You're my worst mistake: radio host's memoir tackles adoption trauma

18 September 2017 - 12:41 By Nico Gous
Image: Supplied

Writing her memoir was a “baptism by fire”‚ says Cape Talk radio presenter Sara-Jayne King.

“I would write a chapter and then I would go to my therapist and cry on the floor for an hour‚” King said.

Her biological mother is a British woman who met her white South African boyfriend at university in England.

After completing their studies they moved to South Africa in 1979 where they worked at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton‚ Johannesburg.

King’s biological mother started a relationship with a black man who was the head chef at the hotel and her biological father.

King was born a year later and there were questions about her darker skin. Her biological mother said King had a “kidney disease” and had to receive special treatment in the United Kingdom.

Her biological mother put her up for adoption in England and returned to South Africa. Upon her return she told everyone King had died while receiving treatment.

She was adopted by a white English couple and raised in the south of England.

She grew up on a farm in a middle-class‚ largely white area‚ where she was the only black child‚ apart from her brother‚ who was also adopted.

She said growing up was strange‚ because “other people made it strange”.

“I knew I was adopted‚ but I knew that adoption meant that the adoptive parents become your parents.”

When she was nine years old‚ she started experiencing “micro aggressions of racism”.

“Then you begin to realise‚ ‘I am black. Black is not as good as white.’”King said growing up she was not “naturally curious about where I came from”.

When she was 14 years old she discovered a letter from her biological mother‚ which her biological mother had written when King was about one year old.

“It’s such a negating‚ othering experience. It makes you the dirty secret. The thing that cannot be spoken.”

South Africa was just another country on the map before she discovered the letter.

“The whole of South African history passed me by.”

King returned to South Africa when she was 26 years old.

“I felt like an imposter in South Africa‚ but at the same time I felt like I had come home.”

When she was 21 years old she tried to contact her biological mother‚ who had left her address with the adoption agency. She was not seeking a relationship with her biological mother.

“I wanted to know where I came from. I wanted to know where I got my smile from. Who did I look like? Whose hands did I have? Who else in the family had a fiery temper?”

Her biological mother had since moved to Germany and the United States and kept sending the adoption agency her updated address.

King wrote a letter and her biological mother replied: “You’re the worst mistake I ever made. Do not contact me again.”

King said she was “absolutely distraught”.

“My only explanation for it is that something happens to you when you hand over a baby. Something must switch in your brain.” 

King responded and told her biological mother she needs answers about her biological father and her medical history. Her mother sent her birth certificate and a photograph of her biological father.

She has tried to track down her biological father‚ but says he has “disappeared off the face of the earth”.

King started writing her memoir while she was in rehab for alcoholism and drug addiction. She said the difference between writing a memoir and fiction is “you have to keep going”. 

“It’s not like you can suddenly say‚ ‘Oh‚ this is getting a bit heavy. Let me go off on another tangent‚’” King said.

“If there’s a train of thought about how you feel about a certain thing or event or person‚ that has to be borne out. You can’t just suddenly go‚ ‘And that’s the end of that.’”

King decided to use pseudonyms in the book.

“I didn’t write the book so people could cast a judgment on her‚ or me or anyone in this story.”

King recently sent comedian Trevor Noah a copy of the memoir.

“We are doing our bit for the mixed race mafia‚ but I think maybe he should let ladies go first now.”

King's memoir, Killing Karoline, is currently on sale in bookstores. 

*Editors note: A change was made to this story to correctly reflect how King’s parents met.