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One Mean Nun

First grade came with many new rules. Every morning we got off the bus and were herded into the auditorium where we mingled with other waiting children as additional walkers trickled in. By a time certain, we would be escorted to our classrooms and the day began with one Hail Mary, one Our Father, and the Pledge of Allegiance. This repetitive ritual was the perfect way to start my day. After that, we were banned from talking unless expressly called upon to do so.. Forbidden. Prohibited. Verboten.
Richard Todaro lived on 213th Street my block with his mother, grown sister, and his brother Billy who acted like a girl and took tap lessons at my dancing school. Sister Anna MarieMichael Mary took Richard out of alphabetical order and locatedsat him rightdirectly in front of her desk. This was his second time in first grade. He rarely did the workbook pages we had for homework and never had a pencil. His white shirt was gray and the cuffs were as black as his fingernails. He always looked like he needed a haircut and sometimes fell asleep at his desk. Sister Anna Marie Michael Mary moved him, she said, to stop the socializing in the back of the room. No talking in class.
On one day in October, as rain hammered the classroom’s windows and Sister Anna Maria Michael Mary raised her voice to be heard over the deluge, Richard conversed with a neighborchatted and giggled with the kid next to him, undeterred from chatting despiteby his change of venue and the nun’s regardless of having been warned to be quiet repeatedlynumerous warnings. He just wouldn’t shut-up..
Sister Anna Maria Michael Mary abruptly stopped the math lesson, evidently as if to issue Richard a yet another warning. She put down her chalk, walked to the back of the classroom and took a small stack of brown industrial grade paper towels from the metal supply cabinet. All heads followed her as she walked back to the front of the classroom. She walked back to her desk and told Richard to join her stand and come foward.in the front of the classroom. He stood next to her and Once he complied, she methodicaldeliberatelymethodically tucked three coarse brown paper towels into his collar, covering his tie. All eyes were fixed on Richard as this breach of routine unfolded. The nun then opened her desk drawer and took out a heavy, clunky dull gray stapler.
“Richard,” she enunciatestarted.enunciated over the downpour bouncing on the windows. “What is our rule about talking in class?” Her voice was frighteningly loud over the so we could hear her over downpour bouncing on the windowsthe squall. When I looked out the window, I concluded that the view from a submarine was probably similar.
“What is the rule about talking in class?”
“There is no talking in class?” he answerprobedanswered sheepishly.
“That’s correct! What a smart boy you can be when you try!” she sarcastically praishailed.praised. “And do you know why I moved your desk to the front of the classroom?”
“Because I was talking too much?” he asked back.
The whole class watched the repartee unfold like a well-rehearsed play.
“Correct.“Such a smart boy!” she answered. “ Did you know that I thought that moving you closer to me would encourage you to follow the rules?” she said to the class with contrived melancholy.. “But do you know what happens every time I turn my back to the class to write on the board?”
Richard shrugged.
“Does anyone know what happens when I turn around to face the board?” she asked shouted to the class.
About a dozen uniformed sycophants raised their hands with the enthusiasticHands shot up from her rapt audience servility of Nazis. Sister.
“Yes, Michael stood on her toes a little and craned her neck from side to side, deliberating whom,” she would choose to help her humiliate Richard. More than half the class was vying for the honor by now.
I was suddenly reminded of the small fish tank in our dining room. Once, my mother added an odd-looking metallic fish with a big head to the tank. She thought it would look good with our six fat, pink kissing fish. I remember thinking he looked lonely since all the kissing fish were paired off and he was alone. In the morning, the metallic fish was ripped in half and the kissing fish were gnawing on its two buoyant carcass chunks. My mother scooped the halves out of the tank with a delicate net and flushed them.
“Yes, MichaelMatthew,” sheSister Michael pointed to the fourth row.
“Richard talks,” he compliedtestified..
“Richard talks. Indeed,” she repeated with a heavy, solemn tone. “Richard. Don’t you think it’s enough that I have to compete with Noah’s deluge out there? So now I am You have forced meforced to do the only thing I can to make sure you remain quietkeep Richard quiet.”
She dramatically paused before announcing: “I will staple hisyour mouth shut.”
She tapped the stapler rhythmically on her left palm.
“Face me Richard,” she demanded.
Richard stiffened and clasped his mouth with both dirty hands, one over the other.
“That’s why I put the paper towels in your collar, Richard,” she calmly explained. “So you won’t drip any blood on your tie or shirt.”
Richard took a step back and began to shake his head from side to side violently; hands still firmly attached to his face. and hHis his brown eyes were wide and round and overflowingfilling with tearstears, which ran down his cheeks in dirty streams.. I saw that Richard was starting to cry and I heard the foreboding stapler clicking like a castanet as Sister Anna Maria Michael Mary bounced it maniacally on her palm. It could clearly be heard over tThe torrent of rain was still striking the windows.
Richard’s tormentor stood as still as Lot’s Wife,. until she Then, suddenly, she lunged at him, causing. Fueled by an intrinsic survival impulse, which overrode the whole class to gasp and lurch back as if spooked by a horror film. Fueled by a primitive, congenital n intrinsic survival impulse, which overrodequelled the callany dutycall to obey, Richard ran to the back of the classroom, his grimy hands still shielding his lips, rivers of muddy tears dripping over them.. Sister Anna Maria Michael Mary shot up the aisle after him, the sound of clinking rosary beads emanating from the waist of her habitrhythmically augmenting the clinking stapler.. He ran back down the next aisle and she followed, nipping the stapler at closer to the back of his head.
While I watched them in complete terrorhorror, violently mutilating my twirling strands, my classmates roared with laughter. The terrified boy and the irate nun ran up and down the aisles,isles between the rows of desks until the nun wore-out, put down her weapon, and breathlessly told a despondent and sobbing Richard to take his seat.
She leaned on the desk for a moment, caught her breath and casually returned to writing on the blackboard.
I kept trying to pay attention to the lesson, but every time I looked made him keep the paper towels at Richard, I was awash with pity, fear, sadness, and empathy. I couldn’t understand what the other kids were laughing at. I tried not to look at the pitifully, whimpering Richard who was, which was hard because he sat in the front of the classroom. Sister Michael made him keep the paper towels tucked in his neck for the rest of the day and he used them to blot up his tears. I wished a giant fish net could mercifully just scoop him away.
Sister Michael Mary was a bully. A grown-up bully. Her habit, like a policeman’s uniform, cloaked her with absolute authority. Yet, I sensed something familiarly unsettling about this classroom. It was the mandate to obey, without question, someone who I sensed resented being there. She was always angry. I wonder if her dad drank beer too.
.
She made First grade was the scariest place I had ever been besides my living room. keep the paper towels at his neck for the rest of the day.


