Tuesday night I was lying on my couch watching Netflix when my phone began to blow up. The nun, that nun, from my school years at St. Joe’s was dead. The message came from my friend Helen’s sister in a group message including me, our beloved Capri, and Helen. It was very matter of fact like, oh Sister James died and Helen is coming home in three weeks. The first thing I saw when I opened the message was a collage of three photos of Sr. James and she was smiling. In the nine years I was at St Joe’s, I don’t remember her ever smiling. I remember the older kids talking about going upstairs for 5th grade and them being terrified of having Sr. James for math. Kids would dread her, sweat her and wish her dead. Years ago I read an article by a local newsman that I respect from South Troy who went to St Joe’s. He sang her praises so much so I wanted to be sick after reading it because I felt he didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. Praising Sr. James? Really?
I felt my blood run cold when I saw her photo. This morning when I read her obituary I wanted to puke. I don’t know who wrote it. According to the obit she was this well respected nun and beloved. Really? Capri’s sister posted it on her fb page and people began sending condolences. Capri was on the verge of firing back when I told her to just take it down. The shit storm on FB wouldn’t have been worth it. We know the truth. Here is the truth. She was a sadistic, abusive; lunatic that took great pleasure in hurting children. Pure and simple, that is our truth. It is the truth of those I have permission to speak for: Capri, Helen, Helen’s sister, Serpico and our friend Socks.
Socks: Fear and intimidation were the cornerstones of her teaching principles. She bullied her students into learning.
When we were in 8th grade, on Fridays, when it wasn’t a half day (we had lots of half days) we would have to clean the classroom. This one day Capri wasn’t moving fast enough, cleaning out her desk and Sr James full handed threw a social studies book at Capri’s face. It was an act of God in two ways: 1) Capri didn’t have a broken nose and 2) Capri didn’t have a mark on her to explain to her parents.
Capri: She took pleasure in humiliating kids. She was great at humiliating and did it at the core level. Not embarrassment-HUMILIATION! The kind of humiliation that crushes kids self-esteem and spirit.
Her favorite way to humiliate me was by saying in the snidest of tones, “OH MARY stop being such a martyr.” I think she used this word because I was always on the brink of tears. I hated waking up every day. I hated being in my family. I hated the fact that I was different. Most of all I hated her. I was a kid. A fat kid with a cheap, bad haircut, a horrible father, a lunatic of a mother, and was sexually abused from the time I was four by someone who was my “cousin”. Then I had to go to school and endure further humiliation by this rotten, repressed twat of a nun. I thought I was going to hell because of what happened to me and the fact that my father knew and did nothing to stop it except to blame me. Then a person of God tells you that you are no good. I wish I could have been convinced I was going to hell. People with nothing to lose become very dangerous people.
Helen: She would line us up and she kept deodorant in her desk. She would take it out and tell us to use it.
One time we must have been in 7th grade. I don’t know what class we were in but we were going to math next. There was a weird puddle in the back by Helen’s assigned desk. Next thing you know they are patting down the 8th grade girls. Someone had peed on the floor and Sr James was going to get to the bottom (sorry) of it. Now let me explain, Sir James NEVER, NEVER, NEVER let you go to the bathroom. She just didn’t. We would ask to go either before or after her class. It would annoy the other teachers but most of them were young and didn’t want the headache of listening to her. As for “patting down” the 8th grade girls, no fucking way would this happen today. There would be press, parents, lawyers and lawsuits as fast as you could raise your hand to be excused. I never liked the girl who peed on the floor but I respected the hell out of her act of defiance.
Serpico: I hope when her celestial trolley comes to its stop, her God asks her, “Soooo, St. Joseph’s…. what the fuck was that all about?”
She beat the shit out of the boys. There were regular beatings with yard sticks. The girls she stopped short of the physical beatings, more like grabbing, but she lived for the humiliation.
Helen’s sister: She was coming undone by something anal (we would have to line the desks up with the lines on the floor. If one wasn’t right, the whole class had to start over) and she was reaching over her desk to get at this boy. She couldn’t quite reach and so he leaned in and she went in a ripped into his hair…I have a couple of people asking me if I was going to her wake? Did they have a blackout? Ummmm, no!
In 5th grade St Joe’s and St Anthony’s merged and that is how I know Capri (although we met years earlier on the steps of her Mom’s house. My stinky great aunt lived in one of the apartments.) and another lifelong friend, Socks. Socks was a nervous kid. She was very skinny and I call her Socks because Sr. James made her so nervous she would always yank on her socks.
Socks: First day at a new school, class is right next door, took a left and got my hair pulled so hard my eyes watered…Didn’t realize no left turns. The hallway operated on the “belt system” which meant no matter where you were or where you would be headed you could only exit to the right.
I took a break from writing this and looked at the comments on FB. HAVE YOU ALL LOST YOUR MINDS??? Can hundreds of people have Stockholm syndrome at once? If somebody treated your kids or grand kids like this you wouldn’t be talking about how she taught us to tow the line. Fuck that, she abused children. Period. She used fear and damnation and yardsticks to get us to tow the line and we did to survive and now she is a saint? I’m sorry St Joe’s alumni, it doesn’t work that way. I don’t give a rat’s ass if that’s how they did it then. If no one spoke up and called it what it was/is it would still be going on today. And don’t blame my home life for my anger. Sr. James was rotten. You don’t thank your bully for being a bully. Most of all you don’t lie and saint the dead.
Capri: Asshole in life; asshole in death.
I’m not a better person because of her. I am working at being a better person in spite of all of the bullshit. I don’t always succeed. I try. I can’t do math to save my life. Whenever I drive by St Joseph’s I don’t feel warm nostalgia. I feel anger. I am sorry I could have never come face to face with her one more time to tell her that she was one of the worst human beings I have ever encountered. It is probably for the best I never did.
Godspeed Sr. James.
Oh, and fuck you.