Maureen's Journey - Part 1 of 2

by Andrea DiMaggio

It never happened, but even if it did, it wasn’t that bad. And even if it was that bad, it’s all your fault!

Bi-se i mo shuil
A Ri mhor na nduil
Lion thusa mo bheatha
Mo cheadfai's mo stuaim
Bi thusa i m'aigne
Gach oiche's gach la
Im chodladh no im dhuiseacht
Lion me le do gra

Queens, New York, 1975…

Maureen sat on the old bed across from the laundry in the basement, staring blankly as the clothes tumbled in a sudsy froth in the washer. A moment later her mother came down the basement stairs with another basket of clothes.

“Well, lazy bones…do you expect just to sleep the day away? “ The comment might have seemed light but for the smirk on her mother’s face. She turned away to compose herself; a futile effort, but at least her grim frown was hidden from her mother’s view. She turned back and spoke.

“Okay…do you want me to finish up the laundry? Any more baskets upstairs?”

“No, and no thanks to you. Peggy can handle it. Get going and start the lawn, or there’ll be hell to pay when your father gets home.” Her mother frowned. There always seemed to be a melancholic feel to her words; the anger seemed to be borne out of frustration and sadness rather than any real disappointment with Maureen. Still, even false anger expressed is anger that hurts. Her mother shook her head at the girl.

“Martin Francis O’Flynn…Get a move on…NOW!”

Bi thusa mo threoru
I mbriathar is i mbeart
Fan thusa go deo liom is
Coinnigh me ceart
Glac curam mar athair
Is eist le mo ghui
Is tabhair domsa ait conai
Istigh i do chroi

Later that day…

A smallish Asian girl sat on the stoop in front of the large house on the corner of Martin’s block. She smiled as the boy sat down next to her, mussing her hair like a parent or uncle might. Martin tended to be very touchy with his friends; perhaps too much at times, but thankfully none of his friends had the same issues as he did. The girl punched him in the arm as he sat down next to her; the ‘hiya, pal’ expression seemed to disappoint the boy, since he really didn’t need a pal at that moment.

“You’ve got to tell your Mom. You have to!” Her words might have sounded too regional for some; ‘hafta’ belying her ethnic background while appealing to her place of birth in Flushing, New York.

“I can’t…” He put his head down. She touched his arm and he pulled back; startled. Even the most benign touch made him skittish if it was spontaneous and unexpected. Sometimes, Cheryl would shake her head in wonder when the most welcoming gesture would be met by withdrawal, but she understood and tried as best she could to help.

“He’ll keep it up…you know he will. No matter what you do or don’t do, you know…” She frowned and looked down the block at Martin’s house.

“Don’t, Cher...don’t say that….he wouldn’t dare.” The boy’s gaze lifted slightly and followed Cheryl’s stare down the block.

“He will…you know he will.” She took her time and placed her hand on his shoulder softly so he wouldn’t be startled. Her kindness and care proved to be too much and he fell into her arms, overcome with grief and fear that released at the welcome of her embrace. Cheryl looked down and saw the latest testimony to her friend’s pain; the physical evidence that was meant to help distract the boy from the inner pain he felt every day and the outer pain inflicted by an unloving parent.

New scars on the boy’s forearm seemed to trace the older lines like a re-paved highway. Her tears fell on the tracks; salt of a different kind that instead of harming, instead healed by the compassion which birthed them. She rocked the boy in her arms, hoping desperately that somehow her love could make up for the ignorance and hatred Martin’s father inflicted on a daily basis.

The boy scurried about, anxious to please his mother. He would settle for not getting the back of his father’s hand. He lapsed into hopeful faith; believing that his mother might for once might take a stand against her husband. But she had three children, not one, and if push came to shove, her son could take care of himself. She could ill afford to defy her husband, even if he was her kid’s stepfather.

“You didn’t cut the grass, boy.”

Martin turned to the sound of the voice; a low, almost drone-like rebuke. It always came to that. Children should receive a blessing from their Da, he had been told. Jimmy O’Rourke wasn’t the kind of man to bless anyone, unless it was his right fist followed swiftly by his left. The closest thing Martin came to receiving anything remotely resembling blessings would be when he was ignored.

“The boy has been cleaning the garage all day.” His mother couldn’t even bring herself to utter the boy’s name. Jimmy responded by feigning an uppercut. Martin flinched enough to miss avoiding the sharp jab to his stomach. The blow was painful, but softened by Jimmy’s post-tavern reflexes.

