Visiting the Girl
A Healing Memoir
Copyright Aoife Valley 2017
work is licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
May all children,
past, present and future,
be happy, safe and free.
Table of Contents
1 The Holly
many years I have dreamt of this book, yet had no idea how it would
take shape. I couldn't see how it would be possible to craft
something beautiful from the cinders of my trauma-filled childhood.
birthday, a few years ago, I received three beautiful, lined,
notebooks from three very different friends. They had each chosen to
buy me, an artist, an empty book for words. One by one, I began
filling these books with gardening, beekeeping, and teaching notes. I
felt guilty that this long-imagined memoir wasn't finding its way
into their pages.
one day, after a meditation one-to-one, a client took from her bag a
small, thick book, and offered it to me. On the cover was a soft
painting of a pair of gold-star encrusted high heels in greens and
creams. It was another lined notebook. She said that although she
liked the book, she felt it was meant to be given to me.
it home, and it sat by my bed for a few months. It was so pretty I
knew that the first words written in it would have to be meaningful.
So, I took my time.
Saturday morning, I brought the notebook and a pen into my meditation
room, and sat it down beside me. I began my morning meditation as
usual, and at the end of it a memory came to mind. It was a Saturday
morning in my first year of primary school, and the day after the
first attack by my father.
faced the events of the Friday many times over the years, yet had
given the aftermath days of Saturday and Sunday little attention. On
this particular Saturday morning the idea came to me to actually go
and visit myself as I was back then, in my imagination, and see what
are many variations of this process in spiritual, shamanic and
religious traditions. It is known as 'Active Imagination' or 'Soul
Retrieval', and was used by many of the Christian mystics. I had been
studying trauma recovery based on the understanding of the
fight/flight/freeze mechanism, and how it gets stuck on overdrive
when trauma isn't fully processed. I read that it was possible to
release this stuckness by revisiting traumatic memories and rewriting
afraid to do this, but a yearning deep inside me knew that this
'visiting' was what was called for, in order for the next layer of my
healing to occur.
tradition of meditation I was trained in 'imagination' was viewed as
something untrustworthy. The teaching was strongly grounded in the
reductionist scientific view that if you can't measure it, or see it,
it isn't happening. We were taught to see things as they were, in
each present moment, without adding anything, or taking anything
away. Reality itself was the only thing to trust; 'this moment' the
only thing worth paying attention to. This clear-sighted awareness
had healed me enormously, and brought great stability to my life, yet
that morning something bigger was calling me to engage my
imagination. So that is what I did.
what I wrote in the notebook after the encounter:
she will let me hold her. I gather her up in my arms and she holds on
to me like a baby who has lost her mother. Her legs to one side,
closed, and her battered body damp and cold.
never wondered why she would just lie there. I never tried to move
her. Maybe I knew the time hadn't come yet.
seems a miracle now, to know she trusts me. She is here in my lap
weeping, utterly lost. I hold her like a chair, like a mother. I
hold her like I always wanted to be held, utterly supported,
was an ease and a beauty to what had happened. To trust my
imaginative process made me feel more whole, and fleshed out an
ancient inner knowing that I had lost in my years in Buddhism.
meditated every single day, and expect to for the rest of my life,
but I also began 'visiting the girl' after my meditations. It soon
became clear that this process would make for a poetic and healing
framework in which to share my story.
different memories arose for the purposes of this book. I begin each
chapter by visiting the girl, or woman, I was both physically and
emotionally. I then move on to memoir, and I end the chapter with
another visit. In the visits I allowed the healing process to arise,
and simply documented it. There was no force or control. I know from
experience that, in an atmosphere of safety, and kind, alert,
awareness, our body/mind/soul will always heal itself.
memoir sections I wanted to write about my history in a way that
focussed on me as the child, teenager and woman – on my very real
human hopes, dreams, sensitivities, emotions and physical
experiences. So often, and understandably, accounts of abuse and
trauma are filled with fear, and horror of the perpetrator. I
wondered was it possible to write about what happened to me in a way
that was real, yet at the same time honoured my individual soul-life,
which was beautiful, noble and heroic.
