Sunday, September 20, 2015

Big Jesus

Sister Mary Magdalen pursed her thin lips into a horizontal line before pressing her long, pointy index finger against them. 

“Quiet in the halls,” she hissed. “Lift your heels when you walk.”

Though most of my sixth-grade peers were intimidated by Sister Mary Magdalen, I had started to tune out her stern warnings, distracted by the startling image before me: the x and y axis of her finger against her lips, a living cross made of flesh and bone just waiting to crucify someone. 

As she ushered us down the hallway to math class, Sister Mary Magdalen turned toward us periodically, walking backwards with a swift and steady gait. She wore a gray polyester skirt that matched a pair of gray pleather shoes--their rubber soles ensuring silence as she stepped across the tile. 

In fact, every student was required to wear rubber-soled shoes, allegedly to maintain an environment conducive to learning, but secretly I suspected something more sinister. In being forced to wear those shoes, I felt like I, as a person, was being silenced--like those silly rubber soles were muting my self-expression. 

So I rebelled in other ways. 

When Sister Mary Magdalen returned to pick us up from math, she marched up and down the ranks of cowering sixth graders, looking for contraband. 

“Jonathon,” she snapped. 
“Yes, Sister?”
“Do I see gum in your mouth?”
“No, Sister.”
“Open it.”

While Jonathon Schuster, beloved class clown and secret crush of every good and bad girl, opened his mouth obnoxiously wide, I inhaled an anxious breath. 

“Wider,” she said.

When he stuck his tongue out as though saying “Ahhh” at the doctor’s office, she grabbed his nose, tilted his head back, and yanked his tongue up to his eyebrows. 

“This will teach you.”

As my peers and I looked on in horror, Sr. Mary Magdalen stuck her hand in Jonathon’s mouth and fingered his gums until she finally fished out a gooey pink wad of Bubble Yum. In a noble attempt to keep his cool, Jonathon smirked and stroked his dark, wavy hair, but he couldn’t hold back the tears, and neither could I. 

My deep, unwavering love for Jonathon Schuster compelled me to leap onto the old bag and pummel her into the ground like a jackhammer. But I was a straight-A student with a reputation to uphold, so I did what any self-respecting pre-teen scholar would do. 

“Sister, I’m not feeling well,” I said. “I need to go home.”

My small catholic school had no nurse or infirmary, so when students were sick they were sent to the teachers’ lounge, a tiny room across from the main office with a futon-like chair where students could moan and wail in agony until someone believed it. Waiting for the okay from my parents for me to walk home, I sat in the stinky, coffee-stained chair, Jonathon’s torture replaying over and over in my head. 

When Sister Mary Magdalen trudged in, I stiffened. 

“Still sick, are we?”
“Yes, Sister.”

Immediately I averted my eyes, knowing that she knew. 

“So what’s wrong with you?”

Without a sound, she swished across the floor to my stinky blue chair, leaning over me so closely I smelled her coffee breath. 

“What’s this on your face?” she sneered. 
“Nothing, Sister.”
“Is this make-up?”
“You’re wearing make-up,” she said. 
“It’s just foundation.”

Staring at me, eyes like needles, she slowly rose and left the room. She was back within seconds, though, wielding a jar of Vaseline and a box of Kleenex. 

“You know the rule about make-up, don’t you?”
“Sister, I’m sorry,” I managed through anxious breaths. 

But before I could explain that I had wanted to cover my zits so that Jonathon Schuster would love me as much as I loved him, and that I really wanted to stick it to her lousy, good-for-nothing rules, she dipped a tissue into the Vaseline and smeared it all over my face, digging her hand so deep in my eyes that I couldn’t see. 

“Sister, please.”

My eyes were glued shut, but I knew that her index finger was pressed against her lips. Within seconds, though I didn't hear her footsteps, I knew she was gone. 

Later that day, I walked into my house, not knowing if I would be able to tell my parents what had happened. In our living room there was a giant, three-foot crucifix that hung in a prominent place, the "Big Jesus," as  I called it. I walked over to it, knelt, and said a prayer that I’d have the courage to bury my rubber-soled shoes in the field behind our house instead of wishing the same fate upon Sister Mary Magdalen. 

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