Finlay sits at the kitchen table, across from his mother, who is close to tears, and his father who is red faced with anger. He is being blamed for smashing his mother’s favourite perfume bottle against the wall before his parents arrived home. Carrie, Fin’s sister, sits quietly with her other siblings, Aden and Jenny in the lounge. They all know he is in trouble, but only Aden and Jenny can hear the yelling, because Carrie is deaf.
“But I didn’t do anything,” cries Finlay. “You always blame me for whatever happens.” Neither of his parents believes him. The only other possible culprit is Carrie. His parents are protective of Carrie. Their sorrow and guilt, because of her deafness, will not allow them to accuse her. No, of course, it has to be Fin. Fin gives up protesting. He knows from past experience that he will be punished anyway. He just wants it over and done with.
Fin and Carrie were born18 months apart. For some unknown reason Fin has become Carrie’s main protector and communicator. Perhaps it is because they were born so close together. Everywhere Fin goes, Carrie follows. Everything Carrie does, Fin has to do too. And if he does not, often his parents will make him. “Don’t be mean”, they will say. “She only wants to play.” He always seems to be feeling guilty.
Fin and Carrie, over time, have developed their own form of communication. It is a mixture of signs, gestures and oral communication. Fin seems to be forever trying to let Carrie know what is going on around her. When communication with Carrie becomes difficult his parents even ask him to “please explain to Carrie.” Sometimes Fin tires of this interpreting role and will tell Carrie that he will “tell her later.” He doesn’t quite understand why this makes him feel so guilty. He certainly does not often understand Carrie’s anger towards him when he refuses to interpret for her.
He remembers specific incidents quite clearly that make him feel sometimes that Carrie is like his Siamese twin. This “other” thing that never lets him do the things he wants, never lets him choose his own hobbies, never allows him to have his own friends, never allows him to be as dismissive of Carrie and her needs as everyone else seems to be able to be. He is always her interpreter, her translator, her guide in the world. She is always his responsibility and his family think it is “wonderful” that they are so close. In truth they have a love/hate relationship that is based on dependence and guilt. No-one understands this. They each feel as alone as the other; unable to take comfort in each other because it only seems to reinforce the roles they have been relegated to.
Carrie was born hearing, but became profoundly deaf at age two through illness. Finlay can still remember being held up to a glass window to see his baby sister lying in an adult bed with nurses completely covered in full length white gowns, caps and masks. At one time Fin thought she had died and the people surrounding her in white gowns were angels taking her to heaven.
When she came home everything was different. During the day Aden and Jenny were at school and his father was at work. For most of the day it is just Fin, Carrie and their mother. Often friends of their mother will visit. The conversation is always about Carrie. The attention is always on Carrie. Fin never seems to get any attention. He knows it is irrational but this makes him feel strangely resentful and angry towards Carrie. Fin can not make sense of these feelings. Usually when Fin feels this way he has an overpowering sense of guilt. This, in turn, makes him feel more resentful and angry. It is a vicious cycle.
Sometimes Fin just wants to be angry, to find someone to blame. But who does he blame? Carrie or himself? No, they are just kids, they don’t know what is happening, and are just trying to cope with what they have in front of them. His parents? No, they do what they are told by the professionals. It is the only thing they know at this early stage in Carrie’s life. If Fin knew better he might blame the system, the schools, the bureaucrats and the advisors. It will not be till much later that Fin will understand these issues. Meanwhile Fin is just confused, often angry, powerless and helpless.
In later years Finlay will witness much of Carrie’s grief and anger. It will be years before he fully understands where this comes from. He will ask himself, “Is it her Deafness, her difference, the communication issues, the way we were raised, the way the system views and treats her, or all of those things, or just Carrie’s natural way?”
Carrie is watching television. The captions are on but she cannot yet fully understand them. As always she asks Finlay to explain what is going on. Finlay is happy to oblige. He wonders how long it will be until she can fully understand the captions. When will he be allowed to be Finlay, a person without a deaf sister, able to do the things he wants without her around? Fin walks to his bedroom and shuts the door. He pushes his bed across the door barricading it from unwanted intruders. For the next ten minutes he will dream of a life without his sister. There is a knock on his door, it’s Carrie …
Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. – John F Kennedy (US President 1961 – 63)