I wanted to create a narrative that would use the lessons I learned
in breaking a family cycle of abuse and neglect to lessen our
collective fear, and bring greater understanding and peace into the
world. This is what I hope I have done. This book contains my truth,
and it is my sincere hope that it will support the reader in
embracing their own truth.
day I choose to visit the girl on Saturday morning in her room. What
happened on the Friday and Monday had gone through my mind for
decades, but I couldn't bear to remember what had happened on the
Saturday and Sunday. Those two days were a blank.
enter her room and see a motionless, tiny little body in a bed,
intermittently crying, sleeping and staring at the wall. She doesn't
move an inch, but I know she is glad I am there. I sit by her and
say, 'I am here, darling. I am here for you'.
am astonished that she will let me be here. I always thought she
would be so afraid of me it would make matters worse, but she has
been waiting for me, waiting for this meeting.
she will let me hold her. I gather her up in my arms and she holds on
to me like a baby who has lost her mother.
seems a miracle now, to know she trusts me. She is here in my lap
weeping, utterly lost.
hold her like a chair, like a mother. I hold her like I always wanted
to be held - utterly supported, completely safe.
am here now', I say. 'I'm never going to leave you. Everything is
going to be OK.'
hugs and hugs me, and I mother her effusively, this little girl with
no mother to turn to for solace. I hug and hug her. I want her to
know that she is safe.
cries, I hold. I am present. I don't try to fix anything, or explain
her feelings away. I never mention what has happened. I stay in the
here and now and feel with her.
only just started primary school when he kept me home one Friday. His
girlfriend had gone off to have her baby and he said we needed father
and daughter time. We stayed in my bedroom and played all games he
liked. It was nice to have him all to myself. I adored him and, with
no mother around, he had become my whole world. I wanted to make him
could be very funny and make us all laugh, but he could also be very
scary sometimes, just out of the blue. It was very confusing. He
always took everything too far. When he tickled me it was funny for a
little while, then he kept going until it got really sore. He didn't
like it when I told him to stop. It made him angry, so I swallowed my
sore and let him stop when he was ready.
Friday I started to get hot and feel sick. It had gone on too long,
and he was getting annoyed with me. I felt so much like I was going
to vomit that I had to say, 'stop'. He stood up and turned his face
away, and when he turned back it was black and red mixed together,
like he had covered himself in boot polish. I was terrified. I knew
something very bad was about to happen.
stabbed me over and over down there, and the pain was so bad I
flashed out of my body, up to the corner by the door. I watched
myself look like a ragdoll under his bulk. I was sure I was going to
die, that I would be saying goodbye to that wee ragdoll girl down
there. I had really liked her too.
saying, over and over in my mind, My daddy is the devil. I
knew from pictures what the devil looked like - red and black, with
no kindness whatsoever. That was who he was.
was Saturday, and I could hear my brothers asking about me in the
landing. 'Aoife is sick, don't go near her', he said. I was bleeding,
and in so much pain. I just lay there and waited for what was next. I
was quiet and still.
there all day Saturday and all day Sunday. He came in to check the
bleeding until it stopped.
Monday morning I was woken up for school. I went downstairs and he
acted like nothing had happened. Standing in the kitchen I got a bowl
of porridge. With the first spoonful I tasted sweetness and
overwhelmingly wanted to burst out crying. I felt betrayed by that
sweetness. I thought that everything had changed, but it hadn't
really. An ache fell down my throat, chest, and into my belly. Nobody
loves me, I thought. No mummy and no daddy.
sweet porridge announced that the world went on, even though I felt
like it had stopped. It said that I didn't really matter. God and the
angels hadn't saved me. No one had saved me. I was all alone.
attacks in my bedroom went on for over five years, until we went to
live with my mother when I was nine years old. It happened most that
first year, after his girlfriend came back with the new baby. Then it
took on a pattern I tried every way I could think of to untangle
an attack I was crushed for weeks. The physical pain was terrible.
Walking the mile to school was the worst. My body was so heavy, and
every step aggravated the swollen and bruised area between my legs. I
was always lagging behind, a 'slowcoach'. One day the boys found a
hornets’ nest on the walkway up to school, and I had no interest in
it whatsoever. I just put one foot in front of the other as I walked
pain eased up after about a week, and I felt lighter and more like
myself. Then I could play again, and run and skip carefully. A week
after that I started to forget it, and just get on with life.
point I could look in the mirror again without feeling afraid. The
mirror frightened me the most the first week because my face looked
like someone I didn't know. It looked like my 'Tiny Tears' doll –
hard and plastic. Then the face would distort as I watched it, with
the forehead getting really big, or the chin going lopsided, or one
eye getting really big. It was terrifying, so I decided to just stop
looking at it.
first year we got school portrait photographs to take home. I sat in
my bedroom looking at the photo of myself. If I looked very quickly
at it, and then away, I looked like a normal girl with long ginger
hair, a fringe, freckles and a pinafore. But if I looked for a long
time that baby-teeth smile really irritated me. I looked so stupid.
