Read an Excerpt from Quest for Freedom

Chapter 3

Conviction: The Early Pain of Anne White

Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put in this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.
— Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004)

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Anne went into Charles’s room thinking that she knew what to expect. After all, as a clinical psychologist she knew all the ins and outs of a counseling session. At first she hadn’t been too keen to go, but Mike had convinced her to talk to Charles. After his meeting with Charles, Mike realized that it had been the best thing ever. So there Anne was, feeling slightly coerced into also meeting with him.

She wondered about Charles’s psychology and counseling background. It was weird, but even though Mike was so positive about the old man, he actually hardly knew a thing about him. Mike had told her about the photographs in the room. She looked at them and her eyes scanned the bookcase, searching for hidden clues. Visible through the window were the white clouds coming down over Table Mountain in their familiar tablecloth formation, as the gale force Southeaster blew.

Being quite used to breaking the ice, setting people at ease, and lowering the tension level in a session, Anne assumed her usual leading role and opened the conversation with a few soft questions. On her question as to whether Charles was a proponent of Freud, Jung or the religious branch in psychology, he stumped her by replying with a smile, “Well, my dear, actually not any of them.”

That really placed a tremendous question mark in Anne’s mind as to Charles’s qualifications to counsel anyone! Upon further questioning, Charles revealed that he was actually a practitioner of the “experiential branch” in counseling. Well, his age was a definite indication of vast life experience and an accumulation of wisdom. But as to actual psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, she had her doubts about Old Charles Young’s abilities.

Just to keep the conversation flowing she said that she was very interested in the cognitive school of psychology, and followed with a question as to what kind of experience he was actually referring to. “Oh,” he replied with such love in his eyes that she could just hug him, “My experiences of God, with God, and in God.”

Anne closed her eyes. A religious fanatic, she thought. Through her closed eyelids she could sense that his eyes were on hers. Through her closed eyelids she could feel the love coming from his eyes. Slowly she opened her eyes and that love touched her somewhere deep inside. She struggled to contain her emotions and started to cry softly. Charles didn’t grab a box of tissues, as she was in the habit of doing in an emotionally charged counseling session. He just took one of her hands into his old arthritic and wrinkled ones, and with such love and compassion said to that little girl inside of her, “It’s okay, Anne. Everything’s okay.”

Those were the exact words her mother had used so long ago … Everything’s okay. Then she knew why she had to come and talk to Charles.

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If ever there were two people who loved each other, they were my parents, Ray and Dawn White. My earliest memories are of the two of them laughing, playing with each other, playing with me … Moms was a tiny little woman and Pops a huge strong bear of a man. With a swing of his one arm he’d pick her up high into the air, with both of them giggling like children—and he wouldn’t put her down until she’d said the magic words, “You’re the king of the jungle!” I never knew if that was a reference to his job as nature conservation officer, or if it was some kind of secret between the two of them.

As I grew older he’d swing the two of us up together, and unless we said the magic words in complete unison, we had to stay up there. All the giggles and laughter made absolute unison virtually impossible, which just caused more laughter. Usually in the end Pops would just give up and surrender to his two rebellious subjects, and put us down. Then we’d tackle him to the ground and torture the tyrant by tickling him until we all collapsed in tears from laughing so much.

Love, laughter, joy, and happiness symbolized all that life was and could be.

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I should’ve known, but I was too young, too naïve, too innocent to know that such happiness couldn’t last.

One day Moms had to go to hospital for a checkup. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t go along. We always went everywhere together—except of course when Pops was out at work in Westgate Nature Reserve. They dropped me off at Granny’s house and then continued to the hospital.

Later in the afternoon they returned and sat whispering in the living room, leaving me in the kitchen. It was a strange situation. For the first time in my life, I was excluded from the events. I strained my ears to hear, but I couldn’t catch anything that made sense.

The next week, Moms had to go to a bigger hospital for an operation. I was very upset but she and all the others told me, “Everything’s okay.” So, everything was okay—or so I thought. When we went to visit Moms I heard some of the visitors of other patients speaking in the corridor of the hospital wing. I heard the words, “The big C,” but I had no idea what they were talking about.

A week later Moms came home, but she was very sick and had to stay in bed. She had little pink Wellconal tablets that helped a lot for the pain but they caused her to act a bit funny. Much later, in the course of my own studies and practice, I realized that those kind of drugs caused hallucinations and other side effects. But at that time I was convinced that everything was okay. Moms had said so. Pops had said so.

Moms got very thin, weak, and frail. In places, her bones would protrude through the thin layer of flesh and skin covering. I started to get worried. Pops became increasingly quiet, but Moms kept smiling and reassuring me that everything was okay. One evening, about two months after the operation, Granny and Grampy arrived. Shortly afterward Dr. Swartz came.

