I dreamt about one of my other sisters last night, Mary. She is the second oldest sister. She was the Golden Child. When I look back on the way that she was, the choices she made, I can see that a lot of her behaviors and choices were driven by fear and a tonne of guilt.
The Chocolate Chip Incident
We were 8 (me), 9 (Jessi), 12 (Mary) and 14 (Iona). Our mother liked to bake. She liked to bake on Sunday afternoons for our lunch boxes throughout the coming week. One of her most famous baked goods were her Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. Kids at school would swap packets of chips or Twisties for one of those cookies. They were good.
Over a period of a couple of months, every time Eileen went to bake these cookies, she went to the freezer only to find that someone had eaten some of the chocolate chips. Again. Every weekend, weekend after weekend, the same thing. Maureen was getting increasingly angry, demanding to know who had been eating the chocolate chips. No one would own up to it and she would fume for a few hours until wine o’clock.
Then one Sunday, she had had enough. We are all at home that day and this time, someone had eaten all of the chocolate chips. She lined us up in her bedroom and threatened to beat us with the buckle end of her belt if the guilty person didn’t fess up. Now. One by one she whipped our naked legs with the soft end of that belt and pushed her red, possessed face into ours, seething “Did you do it?" Whack! "Tell me who did it?” Whack! Whack! Whack!.
We were terrified. There was no defiance in the room that day.
When nobody claimed responsibility, she told us that she would leave the room for five minutes. When she came back, the culprit had better step forward or she would beat a confession out of us with the buckle end of the belt.
When she left us alone we all begged each other, accused each other, pleaded with each other to own up. Nobody would. I can’t remember who suggested it first but soon my sisters were begging me to say that I had done it. But I didn’t do it I said, it wasn’t me. They begged me to say that I had done it anyway. They said she wouldn’t hurt me as much as she would hurt any one of them. It was true. At the time, I was still “the baby”. She hurt me in other, more devastating ways but not with beatings, yet.
So I did it. When she came back into her bedroom I looked up at her with the cutest, big eyed, little girl face I could muster and said “Mummy, I did it”. I can still see the demented smile that descended upon her face. She didn’t buy it. She whispered, white hot and deep, “Get. Out. I know it wasn’t you.”
My sisters started wimpering and keening as she pushed me out of the room and closed the door, “no! no!” I begged, “please Mummy, I did it! I did it! please Mummy no!”
No one owned up that day. I listened to my sisters screams as the belt landed whoosh, crack, whoosh, crack again and again on their cowering backs.
For years after, my sisters silently blamed me, blamed each other. More than once Jessi tried to beat a confession out of me. I was the only chubby one in our family then so it did add up.
Iona was beaten so savagely that day that her back bled. It bled through her shirt at school the next day. I learned years later that her sports teacher had noticed the blood and told Iona that he would have to call child protection. She told him what had happened and begged him not to report us. He never did.
It was around this time, not long after, that boys started driving past our house at all hours of the night jeering “groana” out of their hoon car windows. Many years later I would learn that they did that to frighten and humiliate my big sister into silence. “Groana” was the sound that she had made when they were raping her. Our mother was furious. With Iona.
Many years later, when we were all adults, Eileen had already been living in England for many years and we sisters were having Christmas at Mary’s house. Mary was the only one of us who had had any kind of financial success by that time. This kind of gave her a certain level of power over us, that and her closeness with Eileen. She also lent us all money from time to time and when she was in the right frame of mind she could be a very kind, supportive, lovely sister.
That Christmas Day we had all been eating and drinking for a few hours, we were in the kitchen telling funny stories from when we were kids when Mary said, “What about the chocolate chips? Do you remember the chocolate chips?” I stopped breathing for a few seconds. “I did it” she laughed. “It was me”.