My belly stuck out and my stupid hair was in pigtails. I really hated
her. She didn't distort. She stayed exactly the same. I spat at her,
then immediately tried to wipe it away in case it got me in trouble.
wiped it, the photo got scratched and an orange colour came through
from underneath. I couldn't help myself then, I started scratching
and scratching, and more orange came through to replace the skin. I
scratched until her face was gone, and only the hair and body were
left. Then I hid it under the bed.
next day he noticed it was missing and looked for it while I sat on
the bed. When he saw what I had done to it a sneering smile spread
over his face. I knew that smile well. I vowed to never, ever hurt
myself like that again, and to kill myself if I ever got to the point
where that devil-smile came upon my face. He put the photo back under
the bed, and I took it out later and threw it in the fire downstairs.
couple of weeks after the attack I tentatively looked in the mirror
again to see if the distortion was still happening. When it didn't I
would begin to recognise myself – my freckles, my soft skin, the
colour and shine of my hair, my nose, my teeth and tongue. I felt
safe again. I began to forget all about those dark things and just be
my happy, normal self.
just as I was feeling safe again, happy in my own skin, he would
attack again. Sometimes I saw it coming from the corner of my eye -
out playing with the girls I would notice him standing at the window
and have an uncomfortable feeling. But the amnesia was so strong that
each time it was always a shock as brutal as the first.
was a happy place for me when I had recovered. While I was still sore
boys bullied me in the playground. When the strength came back into
my arms and legs no one bothered bullying me, and everything went
back to normal.
was a boy at school who wasn't rough like the others. His name was
Liam. The first time I noticed him was at break time when I was
standing against a building. He smiled at me, and my whole body felt
light. His smile reminded me that I was loveable.
didn't speak much the first years, just smiled at each other in the
playground. Then we became friends. I loved everything about him -
his face, his glasses and his brown hair. He was always so calm and
friendly, and never pulled my ponytail or tripped me up. When we held
hands the whole world was happy.
before we moved to my mother's house he invited me over to meet his
mother and grandfather. They were calm too. With them I felt safe,
and like a whole new world was opening up. In his house, where
everyone spoke to each other slowly, with softness, and big open
eyes, I felt appreciated for the first time. There were silences,
when I could hear the clock ticking or the wind outside. They asked
me questions and then listened to what I said.
one day my father told me that I wasn't allowed to hang about with
'that boy' anymore, and under no circumstance could I go to his
house. So, I stopped talking to Liam and he faded out of my life. The
feeling of being a lovable person was replaced with an empty pit in
my stomach. There was no point in loving anyone, or trying to make
things better because my father would just destroy it on me. I had to
just keep going, to stay alive and one day be free of him.
days I had such hope, but during the attacks, and in the recovery
period increasingly I began repeating the words over and over: it
has gone on too long, it has gone on too long, no one can recover
from this; this is too much, it has gone on too long. It felt
like I was slowly dying.
pattern continued over the years, he crept into my bedroom in the
middle of the night and sometimes I would wake up gasping with his
huge body crushing me. Then he would either leave, sleep beside me,
or push me on to the floor and sleep in my bed.
times, after an attack, he told me to stand in the middle of the
floor and leave the room. He said that he could see everything I did,
and hear all my thoughts, so he would know if I sat or lay down. On
these standing nights I was very cold, but I never lay down. I stood
until I passed out, and woke up on the floor in the morning.
was sustained by the love I found in other people; love that most
people probably wouldn't even call love. Because I was suffering so
much I knew how precious it was. I felt love from teachers and
shopkeepers, neighbours and pets. I could feel love, and its opposite
on my skin, with my eyes, in my chest and stomach and my legs. I
loved my brothers dearly and sometimes, during the recovery time, I
would really look at their faces and see how nice they were, so soft
and freckly. It helped when I couldn't look at my own face.
swimming, and walked on my own to the pool that was half a mile away.
