New Girl.

New Girl.

That Tracy Chevalier book, New Boy, did that thing that good books, the best books, sometimes do. It shook one of my boxes until the clasp opened and old aches leaked out.  I didn’t manage to write the review I wanted to write because I was avoiding it. Too busy stuffing it all back in the box and sitting on the lid. The way books work on my mind is still a complete mystery to me but here is a weird thing. I went straight from New Boy to The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. It’s a free falling, foul mouthed blast of brutal honesty. I’m hitting the final quarter of it and find it has turned a key somewhere. Unleashed me.

Where to start, where to start…

I was a new girl, over and over, a perpetual new girl, a repeat offender. The first time, I was nine. But there is something important here. It’s not being the new girl that’s the thing, it’s being different, and that started before we moved. Do you remember the ocean at the end of my bed? That changed everything, just as much as if it had actually changed the colour of my skin. My mother mourned her lost baby and raged against the wreck of her marriage. Glass after glass crashed against the kitchen wall. My father took the train to Galway to comfort his bereaved mistress. We met him one weekend in Athlone, the halfway mark, and he gave me The Hobbit. That’s all I kept outside the box. But we all were marked. We may as well have been burnt black.

It was as if the kids in the school yard could smell smoke on my clothes. There was something not right about me. Something dangerous. And then my parents embarked on a new beginning.

We left Kildare on the very day Diana married Charles. I stood in front of the portable telly in the kitchen watching a fairytale unfold while men carried the table away, the chair from under me.

And then I was the New Girl. Gentle, kindly Sr. Frances taking me under the wing of her habit, reading a book about Benji the dog while I cried into my folded arms.

It wasn’t awful. I wasn’t bullied. I just moved round the edges like an extra piece of a jigsaw. Cork people speak a different language, by the way, it was Christmas before I understood a whole sentence or could distinguish ‘nyah’ (no) from ‘yah’ (yes). Actually, I still run into trouble with that one.

See, I’m feeling better already.

I liked the order of the place. I liked wearing a uniform, navy pinafore and pink jumper that my mother had made on her knitting machine before we left Kildare. I don’t remember the knitting machine turning up in Cork, now that I think about it. I liked changing into indoor slippers and being the best at Geography. To be fair, the girls were nice. I just couldn’t find a place to fit.

Then, a year later, my mother decided that she wouldn’t sleep with a knife under her pillow any longer and we would leave him. I don’t know why she had a knife under her pillow but they could easily have killed each other then. They were out of their minds, both of them. Shakespeare would have got some good material out of them.

Dublin, then, to share the home of one of her girlfriends and a Dublin city school with BOYS, eighteen boys in the class and only nine girls, including the new girl. Christ, that was a long way from the polished convent floors. They were wild. I sat, mostly, in stunned silence while boys used those cylindrical rubbers that came in plastic tubes to demonstrate the mechanics of intercourse.

The girls, being city girls, had been to stage school and spent yard time perfecting their dance routine to Phil Collins’ You Can’t Hurry Love.  I can only dance when I’m drunk and, at eleven, I was a ways off that yet so I read books. I can’t remember what I read but I can see, in my head, the view over the top of my book and them dancing beyond. There was one manipulative little bitch whose father was in advertising. Anyone remember the ad for Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Creams with all the kids on a roller coaster? Yeah, she was in the roller coaster. Of course she was. Oh Damned Iago.

After that, my mother determined to reclaim her home in Cork and kicked my father out. Or he left. Who knows? I think he took my younger sister with him.

Old Girl New Girl turns out to be even harder. Then there’s a very fuzzy bit and then my aunt taking me to Dublin late at night and installing me in her local school. I only remember my aunt grilling me on lines of poetry homework. Nobody had checked my homework in years. I don’t think I spoke in that classroom or schoolyard. I didn’t want to go home and then I did.

Back in Cork, they were still nice girls, they really were. There was a really good teacher and at the risk of being repetitive, can I say, on the very off chance that someone reading this can send my love and gratitude to Mrs Leahy, who minded me and taught me how to make a tiered ra-ra skirt, please do.

I made a friend. Someone kind enough to brush the smuts off my clothes and have a laugh. And that’s really all it takes, isn’t it? One person who stays quiet long enough to let you be yourself. Someone who doesn’t set about rattling your boxes but sets their box on top of yours to keep it company. She was great. We had sleepovers and midnight feasts. We watched Remington Steele and played, PLAYED, at being private detectives. We listened to an awful, awful lot of Chris de Burgh. Look, nobody’s perfect. From then on, I was OK. I was able to turn my back on the shit and look outwards. I had two whole years before I moved school again.

