Finlay

untitledFinlay 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)

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Carrie

Carrie is six years old. She is sitting at the dinner table with her family. She looks down at her Brussels sprout with absolute loathing. She isn’t going to eat it unless it’s forced down her throat.

She gazes around at her family members who are all in conversation. Mum is in an animated discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, fork in mouth, while he watches Sally do her job as principal on Home and Away. Her two brothers, Aden and Finlay, are discussing something loudly and obviously not agreeing. She looks at her brothers and uses the universal sign for “What’s up?” Palms facing upwards, elbows bent and a shrug of the shoulders. Finlay, with over-exaggerated lip movements, replies, “Tell you later,” while clumsily signing, “Tell you over”.

Carrie sighs and toys with the idea of trying to find out what the others are talking about. In the end she decides not to. She knows that the response from other family members will be the same as Finlay’s “tell you later.” She looks back down at her Brussels sprout. It suddenly becomes more appealing.

Carrie’s mother, Katie, watches her out of the corner of her eye. Like most mothers she can sense when something is not quite right with her children. She knows that Carrie is often isolated within the family at times like this when they are all chatting avidly. She is at loss as to what to do.

The family lives in a rural area. Services are few and far between. Just that day Katie had been in a meeting with her daughter’s school. She was trying to find some money to pay someone to teach her family Auslan. Katie felt that this, at least in part, would help make the family more inclusive for Carrie. She was handballed from one organisation to another and no-one seemed to want to take any responsibility. The family had learnt some rudimentary signs from a book and CD-Rom and Carrie had taken to signing like a fish to water.

She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Dinner over, the family retreats into the lounge room. Usually Carrie will sit on her father’s lap. She just likes his man smell and rough beard. The two of them cannot really communicate well. Bob, the dad, is impossible to lip-read and cannot find time in the day from work to learn to sign. This night Carrie does not sit on Bob’s lap. She finds a doll and sits on her own near the heater. She thinks of her day at school. She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Carrie is mainstreamed into the local school. She communicates as best she can with her FM system. She has no support apart from her visiting teacher who comes every fortnight to offer advice to her teachers and 45 minutes of learning support to her. This morning she had been in class. The teacher had been reading a book. Carrie did not understand a lot of it but she loved the pictures. The story, this morning, involved an animal, or rather a hybrid of animals. The teacher showed a picture that was part wombat, part crocodile and part kangaroo. A Womcrocroo, the teacher had said it was.

Carrie understood none of this but she loved the picture. As soon as the teacher showed it to the class Carrie was on her feet pointing animatedly. She wanted to know what it was. The teacher told Carrie to sit down and that she would explain it to her later. Carrie was disappointed. She felt humiliated, frustrated and angry all at the same time. She let out a little scream of frustration. The teacher made her sit outside.

This memory is vivid in Carrie’s mind as she plays with her doll by the heater. She adds Ted and a few of her brothers’ Power Ranger toys to her play. The doll is the teacher and in Carrie’s perfect world everyone in the class can communicate. She asks and answers questions and she is an active member of her fantasy class. She smiles for the first time that day. In the background she catches a glimpse of her mother in deep discussion with her father. Her mother is crying again.

She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money.

Bob does not know what to do. He rarely has time to attend appointments about Carrie’s needs. The appointments are always in the day and the responsibility for them falls almost solely to his wife. She works part-time and he works long hours. His wife is crying. She is telling him about her latest appointment. She wants support to get the family communicating with Carrie.

She is frustrated at having to constantly justify herself to the people that have the money for support. She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money. She speaks of Auslan, isolation and language acquisition.

Half of this Bob does not really understand. Instead he listens and lets her vent. He wishes that there was more that he could do. He bemoans the fact that family support is so bloody family unfriendly. Why can’t they offer support at a time when all the family can take part? The appointments to meet support people are usually at 10 in the morning. At this time he is at work and the kids are at school. Pointless, really!

Carrie watches her mum cry. Although she does not know what her parents are talking about she knows they are talking about her. She has no words for how this makes her feel, but she feels anxious and worried. She does not quite understand why she has upset her mother so.

Her two brothers and her sister listen to their mother and father discussing Carrie AGAIN! They are resentful in some ways. Carrie always appears to be the centre of attention. They sometimes wonder if they exist at all. Carrie goes to bed. It has not been a good day at all.

It’s morning. The family are sitting at the breakfast table. Carrie’s mother is in deep discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, spoon in mouth and admiring the attractiveness of Mel on Sunrise . Aden and Finlay are discussing something loudly and still not agreeing. For Carrie the whole scene is strangely familiar. She looks at her doll sitting on the table and wonders what the day has in store for her …..

Children seldom misquote. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said. ~Author Unknown