If you have read my Memoir “A Spanish Love Affair” you will know that when I was 11 I had a love affair with my 19 year old tennis coach. Or rather I thought I did. I felt all the feelings you have when you fall in love, just like I did later on as an adult. Unfortunately, I think most of my tennis coach’s feelings were below his belt.
I was not one of those 11 year olds going on 18. I was small for my age as you can see in my school photo and hadn’t yet gone through puberty or bought my first bra. My coach told me I didn’t have to worry about falling pregnant because I hadn’t had my periods yet. I had no idea what he was talking about.
In case you are unaware what grooming entails, my coach told me he loved me and that I was beautiful. He also groomed me and my family by coming to breakfast every morning before coaching me.
The affair went on for nearly the whole year I was in 6th class. I was deliriously happy until at the end of the year when he went to play in a tournament in Tasmania and wrote to tell me he was breaking off our relationship and wasn’t going to coach me anymore.
At first, I didn’t believe it, but the truth dawned on me when he didn’t appear to coach me after he’d got back from Tasmania. I was heartbroken – absolutely shattered. It turned my whole world upside down.
Second row 5th from the right
I went from being at the top of the class to the bottom and from being a well-behaved student to a teachers’ nightmare.
Back row third from the left
I dropped all my nice friends and took up with the rebels and scallywags. I became rebellious and obnoxious. I sprouted pimples and attacked my hair with the scissors and a variety of different coloured dyes. I developed an eating disorder and took up smoking, both of which somehow, I managed to keep secret. I cried myself to sleep each night.
The worst thing was I kept it all to myself. I didn’t tell anyone about it over 40 years. My parents put the change in my behaviour down to hormones and the teenage blues.
If only someone had asked me the right questions, I would have blurted it all out.
Many children who are sexually abused turn to drugs, alcohol and often self harm. I was one of the lucky ones. I managed to survive because I had a very stable, loving family and I was good at tennis.
I finally told Mum what happened when I was in my 50’s. I was worried she wouldn’t believe me, but I was so overwrought when I told her, that she was left in no doubt.
People who haven’t been sexually abused don’t understand that the repercussions last for years. For some they never go away. Here I am, now 72 and I still feel them. I have never managed to completely regain my equilibrium.
I still attack my hair if I feel anxious. Over the years I have had it permed, short, long, medium length and spiked, purple, streaked, black, dark brown and blonde.
I base my self-worth on my body shape and weight.
I don’t disclose what happened to a lot of people, but when I do, I cry.
I don’t trust my intuition. I am reluctant to trust people and don’t like to get too close for fear of getting hurt. If someone hurts my feelings it is a deep and extremely painful affair.
I find it very difficult to make decisions. I fear commitment which no doubted accounted for 13 broken engagements and I don’t know how many disastrous love affairs which I underwent until I met my rock, Markus.
And that sighting of my coach’s erect penis when I was 11, certainly put the kybosh on my sex life for many years.
The old saying and ill wind doesn’t blow anyone any good is true in my case.
Being sexually abused led me to be more empathetic, considerate and aware of other people’s feelings. I became involved in personal development and explored my inner life and learnt to listen to the wise voice inside to resolve problems and issues, meditate and ultimately to become a writer, song writer and poet.
What I find difficult is I never know which parts of my personality are as a result of being sexually abused and which are not/me.
If you haven’t had a chance to buy a copy of “A Spanish Love Affair yet, you may be interested to know that I am doing a
PROMOTION DURING AUSTRALIAN OPEN
17TH TO 30TH JANUARY 2022
FREE COFFEE WHEN YOU BUY A COPY OF “A SPANISH LOVE AFFAIR”
Narrabeen Newsagency for the book with coffee at the Lakehouse Café, 1322 Pittwater Road, Narrabeen
Black Honey Coffee Shop book and coffee 3/18 Ocean Street, Narrabeen.