Moms called me to come and say goodnight and hugged me with her thin and frail arms. For a brief moment her face again looked like the radiant giggling and laughing girl high up in the air—then her drawn out and pain ridden face once again filled my sight. I kissed her goodnight, and she told me to look after Pops. “Of course I would,” I assured her.

Some time into the night I was woken by some strange squeaky noises. I heard voices and sounds in the passage outside my door. I got up to see what was going on but Granny pushed me back into the room, told me to go back to sleep, and closed the door. I just had a fleeting glimpse of something that resembled a hospital trolley. I assumed that the squeaking noise must have been coming from the wheels, and flopped back to sleep.

Later in the night, I woke up again—that time from an awful wailing sound. At first I didn’t know what was going on, and then I realized that it was Pops crying. I’d never heard him crying before—only laughing. Nor had I ever heard such raw sobs. I felt numb struck and paralyzed. Somehow the awful truth of the moment hit me. Moms had died! I wanted to rush out to be with Pops, but I just couldn’t pluck up the courage to get out of my bed—to get out of my room and go to him. The shock and pain had incapacitated me and kept me glued to my bed. I buried my face in my pillow and cried myself to sleep.

Sadness, sorrow, heartache, and loss became the new realities and symbols of my life.

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The next morning, Granny and Grampy sat me down and confirmed what I already knew deep down inside. Moms was gone. I simply couldn’t believe it nor understand it because I’d been assured that everything was okay. They explained that the adults had decided to protect me. Protect me? I really didn’t feel protected! In answer to my prying questions, Granny explained about cancer, the colon, the liver, it being incurable— and I listened.

As to Moms’s whereabouts I was told that she was with God now. As to why, they told me with tears in their eyes that God had come and picked His most beautiful and precious flower to be with him in heaven. I felt that God had actually stolen my mother through a painful disease, and that really didn’t gel with me at all.

The funeral was a sad affair. Pops’s normally square-set shoulders were drooped and his usually ramrod back was stooped. He sat motionless with his head hanging down during the service. Granny and Grampy sat next to us, holding hands, and looking at the coffin in the front of the church, where their daughter lay. I held Pops’s hand tightly. Reverend Yates spoke kind words about Moms and directed words of comfort to Pops and me.

At the graveside, it was terrible. The people were crying as they sang Amazing Grace. Pops just stood there as if in a trance. As the people came up to shake his hand and express their condolences, he could only mumble a few words of thanks. The great big jovial bear had been crushed and squashed into a timid cowering mouse. I continued to cling to his unresponsive hand as we drove back home—and I started to feel angry. During the following days, weeks, and months, that anger gained momentum.

I was angry with Moms for dying and leaving us. I was angry with Moms for not telling me the truth. I was angry with Pops for deceiving me about Moms’s sickness. I was angry with Pops for becoming so weak, where he’d been so strong. I was angry with God for taking my mother to heaven and leaving Pops and me behind. I was angry with Granny for taking over in my life and telling me what to do. I was angry with all the family and friends who used words like: “I’m so sorry,” “It’s such a shame,” or “You poor child.” I was angry with my teachers who were treating me a little differently. I was angry with my friends who still had their mothers, and kept on complaining about them. I was angry with the world. I was angry …

I guess my attitude had changed rather drastically and as a consequence my schoolwork suffered. Pops had also changed. He started to do something he’d never done before. He started to drink—heavily. He couldn’t handle the loss of the love of his life. He couldn’t handle my anger and my attitude. He couldn’t handle my adolescence, puberty, and change into womanhood. He couldn’t handle the household. He couldn’t handle life—and he escaped deeper and deeper into the bottle.

At first no one noticed the actual severity of the situation, until he didn’t return home one night. I was quite worried and phoned Granny. She and Grampy came over immediately. In the early hours of the morning there was a knock at the door. Grampy checked and it was the police bringing Pops home. The duty sergeant knew Pops well and had decided to take him home instead of letting him sleep it off in the cells. Apparently Pops had gotten very drunk in one of the pubs and then passed out in a stupor on the street.

Grampy took action. It was decided that I had to go to boarding school. Granny knew the principal of a girl’s school in Cape Town, and I was urgently admitted without too much rigmarole. For the first time in my life, I found myself having to share everything with everybody else. Gone was my privacy. Gone was my privileged position. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me.

Within a few short months, I had lost my mother, my father, my home, my life … everything. I felt as if nobody really wanted me, and I’d been abandoned on the doorstep of a homeless shelter.

Deceit, devastation, desertion, and loneliness featured most prominently in my life.

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I was twelve years old and alone in the world—or so it felt. I became very withdrawn and quiet. Going through adolescence and puberty, and experiencing all the changes in my body, wasn’t easy at that point in time. All the facts of life weren’t too clearly understood in my innocent mind, and the only people around to guide me through that process were the girls in the dormitory. … … …

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Published by Tate Publishing & Enterprises, LLC, Oklahoma, USA.

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© Emil Kirstein, 2009
http://kirsteinonline.com

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