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Not Another One

Not Another One At a time when child sex abuse in Scotland is once again in the headlines, we have this powerful piece from WEA Women@Work Local Network Coordinator, Orla Broderick.

Look away, turn away. Close the screen, throw away the newspaper. Another group of women share a history of oppression and shame. It's banal, it's commonplace, it's sigh-worthy. It's 'oh no, here we go again.'

Dismiss me any way you can, remove me from your radar, your social chat, your mind, your consciousness. We read this last week, last year - a hundred years ago.

At seventeen I demanded conversations about what abuse was and what my family knew about it. Thirty years later (almost) I am still asking the same questions. Nothing has changed. My class mates are the latest to join in the anthem of suffering. The once-silent ones standing with the not so silent ones. I was rarely quiet about the state of affairs in the boarding school I attended. I'm fairly sure almost everyone I've had even a passing meeting with has been aware that I considered my boarding school a hell hole and an abomination.

Close friends know why I am terrified of nuns and choirs. If our mothers spoke we could join the dots to where it all started, how it was perpetuated. But many of our mothers still refuse to admit that they knew we were being raped, groped or hurt. Before they were our mothers, they were daughters. They were raped, groped, silenced daughters, just like us.  My mother dismissed my abuse claims with the phrase "never mind that one, she has a great imagination". This was a common cliché. I heard my grandmothers say the same of her. Our mothers spoke over us, denying our truth, burying our voices. That was their job. It was what they were taught to do, encouraged, forced, to do.  Take your eyes from these words, don't read on. It's the same old story told over and over and over again.

"I threw a snowball and slipped on the ice, ended up with my leg in a cast and a bed in the junior dorm, under the eye of a young orange haired nun with immense breasts. The night she put her hand under my duvet I nearly broke her wrist. She was a big thing and she had a pal, another young nun who was all creepy-cuddly. They frustrated and annoyed me, always watching me, always standing too close. I stole from their pockets, their lockers, their larders. I used their phone. I drank their wine. I took up smoking, drinking, mitching, thieving. I acted up, acted out, spoke out of turn. I stomped and ranted.

The young nuns were reprimanded and we seniors were given rooms to share. Away from their glare, I had boyfriends in several towns and villages around rural Ireland and a large bottle of Bulmers waiting in many bars. I went where I wanted, did as I pleased. No one cared." This is my own true voice. This is my memory. My family refuse to believe this memory of mine is real. They tell me I made it up. That I have a great imagination.  All these old yarns have pain and suffering sewn into the fabric of us. It's the thread that binds. We try to buy it away with pretty things or watch it away with terrible telly. But it's in the breaths we take when we are alone. The pain is the truth we dare not tell, the not daring tell is the pain. Round and ever round. On and ever on. The hardest thing for me to accept was that my father did nothing. I was disappointed in men by the time I was eighteen.

At twenty I began to believe he wasn't my dad at all, because he hadn't spoken about the hell hole. I saw Irish men as weak. They were the only ones who could have stopped the priests from groping their daughters. But they didn't. My mother and I argued like bitches. We fought wars about abuse, patterns, priests and the like. She told the world I was a liar. In secret she said I deserved it. Scoil Muire Gan Smál was another one. Just another catholic boarding school with a long shadow. Just one more isolated religious establishment with a a paedo priest and his willing nuns.  And now, just one more group of women are sharing their memories, swapping the small remembrances, offering each other a bit of love and space to say aye, we were there too. It happened. You are not alone. You lived. I am here too.

Orla's novel, The January Flower, was long listed for the Polari First Book Award 2013. In 2014, she won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award. Orla lives in Findhorn.

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