The first time I felt the crack of the whip against my skin, I was seven years old. I’d only been in the orphanage a week, and I was heartbroken. I wasn’t eating, I didn’t understand why we had to pray all the time. I didn’t understand why I had to share the long dorm with all the other girls, I missed my parents, I missed my bother – I missed my life.
Did I mention I was basically a baby? Seven years old. I looked at the little ones that come in at seven, and younger now and I don’t know how I survived. Taken from being nurtured and loved and spoiled even, from a family I loved, to a place that was dark and cold.
The nuns, they were inpatient with the smaller children, well they were by nature it seemed impatient with everyone, but more so with the little ones. Since my stubborn streak hadn’t quite been broken at that point, the whipping happened at the hands of Sister Geraldine, the most slap happy of all the nuns, since I refused to leave my bed one morning. I’d cried myself to sleep every night that week and I’d more than likely made myself ill with exhaustion. This of course wouldn’t be tolerated.
I remember the sound of her shoes walking down the tiled floor of the dorm, I remember the gush of air as she stopped. Her veil catching up with her speed as she stood in front of my bed.
She ordered me to get out.
I ignored her. All I wanted was my mommy and a hug, instead I got this ogre.
She slapped my legs and yanked me to sit up, and I still wouldn’t look at her or answer her questions as to why I was being a lazy useless lump. I cried as she told me that it wasn’t to be tolerated, Icried even harder when she took me by my little arm and dragged me down the dorm, down the stairwell of what seemed to be a million steps, and through the corridor to her office.
It was there she asked me again why I was being a nuance. I was seven, I didn’t even know what a nuance was.
When I failed to answer her again, that’s when she produced the whip. ‘The Whip’ had two forms, one was a half a metre long skinny piece of bamboo with a sharp edge and a leather handle. The second was a long narrow brown piece of leather, weathered by age but strong and sharp. The bamboo would leave welts and cuts were as the belt just left the massive sores that never seemed to fully heal.
My first beating hadn’t been my worst to date, but it had been the day any remnants of my childhood disappeared From then on I began to learn to hide what I was feeling, out of fear of it being discovered and used against me. All I’d have to do is remember my mother’s laugh or how it felt when my daddy pushed me on the swings, I’d slap on the best fake smile I could muster and bury myself in a good memory.
Sadly, the day Eric told me he was leaving to go with Fr Brigant I couldn’t lie to myself and I let it all come pouring out of me. Of course this is when she struck, she knew she’d seen a chink in the armour and she went for it. I remember Eric storming out. I remember grabbing my books and following him, I could barely see through my tears but I found him red faced from his anger and tears in his eyes.
“Why do they let her away with this. I mean they all know she is this way and yet they do nothing?” he said facing the wall rather than facing me.
“I don’t know. I really don’t. she’s their superior it’s not like they can tell the higher ups? She can do what she wants with us because no one wants us, no one cares Eric, so she’d be within her rights I guess”
“That’s not fair. And she shouldn’t have said those things to you.”
“I know.” I nodded finally, taking a deep breath I put my metaphorical big girl pants on and stepped closer to Eric. “And I know you have to go. You’re right, there is nothing here for you and out there it’ll give you a shot and figuring out who you’re meant to be, and that can’t be a bad thing right? So, go and don’t worry about me.”
“But I do worry Sook. I hate the idea of you being here alone, with THAT.” he gestured towards the school.
“There isn’t just her, the others aren’t that bad and who knows what might happen” I knew I was still owed my whipping at that point that’s for sure. “I need to live my life on my own Eric. And I need to grow up, and I can’t do that with you always around to protect me now can I?”
“But I like protecting you.” he smiled.
“Yeah? Well now it’s your job to go out there and help those people who need it more than I do. It’ll be hard but just…Pray.”
“Pray? It’s that easy?”
“I find it is. When I feel lost or sad or scared, I just pray or talk to God…or Jesus…Or my parents and try and make sense of it all.”
