We argue over homework, or more precisely, handwriting. Every Sunday she must copy a long list of words using cursive handwriting. Her need for control is so great that she employs her own letter formations which renders her writing barely legible. She refuses even to follow lines and margins. The words float around the boxes, some large and bubbly, some tight and cramped. She uses a blunt pencil and a rubber which doesn’t rub. The page looks awful but I forget that in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t important.
‘Come on, you can do better than that?’ I say unkindly, ‘you’re supposed to copy the words properly. The ‘t’s should have a flick on the end.’
‘That’s not how I do ‘t’s,’ she shouts.
‘Well that’s how you should do them,’ I retort, like a head prefect from an Enid Blyton story.
‘I don’t care.’
And on we go until pencil, rubber and workbook are thrown and child is head in hands, despairing.
‘I am a dummy. I am a bad girl.
She pinches the back of her hands and slaps her head. I am stopped in my tracks. I try to comfort her and tell her everything is alright and I am sorry. She puts her fingers in her ears and rolls up into a ball. She is unreachable.
I back off and sit nearby.
She has lived for the most part in the dark shadows of her elder brother’s more obvious trauma. Where he has shouted and raged, she has hidden behind smiles and compliancy. After several years of mind-blowing behaviours, her brother has recently calmed and the clouds have parted. Difficult and frightening as the past few years have been for her, there has been a simplicity to it. He is the bad one, I am the good one. The roles have been clear. And whilst the focus has been on his pain, hers has been buried and protected. The rug has been pulled from under her and now her pain and shame is out there, and it hurts.
Later that morning I come across a small piece of paper. On it, scribbled in scratchy green ink is a raggedy face with messy hair, an upturned mouth and big eyes full to overflowing with tears. Next to the little face is written,
‘I AM STUPID I HATE ME!’
She is telling me it is her turn now and she needs me to be strong enough to journey with her.