This post isn’t meant to be provocative, though I understand my readers who also happen to be good Catholics might see it that way. No, it’s something else altogether.
Years ago, it wasn’t unusual to hear someone talking about how the nuns hit their knuckles with rulers, or spanked them, or some other form of corporal punishment. But I don’t have any of those types of war stories. I didn’t love the nuns or lay teachers in my Catholic school experiences, but most of them were okay.
Now, I say “experiences,” plural, because I actually attended two Catholic schools. The first, St. Joseph’s, was a grammar school that ran from K-8. In my case, I only attended for sixth and part of seventh grade, having gone to a very good public school for K-5.
After transferring to another public school for the remainder of junior high, I then went back into the Catholic education experience for all of high school, graduating from St. Paul Catholic High School in 1983. Altogether, I attended Catholic educational institutions for a total of almost six years.
Brutality As Bio
All this autobiographical material came to mind today as the result of something I did this weekend. I worked on what will likely be the last third or so of my novel, Whizzers. The main character is a thinly-disguised version of yours truly, although the situations in the book are primarily fictional.
This character’s visits to certain places in the past, however, are not based on fiction; they’re based on my own recollection of incidents I can only process as formative, or at least pivotal.
If you’ve ever been bullied, you’re probably scarred for life. You can heal from it, sure, but dredging it up can’t feel good.
When I was bullied – and ostracized, and ganged-up-on, and even beaten up – I was only 13. That experience forms the basis of a scene in Whizzers, but it’s not something I keep secret. In fact, I’ve talked about it multiple times in different settings. It was so extreme, it actually led to my transferring out, ¾ of the way through the school year.
Still, writing about it seems to be a whole other animal. Whereas I can open a talk with self-deprecating humor, and then enroll an audience with the story of being bullied, I can do so with a certain distance, or detachment.
Writing myself into such a scene this weekend, however, brought up powerful feelings of grief. Perhaps the specificity of it all – the green ties and white shirts, the cold blacktop outside the school – lent itself to re-experiencing some of those awful emotions.
What about you? Anyone reading this survive Catholic school? Or have to deal with bullying or other abuse at an early age? Please feel free to share in the comments section.