UNDERSTANDING TRUE LOVE
The story of 19-year-old Megan Sounders is one of a youth who reached a turning point in her life after being faced with a possibility of a life unplanned.
Megan grew up on a farm in Skaapkraal where her parents were labourers. Her home from the outside looks like an ordinary wendy house*, where she lived with her parents and three siblings but she says that her life between those four walls was anything but normal.
Raised by a mother who despite loving her children is an alcoholic and father who regardless of being present has no relationship with his children. Megan says that even though she has tried to play down the situation at home as being cool she knows that it has left a part of her empty.
“I realised my mother had a drinking problem when I was nine. I would arrive home from school and find the house always messed up. She would be stumbling and swearing at everybody. Eventhough my father also drank with her, I never saw him in that state and that made me realise that she had a problem. Because of this, I could never talk about serious things to my mom. I was always scared that she would bring it up in an argument – she’s done it before so I don’t trust her,” says Megan
At 16, Megan met Ryan (18) at her church and she describes him as charming.
“There was just something about him that attracted me, he was really easy to get along with and I found myself spending a lot of time with him and we eventually started dating,” says Megan.
She describes the relationship as uneven because Ryan would be jealous and bossy often. “He would tell me where I can go and who I can see. I started feeling hopeless and I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t talk to my friends about it because I was embarrassed.”
Besides his aggressive side, Megan says that she felt loved by him. With hindsight she says, “I was confusing the physical side of our relationship with actual love.”
But a phone call one afternoon not only changed her relationship with Ryan but altered the path of her life. The phone rang while she was at home, sitting on her bed watching television she didn’t recognise the number but answered anyway. On the line was Ryan’s ex-girlfriend.
“I was very surprised to hear from her and was shocked by what she told me. She said – Ryan was HIV Positive.”
Megan remembered dropping to the ground and her eyes welling up with tears, she says that in that moment she felt numb.
“Finding out that my boyfriend who I was intimate with is HIV positive shook me to my core. I didn’t know how to deal with it in that moment, I wanted to scream, I wanted to punch something. I remember my eyes feeling sore from crying for hours.”
“The worst part was I couldn’t speak to my mom about it. I was scared and embarrassed,” says Megan.
The next day Megan called Ryan and he confirmed what she had dreaded.
“That moment I remember just asking him why he didn’t tell me and he kept silent without saying a word. I was so angry, but felt so emotional I couldn’t express it properly. In that moment I realised I could have it.”
Shortly after confronting her ex-boyfriend, Megan took an HIV test and her result was negative.
“I remember imagining a life again because after I heard the news I just felt like there was no darkness in my life. I felt like I could breathe again.”
But against her better judgment, Megan remained with Ryan for two more years.
“I can’t explain why I stayed with him, I felt sorry for him and thought that I could help him or make him happier – I think I was being selfish towards myself because I was putting his happiness ahead of mine. I now understand that I was looking for something in this relationship that I was missing at home.”
Nearing the end of her school career, Megan is the first person in her family to reach Grade 11 and she is witnessing what could have been her reality. One of her best friends is dealing with falling pregnant with her ex-boyfriend Ryan. A reality she knows could have been her own.
“I’ve decided to abstain and prioritise my studies. When I get older and choose to be intimate with someone I’ve decided that we have to go for an HIV test together before I make any decision.”
Reflecting back Megan says “I have learned that no one can fullfil the gap of my parents’ love, except me. I have come to terms that they are doing their best but they will not be able to give me what I am longing for. As I learn to love and value myself, others in my life learn to do the same.”
Megan is a Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.
* Wendy house – a small wooden structure often used as houses in informal settlements