‘A Spanish Love Affair” is young Australian tennis player, Susan Joy Alexander’s story.
It is about:- Growing up in Narrabeen in the 1950’s
Going overseas to play tennis in Europe.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s There was no money in tennis so Susan couldn’t afford to go back and forward between England and Australia. She decided to stay in England over winter BUT on 10th October at 10am in the morning it was too cold, dark and wet so she hopped the train to Madrid.
The story really hots up when Susan falls in love a handsome and charming Spaniard.
I should add to this poem that you could catch Covid, become a close contact or like that poor woman, Sue Cobham who died when a Norfolk Pine fell on her at a carpark just down the road from us at the Narrabeen Surf Club – just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Mary and I were unlikely friends. She was a Cambridge Graduate in science and maths. I left school as soon as I could and could never see any point in algebra, geometry and science – Mary’s favourite subjects.. I just knew I’d never use them, and I was right.
Mary was left brain. I am so far right I’m nearly off the board.
Mary was short and plump. I am tall and athletic.
I am a clothesaholic and love to buy my clothes at Carla Zampatti. Mary shopped for her clothes at Target but had the ability to make them look very smart and professional.
Both of us didn’t like housework. Mary less than me. She was an early feminist and had little interest in food and its preparation she told me. Her cleaners told me that they only ever had to dust out her oven and the top of her stove.
I think that housework is a waste of time and I always have a lot of other things that I prefer to do. But I do Iove to cook.
Mary and I met when she came to teach me how to use a computer. Poor Mary! I was no doubt her worst student. But we just clicked.
We solidified our relationship when we went to Toastmasters together. We learnt a lot about each other as we made our way through the various speeches and in the trips back and forward to North Sydney.
Mary worked for me for several years in my real estate business. She was the best property manager I ever had, never losing a case at the Residential Tenancy Tribunal. In fact, the Members at the Tribunal seemed to almost confer with her.
I can’t remember ever having a disagreement with her about anything.
Mum and I celebrated our “0” birthdays at the end of March, 2009. Unfortunately Mary, my long time helper and dear friend couldn’t attend due to a sudden onset of ill health. Mary’s life changed dramatically in May of that year -2009 . She went to her local medical practice with a backache. At first the Doctor thought it was shingles. However, one day she felt so ill she had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance where she was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.
Markus and I had planned to go camping in the Northern Territory in June but two days before our departure Markus tore his meniscus and had to have an arthroscopy. Our trip was canned. However this proved fortuitous because I was able to spend time with Mary who after having one lot of palliative chemotherapy , a relatively new treatment, which helps manage pain and extend life, she decided not to continue because of the side effects.
We enjoyed a very special five months as you will read from the notes in my diary.
“I had to wait until Thursday morning to find out how Mary was placed, pain wise. When I ring her, she says she has it under control. I notice she has become frailer and is a little slower as we make our way to the car. However, she is radiantly happy about a drive to Dee Why Beach and lunch at Sea la vie.
The parking fairy is in full attendance. We manage to find a spot right in front of the café which is great because Mary can’t walk too far. With her disability sticker we can extend the hour limit. We both sit blissfully facing the sea. Mary hasn’t been eating very much but sitting and breathing in the salt air and checking out the extensive menu, her eyes sparkle and her appetite perks up. She decides on a mushroom and chicken crepe. Today we are talking about love. I’m preparing a speech about it. I ask Mary what feelings she had when she was in love. She is totally stumped. Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked her. I know she has had her ups and downs.
Over our I learnt a lot about Mary. She grew up on a farm in England which supplied all strawberries to Covent Garden. She was deeply effected by the War years having to race to the air raid shelter when bombing started and worrying about her father who was driving down to London with the strawberries.. Her passions were teaching and biology. She spent 20 years in Zimbawe where she was a deputy Principal.
Generous to a fault, never needing the limelight. Happy to play second fiddle, support act, behind the scenes.