The first time I walked there I was scared, but it got easier. It was
worth it to experience being weightless, and feel the water flowing
over my skin. The pool warmed me up and held me.
sucking my thumb, which I had done since a baby. I had a different
relationship with the right and left thumbs, and was so grateful for
the particular type of soothing they each provided. My father's
girlfriend tried everything to stop me thumb-sucking. She tied me up
at night and dipped my thumbs in mustard and methylated spirits, but
nothing worked. I kept on sucking until the taste got back to normal.
animals and adored 'Black Beauty' stories, and anything to do with
otters. There was a little shelf in my bedroom with three 'Black
Beauty' books and my 'Wonder Woman' hardcover comic. Their TV shows
were on then too, so I got to see them in action. I wanted to be just
like 'Wonder Woman' when I grew up, and have a horse as beautiful and
smart as 'Black Beauty'.
Wonder had a big impact on me. I imagined having a daddy that would
sing the song 'I Just Called to Say I love You' to me, and it made me
feel better. Any little inkling that there was love in the world
meant that eventually everything would be OK.
lived in a housing estate with lots of wild rose hedges and some big
trees. Our house was number 76 which was the same year I was born and
that made me feel special. 76 was also the year my parents moved in.
Miles of countryside had been bulldozed to build this vast expanse of
housing estates, some Catholic and some Protestant. We lived in the
second last house on the end of a row, looking out at another row. We
had a back and front garden and a covered carport.
bedroom was at the back of the house, which was the main entrance,
and lead out to the carport. In that room I looked out upon the flat
carport roof year after year. I watched families of house-martins
come and go, thrushes nest in the corners, abandoned toys linger and
fade in sun and rain,and light and shadow shift and dapple. That
expanse of roof hovered like a magic carpet, just out of adult reach.
We children could make our way up there through a small gap between
it and the shed, before being spotted and then yelled at to come
the houses had a cherry blossom tree. Ours was very tall, and every
year was covered in fluffy pink flowers. My father liked to garden,
so we always had nice dark red roses and orange nasturtiums to look
at. The house was also coming down with houseplants. Every windowsill
was covered in pot plants of all different kinds. When I hated him
the most I used to feel betrayed by those plants. I couldn't
understand why they didn't wilt like I did when he came near them.
before I had started primary school we had gone to an open day there.
At one point I got lost and wandered into a small glasshouse near the
dining room. There was an older boy in it watering the plants. He
told me that plants have feelings just like us; that they can feel
pain. He said that if we listen very carefully we can even hear them
talk to us. I put my ear really close to the plants to listen. I
thought I could hear them squeaking, telling me they were happy to be
alive, and that they loved me.
later, when I came back to live in that house again as a teenager, I
did wonder was it the plants that stopped him from killing me once
and for all. I wondered did the deep, velvety beauty of those big
roses he nurtured pull him back from complete madness. Maybe the
cherry blossoms’ sturdy petals reminded him of when he was a little
boy and looked up to the sky to see clouds swaying joyfully far
cries until she was ready to stop, and I do not interfere in any way.
When her breathing softens she lifts her little head off my lap and
sits on the floor. I ask her would she like to draw or read or play,
and she says 'yes' to drawing.
sits there and draws a unicorn, blue and strong, with a rainbow
behind. Then she starts a new drawing, and another, and another.
feel so light and relieved. Eventually I ask her if she feels OK for
me to leave now, and she says 'Yes' happily. I tell her I will be
back every day to visit.
go back the next day, and the next, and she is either reading,
drawing, or playing with her dolls. Then one day I visit and she is
no longer in the bedroom. I look around the house and she is not
look outside and see her under a tree. She has found a little spot at
the foot of a Holly tree, beyond the gable wall of the end house. She
is busily drawing, consumed and happy.
wee girl lives under the Holly tree, the medicine of which is
Universal and Unconditional Love.
enter the large senior dining room from the back. She is sitting
alone at a table at the far end. As I approach she stiffens; her back
is a closed door. I know she doesn't want me there, and definitely
doesn't want to talk or listen. She contains a bristling anger
deserving of respect.
sit down beside her, taking care not to screech my chair. I won't ask
her anything. I won't speak. I will just sit here and feel what it is
like to be next to her.
faces dense wooden doors that open out to a foyer, and a wide
staircase leading up to a few classrooms. To the right of the stairs
is a door to the new building and the rest of the school. To the
left, an old lift, long out of use.
visit her like this a few times a day. Sometimes I forget about her
for hours at a time, and as soon as I think of that room, she is
there again sitting alone, and I know I must visit.
time I sit down next to her she stiffens a little less. There is a
softening occurring just with my silent presence and willingness to
show up. She seems to expect me now.
