You can’t hose a black sheep down and hope to wash some of the black out. If there was some sort of topical treatment or chemical pill that could bleach parent’s stained children into being the perfect white sheep – I am pretty sure it would be as lucrative as the words oil industry.
Humour me for a moment while I break that label down.
Black. In context – denotes a darkness, an unwise way, and an un-dependability. Weakness. Bad choices. Predictable in its likelihood to make the wrong choice. Unpredictable in just how severe that choice will be. Right? Correct me if I am wrong… but that is my experience.
Sheep. In context – follower. Someone who follows the crowd and lacks the ability to think independently of its equally as dim counterparts? Right?
Right – so put it all back together and you have an unwise, unreliable, predictably feeble minded follower of the herd. Again, correct me if I am wrong.
I grew up in a home that was Mormon. Now before half of you sit back in your chairs and gasp… there is a huge difference between the fundamentalist Mormons – the ones that have loads of wives and live in compounds so that they can be incestuous and marry 12 year old off to geriatrics for the sake of multiplying and replenishing the earth.
Like Islam – you get extremists and you get the ordinary folk that are regular and law abiding and who believe in peace and the family unit being scared and whole and special. Like Judaism, being a Mormon is a life style. You go to church every Sunday and you ‘live’ a clean and sober and healthy life. Your body is a temple, and family and the cleanliness of it is vital.
The Mormons that are mocked on TV and the ones that everyone knows about – are the extremists. The ones whose actions regular average Mormons abhor. We don’t live in compounds, and we don’t breed like bunnies so that uncle frank can marry a girl who hasn’t even hit puberty.
Mormons – the normal ones, as a whole are good and kind people, who try to live what they believe. They are big on charity and have built warehouse districts where food and supplies of all kinds are stored and distributed to poverty or natural disaster stricken countries – and to anyone – even ex-convicts – who need help getting back on their feet.
I grew up in a normal Mormon home. No alcohol. No drugs. No sex before marriage. No smoking. No tattoos. No coffee, or tea. Nothing that is addictive or mind altering. There is a joke (with truth to it) that between myself and my three brothers we all range in shades of black to white.
Like ANY group of people – not only religious – there is a certain amount of image attached to the group you belong to. Diplomacy is required and first and foremost – a steadfast adhesion to the rules. Even if those rules are dictated by society at large and are unspoken. I have never been a conformist – and I don’t particularly like being limited to rules. Even if I understand why they are in place. Not once did I hate the home I came from or have any ill feeling for the Mormon faith. I just felt like a round peg trying to be put into a square hole.
Many people, good people, took my personality type and my fiery way of being in stride. They appreciated me for who I was and I loved those people for that. But there were sadly – also many – who didn’t take so kindly to my being ‘’contrary” to the way it was all supposed to flow. My intentions here are not to bash Mormon’s because I do believe they are beautiful people – and even if you don’t like religion or the structure that comes with it – their intentions and motives are good.
My aim is to define why I don’t go to church anymore, and why I made a choice to be “cold” and not ‘lukewarm’ about my approach to my being born a Mormon – and how the black sheep stigma has become a tiresome piece of baggage to carry. Keep in mind now, that this is my family we are talking about. Not ‘just random people’. They are people who I respect and love and appreciate. They are also the people who didn’t abandon me when I was at my words and in the deepest depths of my selfish self-destructive determination to escape reality any way that I could.
My father is a real man. He was a policeman for the narcotics division of the South African Police Service. He is kind and loves his family – and is fiercely protective of those he loves. Most of my friends and even some extended family members find him intimidating. He has a soul piercing look that makes you feel like your mental hard drive is being copied and stored, just in case. He knows how to fight and he knows how to find people who don’t want to be found. But he is also a kind and doting father and grandfather and a man who still, after 35 years of marriage, writes love letters to my mother and hero worships her. My brothers are the same with their partners and they learned that from him.