The Open Garden
I heard about an open garden in Roseville on the radio. It is a slow and painstaking experience to extricate Mary from her small apartment. One that can’t be hurried.
People we encounter seem to sense that Mary is on her final journey. She reminds me of a little Buddha. She no longer wears a wig to cover her bald head. Instead, she sports jaunty hats, vibrantly coloured beanies and caps.
We both absolutely love the garden which turns out to belong to a fellow real estate colleague.
We visit the zoo today. Mary is now in a wheelchair and my friend Vince has come along to help push. She had been a volunteer at the zoo for many years and as we make our way up and down the paths between the animal enclosures, she is in heaven. She became exultant inside the one where she used to do her watch.
I check with Mary in the morning to see if she is up to going out for lunch or whether she would prefer I make something for her. She is not sure but tells me she still has a fridge freezer with plenty of stuff that we can decide when I arrive. And just as well because I wouldn’t have had time to cook. The Editorial the Manly Daily printed on the property I have for sale has resulted in an avalanche of enquiries. I race off to show the property and only make it to Mary’s with a minute to spare.
When I arrive, Mary is dressed ready to go and smiling. Not too bad today she tells me. The reaction to Mary’s predicament by other people is amazing. I am concerned that she will somehow be rebuffed or hurt in exhibiting her gentle courage. But my fears are allayed. It is almost as if she has taken on a spiritual quality and her appearance is definitely ethereal which seem to give an awareness to others that she is walking along the last path of her life journey.
She seems to have contracted. Every time I see her it is as though she is diminishing before my eyes. Her skin is luminous, her bald head either capped or sporting a jaunty cap, her eyes crinkled into a smile. Serenity emanates from her acceptance of what is happening to her. We decide to go down to one of the three cafes between Queenscliff and Manly and after checking the menus out decide on Ash’s because it is the only one which has soup. Mary now seems to prefer her food in this form rather than its original state. However, instead of the pea and ham soup on offer, she decides on eggs benedict which arrives with at least half a pint of hollandaise sauce on it. She does extremely well for someone without much of an appetite, polishing the lot off. I am sure the sea breeze blowing on our faces, the view of the ocean, the very pretty, attentive wait staff and being surrounded by other people acts as a stimulant.
Mary appears to be shrinking even more so today. She doesn’t feel like eating which is not surprising because she is being pumped full of various medications.
She is now spending a few days in hospital where there is even a machine to get her out of bed. When I visit her today, she tells me she is undergoing all kinds of procedures. I shudder to think about them. When she confers with the palliative doctor who is looking after her, it is like one professor talking to another about a patient. She will be coming back home today. I notice people looking at us and think we are an unlikely combination.
The last time we go out, on the way back to her place we stop by the Farmers’ Market in Manly. Everybody seems to know Mary and acknowledges her.
She doesn’t have the energy to go out anymore, so I cook things for her and bring them over. She still manages to have a good appetite for someone who never seemed to be that interested in food. She particularly likes my cauliflower cheese.
Her beloved son, who lives in France manages to come over during her last days. Mary is in seventh heaven. I make a feast for us which we all eat together. Nobody would believe that Mary was on her last legs.
Mary retained her sense of humour to the end, managing a chuckle on her last day on earth, when I told her I could talk underwater.
It was indeed a privilege to spend this last period of time with my special friend Mary. She lived each moment of each day. Being with her was like sharing time with a small child. Every moment was treasured. Every experience savoured.
Although Mary and I met in the early 90’s, the quality time we spent together during this period will stay with me for the rest of my life. Our relationship reached a new depth.
What a hero Mary was! Always smiling, never complaining despite the terrible procedures she had to endure.
She died on 25th November and even on her last day we discussed the crossword clues and she laughed when I told her I found it difficult to sit quietly and not talk and my friends all know the truth of this.
Just before I left, she put her hand on mine and told me she would be all right. She died a couple of hours later.