It took me a while to settle in with my aunt in Ireland. She lived in a small village in the south of Ireland called Dingle. Population 1920 last recorded in 2006. If you ask me, there aren’t more people than that as there is no space for anyone else! It’s about an hour’s drive from Killarney where I attended school.
I had been in Ireland for two months by then and I think the most I had said to anyone was to the administrator at the college, and that was only because she asked questions pertaining to my education. Nobody go any more than that out of me.
Dingle was a nice place to live. I could walk around and get lost in my thoughts and no one bothered me. But everybody always waved when they passed by on the street, or gave a smile if they felt you needed one.
But the best part of all was that I could start erasing my old life and simply focus on my new life. I was still broken but at least nobody kept reminding me of the past.
You wouldn’t have recognised me as the girl who came to Dingle the previous year. I had changed so much in such a short time. I was actually happy, like really happy and not faking it for anybody, just really happy.
I loved living in Dingle, I loved Ireland and if I had my way I would never go back home.
For a small village where everyone knows everything about your life, the people were amazingly supportive.
I made a ton of friends and even ventured as far as going to see a therapist. He was a really nice guy and with his help and some medication I had my life back on track in no time. I was still not a fan of talking about what happened, but he taught me to focus on the good times, the happy times we shared as a family.
My aunt reported back to my mom’s lawyer once a month, but I had still not spoken to my mom, or her lawyer, for that matter. I wasn’t ready for that. Other than the once a month reminder of what I lost, I was happy and finally enjoying my life.
I was in my room dreaming about which university to apply to for the next year when my aunt popped her head into my room.
“Sam, can I have a quick word with you?”
Smiling at my aunt, who I had started to consider as my second mom, I wondered if the principal had called her about me kissing the head boy behind the bleachers. A cliché I know, but who could blame me. That boy was fine and given the opportunity I promise you that you would have done the same.
“Sure, what’s up?” I asked, deciding to play it dumb for as long as I could.
“You remember that research my company started last year in Iceland?”
I was running the entire denial speech through my head when suddenly my mind totally froze. It took me a second to get it working again and focus on her words.
“Oh yes, you went there to help head up the office for a few weeks last year, right?”
Now all of a sudden, instead of me having the guilty look on my face, it was my aunt. She was totally out of sorts, folding then unfolding her hands the entire time. I, for some reason was suddenly very nervous.
“You remember how much I enjoyed the research and helping to get the project off the ground?”
“Uh huh. . .” was all I said in return.
“Well, they have just offered me the chance of running the entire project. They gave it all to me because I did most of the research, so it is a kind of reward from their side.”
“Wow, aunt Tamara, that is so awesome. Congratulations. You must be so excited!” I jumped up to give her a hug.
“The thing is, Sam, the project is based entirely in Iceland and I have to be there to run it. So I won’t be staying in Dingle.”
And then it hit me. I would also have to leave. I wouldn’t be able to stay in Dingle either. I would have to find a new therapist and a new school, all in Iceland. And to tell you the truth, I wasn’t happy about it.
But I knew I couldn’t stay. The court granted custody of me to my aunt, and I was only allowed to leave South Africa on the condition that she looked after me till I finished high school. And in the event of her not being able to do so, I would have to go back home where I would be placed in someone’s care until I turned 18.
“Okay,” I started very slowly. “When do we leave? Do I need to do research on new schools? What area are we going to be living in? I will start looking for a new therapist or see if Dr. Campbell has a name to recommend to me.”
“Sam!” my aunt said, stopping my rambling. “I cannot take you with me. The new office is so remotely located that there are no schools close by. And I’m not sticking you in some commune in a strange country.”
The shock of what she was telling me threw me off balance for a few seconds until I finally found my voice again.
“So then, what happens to me? I am not allowed to stay here on my own. . .” My voice trailed off at the look on my aunt’s face.
Very quietly she said, “You would have to go home.”
“I am home!” The panic was very clear in my voice now. “Dingle is my home. You are my home. I have no other home.”
“South Africa, Sam, your real home. Where your mom is, and your brother and father are buried.”
And then everything went black. Just like that. One moment I was struggling to get air into my lungs and then it all went black.
“Sam! Sam! Sam, can you hear me?” asked a panicked voice somewhere in the distance. I wished it would shut up. I felt so peaceful in the state I was in. I didn’t want to go to where the panicked voice was coming from. But my mind and body had other ideas and I slowly opened my eyes. It took a moment but everything finally came into focus. I was in my room, lying on the ground and my aunt was looking at me as if she had seen a ghost.
It all came flooding back to me. “No!” I screamed, sitting up in shock, causing my aunt to lose her balance and fall over. “I am not going back to that place!”
“You would have to, Sam.”
“I am not going to go live with my mom’s lawyer or some stranger back in South Africa. Then I’ll leave school and I’ll come with you until I’m 18, and then I can do whatever I want.”
“Sam, calm down and listen to me. Because you turn 18 so early in the year I have spoken to your therapist, and we both think if we stay in Ireland until after your 18th birthday then you can go back to South Africa and live on your own.
“I will need to clear that with the judge who granted me custody of you. But Dr. Campbell said he would support me, so I don’t think it will be a problem.
“I have a friend there who said she will sell me her garden cottage. But you will still have to go to school. Dr. Campbell contacted a therapist friend of his in South Africa who said he will take you on as a patient as you would still need to see a therapist every second week.”
So the panic in me disappeared a bit after that, but not completely. I still didn’t want to go back there, to all the memories and the graves and the people. I was finally going off my meds, and now I would have to stay on them longer in order to cope. I knew myself and I knew I would not be able to drop them yet.
“And if I don’t agree to these terms, then what?”
My aunt took a deep breath and a look of sorrow passed over her face.
“Then I’ll phone up my boss right now and turn down the job. Stay here till you finish school and then see where we go from there.”
The look on my aunt’s face nearly broke my heart, even more than the loss of my little brother. She would literally put her entire life on hold, turn down a job she would love so that I could stay here and not have to deal with everything on my own.
No! I would not let that happen. I owed it to my aunt as a thank you to her for everything she had sacrificed already, to show her I could do this. I needed to start learning to be on my own. She would not be able to babysit me for the rest of my life.
I took a deep breath and looked my aunt straight in the eyes. “Fine, I agree to the terms. But I have terms of my own. Under no circumstances will my mom or her lawyer be allowed to know that I am back in town. I want to forget what happened there, so I need my teachers to promise not to do the ’I’m so sorry about what happened to you’stuff. I want to try to be normal and just blend in till the end of the year.”
“The judge might tell your mom’s lawyer that you are back, so I will see what I can do. But South Africa is a big place, Sam. You can live in any part of the country that you wish. I will help you look for a new place to stay if that is the case.”
I really considered my aunt’s offer of not going back to my hometown. But in the end I wanted to prove to her, and to myself, that Iwas over everything and could handlethis.
Only much later did I realise how wrong I was.