My mother is a light. She always allowed me my autonomy and that was a gift that I took for granted often. But when I had fallen and taken all the skin off my knees, I was always able to go back to her and say, I am sorry. She is a non-confrontational woman who would only fight if it meant regaining peace. We all refer to her as the cement of the family. We all talk to her, and even if she gets so much as a sore throat we all turn into helpless idiots at the thought that she could be sick. I have only ever seen my mother properly angry 5 times in my 35 years of life. 3 of those times were at me – and they were valid reasons. The thing about my mother is that she never ever says something she doesn’t mean. So when she does get that angry, the words are enough to cut you off at the knees and leave you crippled for long enough that you struggle with even wanting to get back up.
One of my suicide attempts was a direct result of only a few sentences that came from my mother’s lips. I needed to be told I was still human and that I could stand up again in her eyes. That is not what I heard – and it was all I was needing to want to stay alive. She is not cruel – that must be understood. But she is honest. But to get her to the point where she says soul destroying things, is only something I have managed to do. Not an accomplishment – but it says something for what I have put my family through.
Her other anger outbursts have been at the office because she has had enough of the petty office politics – and as I mentioned – she will fight if the aim is peace.
My three brothers. I don’t think any of them have ever realised how much I love and respect them. Or how much I need them. Simon, who is only 11 months younger than me is an amazing human being. He simply does not believe in being sad or morose. He lets it sit for about 5 minutes and then makes a choice to smile and carry on. He is the ‘diffuser’ in any arguments he is witness to. He is a stellar father and he is the real deal when it comes to loving people and trying to look after those who can’t do it for themselves yet. He has a wife who is a girl version of him and they are truly the only couple on this planet that I can say have the perfectly balanced and healthy relationship. They have five beautiful children – and despite all the chaos and the noise they are blissfully happy.
My brother Bevan, 6 years younger than me – has the heart of a lion. He has a heart condition and had a full on heart attack a few months ago – but is undeterred from being an incredible dad and a man who is devoted to his beautiful wife. His two daughters are forces of nature, and Bevan doesn’t miss a beat. He is a sensitive spirit like I am – so we don’t always run smoothly through conversations – but we adore each other.
Mark. 14 years my junior is as intense as I am, and the only kid I know who has genuinely never even wanted to try drugs or drink. He still has massive fun with his friends. One time he wrote his cell phone number in permanent ink on all their arms so that if any of them got lost while out partying someone could ‘return them to sender’. Mark’s 21st Birthday party was filled with people, male and female alike who clearly find Mark a pleasure to be around – despite his not being someone who parties the way they do. He is a wickedly funny youngster. He has a very dry sense of humour and being a Scorpio he does not mince his words – for anyone.
All three of my brothers have seen me at my worst. Simon was in England on a church mission before he got married, and I arrived at his apartment drunk and broke – and even though it was a serious breach of rules for a young missionary he tried his best to keep me from the pub and to stop me from doing any damage before getting me back on a train to London. I offended his room-mate by telling him that his unibrow was a serious buzz kill. To this day – he waxes his eyebrows…
Bevan has seen me kick a man in the jaw, breaking it and causing him to bite down on his tongue so that there was more blood than face. When I was supposed to be babysitting him, I took him out playing pool instead – and slapped him because he spilled my drink – and he had to carry me to the car because I couldn’t walk any longer…
And Mark… has seen me in fishnets and a little black dress, hobbling around looking like a tramp having puked all over myself after falling asleep in the cubicle of one of the toilets at Monte Casino. My equally as drunk friend had left his keys, phone and wallet in my handbag, and on the way to the toilet I had decided to get another three shots in. HOURS later, when he ran out of money and wanted to go home, he couldn’t find me… and walked to my parents’ house. They were woken at 4 am by someone practically pushing their fingers through the buzzer… demanding his wallet and keys.
I had 26 missed calls. The bathroom attendant of the casino banged on the door until I woke up – and heard my phone ringing. I was fetched, and when I was taken home, Mark was in the passage way… and even through my drunkenness, I will always remember the look on his face.
I was never a moderate drinker. Or drug taker. There was no build up. The same ferocity applied to any relationship I was in. The fine details of every face, every hand to my face, every fake promise, every stripping of my dignity, every skin peeling word, every reminder that I was not good enough, tall enough, thin enough, beautiful enough, compliant enough, will always sit in my memory. That is what is black. I am no sheep. If I was I would have led a simple and uncomplicated life where there was no need for escape.
