by Robyn Gill (age 19, Glasnevin, Dublin)
All children have these rights, no matter who they are, where they live, what their parents do, what language they speak, what their religion is, whether they are a boy or girl, what their culture is, whether they have a disability, whether they are rich or poor. No child should be treated unfairly on any basis. Photograph: Getty Images
Time moves slower now that you’re not here.
The clocks drag out a prolonged, incessant ticking that echoes like I’m under water. We used to plunge beneath the surface of the pool, a shimmering wonderland, and in the silence that was somehow very loud, we’d mouth words to each other, and try to guess what the other person was saying. You were always far better at this game than I was. You always knew what I was trying to say, even if I didn’t myself. I liked it down there, at the bottom of the pool. The blue haze and distorted images. The flickering light, dancing through the water, dappled on the tiled floor. I could’ve stayed down in the depths of the water forever. There was nothing to worry about there, except of course, breathing. That was the reason I always had to come back up to reality.
I used to wish that I could breathe under water, that I had gills and webbed feet and could stay exploring the shadow shrouded mysterious depths of the ocean for hours and hours, maybe even days.
That was before.
Now I have the same wish every time, on every candle, shooting star and dandelion. I wish that I was still with you. I wish that you were here, or that I was there, with you, wherever there is.
Here would be fine if you were with me. You’d talk to me and tell me stories and check under my bed for monsters and you wouldn’t let the other kids here talk to me like they do.
You used to always tell me that I was special. But here I’m learning that special is just another name for different and different is just another word for freak and weirdo and loser and all the other names they call me.
You’d stand up for me, you’d tell them to leave me alone, you’d give them The Glare. The Glare used to always terrify me, so I know it would scare them too, they’d see that deep, dark anger in your eyes, the furrow of your brow and they’d run the other way.
The only time you ever really gave me The Glare, as opposed to a glare, was the time I broke your guitar. I hated that guitar because when you got it you played with it more than you ever played with me. I was jealous of the time you spent hunched over its strings, playing the same song over and over. The same slow progression of chords, that same stupid strumming pattern again and again. Practice makes perfect, that’s what they say, but you never sounded like you were getting any better to me.
I was angry that day because a boy from my class had taken a jar of pink paint and poured it all over me when the teacher wasn’t looking and I then I got in trouble for messing with the paint and no one in the class told the teacher the truth, including me, and I hated the sticky feeling of the paint in my hair and I hated that my clothes were ruined and I hated that boy and I hated that you were in your room, playing your guitar and telling me to leave you alone. So I got that guitar and I smashed it, I broke it into tiny little pieces, the wood splintering but the strings still clinging on, dangling there helplessly. I regretted it the moment it happened but it was too late then, the damage was done. And once things are broken, they’re very hard to put back together. It’s nearly impossible to find each fragment of wood and connect the pieces. I wish people would stop breaking things, especially things like family. I can’t put us back together, even though I keep trying to, I keep asking the adults who are supposed to be able to fix things.
Why can’t they fix us?
Why can’t they put us back together?
There’s a boy here who plays guitar, but not like you did. His is red and shiny and would be too hard to smash, even if I dared to try. It’s louder too, in a horrible scratchy way and when I put my hands over my ears to try and block the noise that just makes him laugh and play louder.
He’s my least favourite here. He’s the meanest. He always asks me if I’m a girl or a boy and I can tell from the look in his eye that either answer is wrong, that whatever I say will still have the same result, that his mouth will still stretch into a sly, disjointed smile and then I close my eyes and pretend I’m with you, under water.
He’s nice to me when there are adults around though, he’s always polite and they say how wonderful it is that he channels his energy into music as opposed to being out causing trouble on the streets. They tell me to look at him like a role model, that I ought to find a hobby, something constructive, instead of sitting staring blankly into space, asking for you. They ask me, isn’t it wonderful to have an older brother? But he’s not my brother.
He ripped up the drawing I did of you.
In my new school, we had to draw our family, so I drew you and me, underwater and in the drawing you were a mermaid and I was half dolphin. I drew sand and seaweed at the bottom and bubbles coming from our mouths which meant that we could breathe down there and in the corner there was a cave where we lived, just the two of us together, but it wasn’t dark and scary like caves usually are, it was warm and cosy and full of golden light.
I think it was the best picture I have ever done in my whole life.
He ripped it up because he said you weren’t really my family because you weren’t here.
“We’re your family now.”
That’s what he said, because I live with them, and you live somewhere else, that they’re my real family and that the man and woman here are my parents now and that you’ve got a whole new family yourself too and probably don’t even think about me ever.
But I know you do.
Because you’re my sister and you promised you’d come and get me once you could, even if I had to wait a long time and even though the people in the suits said that it would just be too hard to get a family to take the both of us. They told us that they’d arrange visits but they still haven’t, and you’re beginning to feel like a fragment from a dream, and everything here is beginning to feel more real than you ever were.
He ripped up the drawing slowly, shredding it into tiny pieces that scattered like confetti on the floor. I gathered them all up once he was gone and I have spent hours trying to put it back together. But paper is even harder to piece together than wood and the fragments are worn and crumpled and frayed at the edges and the colours are becoming faded underneath my fingertips.
I think that I might manage to do it, eventually, if I spend enough time pouring over this puzzle.
But it still makes me cry.
I know that even if I manage to put the pieces back together, the picture will never be the same.
All children have these rights, no matter who they are, where they live, what their parents do, what language they speak, what their religion is, whether they are a boy or girl, what their culture is, whether they have a disability, whether they are rich or poor. No child should be treated unfairly on any basis