my sister, already home, came to meet me in the passage with a finger to her lips as though to warn me against being too boisterous. That was the day I first heard the expression "Heart attack!"
Two nights later I was rudely woken by our next door neighbor who, after turning on the light, came and sat down on my bed and said in a solemn voice, "Marie, your daddy has gone on long journey."
The Onset of Paranoia
Would that well-meaning woman ever know how she all but ruined my life? I was accustomed to my father having to go away on "long journeys," but then he always came back! The mental agony stemming from the fact that this time he did not intend to do so virtually crippled me psychologically. “He doesn’t love us any more!” was my immediate conclusion, and from that day I dreaded anyone I loved going too far away from me, in case he or she did not return.
Many years later, having fallen in love and married, I felt always the apprehension – nay, terror – when my husband was out of my sight, that he would not come home; and as he worked for an airline and had to go on frequent trips, my paranoia inevitably affected my children. We lived close enough to the airport to hear the welcome sound of the engines after deployment of the "reverse thrust," as returning aircraft landed; and if my husband was expected home, anyone who was with me and knew me well would inevitably say to me, "It's okay... Now you can breathe again!"