“G’wan, boy. You’re a fine lad, and never let anyone say otherwise, ye?” Jimmy fancied himself Irish enough to talk with a brogue; he may have been born in County Mayo, but he grew up in Flushing. As he passed by the boy, he punched him hard in the shoulder, knocking him into the frame of the kitchen door. Bruises that everyone acknowledged seemed to hide the ones no one knew about but the boy and his step-father.

A few days later…

“At least tell your mom.” Cheryl rubbed the boy’s arm, evoking a gasp of pain as her hand brushed across his sleeve, pressing the coarse fabric against new scars. He wasn’t upset with her. Somehow the pain of his wounds seemed to be a good distraction from the pain elsewhere; especially in his heart.

“She’ll take his side…she has to.” He looked down at his sneakers; the threadbare canvas was barely held together. His mother had noticed it earlier in the day and confronted him.

* * * * *

“What happened to the money from that job of yours? I know you don’t make much working at the store, but you should be saving it instead of throwing it away. I can’t risk buying you new shoes; Jimmy would just have conniptions and then where would we all be? “ She sighed.

Jimmy spent much of his time with his mates at the bar, so most of his extra money and even some of the not-so-surplus cash in the house went to his afternoon diversions. She could barely make do with the money she made on her own with her cleaning jobs, and she couldn’t affort confronting him, lest he pick up his sorry cheating ass and leave her and the kids. If she really looked around, she would have know Jimmy was filching the boy’s money as well. But sometimes discretion is the best form of self-preservation. She had her own bruises to account for that.

“Mom…” Martin tried to speak, but the words just got stuck way down inside. His mother had borne the heartache of losing her love; Martin Senior had been killed by a drunk driver and the boy couldn’t bear to bring more pain and sorrow to her. She looked up from her ironing; Jimmy was particular about his shirts.

“Never mind…it can wait. I’ll….I’m sorry, Mom. I’ll do better.” The boy could hardly do better than maintain a B+ average while doing all of the outdoor work for the home as well as working at his job at the A&P most evenings.

* * * * *

“Tell her. I’ll be right there with you in spirit.” Cheryl would have accompanied her best friend except that she couldn’t take the chance Jimmy would come home; he hated surprises and nothing said surprise more than arriving home and finding an Asian…. A half-Asian girl in his house. Jimmy was an equal-opportunity bigot…he hated everyone except himself.

“Mom….I gotta tell you something.”

He put his head down, trying not to cry. His sister Peggy wandered out into the living room just as he spoke. She looked at him and furiously shook her head. At fourteen, she was her mother’s supreme help at home, at least for all ‘girl’ things. Martin would have loved to help his mother in the same manner, but in 1975, boys didn’t do dishes or cook or clean except in only a few homes. And of course, in 1975, there was no place for a boy to go ahead and explain just why he wasn’t a boy after all. So it fell upon Peggy to do most of the house work while her mother did the cleaning jobs outside the home. And of course she took care of the Colleen, the youngest at ten.

Horrible secrets can lose their hold on us when they are shared; mostly. Martin pursed his lips and scowled. He wasn’t at all angry with Peggy, but with the real reason why she insisted he stay quiet. But he had to risk all for her sake as well as for Colleen. He turned back to his mother.

“Well…what is it.” His mother grew impatient; mostly because she hoped his plaint would something innocuous enough to quickly grant or ignore completely. He disappointed and saddened and angered her with his next few words.


“Out with it! I don’t have all day.” She snapped at him. His reluctance to speak only reinforced her dread that what he was going to say couldn’t be anything good, and likely would be very, very bad.

“I think…” He turned and Peggy shook her head before running back silently to her room; her face was a mixture of anger and sadness and fear, and none of it directed toward her big brother. Another who knew if he spoke it might destroy their world.

“Martin…” His mother insisted and he looked at her. At thirty-five, she looked nearly ten years older, and he feared that his words would add to her already-burdened soul. Nevertheless he spoke.

“Jimmy…” It was almost a dream as time stood still; the memories came back to him…

* * * * *

“Well…lookie here!” The man laughed wickedly as he walked into the bedroom. Maureen turned and found herself face-to-face with her step-father. The girl was wearing her mother’s dress; a green rayon sleeveless shift. Her blonde hair was only a bit longish but nicely combed, and she resembled her mother almost as much as her sisters. A look of horror crossed her face as the man before her grew frightenly quiet.