I come back again and again and sit with her, not knowing when this
will end, or how it will end, but aware that eventually it has to
change. Something will happen and everything will get better.
dining room was part of the old convent where I went to an all-girl's
secondary school until I was fourteen years old. I was in the senior
dining area, and sitting alone during class time because I couldn't
walk up the stairs. I sat there with books spread out in front of me
feeling utterly alone, like my whole world had been turned upside
down, which it had.
enjoyed three years away from him - from I was aged nine to thirteen
years old. Then one day a woman knocked at the front door of my
mother's house and everything changed. She was there to see if we
would come visit him because he was in a 'bad way' with depression.
His girlfriend had left him for another man, taking his other two
children with her off to Scotland.
woman brought us to visit him in the same house we had lived for many
years. It was now very dirty, with crusty used dishes all around the
kitchen. We were offered bowls of cereal, but had to give them back
because there were tiny black beetles crawling in them.
explored the house while waiting for him to get home. The only
bedroom with an actual bed had it placed in the middle of the room
surrounded by tiny clay figurines. There wasn't even a pathway to the
bed. We giggled, wondering did he do a long jump over the pottery at
night. When he arrived home, he stood at the fireplace looking down
at us all neatly arranged on the sofa.
those years away from him I had remade him into a fairytale father, a
protector. I had learnt a lot about how fathers were supposed to be
from the TV. 'Little House on the Prairie' and 'The Waltons' were my
biggest influence. I thought that I could tell him now how he had
gotten it all wrong. I could teach him how he was meant to be. I
watched the show 'Surprise Surprise', in which long lost relatives
were reunited, and wished that my daddy would arrange to be reunited
with me. I never lost the hope that deep down he really loved me, and
if he could just spend some time with me he would treat me like a
real daddy should.
stood in front of the fire looking down at us, and I sat there mute.
He asked us each questions, one by one, and as he zoomed in on me I
suddenly thought my skirt was too short. I shyly tried to make it
cover my knees, and this made him stare even more, so I gave up. No
matter what, I will make him love me properly, I thought. I had
been restocked with hope, and felt that it would be different this
watched him, throughout that initial visit, get stronger and
stronger. He started to stand up straighter and stick his chest out.
I felt like our love would help him be happy again. This woman, the
do-gooder, wanted to rescue him, yet had only succeeded in putting us
all in harm’s way – especially him. He was in no mental state to
be anywhere near children.
time away from him I had passed the 11+ exam and gotten into a good
grammar school that I loved. I had a brand new bottle green uniform
with an A-line skirt, and a long woollen coat that nearly went down
to my feet. That coat had been the most expensive one on the list.
first day of school we were told that we as young ladies were the
future. We were important. The teachers' jobs were to help us succeed
in life. The principal very quickly became my hero. I had never met a
woman like that before. She was strong, and also kind at the same
time. She was old fashioned in her clothes, but everything she said
was modern. I was used to women who were afraid all the time, and
either helpless and manic like my mother, or helpless and aggressive
like my father's last girlfriend.
whole of that first year of school was full of adventure and fun. We
eleven year old girls got along well. Most of us liked the boy band
'Bros' and discussed at length all the reasons why they were so
beautiful and cool. As we went from second, and then to third year,
that harmony persisted, with minor scuffles as tastes changed. No
matter what was going on I felt like I was part of something bigger
than myself. We were always reminded that we young women were being
educated to make the world a better place.
very good at Art, Irish, English and Biology. The Art teacher was one
of the first adults to ever talk to me casually. One day we happened
to be walking in the same direction and she asked me how I felt about
being the only girl named ‘Aoife’ in the school. She said that
when she was at school she was the only girl called Isobel and it
made her feel special. I thought about it for a few seconds and
agreed that it was better to take it as being special rather than the
odd one out. I told her that all through primary school the teachers
always spelled and pronounced my name wrongly and it was annoying.
