Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A special case

March 1, 1975

A special case.
That’s how the nuns got around me in grammar school.
They put that on the cover of my file and stashed it away, knowing they needed to know nothing else about me.
I was six then and in the first grade, but already asking uncomfortable questions about God, and so innocently, they couldn’t just label me as a troublemaker (although I suspect then thought I really was.)
So they called me a special case instead.
They always said “Yes, Yes,” to me and nodded or winked at each other, although I could sense them wincing each time I raised my hand to answer any of their questions.
I guess they thought they might whack me into line when I got older and into later grades, using the back of their hands or rulers they used on other troublemakers.
Back then in those kinds of schools, parents didn’t raise a fuss when nuns belted misbehaving kids.
But at six I was just too young for them to get away with it.
So they patiently endured my unbearable questioning of faith, even restraining themselves through the second grade, though by the time I reached the third grade they could not cease to shout, demanding I read my catechism – which I only made worse when I shrugged and said I didn’t believe anything the catechism said. This equated in their minds to heresy, but if I was still too young to beat, I was certainly too young to burn on a stake, and they refrained.
By the fourth grade, they sent me home with notes, which I brought back signed as proof they’d been read, but nothing came of them. With one exception, my uncles, and grand parents largely didn’t care whether or not I questioned the existence of God as long as I stayed safe in Catholic School where I wasn’t getting beat up by thugs in the public schools for saying worse to them.
Special case or not, I didn’t fail – even religion. I simply gave them answers they didn’t like or asked questions about their questions, over which they could hardly find excuse even to beat me.
Perhaps even they had the same thoughts and struggled against thinking them, while I – not having yet learned to fear eternal damnation – spoke my mine freely.
I gave them plenty of other reasons to beat me, but never with that, and more than once nuns sat me down to explain how there are some questions that ought not to get asked, then fled in a flight of panic when I asked them why not.
By the fifth grade, one nun in particular found many good reasons to beat me – sneaking up behind me in the back of the room when I slept through some lecture I didn’t care to hear. She hit the back of my head so hard the sound of it echoed in the hall. But I never cried, which only made her angrier, and made her hit all the harder the next time and the time after that. She might have gone on to kill me if sister superior hadn’t told her to stop.
And when this nun asked why, sister superior simply said, “He’s a special case.”
After that, I only got hit for things I really did – and that was more than enough, although it never hurt as much as they thought it did, and I simply refused to cry.
Somehow I knew the minute I cried, they’d won – and I refused to let them win.

But I did feel sorry for them, especially later when I got older and realized how trapped they must have felt in their own lives, unable to ever ask questions about who God was and why they believed in him, too scared to do anything but believe.

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