“I….I was just…” There usually are no adequate explanations for a boy at fifteen caught wearing his mother’s dress, but it gets exponentially worse when the boy’s step-father is a cruel but charming deceiver. He never liked any of his step-children, but least of all his good-for-nothing step-son. Martin had just given Jimmy one more reason to hate him. He went to take the dress off, but Jimmy smirked and held his hand up.

“No…that’s okay.” He put his hand at his belt, and the boy winced, fearing the beating to come. But the man didn’t take his belt off, but merely undid it. He let his pants drop to the floor and he stepped out of them. Grabbing the boy by the wrist, he twisted it sharply. Old scars cried out in pain as the boy doubled over even as the man shoved him rudely on the bed. He fell on top of the boy and his breath was heavy with the smell of beer and cigarettes.

“Let’s see what you can do….Missy. No one’s at home, and it’s just you and me for hours.” Martin’s eyes widened in fear as the man sat on the bed. Jimmy laughed; a cackle almost and straight from hell.

“What’s yer name, darlin’?” Martin remained silent until Jimmy’s right hand slapped him hard in the face.

“I said…what’s yer name!” He raised his hand again and the boy stammered.

“Martin.” He cowered and the man laughed.

“NO, you fucking idiot.” He pointed to the dress the boy wore.

“What’s YOUR name?” Martin put his head down and said in a frightened whisper,


“Well….Maureen O’Flynn….seein’ how we’re not blood kin….there’s nothing to say you can’t…” His voice trailed off to a dull, wheezy laugh as he pointed to his crotch. The boy shook his head but another slap came; quickly followed by a rough hand grabbing his hair.

“Let’s get…acquainted, shall we?”

* * * * *

“If you breathe a word of this…I’ll fuck both of your sisters. Understand?” Jimmy turned back to face the boy who lay sobbing on the bed.

“I knew you were a fucking weakling.” He walked to the bedroom door before turning back one last time.

“Don’t forget about your sisters….Maureen.” He laughed and walked down the hall.

* * * * *

“Mom….I ….I wore…..”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! “ Her patience was wearing extremely thin. It was now or never.

“Mom…I wore your dress.” He put his head down and started to cry.

“Is that all? Dear Mother of God….you’re not the first boy to try on his mother’s clothes and I expect you won’t be the last. But that’s going to stop….right now. No more sissy stuff. Your step-father would kill you if he found out.” Her face grew grim at the thought, but she half-smiled at him.

“No more!” She snapped and frowned at her ironing. He spoke up again; softer and with a stammer.

“That’s….that’s not…all.”

“If you’ve ripped my new nylons….” She shook her head. He had to speak, so he practically blurted it out.

“Jimmy raped me, Mom…he made me…”

He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when his mother lost it. A disconnect between a truth she had held at arms’length and a desire…a fear-driven need to keep the family together, whatever that meant and whatever that required. She walked across the room and slapped him hard; the harshest rebuke that a child can ever receive from a parent. He went to speak and she slapped him harder while speaking through clenched teeth as the tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Don’t you ever say that about your father again!” The boy turned to run out of the room but he felt her hands grab him by the shoulders, spinning him around. He cringed at the sight of her raised hand, but she pulled him closed and began to sob; stammering herself.

“I…I’m so sorry…..I…I’m…sorry.” She held Martin as if he was going to run away forever if she let go. He wept in her arms. After nearly two minutes of sobs and silence she pushed him away enough to look at him. It was the strangest, most fearful but wonderful moment in their relationship. An odd mixture of sad and eerily enlightening as she noticed the difference in her oldest child; the very first meeting between Katherine O’Flynn and her oldest daughter Maureen.

Bi-se i mo shuil
A Ri mhor na nduil
Lion thusa mo bheatha
Mo cheadfai's mo stuaim
Bi thusa i m'aigne
Gach oiche's gach la
Im chodladh no im dhuiseacht
Lion me le do gra

Bi thusa mo threoru
I mbriathar is i mbeart
Fan thusa go deo liom is
Coinnigh me ceart
Glac curam mar athair
Is eist le mo ghui
Is tabhair domsa ait conai
Istigh i do chroi

Next: Awakening

Be my eyes, O king of creation
Fill my life with understanding
And patience
Will You be my mind every night
And every day
Sleeping or awake
Fill me with Your love

Will You be my guidance
In my words and actions
Stay with me forever
And keep me on the right path
As my Father take care of me
And listen to my prayers
And give me a place
To live inside Your heart)

Bi-se I Mo Shuil Part One
Gaelige adaptation of
Be Thou My Vision
Words by Hugh Brennan
Music by Iona

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