I’m posting this now. No pictures or frills. Before the box slams shut.

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13 thoughts on “New Girl.

  1. And yet you are the rock at the centre of your children’s worlds. You caught the buck and stopped it and refused to let history replay itself in your children’s lives. That shines out of you. Out of that unthinkable, unspeakable tragedy that did what such tragedies do and refused to lie down but ate away and wrecked your lives on and on as your mammy moved and you, choiceless with her. You have created the oasis that children crave because it is what they need. YOu have. Don’t argue, now. You, lady, did that. You did not lie down and let the box consume you. You closed it, yes but you opened another and you made life and the lives you made and the life you made for them to thrive in is testimony to just what an extraordinary woman you are. So there. You are. And I have special powers, so I can say this with total authority. My authority 😉

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  2. Oh!…..I was never the new girl but I had the glasses smashing, the screaming and shouting, the affairs …. reading this just opened the lid on my box too… I wonder how many times you have to lift the lid and let it out before it just fecks off and stays out for good.

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    1. Thinking longer on your comment and thinking I maybe shouldn’t have laughed but I was so relieved to feel empathy. Isn’t it shocking how such small things, glasses, freckles, braces, whatever, could mark a child as different. Read the book, Lou, it makes a whole lot of sense. I plan on passing it round all my kids as an educational tool.

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  3. Oh Lynda, this brought tears to my eyes this morning.
    This — “There was something not right about me” — and this — “I just moved round the edges like an extra piece of a jigsaw” — was/is me as well. I was never the new girl, but I did grow up with parents who easily could have killed each other, who simmered with resentment and anger, who screamed and hit and threw dishes … and who somehow felt this was healthier for my brother and me than divorce would have been. I coped by staying silent, by not letting any of my friends know, by shoving it all into a box and compartmentalising that part of my life, and by keeping my hands moving with cross stitch and other crafts (which I’ve recently learned is a form of meditation).

    I love what you wrote about your friend — “Someone who doesn’t set about rattling your boxes but sets their box on top of yours to keep it company.” I learned the hard way, about 15 years ago, after befriending a woman with an entire houseful of boxes (and who insisted on opening not only hers but mine as well) that opening those boxes is a dangerous thing. Nowadays, whenever I feel a clasp about to loosen, I determinedly focus on the positive, I double-down on the knitting, I read a good book (by which I mean a heart-wrenching book, one that reminds me that life is hard and not at all fair), I sit next to my youngest and feel utterly grateful to have my three children … and I cling to the hope that maybe, just maybe, I have broken a cycle.

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    1. Unfortunately, divorce wasn’t even an option here until the late 90s though I doubt it would have made much difference. I want to say I’m sorry you went through the same horrors but, sorry, it’s comforting to hear from someone who gets it. I wish I had known about cross-stitch or crochet back then. I did knit, but mostly I stuck my nose in a book which hasn’t turned out to be a bad thing. I like what you say about a heart-wrenching book that reminds you that life isn’t fair. We do need that sometimes. I repeatedly drum into my kids that there is always somebody worse off and somebody better off than we are and, in the grand scheme of things, we are very fortunate. Everyone has crap. We are not alone. Books, eh? What would we do without them? L.

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  4. I started reading your post when I should have been proof reading recipes and now I need to take the dog for a walk because my lid’s pinged open. I was always the new girl – I’m an armed forces kid – then got shipped off to boarding school which was a whole new horror. There was no glass smashing or shouting in my house, just massive, sullen silences and an air of general disapproval. A great teacher and a proper friend, thank goodness you found them! (Parents…) xx

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    1. Thanks, Sam. I always feel a bit petty after I spill that sort of stuff. We all have our crap but I truly am very grateful for the relative peace and harmony of the home I have now (she said, ignoring the sound of teenagers fighting over amp cables). I am sorry for rattling your box. Sullen silences are sometimes worse and also probably my worst fault. I’m so terrified of conflict, I tend to do hedgehog impressions instead. Good teachers deserve halos and proper friends too. Thank you. x

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      1. I didn’t mean to over-share (sorry), just to indicate a little understanding. Your writing never comes across as petty – you carry on writing about whatever you feel like writing about, it’s your blog and it is always brilliantly articulate. (I, too, am an experienced conflict dodger…) x

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      2. Oh Sam, my good friend. No need to apologise. I don’t think you are ever guilty of over-sharing. I always value your comments as genuine and, always, always, so very kind. Thank you.

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