She said that the same thing had happened to her.
bullied by older girls for the first two years, and at one point the
bullying even grew to another school. People I didn't even know were
snickering at me on the bus. When some derogatory graffiti was found
I was called to the principal's office. This was the first time she
and I had spoken one-to-one, and she took me under her wing, telling
me she was going to personally make sure that all the bullying
stopped, and it did.
mother said she was sure the girls' parents were to blame. It had
started the first week of first year with some girls who lived near
us calling me the nickname they had for my mother because of her
bi-polar high episodes. My mother often made 'scenes' in public
places in the name of her art or a political statement. These things
had only happened when we weren't in contact with her. She had ended
up in hospital a few times, but had been stable for a few years at
that point, and we clung to the hope that those days were behind us.
scoring top of a music test I won free lessons in the cello. In the
test there had been a Beatles song in which we had to pick out all
the different instruments being played, and I was the only one in
class to catch them all.
in love with the sound of the cello the first time I heard it. Having
grown up around traditional musicians, always playing so fast and
aggressively, I felt removed from making music. I didn't want to get
lost in that mayhem. The cello was different – it was watery, deep
and slow. It was the sound of my interior world - a place of caves,
shells and mermaids.
the big instrument on and off the school bus wasn't easy, and the
bridge was always being knocked off. Yet, having this unearthly new
sound in my life seemed to be making me more whole. I was becoming
confident – a strong, cello-playing, beauty-making young woman. Up
until then I had felt fat, ugly and worthless. My self-image was so
torn and distorted I could barely look in the mirror. All that
changed as I played the cello, had friends and teachers who liked me,
and was safe in my clean bed at night.
came back it was a slow and steady eruption of poison that, bit by
bit, seeped into every little part of that new life. My brothers and
I became increasingly violent towards each other, my mother began to
unhinge, and then one day she ran away. Those three years had been
the longest time she had managed to stay with us. We knew only too
well what it felt to be motherless, so having her all to ourselves
had been precious.
afternoon we came home from school to her house and the lights
weren't on. The key was under the mat, so we went in and, because
there was no food cooked, we just went to bed. My stomach began
hurting so badly that I was writhing about the bed in agony. My body
knew what was happening, but my mind refused to accept it.
we decided to go the neighbour’s house to phone my father. I was
not afraid of the dark so I went. I walked down the hawthorn lane in
the pitch black. Most of my friends were afraid of the dark and I
always thought it so silly. Human beings were the only thing to be
afraid of. The dark was safe - filled with bats and owls, rabbits and
cows. They had more important things to be doing than going after me.
long walk, step by careful step, all the time avoiding pot holes, was
a walk into an dark future. I knew it, and I didn't understand why my
stomach wouldn't just calm down. My brothers and I had agreed that it
would be possible to stay in the house on our own, without telling
any adults. There was food in the cupboards, so we could have cooked
things to eat. We could have gotten the bus to school in the morning
and no one would have known anything was different.
all wishful thinking. My stomach knew that us going back to live with
my father had become an inevitability. He had been on his best
behaviour, and my mother had said that he was manipulating everything
in order to get her to crack and then get us back. If so, it had
worked. She left, so we went back to live with him.
in me wanted to go back into that same bedroom in my father's house.
It was the room in which I had spent the first nine years of my life,
and it felt like a dungeon. But I had no choice.
first weeks contained a jumble of emotions. Glimpses of terrible
memories turned into floods. I caught him looking at my body, then he
quickly looked away. He referred back to how I had looked when I was
a little girl and it made me very uncomfortable, like I wanted to
scratch all the way out of my skin.
hope was still alive. At school we spent a lot of time singing and
talking about Jesus, Our Lady and God. Neither of my parents were
religious, and were often very condemning of it, but I loved it. We
were bound together by cords of love, so I chose to love my daddy. I
wanted to love him back to being normal. Maybe things will be
different this time, I thought.
swirled about in a mess of memory, hope, fear and desperation for
many weeks in that wee room. In his house I had to get three buses to
school, which meant waking up at 7 am, and that felt shocking.