“Do they ever answer back?” he asked with a bashful smile.
“Not like talking, but sometimes I do get this sense of peace that I didn’t have before…and that’s what matters right?”
“Fr Brigant said I just need to bring myself and some clothes. I mean it’s not like I have much else really but that the train leaves at 9am so I have to meet him at the church by 8.”
“I know it’s soon but he was able to add me to the list and that’s when they leave.”
“But Eric could he not pick a safer place to go? I mean Vietnam, all those horrible things we’ve heard on the radio, all those deaths. I can’t -”
“He said it’s where they need to be right now Sookie. He said there are well over two hundred volunteers heading out and when we get there it’ll be about helping to pick up the pieces of those every day people that have been caught up in all that mess. That’s good right?”
I nodded. It really was a great idea, plus those people caught in the cross fire were the first to be forgotten.
With that Sister Geraldine came stomping out of the double door and headed right for us. She informed me of my punishment, I watched again as the anger bubbled up inside Eric. With his fists clenched and the redness in his face spreading to his neck I simply nodded my defeat to the Sister and walked inside.
After Sookie walked back into class, Geraldine confronted me with the usual venom in her voice. Only this time she had a smug undertone when she spoke.
“Northman, just who the hell do you think you are? Do you think that because you’re out of here in a matter of hours that you just get to forget your place is that it?”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t because I was afraid if I did I’d end up making things worse for Sookie. She’s the one that would be here long after I was gone. That realisation killed me once more. I was
leaving without my Sookie.
“Do you think that just because Fr Brigant has taken an interest in you, that you’re somehow special now? If so you are sorely deluding yourself because you dear boy are nothing special. You are just like the rest of them. Just another stone in the shoe of the system that no one cared enough to deal with. That’s all you’ll ever be.”
I had had enough of her insults throughout the years to know when to zone out. To me at this point they were simply like white noise in the background. I just smiled. I knew smiling would make her even more mad than she already was.
“Do you have a punishment set up for me Sister or are you just enjoying the breeze through the trees like I am?”
She knew she couldn’t whip me. Had she done that in the manner I knew she was itching too I’d have been unable to travel. That would have raised more questions that she was willing to answer. So
instead she taunted me with the one thing I did have, the ability to stop her from hurting Sookie.
“Nothing Mr Northman, but believe me, you’re little girlfriend will receive the correct punishment for both you.” she smiled. The she-devil actually smiled. I always swore that if the devil ever existed he existed inside of her.
My last night at the orphanage was a strange one. Prayer, dinner, confession, mass, bed. The same routine I’d been living most of my life. Knowing that that was about to change terrified me to my core. So I did the unthinkable. I snuck out to find Sookie. I expected to find her asleep in her dorm, the sound of stones against the window she slept under being the sound to awaken her. Instead I found her standing under the window, her hair loose, cuddling into her sweater.
“What took you so long!” she whispered.
Had I already agreed to meet her. I was sure I hadn’t.
“I didn’t -”
“Northman really, your last night here and you expect me to expect YOU to sleep? Please.” she grabbed my hand then and dragged me to the side of the building. It was almost 4am and it was just starting to get light. “Sookie where are we going?”
“To the roof” she informed me casually as we climbed the fire escape. I followed her lead and tried in vain not to stare at her ass on the way up.
I said I tried I didn’t say I succeeded. She had a nice ass who was I to ignore it.
“What’s this!” I said when I saw what was in front of us.
“Illegal picnic! I figured since you like stealin’ from the kitchen that this would be in keeping with the tradition. I left out the alcohol though, after our last little…adventure I figured we’d be safer with just
food and some soda.”
She sat down on an old blanket she’d obvious took from the linen closet too. I was in awe. She’d got the works. Sandwiches, fruit, there was even some candy.
I sat with her and smiled. I couldn’t do anything but smile. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me. Plus this was Sookie and she STOLE for me, that in itself was huge deal.
“Am I corrupting you Ms Stackhouse?”
