I don’t remember much about my parent’s divorce, just the important bits. I remember packing our car to the brim with clothes and toys, and I remember moving in with mom’s friend Gena, who lived about 10 kilometres away. She was a friend from work, not that kind of a friend. Gena lived in a gorgeous three-story town-house, wore pretty clothes and lots of make-up. This was the kind of woman we could trust. She had gone through her own divorce a few years earlier and, being smarter than us, had kept the car and the house. I never really understood why we gave up the house to someone who wasn’t ever home and didn’t know how to use any of its appliances. But I suppose our freedom was more important to us than the large 1970s block of concrete, and so we left.
Our newfound freedom was blissful. It meant that we were finally able to make our own decisions, like choosing where to go on holiday. We couldn’t wait to get away for a few days, and so for our first trip of independence, we packed the little black Golf GT Special, picked up our family friend Astrid and made our way straight to Paris. Freedom, of course, comes at a price. On a post-divorce, shoestring budget, we could only afford to stay on a camping site on the outskirts of the city. But at eight years old, this was just the kind of holiday of which I had dreamt. Who wouldn’t want to sleep underneath the stars in the city of love? The money we did have was thoughtfully spent on warm croissants, fresh orange juice and visits to dazzling sites such as la tour Eiffel, le Jardin des Tuileries and le Dôme des Invalides. Our trip kick-started my love affair with the French capital, and I still return every year, soaking up the city’s beautiful art and architecture.
We stayed near Versaille, which we also visited, and I was forced to recite and remember the name of our train station just in case I would ever get lost. Buying me a leash would have probably been easier, but safe is safe. To this day I still remember the little train station outside of Paris with the name of Porchefontaine. If you ever lose me, I’ll be on Platform 1 waiting for you.
Things got even better. On our return home, mom and Astrid surprised me and pulled into Disneyland Paris. I was ecstatic. Don’t tell them this, but I had already had the most beautiful holiday even before going to see Minnie and Mickey. But I surely wasn’t going to turn down a day of magic castles and spinning cups. We spent our time at the resort till we bled Disney from our eyes and ears, after which we drove back across the border and home.
I don’t remember much else. I remember being a happy kid, growing up in the idyllic hilly countryside, around good family and friends. In fact, I sort of grew up like Heidi, but without the friendly grandpapa.
I was seven when we moved out. Mom had come to my room and asked me to join my parents in the dining room — they always came up with new ways to ruin playtime — and both of them told me what was happening. I remember dad never being home and my brother spending most of his time teasing me or making plans to tease me. I remember not missing either.
I don’t remember my parents fighting but once. We had gone to aunty Carlotta’s wedding, danced all night and enjoyed the food and drink. But at some stage things turned sour and I remember being woken up in the middle of the night by dad shouting a lot. We moved out shortly after. Aunty, too, got divorced. So really we all could have done without her wedding.
The paperwork was finalised when I was eight. There was a short trip to a large modern government building, making things official. It included a woman in a grey suit, who I had never met before or would ever meet again, asking me if I was happy to live with my mother, which I was. I remember my parents being nervous. Maybe they expected me to be difficult and screw things up for everyone. You certainly couldn’t put it past me. But I most probably just wanted to return back home to start planning our next vacation. Now, the sky had become our limit.