|General Fiction posted August 17, 2023||Chapters:||-1 2 -3- 4...|
We learn how friendships were forbidden in the convent
A chapter in the book A Particular Friendship
No Particular Friendships
by Liz O'Neill
We learn how friendships were forbidden in the convent
We are beginning to learn how strange and difficult days are for Lizzy. And yet she remained for 28 years.
Cast of Characters
Sr. Elizabeth–name of main character changed to Lizzy after leaving the convent
Narrator–An author invented person
Sr. Marie Elise–Lizzy’s forbidden friend in the convent
Sr. Helen–the head person called the mistress of postulants, the title for Lizzy group who entered the same year
Sr. Barbara Marie–one of the sisters who essentially spied on Lizzy’s choice of pf, forbidden particular friendship
You'd expect, when I first entered the Novitiate, my training years, I would have ample opportunity to discover a best friend. This best friend would be someone with whom to share some of our dreams and feelings we had in common.
Things were not that simple. Having one friend was frowned upon, forbidden in the Convent. They must have feared some of the Sisters would develop unhealthy relationships with each other, a little homophobic driven, possibly?
This whole situation fostered an immature, ill-conceived concept of relationships. No Sister could spend more time with one person than she did with another. She was supposed to love all Sisters equally.
Well, I couldn’t do that. Lord knows, I certainly tried. But I was drawn to Sister Marie Elise, who, out in the world would have been called a good friend.
Or maybe it was a crush. I was nineteen, the age people begin serious dating. In this artificial situation, I didn’t even have an opportunity to develop a natural friendship with Sister Marie Elise.
Fearing getting caught and being asked to leave, I tried to misdirect Sr. Helen, the head person known as the Mistress of Postulants, so she’d never suspect our relationship. I spent more time and showed more attention to Sister Barbara Marie. I believed it worked, for a while, anyway.
Now that I look back I think I probably caused some undue fear and stress for Sister Barbara though. I'm pretty sure the Mistress got on her case pretty heavily and Sister Barbara probably had to do some big penances such as saying many prayers and suffer a lot of humiliation.
I remember a puzzled Sister Barb, dropping the traditional label, saying, "Helen accused me of being pf’s with you."
These initials were short for particular friendship. It caused so much pain and shame. To not be able to talk to someone who could have been a great friend. How unnatural.
Because Marie and I were always being watched, the relationship consisted of leaving notes in each other’s prayer book called a breviary. And it didn’t ever amount to much, just little psalms copied in each other’s handwriting. I treasured the ones I got from Marie.
I looked forward to opening my book of prayers each morning. When I found a piece of paper in it, I was filled with warmth. It seemed to be one of the only consolations for me in that sterile atmosphere.
I’d go to the chapel every evening hoping to just see Marie and her sweet smile and do a little giggling. All of this was done with no real conversation-only watchful whispering. Because everything had to be so clandestine, I only hoped to be in the same part of the house or property to catch a glimpse of Marie.
For some reason the postulants were not supposed to talk to the novices-those who had been there for over one year. It was always cloaked in mystery as to why they lived in a separate part of the house and had gatherings the Postulants were not invited to nor could Novices disclose anything about what went on.
Several of postulants compared notes with each other about any clues to what was going on, leaked to them by their secret ‘pf.’ We later found out the mysterious gatherings were called the Chapters of Faults.
After the others and I had been there a year, we earned the privilege of belonging to this austere group where people confessed to things they did and also didn’t do, such as leave a wash pan out on the porch.
When no one hit the floor or quickly knelt to acknowledge their guilt, some of us knelt just to get on with things, slowly making a mockery of the whole process. We couldn’t help but grin as we all knew what we were doing. The whole thing about penances was a bit of a joke. It just didn’t make any sense.
I could never have imagined what would happen next. One day, Marie cautiously approached, I sensed something was wrong.
Marie stood there informing me she couldn’t talk to me anymore, said nothing else, quietly turned and left. We must have been reported or discovered. I felt the anguish Marie was experiencing.
I never saw her in the chapel in the evenings again and my heart sank when I opened my prayer book to find it empty, there would be no more notes in my breviary.
One evening, I heard strange evidence of a car below my bedroom window. The car door opened and latched with a soft slam, then drove away. I didn’t think anymore about it, except it was an unusual thing to be happening at that hour.
The next morning it sadly made sense, when I approached the breakfast table. My legs went limp, there was a sinking feeling in my stomach and terrible anxiety exploded within me.
The place at the table where Marie always sat didn’t exist. As if she were never there, the Sisters she had sat between, were silently now sitting beside each in the place her chair used to be.
As did all who left, she had secretly packed her trunk and departed in the night. I never saw her again. Nor was Marie ever spoken of again.
Today, I could make contact with her if I tried, but I just can’t.
A Particular Friendship What a hateful, divisive word. What other kind of friendship can someone have, besides a ‘particular’ one? Lizzy said she looked up the definitions:‘relating to a specific person, special, unique, and attentive to details.’ Sounds like an ideal friendship. Or maybe this word was referring to the meaning of ‘particular’ ‘on the undesirable side’, ‘fussy, and hard to please?’
As time progressed, I moved to the ‘big house’ to cohabitate with fifty other women. I had certainly met up with many who would achieve this rating.
Many of them reminded me of her maternal grandmother who was brilliant with cutting sarcasm and very handy with the switch -- a thin twig broken off from a nearby bush. These ladies never took a switch to me, but I took every kind of correction they may have doled out as cutting deep into her soul. They may have meant no harm, but for me, this no longer mattered. I just had to renew my old favorite ways of numbing myself...sugar.
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