STANDING ON MY OWN TWO FEET
Independence and self-reliance came at an early age for Taylor Davids (21) following her mother’s battle with mental illness and her father’s neglect.
Taylor was born in Cape Town and recalls the first few years of her life spent living with her parents and two older brothers (nine and four) in Eerste River. But it was a tense environment at home since she remembers her parents mostly fighting with each other.
“The only thing I remember about that time was negativity. My parents only spoke bad things about each other.”
Her parents divorced when she was four years old and a few years later her mother moved Taylor, her middle brother, and herself to Durban to be close with their grandfather. Taylor was 8 years old at the time.
“I was a child, so I just went with the flow. My eldest brother remained in Cape Town because of school, he moved to stay with my mom’s mother.
Taylor has fond memories of their time in Durban.
“At the beginning, we stayed with my grandfather and his second wife. I loved my grandfather. I enjoyed being around him. But his wife was not happy about us staying with them, so my mom and grandfather decided we should move out.”
Taylor describes their new home as a smallholding with lots of space to roam around on.
“There were blueberries and mangoes growing. I used to get the eggs from the chickens every morning. My grandfather would visit almost every day and he would provide groceries and money. Some days he would pick me up from school and drive me home.
“My brother moved back to Cape Town to stay with my dad and I stayed with my mom.”
Short afterwards, Taylor noticed her mom behaving differently.
“My mom started acting strange. She would cover me with a blanket and say that I must cover my feet because they were going to come for me. She would throw glasses against the wall and she would shout when she did it. I couldn’t ask her why, because she would scream at me, ‘because I say so.’ I was very scared.”
Her mom’s behaviour got progressively worse and Taylor became more confused about what was going on.
“First my mom took me out of church. Then she took me out of school. Things started going awry from there. My mom was there, but not really present.
While her mother was not emotionally present for Taylor, her grandfather filled the gap by continuing to visit her regularly.
“For 10 months I was out of school. I don’t think my grandfather noticed at the beginning. That was in grade 7. When he began questioning things, my mom accused him of kidnapping me and got a restraining order against him. Even though he could no longer visit, he still found a way to give us money and groceries.”
Taylor retreated inward gaining a quiet sense of independence as she stopped seeking her mother’s engagement.
“My mom and I never had conversations. She would just sit there and stare or talk to herself. She stopped letting me go out of the house. I didn’t see anyone. I spent the days passing time by myself.”
Taylor’s home life was thrown into a tailspin when her mother had an argument with the owners of the smallholding where they were staying and they were forced to move out. Taylor recalls having to move with her mother from place to place and not staying longer at a place for more than two to three weeks at a time.
“My mom argued with people all the time and we were forced to leave. That became our routine.
“My dad used to come to visit me once a year. I told him my mom was keeping me out of school. Then one day when I was 12 years old, I saw the police in front of the house.”
Taylor’s father had come with the police to remove her from her mother’s care.
“That day my mom just looked at me with tears in her eyes and she just hugged me and told me that she loved me.”
Taylor and her father travelled back to Cape Town by bus where she would continue to live with him.
“I was worried about my mom and my grandfather but my dad just said not to worry.”
Taylor had experienced so much change and uncertainty that she remembers feeling less dependent on the adults in her life.
A year later, after Taylor had moved back to Cape Town and she had turned 13 years old, her mother also moved back to Cape Town.
“I was very happy to see my mom. She went for treatment and she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. After that things got better. My mom started communicating with me. She was on medication.”
But at home, while living with her father, Taylor was, for the most part, left to fend for herself.
Taylor learned to stand on her own two feet emotionally and also physically as she began to run the household by taking responsibility for the chores because her father was not physically present much of the time. Taylor developed an even stronger sense of independence during this time and without positive adult guidance in her life, Taylor ended up making some decisions that she now regrets.
“I started hanging out with the wrong friends, an older crowd, and started taking drugs. And then I started selling weed for them while I was in school. The trade gave me money for the house to buy bread and electricity. Even though my father provided, what he provided was not enough to last for the full month.”
Her father remarried and Taylor moved back in with her mother again.
“I moved to live with my mom and two brothers in a small Wendy* house. I was happy to be back with my mom but the living conditions were difficult. We shared one room, where the four of us slept. It was difficult to have quiet time to study or to have my own privacy.
“When I turned 16 I got my first ID and I decided to try and find a part-time job. I needed money to buy clothes and other basic things I needed. I had decided to stop selling weed because the merchant was pushing me to sell harder drugs at school. When he did that I realised what I was becoming. I refused to do it and I quit.”
Taylor took up formal employment at a local mall as a part-time sales assistant on the weekend. The work environment inspired Taylor because for the first time she was complimented for how well she did a job and she was trusted.
“The encouragements I received were not something I was accustomed to. The only person who ever encouraged me was my grandfather. The positive feedback in a professional working environment boosted my self-confidence a bit.”
In matric, Taylor met her first boyfriend and she was flattered by the attention.
She moved in with her boyfriend and his family in that year, because she described it as a quieter environment than her mom’s house.
She studied hard for her matric exams and reaped the rewards of her efforts when she passed the final year of her high school career.
Her grandfather was still her biggest supporter and after passing her matric she spent four months in Durban, learnt how to drive and successfully passed her driver’s licence.
Taylor felt lifted by all her accomplishments, but on her return to Cape Town, she came back down to earth fast.
“I came back to Cape Town after that to live at my boyfriend’s house again and I fell pregnant. But then things went south. My son’s dad cheated on me when I was 6 months pregnant.”
Depressed by her situation and by how life kept treating her unfairly, Taylor took a handful of pills, but her suicide attempt was unsuccessful.
“I don’t know why I didn’t leave him. I also didn’t tell my family about what I was going through because I did not want to be judged. When my son was three months old I was told to leave the house with my son because we had become an inconvenience”
Taylor returned to live with her mother in Bridgetown.
“My son’s father didn’t provide anything for our child. But I still stayed in the relationship because I wanted my child to have a normal family. He was unavailable often when I called him and many times when he answered the phone he sounded drunk. I eventually left him.”
On reflection about her life, Taylor believes she is in a healthier emotional space and still as independent as ever.
“I got used to picking myself up and making things work. We all make mistakes, mine was the time I tried to kill myself because I lost hope. I believe my life has made me stronger. I have become like a rubber ball. The harder you hit me, the harder I bounce back. I am focusing all my energy to become financially independent to strongly stand on my two feet.”
When asked for her last remarks, Taylor said, “my child has become my inspiration. I wish to give him the stability I haven’t had in life. I created a motto for our little family, ‘a happy mother creates a happy son.’ My first step to happiness, was to begin acknowledging the small things that are working in my life, e.g. ‘I appreciate being alive’ ‘I am thankful for being healthy’ and so much more. But I did not stop just by acknowledging positive things around me. I also began acknowledging myself on a daily basis, for example, ‘Taylor, you are a good mom. Taylor, well done!”
Taylor is an Alumnus of the Life Choices Academy.