were new girls from my school to get to know on the bus. The ones my
age were mostly hard, townie girls who, being the first pick-up, sat
at the back of the bus verbally abusing everyone who got on after
them. I was afraid of these girls at first, but after getting into a
vicious fight with the leader, I became one of them. We mostly
shouted at protestant boys, and one in particular with ginger hair
and a hearing-aid. This simple fact of sitting at the back of the bus
gave our gang free reign to bully all those people with their backs
final bus I was on my own again and came to enjoy the time looking
out the window at other people's lives. The bus passed through the
many housing estates and roundabouts of my area. I read the graffiti
and watched people. I observed their posture and imagined what they
were feeing. Some people were very rigid and straight. Some, like me,
were bent over. Some were bouncy, and their arms hung loose – they
were the rare happy people. I saw mostly fear in the passers-by, and
I felt that same fear deep in my own body.
was very young I had developed the ritual of saying a prayer for any
dead animals I saw along the road. At the end of my mother's lane
there were often perfect little hedgehogs squashed flat, or dead
badgers and foxes. I said a Hail Mary for them all individually, and
wished their souls to be peaceful in heaven.
habit became all the more potent after my own cats, who lived with my
mother, were knocked down on that same road. She buried all the road
kill cats in the 'cat graveyard'. It was a hidden place, behind a big
mound covered in nettles, and under a Hawthorn and an Elder tree.
Animals had always been so easy for me to relate to. I was very
grateful to them, and in their death I honoured every individual
watched the people from my seat on the bus I began to say prayers for
them too. I wished for their backs to straighten, their faces to
soften and their arms to relax. I also said prayers for the boy with
the hearing-aid, and in my mind I apologised to him for being a
cello was gone within a week of our arrival at my father's house. The
school said it would get too damaged on all the bus connections. They
asked was there no way someone could pick me up once a week. I asked
my father and the answer was, 'No'. So, I gave the cello back and
felt its human-sized loss.
I came home from school and heard my father calling my name from
upstairs. Straight away I knew something was about to happen. I had
just come home from a very good day at school. Although not all the
teachers were nice, some were so nice I felt blessed to be anywhere
near them. The Art, Irish and English Language teachers were the
best. They really loved us and we could all feel it. We lapped it up
like puppies. They twinkled at us when we did good things, and were
kind and stern when we didn't, but never, ever did they make us feel
like we were stupid or less than them.
called my name again and I started walking up the stairs. He was
waiting in his bedroom, and I felt a kind of relief that one part of
me was being proven right – that all of his good behaviour was
actually leading to this, and now I knew where I stood. For weeks I
had been toing and froing between thinking I was being a horrible,
suspicious daughter, to thinking I was wise.
mind, I began to say over and over again what I had rehearsed in
preparation of this moment: No, I am a young lady, I am the
future, I am important. This is who I am. I am not who you want me to
be. I am not!
into his room and he was lying on the bed beckoning me. I took a deep
breath and said out loud, 'You are not allowed to do that to me any
face was blank, so I said it again 'No, you are not allowed to do
that to me anymore.'
up slowly, and I backed up out of the room. His was tone escalating
as he repeated over and over again, 'What did you say? What did you
say?'. I tried to stand tall and just kept backing up, until there
was no more ground to stand on. His face was red and shaking, and the
red rims around his eyes were nearly black. 'What did you say?', he
spat at me.
pushed me. I fell backwards down the stairs, in a fraction of a
second. I couldn't believe it. I thought, surely that didn't
happen. Surely I am still standing up there at the top. Falling
and falling, my body twisting and banging. A loose nail ripping my
knee. My legs like bent wire going the wrong way. My neck, my elbows.
loud buzzing like the TV and hoover all on at once filled my head. My
leg was twisted behind me. Someone stepped over my body. There was a
wet feeling on both knees. I couldn't see or move, so just felt my
breathing and listened to the buzzing. Everything had stopped moving
on the outside, but inside my body felt like car crashes every
second. It felt like a very long time. I wanted to sleep, but the
pain was keeping me awake. Finally, I could make out a shadow sitting
on the chair by the phone.
came the sweet sound of my brothers, talking as they opened the back
door, and the shift in their tone to panic. They were telling the
shadow by the phone to call an ambulance, and he did. The kind
ambulance people helped me. I was so glad to see their uniforms and
hear their unfamiliar voices. I relaxed then and fell asleep.
up in hospital with casts on different parts of my body. My knees
were the worst. It felt like I was floating most of the time. I
didn't know how to talk anymore. I was just slightly there in the
hospital. Most of me was somewhere completely different – in a
world of angels and clouds. I was light and pain-free in the other
place. It felt calm, and there was no fear. Whenever I came back into
my broken body everything was throbbing and aching.