“Who are you kidding you’ve been trying to corrupt me for years! I just won’t let you! Now eat and hush. The sun will be up soon, that’ll be nice.” She took her sandwich so dainty and ladylike and took
small nibbles, all the while her long blonde hair blew in the breeze on and off her face swirling up and falling back down her shoulders again. The orange and red hues from the sky began to stream
through as we sat in silence. It cast a glow around her that made her look like an angel. We didn’t break eye contact for a while, then she smiled at me suddenly with tears glistening in her pretty blue
“ImmamissyouEric” she said suddenly choking back her tears, causing me to act on instinct and pull her towards me. The sent of her made my insides ache with the need to touch her, to taste her to
just be with her.
“Hey…hey Sookie look at me?” I tilted her chin to make it so.
“I might not be gone long and who knows by the time I’m gone long enough you might not want me back!” I tired to joke and that got be another sob. I was never good with crying women, they made me nervous and when I’m nervous I’m filled with inappropriate humour. “I’m sorry Sookie…Shh please don’t cry I don’t know what to do when you cry on me.” I admitted, finally causing her to laugh.
“You’re hopeless you know that?” she smiled then finally, snuggling herself into me where we sat just watching the sun rise both of us knowing that tomorrow was just like any other day…but it was also the day that everything as we knew it changed.
I wallowed in myself pity for almost a week after Eric finally left. It took all my strength not to cry when I saw him get into the cab for the train station. I saw the tears threatening to spill from his own eyes too as he gave me his best crooked smile with a shrug “So this is it huh?”
“I guess so.” I replied, looking back down at my feet willing myself not to cry.
“I’ll miss you Sookie, you know that right?” He looked so different out of his usual attire. Here he was dressed in his ‘Sunday best’, we all had our Sunday best the best clothes from the donations thatthey deemed the most proper and in the best condition. His was brown dress pants with dark brown leather shoes, crisp white shirt and a dark brown tweed mix coat. His hair was clean and pushed offhis face almost slicked back to his head. He looked so much older and just a kid all at the same time.
“I…know I mean who else is gonna keep you on the straight and narrow huh?”
“Now Sookie!” Father Brigant called from inside the cab, a jovial tone taking over “I’ll do my best to keep him in line for you, how’s that?”
“Do! Someone will need to, god knows he’d forget his head if it wasn’t screwed on.”
“I am standing right here you know?” Eric laughed feigning insult.
“Ok fine go. But you better write to me you hear? And don’t screw this up Eric. Be nice to Fr Brigant too, he’s one of the good ones”
With that I saw the Father smile slightly to himself just before Eric’s body lunged for me and completely engulfed me in a hug so tight I swore he bruised my ribs. “I will, I promise. I’ll tell you everything
and be back as soon as they let me.” I swore he smelled my hair as he kissed my forehead I on the other hand was just reeling from the inside out. He was going. He was gone and I was completely
alone for the first time since I was almost eight years old.
What the hell was I meant to do now?
Turns out, what I was meant to do was feel sorry for myself for a week and then when even I got tired of my belly aching Sister Margaret piped up, as I helped her bake the new loaves for the week in the kitchen
“How is your back?” They knew, of course they knew they probably heard my screams all the way down the hall.
“It’ll heal it always does.” I dismissed her probing and her worried expression.
We worked in silence for a few more minutes until she spoke again. “Sookie dear have you ever considered your calling?”
“As a baker?” I laughed, “Sister I can do the basics but you’re the one that shows ME the ropes!” I laughed.
“No child. Here in the convent. I know you spend a lot of time here, even when the other children were on days out you’d volunteer to help me here or the other Sister’s in the gardens. It means so
much to us you know. You have such a pure heart Sookie and your faith in our Lord is unwavering, those are good things to have. I think you’d make an excellent nun.”
“You think so? I…well I had thought about it, but what I really wanted to do was…well I wanted to be a teacher. You know, to the little ones?” it was a pipe dream mostly. While my grades were great I
didn’t have the money to get my credentials for teaching.
