I’m lucky to be able to use the written word to ‘say’ things I wasn’t able to say at one time, to right wrongs, to heal old wounds, to raise consciousness. Writing has helped me process some of the most painful moments in my life. Sometimes I’ve written essays that are private, never to be published or shared. Sometimes I’ve fictionalized my experiences or used humor to soften the horrific.
I survived Catholic School, but just barely, so God, religion and nuns make their way into a lot of my writing. Some memories are 35 years old – deep, twisted scars that cannot be lasered away or tattooed over.
My friend, Emil, posted on Facebook some class photos from the Catholic school we both attended, although I was one year behind him. Late last night, as I was perusing the photos, I came face to face with some of the nuns who reside in my short stories and essays. I literally lost my breath as if the Devil himself appeared on my computer screen. My memories haven’t been so crystal clear because I remembered those nuns as black, amorphous blobs in habits, no facial features. The photos, though, sharpened the memories, giving them razor edges and form they haven’t had in a while. "Boo!" they said. "Remember me?"
“Stop looking at that stuff,” my husband chastised. “They’re long dead. They can’t hurt you anymore.” The thing is, they aren’t dead for me – and may never be.
Here’s a snippet of a short story:
The crack of a hardbound text book against the back of Eddie’s head stuns us into silence. Although we sit perfectly still, we fight to control our limbs that have been flooded with adrenaline.
I am ashamed to admit how grateful I am that Eddie is attracting Sister Olive’s attention.
I cannot look at Eddie as tears stream down his mud brown cheeks. He is the son of a migrant worker and only in school a part of the year. When he is asked to read aloud, he is unable to pronounce many of the words and his accent makes others unrecognizable.
At 10 years old, I am still too young to attach the label of abuse to what I witness almost every day. Fear is a classmate and together we learn to read, to multiply, to love Jesus.
Despite what I see and experience myself, I am happy to be in school each day because then I don’t have to be at home where I am more afraid.
Most nights I dream of the devil in vivid detail. During the day, she is real and teaches me to fear God and pray for my soul.
In first grade, Sister Mary holds up a clean glass of water and tells us that it is like our pure souls at birth. She walks over to the potted begonias on the window sill and digs out some peat and soil to mix with the water. “This is your souls today, children, because you are sinners,” she says. From that day on, I am grateful for every opportunity to pray for my soul and gladly sprinkle my bed with holy water each night as she instructs us to do -- insurance against a visit from the Devil.