wondered was I supposed to be dead, or maybe I was dying. Every time
I chose to come back into my body the dawning realisation that he had
tried to kill me, that he actually wanted me dead, became more
solidified. My daddy tried to kill me, was the record playing
over and over in my mind. Since I had awoken in the hospital I hadn't
seen him. I wondered did he tell the police on himself, and maybe
gone to jail. Maybe it was over now.
came to visit, and I felt the old familiar body-stiffening happen
again for the first time in years. I had forgotten what this feeling
was like – a paralysis and inner shivering. I had felt like this in
his presence from age four to ten years. My whole body was numb, like
a deer in headlights.
walked up to my bed, leaned over me and said, 'I will kill you if you
tell anyone. I will kill you. You tripped on the carpet. There was
this wee bit of carpet I meant to get fixed, and you tripped on it
because you weren't looking where you were going'.
did somersaults of fear as he breathed close to my face with those
words. I was back in his grip again, and floods of memory poured into
my mind. All those years of pain. A complete absence of kindness.
Only fear. Only horror. This is your daddy, Aoife, I thought.
Stop pretending he is any different.
hasn't started speaking yet', a nurse said to him. When he looked at
her I could see that she was shaking. He related the story about the
his visit the nurses looked at me with an expression I became very
familiar with from other people in the years to come. Their faces
said, 'I am sorry for your trouble, but I cannot help you'. Their
fear dug my tomb even deeper.
neck brace came off and I was sent home. My arms were healing and it
was just the knees that were a concern. I spent weeks in bed, in that
same bedroom, right next to his. The room had different wallpaper
since I had lived there before. The new one was woodchip, and I
picked at it down by the edge of the bed, where no one could see. I
picked and picked as the hours rolled by. Waiting, praying,
a lot of time floating about like I had done in the hospital. My mind
moved from waking, to dreaming, to imagination, as my body got on
with the serious business of healing. On one long day, with sunshine
coming through the window, an angel visited me in response to my
urgent prayers about my knees.
doctors had said it was unlikely the kneecaps would restore properly,
and couldn't say whether or not I would walk again. My mother's
sister had been in a wheelchair since she was a teenager and I really
didn't want that to happen to me. On the few occasions he had come
into my room, my father had mentioned this aunt, and it made me think
that he would love to have me stuck in that house, completely under
couldn't see the angel as a person sitting next to me, but in my mind
I could sense him with a glow of blue light. He said that he would
heal my knees for good, and that I had nothing to be worried about. I
was so afraid of everything that I didn't really trust him, but I
told him to go on ahead. What did I have to lose?
doctors said it was a miracle when my knees straightened out, and
they told me I would walk again. I thought to myself that some
people, or angels, really were trustworthy, and I needed to be able
to know the difference.
was the next step. I got to meet lots of people of all different
ages. We were all part of the same team, trying to get better and
stronger. Even though I made it to only a few sessions, and it was
terribly difficult, I knew something special was happening to me
there. People cared about me just because I was alive. They didn't
know who I was, or what had really happened to me, they just wanted
to help me and cheer me up.
could walk again, my mother came back into the picture, and it was
decided I would go back to live with her. My father wanted nothing
more to do with me, which was an enormous relief.
mother lived in the countryside with my half-brother, who was then
just three years old. She had been living in her home place, the
house my farmer grandfather had built, since I could remember. It was
a bungalow, with lots of outbuildings from old dwellings. Acres of
luscious green fields for dairy cattle were boundaried by hedgerows,
and down at the back of the house was 'The Moss', a heather bogland
area with patches of woodland. This wild area linked all the houses
along two parallel roads.
cutting had mostly stopped at this point, and The Moss was used by
locals for walks and pheasant shooting. It was a mysterious place,
with birch and rowan trees, old dusty turf pathways, and dark water
drains full of damselflies and clouds of midges in the summer. It led
down to the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Ireland. The
shallow edges of the lake were perfect for swimming and skimming
worth all the pain in my body to be back there again. Eventually I
started back to school with crutches. Walking down the lane to get
the school bus was the most difficult part, but if I left enough time
I could do it step by step. I managed the stairs at school with the
help of friends. I was just so glad to be back to normal again –
talking, laughing and being myself.