Visiting the Girl
Memoir of Healing Trauma
Imagination and Meditation
By Aoife Valley
Aoife Valley 2017
work is licensed under a
Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
present and future,
safe and free.
Table of Contents
1 The Holly Tree
2 The Stairs
4 Black Eyeliner
5 Paisley Blouse
6 Pink Sunset
For so 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 lovely, 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, and felt guilty
that this long-imagined memoir wasn't finding its way into their
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 pastel
shades. It was another lined notebook. The woman 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.
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 Western Buddhist meditation I was trained in
'imagination' was viewed as something untrustworthy. The teaching was
delivered within the reductionist scientific view that if you can't
measure it, or see it, it isn't happening.
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. Imaginings or memories were seen as old 'rubbish' to simply feel
clear-sighted awareness had healed me enormously and brought great
stability to my life. I valued it dearly, yet that morning something
bigger was calling me to engage my imagination. So, that is what I
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 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 Western Buddhism. I still
meditated every single day, and expect to for the rest of my life,
but I also began 'visiting the girl' when I needed to.
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
visits I allowed the healing process to arise naturally, and simply
documented it. There was no force or control. I knew from experience
that, in an atmosphere of safety, and kind, alert, awareness, my
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
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 poetic, noble
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
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
Chapter 1 - THE HOLLY TREE
0 - 9
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 like I was going to vomit,
so 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'.
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 by.
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. When 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 when 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
my bed, and I took it out later on and threw it in the fire
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. 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. 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 in my belly and shoulders. But the
amnesia was so strong that each time it was a shock as brutal as the
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 listened to what I said. With them I was important.
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 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 he left 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 and back I was scared, but it got
easier. It was worth the walk to experience being weightless, and
feel the water flowing over my skin. The pool warmed me up and held
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'.
singer Stevie Wonder had a big impact on me. I imagined having a
daddy like him who would ring me on the phone to sing the song 'I
Just Called to Say I love You' to me. His songs made me feel better.
Any little inkling that there was love and joy 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. 76
was also the year the estate was launched and my parents moved in.
Miles of countryside had been bulldozed to build this vast expanse of
Catholic and Protestant housing, not far from Lough Neagh, the
largest lake in Ireland.
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. My
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.
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 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 coming down with houseplants too. Every windowsill was
covered in pot plants of all different kinds. When I hated him the
most I felt betrayed by those plants. I couldn't understand why they
didn't wilt like I did when he came near them.
and animals felt as alive to me as people. Just before I had started
primary school we went 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 and joy. 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
later, when I came back to live in that house again as a teenager, I
did wonder was it the plants that had stopped him from killing me
once and for all. I wondered did the deep, velvety, generosity of the
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.
Chapter 2 - THE STAIRS
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.
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, obviously wanted to rescue him, yet had no concern for how
her mission would affect us 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.
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.
went from second, and then to third year, that harmony persisted,
with minor scuffles as musical 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. My mother said that she was sure the
girls' parents were to blame for it. It had started the first week of
the 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, and we clung to the
hope that those days were behind us.
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.
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 had always felt removed from making music. I didn't
want to get lost in their 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 just went to bed. After a while my stomach
began hurting so badly that I was writhing about the bed in agony. My
body knew what was happening, but my mind was refusing to accept it.
we all decided it was best to go the neighbour’s house to phone my
father. I was not afraid of the dark, so I went.
down the hawthorn lane in the pitch black I thought of my friends who
were afraid of the dark. I thought that fear so silly. Human beings
were the only thing to be afraid of. The dark was safe - filled with
bats and owls, rabbits and cows. Animals had more important things to
be doing than bothering us.
long walk, step by careful step, all the time avoiding pot holes, was
a walk into a 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 we 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 up, 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 the bedroom in which I had spent the
first nine years of my life. It felt like entering 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, and
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 room. In his house I had to get three buses to
school, which meant waking up at 7 am.
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
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', which 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. I was very grateful to them,
and in their death I honoured every soul.
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 apologised to him for being a bully.
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 girls and we could 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 a horrible,
suspicious daughter, to thinking I was seeing things clearly.
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
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
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. But I was
falling and falling, my body twisting and banging, a loose nail
ripped my knee, my legs like bent wire going the wrong way, my neck,
my elbows. Then silence.
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 space 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
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, so
wondered did he tell the police on himself and maybe had 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. My whole body was
frozen, 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 started shaking. He related the story about
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 new woodchip wallpaper,
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 his control.
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 and hear his voice. 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, where I met 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 twenty miles away from my father, in the countryside,
with my half-brother, who was then just three years old. She had been
living in the house my grandfather had built since I could remember.
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 that point, and The Moss was just used
by locals for walks and pheasant shooting. It was a mysterious place,
with Birch, Rowan and fruit trees, old dusty turf pathways, and dark
water drains full of damselflies in the summer. It led down to the
shores of Lough Neagh, the shallow edges of which were perfect for
swimming and skimming stones.
the years my mother had kept goats, ducks, hens, numerous cats and
one dog. At that stage she only had hens and ducks. It was worth all
the pain in my body to be back there, and I soon started school again
with the help of crutches.
down the lane to get the bus was difficult, but if I left enough time
I could do it step by step. I managed the stairs at school with the
help of friends, and was just so glad to be back to normal again –
talking, laughing and being myself.
I was at home lying on the new blue sofa in the living room. My
mother was walking about from room to room, cleaning and tidying.
There was an easy harmony between us, a girl-love. In between her
manic and depressive states she was the loveliest person in the
world. She walked past and touched my hand, held it for a wee
squeeze, then let it go. I felt safe and protected.
passed by again, I built up the courage to tell her what had really
happened, although I suspected she already knew. I said, 'He pushed
me down the stairs because I told him he wasn't allowed to do that to
me any more'.
looked at her closely, imploringly, as she stood still and frozen.
Then, after a few seconds, she walked out of the room and closed the
door, never mentioning it again.
I had done something wrong. I knew I had spoiled everything. I went
to school a few days later, and the weight of what was about to
happen had gotten so heavy I couldn't make it up the stairs. I was
allowed to sit in the senior dining room with my books. My friends
were to come down to me after class to tell me what the homework was.
there, hour after hour, still and silent, waiting for the inevitable
bomb to go off. I went home that day and the house was locked. Her
car was gone. I looked everywhere, but the key wasn't there. She had
left me again. I looked again, but there still was no key. I thought
about sleeping in one of the outhouses, but I would die of cold. I
thought about telling the social worker, but he had said he would
kill me if I told anyone.
didn't she just leave the key?, I thought as I sat down and
cried. When it got so cold that my legs were throbbing I walked down
the lane to the neighbour's house and called my father.
being beside her has taught me a lot. I feel her nobility mostly, and
the strength of her awareness.
paralysis in the face of a future filled with such horrors is
understandable, but that future has already played out. It has
already happened. She cannot sit here like this forever.