“I Didn’t Hate Them”, the third in the “Innocent Children” series

I was ten on that day in 1972
It was almost Easter week
And to be honest I was looking
More forward to time off from school
Than Easter.
Time to play with friends

But always close to home.
On the tele I had always watched
John Wayne and War movies with Da
Until the war came to us.

My mom always afraid
Said always stay close and
Stay in groups.
One wrong turn
Into the wrong street
I would find myself in a place
Where they hated us.
I knew they were Protestants
And I didn’t know why they hated us
I do know that many grown ups I knew
Hated them just as much

My Dad would scream as the soldiers passed
My mom was afraid
My older brother would go out feeding off my dad’s hate
My Dad would scream to come back
My mom would sob
I was afraid he wouldn’t come home.

So I stayed close and left school with friends
The streets were busy and further up the road,
I could see the checkpoints.
Soldiers keeping them from us, us from them
The older boys would move closer to the men with guns
And jeer but always run back towards us

I heard the crack of thunder
I heard the screams of all my friends
Some went this way
Others went that way
The boys ran faster than the girls
I didn’t run

Another crack of thunder
Only then did I realize that after the first crack
I hurt in my stomach
Only then did I realize I hadn’t ran with my friends
I looked down
It had been a warm day for April in Belfast
I had not worn a jacket
I had worn my School dress with my knickers and black shoes
I had my Guardian angel pin on my chest
In the middle of all those black and green squares

I spilled jam all over the front of my uniform
Except jam didn’t hurt.
One of the brave boys came running over
I didn’t know I had fallen
He dragged me to the side of the road.

Another crack of thunder
The bullet, I knew it was a bullet
Hit the ground next to us.
I couldn’t put my arms down to cover the jam
His hands were under my arms
He was pulling me so hard it hurt
Not as much as my stomach.

We came to a rest behind a wall.
I looked up to see my big bro
“Connor you saved me”
I was so excited to see him, I almost forgot the pain
Almost

He started crying. He was sixteen
He never cried anymore and he was crying
Like one of my school mates
“Those Fucking Bastards shot you”
“Connor don’t curse, mom would be hurt”
“They did this to you.”

The pain in my stomach.
The strawberry jam.
I now started to put it all together
It wasn’t jam
The bullet in the street
My brother’s words
They shot me

I heard all the stories
I listened to the radio
I watched the news at night,
While we ate dinner.
My mom begged to turn it off
I could see Da get angry every time
They would shoot us because we were Catholics
They would shoot us
And we would die

“Conner am I going to die?”
He couldn’t look at me,
But I saw his tears and saw him now sobbing
Sobbing like mom
I was able to reach down to my stomach
Beneath the jam my dress was torn in two places

“Connor am I going to die?”
My eyes became blurry
But I wasn’t crying
My stomach didn’t hurt so much

“I didn’t hate them.”
Conner pulled me towards him and
The jam, not jam, got all over him
I couldn’t catch my breath
My fingers gripped his arms
He rocked me back and forth

“But they hated you”

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