Pearl, Amy and I, we were three girl children. One year and seven months lay between Pearl and Amy, one year and three months between Amy and myself. We had a fierce Scottish mother and a loving, funny father who had no backbone where Mum was concerned. He would take her word as gospel and woe betide you if you crossed her.
We shared clothes and hair ribbons, we shared hope and fear but most of all we shared sisterhood. We picked each other up and chased away bad dreams. We held hands and prayed. We prayed for God to make us strong and good. Most of all I prayed in hope that I could make Mum be kind and Pearl be good and not antagonise her.
We went to church, sang in the choir, and picked up litter from the churchyard but still it was not enough; he wasn’t listening. I never questioned his whereabouts or thought for a minute that he, the mighty the one God wasn’t there. I tried to compensate for being the wrong fit, the not pretty enough, not tall enough or a clever enough daughter. By being good, honest and kind I would one day fit or so I thought.
I tried to fit in but I just could not grasp the correct formula. Amy, she was in the middle (at the moment there are three sisters) she fitted somewhat better than us. Mum liked her femininity, her curls and big green eyes that were so like mums own. Amy hated that she was held up as the prettiest, the best daughter. We did not know that Amy hated how mum separated her from us. By putting her forward as a mummy’s girl, she had created a division. And so the separators were in place, we were played one off against the other, subtly, secretly and cleverly.
Pearl the naughty girl that lied constantly, Amy the perfect became a stick to beat us with . Me I was plain, short, greedy, timid and always trying to be the go-between, the peace keeper. The sister who made them laugh, who covered everything up with a smile. A storyteller that was me, the person who bought fun amidst the rigid rules.
I have learned through my mother’s parenting style, if you tell someone they are bad often enough; they will be. If an adult tells a child they are the prettiest, loveliest, most elegant girl in the world, eventually, they believe it, becoming vain and precocious. When your mother tells you that you’re plain and inferior, worthless, greedy and in the way; you simply believe it.
One cold November morning there were four girls, Lorna was the youngest next to my third place, she was fourth. Seven years younger than me, born with a collapsed lung she was a frail weakling. Lorna was not to be allowed to cry, and because of age and size did not have to go to school. Most of all we were told Lorna was special, Lorna was planned and wanted. As another separator was slotted into place I was even further away from where I thought I should be.
From my seven-year-old eyes, someone had arrived that I had not known was coming, nor did I understand that she would stay. Lorna was loved and carried everywhere, she stayed home and was wanted. What could I do now? Where on earth did I fit? I wasn’t the worst or the best or the newest, I wasn’t even the littlest any more. Now we are defined by the separators, naughty girl, good girl, the wrong fit and wanted girl. As we grew we fought and loved each other and unknowingly, separately we tried to alter our labels.
Lorna grew strong we became good friends, I protected her, not like Pearl did me, but like a sister does. I could, by playing with Lorna, play with her toys, which I had been told I was too big to play with when she was born. My childhood was rescued somewhat by keeping Lorna quiet and taking her for walks when I was home from school.
When I was eleven Lorna started school and was obviously occupied on weekdays, Pearl now fourteen was feeling her feet more than usual. Both Amy and Pearl found boys and fashion, dances and youth clubs, they went to school, clubs, and everywhere together. My role was babysitter and cook except when Dad was home, then it was my place to lay the table and do the dishes, because that was when Mother cooked. Pearl was little Mum, overseeing our hair and uniforms, making sure we got to school and had lunch, Amy and Pearl did the cleaning between them.
Mother had taken to meeting Dad at the door with a list of misdemeanours, ones that we had already been punished for. I can’t say what happened in other rooms but Dad would come in, wink, ask in a loud voice if I had answered back, spilt juice, or whatever I had supposedly done wrong, then would crack the belt on the bed and I would squeal. The ritual would happen in the room shared by Amy and Pearl also.
Friends of mine talked of chores, I remember thinking they had it so easy. One night I had homework which didn’t happen often, but Mum wouldn’t allow me to do it as I had vegetables to peel. Pearl got mad and told her “I will do dinner tonight, she has a test in the morning”. Pearl felt Mothers wrath, this time she grabbed at the hands that scratched and slapped her. That day the one where Pearl fought back was when I finally could see what Mum was doing.
Teenage years were hell in our house. Pearl didn’t see the boundaries as I did, I think the word meant something different to her. I would walk up to them, not too close and weigh them up, making sure I knew how far I could safely go. Pearl, however, thought a boundary was a test of how high she could jump; how far she could go. Amy didn’t seem to have any, or if she did, they were different. And so our world, as if it wasn’t hard enough progressed, separators intact.
© 2016, Ellen Best. All rights reserved.
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