Confessions of a Catholic School Survivor
Bless the beasts and the children
For in this world they have no voice
They have no choice
Bless the beasts and the children
For the world can never be
The world they see
She was tucking the light-yellow and blue plastic container of Vaseline Intensive Care back into a drawer of her desk and we had barely returned to the hardwood chair that uncomfortably attached itself to our desks, when over the PA system came the voice of doom. The announcement demanded that all the girls who’d been to the third floor bathroom in the last ten-minutes come to the school’s auditorium, immediately!
The pock-marked, red-faced teacher who’d just finished slathering cream all over her angry face and whose first words to me after reading my name on the roster for the first time in her 7th grade math class were, “Oh, no! Not another one. You’d better not be like your sister!” eyed us suspiciously. Without a word she nodded toward the classroom door and myself and the girl I’d just been excused with immediately rose.
I will never understand why teachers who don’t like children teach. They seem to enjoy being mean or hurtful. It’s sadistic and kids can always tell who they are.
This girl and I were quite different and while I wouldn’t say we were the best of friends, we were, friendly. Confusion and fear ran through my 12-year-old body as we came upon the two fifth-graders whose entry into the girl’s room only minutes ago, prompted us to quickly discard the evidence. My heart was racing and my brain was in overdrive. Did they say something? They couldn’t have. They wouldn’t be called here with us if they did. Besides, like two little kittens cornered by a pit bull, they were clearly shaking with fear. It was all I could do to keep my fear from being as transparent as theirs.
The auditorium was dark and empty of people although we stood at the back of what seemed like endless rows of gray, metal folding chairs that stopped right in front of the big black piano that rested itself off to the side of the stage. In the distance came the echoing of footsteps clapping steadily over the hard, cold, stone floors. The door swung open and she walked in. With an ever present “gotcha” attitude and a permanently stern look on her face, she glanced us over in one terse swoop as we stood nervously in a row, all wearing the same white collared blouses beneath regulation sweaters and plaid skirts that varied in length, above and below the knee.
I think you know why you are here, she said, confidently. Can anyone tell me what was going on in the third floor bathroom? Does anyone have anything to say?
No one spoke.
Okay, maybe this will help, she said and she pulled from her pocket as only a vice principal in charge of being the heavy can, a white tissue, neatly folded into a rectangle. Do you know what this is? She asked.
Of course we didn’t know! How could we know? We were scared, witless to her antics and worried about our fates for crying-out-loud! We stood there gaping at her treasure as she slowly and quite dramatically unfolded the tissue. In her Perry Mason moment she revealed the evidence we had discarded only minutes ago.
Full props for her unexpected display of shock and awe. Her quick reaction and immediate response brought the perpetrators directly to her lair.
We had immediately discarded the evidence. Actually, my friend threw it out the window in a panic when we heard the bathroom door opening and the two fifth graders came in. Now, here it was before us, stained with the glaring, red markings that obviously pointed to at least one of us. I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up to school and the fifth graders were too young, but there she stood, my friendly schoolmate, smiling her deep, red, shiny smile, as we viewed the incredible, half-smoked cigarette butt that held the imprint of my friend’s lipstick-laden, lips.
Unbelievable! How was this possible? What are the chances of throwing a half-smoked cigarette butt out of a third floor bathroom window only to have it land on the concrete ledge of the vice principal’s open window, while she was sitting in her office?
A gazillion to one, maybe?
Evidently pleased with herself, she carefully re-folded her prize and in another dramatic moment, told us she was going to leave us alone for a few minutes and let us talk it over.
Slaughter to the altar.
I can’t speak to Catholic School these days but the one I went to thirty-years ago reveled in discipline and there was without doubt, a constant, underlying movement to instill the fear to behave in otherwise good kids. As a child functioning under those conditions, you tend to find yourself in a perpetual state of “survival-mode” knowing that anything you do or say could be deemed bad. When it’s evident that the truth will not set you free but possibly get you expelled or left with a permanent mark on your record or worse, a tarnished reputation, you make another choice.
For right or for wrong and without a single word being uttered between us, in her two-minute absence, collectively, we made a decision on how this was going to go. When she returned, it was apparent that she fully expected the culprit(s) to have cracked and step forward or be offered up by the others so that she could swoop down and usher the fallen-soul to the next level of punishment.
Instead however, we presented her with a force she was clearly unprepared for.
There was no crying or finger-pointing. On the contrary, she was met with silence.
Well? She said, impatiently
We said nothing. We were silent, the four of us and the vice principal who sometimes wore two different shoes to school and whose forehead was now growing red with frustration, didn’t know what to do. Clearly the evidence pointed to at least one of us but there were in fact four of us in that bathroom and no one was giving the other up.
After several minutes of agonizing silence, she reluctantly dismissed us and never a word was spoken about it again, by anyone.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t step up and take responsibility for your actions but I don’t regret the decision we made that day not to speak up. We were all pretty good kids who were often treated in a not-so-good way by some of the adults in our lives.This was after all, the same school that called my parents in to convey their concern for my then six-year old brother after he drew a black Jesus Christ. Aside from the fact that because of the climate we know Jesus lived in there’s no doubt he was a brown-skinned man, when asked by my parents why he drew Jesus black, he said it was the only crayon he could find.
Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from the storm
Keep them safe
Keep them warm
~ Richard Carpenter & John Bettis
Photo Credits #1-4 Google Images