“Well those silly bully boys
They lost more than their toys”
The Tiger Lillies
At Blessed Sacrament School (also known as “BSS”), which my brother called “Bull Shit School,” the atmosphere was rife with bullying. Corporal punishment was not only allowed, but encouraged, it seemed, and I would be a liar to say I wasn’t afraid of some of my teachers, especially the nuns. Sister Mary Alphonse may have been the worst. (I have changed or altered names to protect the innocent and guilty.)
She was my homeroom teacher in seventh or eighth grade, and did not suffer fools or lack of cooperation gladly. Cooperation included being silent during homeroom period. She had a distinct limp when she walked, from a hip surgery, we thought, and sported a cane. The cane was employed in various uses: slamming on the desk of an uncooperative pupil, pointing towards the blackboard, and slamming against the blackboard. She taught Algebra. Luckily, I was good at Algebra. One of my best friends, N, was not as fortunate. Math was her worst subject. Sister Mary A seemed to delight in sending N to the blackboard to do the most complicated problems even though she knew she was bound to fail. The blackboard was positioned adjacent to her desk, so she would have to turn her head or get up to actually see the blackboard. To this day, I have no idea how she saw without standing up, but somehow she managed.
N would stand at the board and do her best, but inevitably could not solve the problem at hand. Sister A would glance over and say, “Erase Line 4, N!” in a very hostile voice. Then, “Erase Line 3,” and on it would go. Usually Sister A would stare straight ahead as she barked her commands.
The end result was N reduced to tears at the blackboard, hands shaking. It went on time and time again, so often that the rest of the class started to tune it out.
As I said, I was good at Math, but I had my moments too. One day I was sent to the blackboard and lost my train of thought or something, and could not solve the problem.
“Erase Line 4, Miss K,” said Sister Alphonse.
Then it was, “Erase line 3,” and finally, “Is that you, Erica K?”
Jesus, who else would it be?
I was a deer in the headlights. I stood at the blackboard feeling what I thought N must have felt all those times. I was frozen; it was me and the chalkboard and the chalkboard wasn’t speaking to me. Sister Alphonse took her cane and pointed to line 3. I still could not figure it out.
Sister Alphonse’s rage knew no bounds. In retrospect, she must have been in a great deal of pain all the time. Why else would she have been so mean?
One morning during homeroom period, Elena, who sat directly in front of me, was talking to her buddy in the adjacent row. Sister Alphonse quietly hobbled down the row, struck her cane on Elena’s desk and slapped her in the face. That was for talking.
Then there was Mr. T, the Social Studies teacher who was having an affair with one of our classmates. He would taunt me for not talking in class—I was the shyest person in my grade, for sure. He made fun of my name and looked to the other pupils as he was mocking me, with a Cheshire Cat grin widening his pockmarked, saucer face, as if seeking approval for his bad behavior.
A favorite activity of Mr. T’s was to drag Orlando, a tiny Filipino boy, by his tie outside of the classroom and slam him against the wall while holding onto his tie. He also liked spinning him around by his tie. Sometimes I thought this was some kind of sick game between them. I can’t remember what Orlando ever did to deserve this, but it was par for the course.
Then there was Miss Nelly, who punished our third grade class by turning off the lights, pulling down the shades, taping a sheet of black construction paper in the window of the door and locking us inside. Kids started screaming and calling for their mothers or pissing themselves. It was mass hysteria for however long it lasted.
Sister Kathleen terrorized me during First Holy Communion practice in second grade. I don’t know what it’s like now, but in the 60s and early 70s there was no AC in the school or the church, only giant, useless circular fans on poles. It was June, 1968. We were all dripping with sweat as we filed down the hallways in preparation for Communion practice at Blessed Sacrament Church. It was so hot in the church that some kids fainted. I was so devout that I spoke all the prayers in full voice—I wanted to be a nun when I grew up—and at the end of the Our Father, I would always say, “Amen!”
Sister Kathleen turned around in the church and said, “Who said ‘Amen’?”
She walked up to me in line and said, as the sweat was glistening on my brow, “You do NOT say ‘Amen’ at the end of the Lord’s Prayer.”
I promised I would never do it again. Sister Kathleen was my homeroom teacher so I really had to watch my step.
Of course, I did it again, and again, and again. It seemed the more I got scolded, the more I did it. At least I learned to catch myself once and only whisper “Amen.” What a nightmare.
I know my story does not compare to the horrors that so many children and teenagers have endured over the years and continue to endure at the hands of bullies, cyber or otherwise, but I suppose the point I wanted to make is that bullying is an equal opportunity employer. No age discrimination here.