The Sister seemed to mull this over “Well child, who says you can’t do both? I managed it as did a few of the others…”
“Managed what Sister?”
“Well in my day there was no state money for scholarships or the like you see. And well, I knew my calling ever since I was a little girl. I wanted to be as close to Jesus as I could and I wanted to help
other’s find him too. But I also wanted to contribute in other ways. So, when I agreed to become what I am, the parish along with the dioceses the parish priest and the bishop agreed that I could be
allocated money to continue getting my education. It was ultimately for their benefit in the end since I would have ended up teaching within these walls. But it can be done.”
“So you mean if I were to take my vows they’d allow me to train for teaching too?”
“Well you’ll never know unless you ask now will you dear?”
That was most intriguing to me I knew I had some of the highest grades in the junior year, but unlike most high schools I wouldn’t be getting a graduation at the end of my Senior year. I’d be getting
my diploma and kicked out the door when I turned eighteen. Just like Eric.
I missed him. He’d only been gone little over a week and it had felt like years. I knew he had a lot to do out there especially at first. With the travelling and the setting up it could be anywhere between
weeks or months until I heard from him again. This thought process didn’t help me one little bit. So I decided to channel my sadness into something else. I would figure out what I was going to do with
my life for a change. I was tired of being abandoned being left alone to cry in my dorm like that scared little girl all those years ago. I needed to take charge of my life, like Eric had done with his. Even if
I tried not to think about it, Eric had done just what the others had done. He’d left me. And in those rare times where I am completely honest with myself, I don’t even blame him for doing it. What good
enough reason could he have had to stay here? I certainly was never reason enough for anyone to fight to hold on to, why would he be the exception to the rule of my life? No, I realised then that I
could change, I could rely on my faith and the one aspect of my life that never failed me.
It took me eight whole weeks but I did it. I managed to talk the school board into letting me graduate early even though I’d just turned seventeen, my grades spoke for themselves. Sister Margaret
helped me to set up a meeting with the ‘acting parish priest’ at the time who was covering for Fr Brigant before a replacement could be brought in full time. He was more than pleased with my wish to
enter into the convent and my desire to do so and teach as well. The words ‘bright’ and ‘kind’ were muttered during his meeting, and that was such a good thing. One of the reasons, well, the main
reason really behind my need to become a Sister and to take a place in the orphanage teaching the little ones was to in a way cancel out the nastiness that occurred when I first arrived. The nastiness
that kept on occurring at the hands of a handful of clergy and the Sisters. I wanted to somehow counteract their cruelty with whatever kindness I could. I was of course then questioned by the bishop
who deemed me pure and true, allowing me to start my process of was the process of living life in the convent, taking in and beginning my life as nun. I had done the readings and heard from the other
sisters’ that sometimes it could take anywhere from six months to two years before they would deem me completely ready to take my vows. And even my vows taken wouldn’t be my final vows. No next
would be my Novitiate, it was explained that this changes nothing so far as my life in the convent would concerned. I would continue living as have been and this vow would be temporary and the
period of waiting would definitely be two years minimum, six years at the most maximum. My final vows would be after that, the “perpetual profession” would be my final vow ensuring my life as a Sister
to be unbroken and for it to be the purest and most obvious choice for the rest of my life. They are considered the marriage vows to God.
Every little girl at one point or another imagines what it would be like to get married. What we don’t necessarily take into consideration is the marriage after the married part. We see big white dress,
loving groom, proud family. Love. Honour. Trust.
Being an orphan in this place, in this time, it became easy to give up those dreams that every little girl should have in favour of just not getting slapped in class. It was really that simple. So you get new
dreams, survival being the most important. I’d lasted my time as a ward of the state but in doing so I hoped that this path would allow me to at least attempt to change things from the outside in. So
maybe one less child would feel the cold hard crack of a whip against their tender skin.
Unrealistic yes, but isn’t that what dreams are for?