I’ve been called one thing in several different ways: cynical, jaded, skeptical, pessimistic, gloomy, disparaging; always some variation. I wouldn’t dare deny it, though I prefer the term “realistic,” and I certainly don’t find it a bad thing. I wear it with pride. I prefer to view things carefully before jumping on the bandwagon. Some people wonder what made me that way. Well that’s an easy one: nine years of Catholic School.
I assure you not all of my stories will be Catholic School stories, there’s been far more in my life than that particular misery, but it did take a big role in shaping who I am and I’d like to take a few moments to retell some of the more disturbing experiences I had there. No, I’m not talking about any sort of priest/child molestation in fact I want to say something about the priest I grew up with.
Father John was a very kind and decent man. There was something very comforting about him, and even forced confession sessions- one of the worst things you can make a child afflicted with anxiety do- weren’t so bad because of his very calm demeanor. As far as I can remember, his sermons never preached intolerance or tried to instill a fear of hell. My mother liked him a lot, and that’s definitely something she would have taken issue with. He was a good person, and when he unfortunately died in an accident shortly after leaving our church I attended his service, even though by then I was a spiteful atheist teenager who hated just about everything. I remember seeing another former classmate who had declared himself atheist there as well, and he didn’t even live in the same town anymore. So yeah, he was a great guy, and an important reminder to me that the worst representatives of a faith, culture, or country do not represent the whole.
And while I’m on the subject, the nuns at St John were good people as well. We only had four, and only two of them teachers, and they were rather gruff old women who donned windbreakers rather than habits, but they were very nice, and what’s more they were genuine, you never doubted their motives or if they really liked you and they didn’t play bullshit private school political games like many of the other teachers. I don’t keep up with the goings on of that school anymore, but I’ve heard the new priest has kicked them out of the house they were living in (which they were promised they could stay in after retirement) and replaced them with habit wearing nuns. And I didn’t think that place could get any worse…
Enough digression, onto the stories… except let me digress once more and say that these stories do not represent all Catholic schools (though I haven’t heard many kind words about others) this is my personal experience in a class that- even in that school- was known to be reprehensible. These stories are about the interaction between me and my former classmates during our empathy forming years, that means that at the time we had no empathy and only learned some after we had endured, and inflicted so much trauma.
The time we broke a handicapped kids legs
Despite the title this is actually one of the more benign stories because it wasn’t done intentionally. This happened around 4th grade, there was a kid in our class who had been in a wheelchair most of his life. He had been at our school for only about a year and as it happened he was very close to finally getting out of the chair and walking without crutches. He actually was out of the chair at the time of this story and walking- tentatively- on his own with the occasional help of crutches.
Well one day we had to go outside to take a picture for some reason, a stupid one I’m sure. Well we took it and then we all ran back inside to get back to whatever it was we were doing. Well about five minutes passed before a teacher came into the class and said that the handicapped kid (we’ll call him K) was still outside and need help.
Apparently in our haste to get back into class we had knocked K down and a couple of us accidentally stepped on his legs. The next day he was back in his wheelchair, and it looked like he was going to be in there a couple more years at least.
Now my memory of this time is hazy, and I can’t say for sure if that’s the sole reason he was forced back in the chair, but god knows it didn’t help.
The time some bullies went mafia on the new kid
Now this one I wasn’t party to, and, except for the people involved, no one can say what really happened, but most of the students and parents had a good idea.
This was… maybe 6th grade, I can’t remember, we had a new kid in our class (we’ll call him J), he was an alright guy, maybe not the most physically attractive, but not really weird or anything. I don’t know why, but for some reason some of the big guys in our class- really bulky, buzz cut types- hated him.
Well one day they took J out behind a building. The next day he came in with a broken arm. This is where things become unclear, but most people believe that the kids who hated him took J out behind the school, held him down, and broke his arm. I don’t know if it was their intention to break his arm, but either way something happened.
Some parents complained, some screamed, but the teachers said because no one saw it they couldn’t do anything about it. To make things worse, J refused to tell anyone what really happened, maybe he was scared of them, but I’m not so sure. I think really he just wanted them to like him because from then on J and those kids were best friends.
Maybe they respected him for not snitching, maybe nothing really happened, either way I didn’t like it. J was an alright dude, those kids were total assholes and now they had another member of their entourage. It was also painful because at that point I was very much disliked by everyone, but now this kid had managed to get on the top of the totem pole even though everyone hated his guts just last week.
Remember what it was like to care if jerks liked you? Well, it was a lot harder not to when you spent 9 years with the same 22 kids.
The time I was publicly humiliated because I pretended my fingers were guns
Why are our earliest memories also some of the worst memories? When I was in kindergarten there was a rule in the school that you couldn’t point your forefinger out and pretend it was a gun. This was a rule that was widely forgotten and ignored, even though kids kept getting in trouble for it. Finally the teachers had the last straw and said the next kids who did it would be sent to the principal’s office.
One day while waiting to go to recess the kid next to me was committing the crime by pretending to shoot down some bugs in the air. Forgetting about the rule, and having never done it myself, I joined in. Well almost as soon as I had made my fingers into the barrel some kid said in that horrible little shrilly kids voice “Ohhh I’m telling!”
Right now this story sounds like nothing but juvenile grievances, but trust me it gets much worse.
I spent that entire recess feeling shitty and almost crying. I had never done anything bad at school before and going to the principal’s office was the worst punishment. On the way back to class the kid who said he was telling on me asked me why I was so sad, then he remembered and his face lit up with a smile, and he said with glee “Oh yeah, I almost forgot!” Then he immediately told the teacher. I know we were just kids and all, but man… what a little fuck.
My kindergarten teacher was a bitch, but her aid was a vile, detestable wretch of a woman from England. If a kid ever asked her “what?” because they couldn’t hear her she would go prostrate and say “what? WHAT? YOU DO NOT SAY ‘WHAT’ TO ME! YOU SAY ‘MA’M!”
By the way we were five.
Well a few screams later I was shuffled off the principal’s office and forced to sign a book and was told my name would be in there forever and if it was put in there too many times something bad would happen.
I’m pretty sure all of my anxiety problems developed in kindergarten.
For whatever reason someone decided regular punishment wasn’t enough. Kids were still doing this gun thing and they needed to make it stop. So they called an assembly for some of the kids near our grade and made everyone who had committed the crime stand before everyone and make an apology. For a people who condemn crucifixion these people sure knew how to put a guy on the cross.
To this day I have no idea what the problem was. I mean Jesus we were kids playing pretend we weren’t practicing for a school shoot up or anything. The kid next to me came from a military background and I think wanted to join the army when he grew up. Not exactly prelude to a psychopath.
I understand the fear of guns in school, and I myself am pretty anti-gun, but there’s a difference between prevention and paranoia. Private schools, I think, feel paranoia a lot worse because they have so few kids they can easily focus on who they think are crazy and let them know how horrible they are. Well in any case, that was my first experience with pure, raw sadism and when I believe my anxiety started.
EDIT: Found this while looking for a picture of gun fingers. Apparently it’s still a thing. 18 years and no progress! The American Education System.
In the interest of holding your attention I’ll take a break here, I’ve already gone longer than I should have. The next (and hopefully last) round of stories revolves more around stuff I did that I’m deeply ashamed of.
Next time: The convict who strangled me!