BabzEsq24 BabzEsq24 46-50, F 9 Responses Mar 19, 2012

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Was this a true story?

Yes and it took me years to get over Richard's torment. That kid lived down the block from me and his dad took off and his mother worked like 3 jobs. He had enough problems and did not suffer this well

We had one nun that everyone in the school called Atilla the Nun.

There was a writer that wrote A Christmas Story. I can not remember his name. It became a movie in the early seventies. It was like your telling of Richard's story. He must have had a nun teacher too. The book and the movie as demented like your story. Scary but true.

Richard has grown to be a recalcitrant petty criminal. His family was a mess-mom a ********, dad a drunk, brother a cross-dresser-in the 70's-not accepted then-The nun could have buffered his saddness-but only added to it

Poor Richard. Yes, a constantly chattering kid in your classroom is annoying, but to torment him like that is way out of line. Judging from your desc<x>ription of him, he didn't have much of a chance at all, and he was a bit of a rebel. I hope his spirit wasn't broken.

He and his brother broke into homes on our block. His father was never in the picture, his mother worked constantly. My mother is a nasty, gossipy ***** and invented that she was a hooker or ********. The older brother took tap classes where I took dance. I think they wanted to be "normal" and their mother was doing her best- she was paying tuition- but I heard both boys had run ins with the law.

That doesn't surprise me one bit. Boys need a strong, responsible man in their lives. If they don't, and are poor and bullied to boot, statistically they are bound to have run-ins with the law.

Your mother sounds like she and Sister Michael would get along marvellously.

I recently began attending therapy for "anxiety" reasons and began my first session talking about how devastating my catholic school years were. Needless to say, those 12 years of catholic school left its indelible mark of future problems I am just now beginning to face. I cannot even walk onto a catholic school campus without going into a full blown panic attack. My parents, who attended catholic school their whole lives, were not a source of solace for me and actually were equally cold, demanding, over-controlling, and punishing as well. I can still hear the slap of ruler on my desk.

I'm sorry. I cannot believe the responses my little story has evoked. As an adult I would talk about Incarnation -even how they let bullies torment with impunity- and was met with disbelief-This is a real- "guess you had to be there" experience. Too many broken people give too much power over kids and parents- (my mother was a brutal animal) sided with the teachers without listening to even a sentence of your side. I hope therapy brings you peace

I went to catholic school for 12 years. I saw many incidents of of sadism performed by nuns. Once a child had a fecal accident and somehow it ended up on the floor. I do not know why I was in the classroom after school but I saw the nun try to force the kid to eat his ****.<br />
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When I was older the vietnam war was raging. If you did not want to be drafted you could choose to join the air force, navy or marines. Then as now the marines had a reputation for being tough. I thought, " I have no reason to join the marines, I graduated from catholic school". There probably many marine drill instructors who have NOTHING on a catholic nun.

I tell these stories and am met with disbelief-I am accused of exaggerating- Perhaps only Catholic School survivors get it

That poor little kid, enduring that fear, that total torture. I have seen many a compulsive bully in the education system, I am sorry to say. Teaching is just one of those professions that tends to attract them. Some people were never meant to be either teachers or nuns.

Heard she left and married a priest that left as well and that Richard and his brother had run ins with the law. She could have made the difference

Thats just awful. The poor kid obviously had an uphill battle in the first place to be coming to school in that condition. =/<br />
I must say I attended 11 different schools and the one year I spent in a catholic school was the worst of my school years by a country mile. The school had 60 girls and 6 boys (tiny school they added boys to keep numbers up i think) me and my brothers were half of the male school population. I was in grade 4 or 5. I ran headlong into a metal pole playing kiss chasey and turning to see where the girl was. I turned my head back forward just in time to run straight into the pole. (us boys didnt really get a choice there was only 6 of us) This broke a front tooth in half. I was given 1000 lines each one taking up 3 lines of an exercise book for my sin. When I protested my innocence and tried to make my case I was picked up by my HAIR by the year 2 teacher.<br />
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A few days later I lay in the only driveway to the school and refused to move lol. My parents put me in a different school the following year mercifully...

That's terrible- my mother was abusive and neglectful- I was never allowed to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water- I wet my self because I ws always thirsty and would drink so much before school- my mother did nothing no matter how much I cried- the nuns only responded to the needs of kids whose parents were involved. It was torture.

Im so sorry babz. yeah i would never send my child to one... =(

My gosh! poor Richard.

he and his brother had all kinds of run ins with the law