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Beyond the Split

What is it that causes a split down the middle of a child... and can it be healed?

By Geraldine Mills  

This evening I buried my hurt in the garden. Dug a hole under the rosemary bush. Sweet-smelling soil. Took that clean bowl of pain and placed it carefully into the ground. Relished the earth as it streaked over my hand. It ferretted under my fingernails while I palmed in the opening. Then I placed a stone on it. Under the rosemary bush. Rosemary for rememberance.

The house is quiet when I come back in. I prepare supper while the sun lights up the evening kitchen. There is a warm place in the pit of my stomach. A place that needs tending to now that it's free.

Simon comes in. He stands and watches saying nothing as I struggle to open a tin of tuna. Offers of help will be met with an outburst so he watches my attempts to pierce the can and cut the tin with a hand that was once beaten into submission. Now it has to learn to be used again. He smiles when I achieve this great task. My long road to wholeness has begun.

The confusion in my brain has taken its first step towards dissipation. It is a fog over the mountains that slowly breaks up as the day emerges and the colour of the gorse and the heather are brought into sharp focus. What is hidden behind this mist is no longer something to be frightened of.

Mary Ryan,what is that I see you using?

Sr. Concepta stands over me like a lion tamer, her leather strap itching to strike.

If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. What have I told you?

Not to use my left hand, Sister.

And why not, come up here and tell the class why.

My seven year old cheeks blaze, my heart cries as I stand before the class and rush the words out.




Let me see you use that hand again and I'll cut it off you.

Her strap comes across my knuckles of my left hand. I return to my seat. It cries as I spancil it behind my back. My right wrist aches as it takes up the chewed pencil and makes faltering attempts to form numbers, attach letters. My brain screams with the confusion of it all. Sr. Concepta gets the class to pray for me. She prays to her favourite saint that I will be cured of my devil's hand. She knows he will answer her prayer because if he doesn't he will be punished and put outside on the sill in the rain. Somewhere outside the classroom window a lark stops singing.


I tell my mother when I come home. She looks at me accusingly. I must have done something wrong and says the nuns know best. She becomes a conspirator. Shamed I run to the woods. Tell my pain to the moss, the wood lice. I scream it to the wind, cry it out before I cover it in. Hide it somewhere deep within my bones. Stitched into muscle, cemented into sinew, so it won't make a sound, not a whisper.

My worst dreams started just before sleeping. Then the salamanders came spilling their way into my mind. Sloughing off their despair onto me. Constricting, suffocating me so that I wanted to scream out. I lived there in the darkness and all the devils that I had kept at bay in daylight hours broke in and took up residence. Sometimes my body grew so heavy, it weighed down the mattress, like a boulder in a hammock. My arms folded across my chest enormous tree trunks. My legs like steel.

On rare nights when the demons gave me reprieve, I could let my body soar. Feel it float until it almost touched the ceiling. It stayed there until sleep took over, and I awoke under the same old quilt.

I put the cups on the tray, the tuna sandwiches, and bring them into the living room. Simon has retreated behind the newspaper.

I've buried it. I say to him.

Good, he replies, not sure how to react. Bewildered by a wife who goes and buries her feelings under her favourite shrub. His safe little world has exploded. He cannot articulate these last few weeks since I started to define my new world. Returned to writing with my left hand. His feelings are all choked up and he is not sure what to say other than call me his born-again ciotóg . The children, they take it in their great earth-walking stride. Without any fuss they have accepted this different mother. One who now sits down with paints and water and felt pens. They watch her paint child-like paintings and shout their encouragement when it takes some shape. I am back with them again.

Looking at it now from this new perspective my heart does not wonder at the right handed life path I took. Sitting at a sterile bench of test tubes and petri dishes. Growing seeds on wet filter paper. Watched them germinate under artificial sun. Seeds that never knew what it was like to feel the wind and rain. The threat of birds. I dissected them under the microscope, blind to the poetry of their symmetry. In no man's, no woman's land. I could have been a painter if I knew which hand to use. Could have been a writer if I had known the miracle of my left hand. Instead I become a seed tester in a government testing station.

But there was a world before that, before the split. A world where the hands of God were ambidexterous. Hands that reached down and enfolded me without judgement. Before the law of right hand I was a child who lived for the pure smell of moss on covered stone. A child who garnered snails from behind green camouflage. Traced the helical beauty of their houses with my finger, any finger. Studying for hours the earthworm, segmented, hermaphrodite. Homogenising the dark clay into life-giving soil. Turning leaves and humus into friable loam.

I had watched my daughter make her first attempts at writing. Watched the tiny muscles struggle for control. Grasping the pencil and snuggle it into her hand her left hand and take a line for a big long walk. The truth could stay no longer in the bones. It had come out in the genes. I knew what I must do.

I am lying on my bed. Downstairs, morning is getting underway without me. There is the cliché of clattering bowls, the morning news. Traffic. The sun shines in. The air is sharp with rosemary. I breathe until my breath is slow and relaxed. I bring my mind back to first class. A vague memory at first that slowly becomes sharper. Sitting in class with my left hand behind my back. I see only the left side of the room. All the right side is in darkness. Sr. Concepta stands over me, her leather strap ready. My right hand wrestles with the pencil. It writes my name. Mary Ryan. Mary Ryan. Mary Ryan. My wrist aches, pain shooting up my arm, looking for a strength it does not know.

My head begins to hurt, confused, which hand, which brain. I am trying to write letters, they don't form properly. They fall off the line. Letters constricted, bloated. Attempting to cope with new laws that govern my page. I am writing and then the split comes. A line down the centre of my body and I am in two halves. There is a strong and beautiful, full-of-life, left side and a smaller, weaker, anaemic side with this sickly tentacle that grows out of me holding a black pencil. And then I am crying. Huge painful sobs that tear themselves from deep down in my body.

Simon comes in. You look like a corpse, he laughs, noticing my hands across my chest, my raw face. I try to explain, but frightened, he leaves me to face the demons alone.

My crying becomes fiercer now, more savage. I grab hold of deep down that frothing pain until up it comes in one clean bowl and I spit it out. I wait to feel my body grow quiet and stillness to enter. I look in the mirror. My eyes do not see the right side but my left side is now the clear unblemished face of a seven year old. I have come beyond the split.

Geraldine Mills lives in Galway. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, including Ireland's Eye and Woman's Way.

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