It is late, well not past midnight or anything but late for a work night. I have to laugh… I am not working… so really???? And what else sounds so much like work night? How about it’s a school night? How did our lives become determined by school or work nights anyway? Who decided that was how it was all supposed to be? Was it the wizard behind the curtain? The man behind the pulpit? The man in the oval office? Really whose idea was all of this?
I have always been the really good nice girl and I have always really hated fitting into the boxes at school and work. I always loved the kids at school who defiantly refused to fit in the box. At St. Therese there was Antonia Raffa who drew pictures on everything. I mean everything. Her class assignment had these girls on them nothing else just the girls. She sat at her desk and drew the entire day. She never spoke to any of us only her twin brother Joseph and she was constantly in trouble with the Nuns. I remember really wanting to get to know her to find out how she could be so brave. How was she able to do what she wanted to do and not what was required. I knew she was happiest when she was humming and drawing. I watched as she flinched every time she was caught and reprimanded. She eventually didn’t return to school. Joseph wouldn’t talk about where she went. I missed her. I missed her defiance and I can still picture those drawings. And then there was me ~ the other defiant one. I didn’t draw to be defiant. No I had other tactics.
I had gone through a growth spurt and my uniform was no longer the correct length. Sister Anita Marie spotting the infraction asked me to bring it to my mom’s attention and have the hem “let out”. I told her this was not going to be possible. Upon pressing me more I looked her in the eyes and told her my mom had been sick with the flu for 3 days and wouldn’t be able to fix the hem. She gasped to think that I would blatantly lie to her. And of course my mother was not gravely ill but she wouldn’t be sewing anything soon. My mom could not sew. I wasn’t embarrassed for me I was protecting my mom. One day in 2nd grade during religion class we were told that anyone who was not a Catholic would not be joining us in heaven. I remember asking why God would not let my mom, a Protestant, join me? There was no explanation given only “we so hope your mother will soon be baptized.” So half truths to protect family and deflect any box stuffing was ok in my book. I knew lying was wrong and did not aspire to be a great liar. I fully understood the risk I took and made the choice to protect my mom. Besides at11 years of age I needed something for confession. I know you are not supposed to do things so you had something to confess. But I had this uncanny ability since first grade to see through the facade of the institution I went to 5 days a week for 8 months. I learned that shock was the only way to get my point across. I never lied to get out of something I may have done, I embellished to make a point. The tone and the energy I used got the point across – leave me alone and don’t fence me in. Sister Anita Marie did not call my mom to report my lying but she did pester me to let the hem down for several days. Finally she cornered me as we moved from music to social studies requesting that I have my mother call her. I stopped, turned, and stared at her then quietly walked away. The subject was never brought up again. And the uniform was never altered.
Those days and that defiance was a turning point in our relationship. I grew braver and she became leery of this bravery and watched me for any indication of leading an insurrection of the masses. I grew bold and began to step out a little further from the box. I began to chat in class especially in social studies with our lay teacher. Miss Slatten was young and had no idea how to herd 6th graders. As the hormones beganto rage we became more uncontrollable. Our teacher sought advice and help from Sister Anita Marie, the Principal. Oh yeah I forgot to mention that… I lied to the Mother Superior, our Principal.
To help Miss Slatten, we were subject to surprise visits by our Principal. At first she came in through the front of the class to see how the day was progressing. This was her first mistake. We now knew we were being watched and that Miss Slatten had enlisted help. Without any discussion as a class we garnered lookouts. I volunteered to cover the back and another volunteered to cover the front. His job was easy because within one week, Sister had changed her attack. We were all busy chatting, not boisterous but definitely ignoring our lesson when I began to hear this swishing noise accompanied by a clicking sound. I stopped talking, faced forward and cleared my throat just as Sister creeped around the door. Too late, we had all faced forward and assumed the position. This went on for several weeks and still she could not catch us. She would change the time she appeared but alas we were all good little angels listening intently to Miss Slatten. However, I was moved from near the door to the other side of the room a strategic move I assumed requested by Sister.
On a cold snowy Monday Sister changed her tactics again. We were really busy this day having had to stay inside for recess we chattered loudly throwing paper airplanes across the room. Suddenly, I felt something moving and without hesitation I shut up, stuffed the airplane in my notebook and faced forward. Unfortunately several were too slow in rearranging themselves and fell to the trip to her office. As she left the room she glared at me trying to figure out why she hadn’t snagged me. For the rest of the week I didn’t participate in the shenanigans but instead I listened, felt, and tried to determine each of the times she would appear. Not really knowing what it was I was picking up or how I could determine when she would arrive I was still 100% accurate. Sister had stopped walking down the hall and instead crept down on her tiptoes with the rosary that hung from her waist held tightly in her hand. She walked up against the wall instead of down the middle so to deflect any sound. I still was 100% accurate. I had just been given my first real recognition of a gift I had. I could feel and sense the energy. I knew to the second when she would peek her head into our class room. Eventually I grew tired of the game and stopped being disruptive. I decided it was time to give it and Sister a rest. At the end of term I left St. Therese and was enrolled in public school. My parents had decided that we needed science but it was really due to the tuition costs for 5 children. With 3 in high school it was no longer sustainable. Don’t worry my new found skill still served me well even in public school. There it proved much easier to read the energy of the teachers and students. I often thought the energy of the nuns was harder to read because of their guardedness. Perhaps I had also fine tuned my skill, for whatever reasons, I continued to spend time developing this skill and found it served me very well. It has kept me safe, helped me to know when to pursue and when to stand down, it has helped me to determine when someone is being truthful and it has helped me to be brave. It is a gift that ensures no boxes or fences for me.