I have memories I will never be able to bleach out.
First night of marriage. Honeymoon night. My new husband turned to put his back against the wall, and put his feet on me, and pushed me off the bed and onto the floor. You are disgusting – is all he said.
My Egyptian boyfriend. Snoop Doggy porn and music on all day every day. Curtains closed. Could NOT touch me unless he was cracked up and watching the television set. When I tried to show him that I could actually turn him on, on my own, I was called a whore and told that I am disgusting. He put a pillow over my face so he didn’t have to see me. I cried.. he didn’t care.
Another boy – decided murder suicide would be a brilliant idea. He swallowed a whole stack of pills, and explained to me how he would cut my throat, while sat on top of me with a huge kitchen knife in his hands, and then… the pills would kick in and we would both die together. I remember thinking – no one cares enough about me know that I am dead. It would be a long time before anyone came looking for me.
Then there was the boyfriend that locked me in a room for four days and he and his friend did all manner of unspeakable things to me for a solid four days. I can’t be a mother now… and when I see people with babies and children – they all think I don’t want them… but that’s only because I tell myself that.
I remember swallowing two bottles of sleeping pills, drinking two thirds of a bottle of whiskey and I remember getting through 4 full moons of crack… and then I had a seizure. My stomach pumped itself and I lay there so angry that I couldn’t even do that right…. And I lay there for a long time because I was still very sick and all I recall is that I was aware I was lying in my own vomit. I don’t know how long I lay there for…. but I felt like absolute shit for close on a month after that. It was then that I attended rehab for the first time, after going into hospital.
Pearl… trying to get to her in the fire. I remember the pain of the door handle to her bedroom like it was yesterday. Like it was 5 minutes ago. Her body wrapped in a curtain, and the guilt that ate me alive… more than anything else I have mentioned. It took me ten years to talk about in full.
My family wishes that I wouldn’t talk about my history. They say that it defines me. That I want to be defined as a dark person. That there is no love or light or joy in the tattoo I have just gotten to tell the story of me being a survivor. They see skulls and flesh eating ravens and a pair of scissors stuck into the skull. To them that all means death. I get it.. I suppose.
Should I just never talk about anything that my heart feels ever again – to make them comfortable. I could be conformist and diplomatic and just nod and smile and pretend that I am not bleeding with hurt at the thought that they understand so little of what goes on in my head on a daily basis.
My mom says it’s all OVER. Yes, physically it may all be over. But I will always have those memories. I can’t change that. My behaviour, my temper, my reactions to people, situations and things – I didn’t INVENT those to make my life more exciting. They are responses to triggers.
I am ‘The Black Sheep’, simply because I have never subscribed the conservative way of doing things. What makes me so sad is that all the good that I try to do is cancelled out because I got a skull in my tattoo. Really???
Some of the choice lines in the letter my mom sent me:
You obviously know that Dad and I are simply unable to make any sense of the need to have such a huge tattoo in such an obvious place. To tell your story like a bumper sticker is beyond my ability to comprehend. Bumper stickers get old and tacky and often become irrelevant as one’s life changes and evolves.
I think if it was more discreet and a fifth of the size I could have dealt with it. I hate the thought that I will have to look at it every time I see you.
I think it defines you and I somehow I believed that you were more intelligent than to define yourself with skulls, death and a pair of ornate scissors stabbed in the side of the skull. Looks like the back of some old Harley Davidson rider’s leather jacket who doesn’t have an identity other than his leather jacket and his dirty hair, and the noise his big Harley makes while he cruises the highway looking for attention. I see no beauty at all. Not on my daughter who has chosen to define her life as dark and dreadful, rather than light and intelligent. I see no joy. No peace. No love.
Black Sheep is a term invented by people would prefer that everything happened in a way that made sense to them. Some of the wildest people I know are also the most intelligent – and some of the most beautiful souls are people who have broken minds, broken souls and are people who swam upstream despite the damage it did to them.