LLR 1 (continued)
Being pretty adept at avoiding things at an early age whenever I had to, allowed me to miss the first day of school. A cough here,a cough there,mixed in with some moping around,and topped off with an occasional groan,always gave my mother the impression that I was sick.
She did however have a soft spot for me being the only boy in a household filled with women and an ineffectual dad. It gave me some leeway when it came to social situations. The next day though it was off to school with my youngest sister in tow to start what I believed was going to be another round of abuse at a new school that was now ten blocks away. On the way over there I felt like I was making my way deeper into enemy territory,only now,thanks to my fourth oldest sister going away to high school and ultimately college,I was entrusted with the care of my youngest sister to and from school,not to mention during.
This was a standard duty handed down through the ranks whenever one of us went off to high school,the next oldest child still in elementary school was responsible for the younger ones,the remaining ones until it was his(now mine)or hers(my four older sisters) time to go off to high school. It was a torch that got handed down to each and every one of us. Now it was up to me to keep my kid sister safe at least until I went off to high school.
Yeah,that day the curses came tumbling out my mouth from the moment I got up to the moment I laid eyes on the slate gray building that was St Ann’s. The entrance resembled the front of a mausoleum with the top rising in to a huge cross that beamed the schools significance as a religious institution in the neighborhood. I stood about five feet away from it with my sister who was silent,a rarity brought on by what I could only imagine was a fear of the unknown. My own silence was born out of a serious distrust for all things religious. At that moment I felt someone’s hand plop down on my shoulder and heard a familiar voice say
“Aww man,you to!” In one swift motion also born out of distrust,this time from having been jumped a few times, I whirled around,removed the hand from my shoulder and found my self face to face with another former student and survivor of St Lucy’s;Gregory Davis.
From the name you wouldn’t guess that he was Puerto Rican like me. How Gregory wound up with such a Caucasian sounding name,I’ll never know. Both his parents were pure Puerto Rican like mine,and his mother knew mine from parent/teacher conferences. One thing I did know was why Gregory had ended up transferring to St Ann’s. The two of us had left St Lucy’s like a couple of refugees escaping an oppressive political regime.
It was during the sixth grade that Father Fiorelo,the severely wrinkled,mostly balding,oily Italian priest who had slapped me during the third grade and his henchman Mr. Walsh,the school principal,who resembled one of the Kennedy’s only ruddier skin, had been replaced by the Archdiocese with a couple of Brothers. They weren’t actual brothers as in family or Brothers the way Blacks refer to each other as brothers. No,the Archdiocese had sent a couple of Franciscan Brothers to run the school. Brothers to me in their ankle length frocks always came across as the sergeants in God’s self proclaimed army,with the priests being captains,and the arch bishops being lieutenants or kernels.
What these two Brothers really were was a couple of motherfuckers with white collars. While Father Fiorelo and Mr. Walsh came at the students like a Mafia Don and his most trusted goon. Brother Casey and Brother McDonough were one mother-fucker short of becoming an axis of evil. Brother Casey was assigned the role of principal of St Lucy by the Archdiocese, also coming over from hell,which would explain why Ricky Guzman was one of the few non Black students not to suffer under the oppressive new regime.
Brother Casey with his brown curly hair and gold frame glasses came across as more of a conniving king,friendly to the masses only so they wouldn’t revolt before he could have his way. The wreath of curly brown hair that sat on top his head must have felt like crown to him in his arrogance,rather than the Jew fro it actually was. When he was angry with a student Brother Casey would lower his gold frame glasses until it hung from the tip of his nose while he tried to figure out what to do with you in terms of punishment. This always left you with the impression that he was either looking down on you or peering at you the way a sniper would stare down a scope,taking aim at his next victim the way he probably scrutinized his boyfriends.
Fucking faggot. This flaky asshole came to St Lucy with the intention of converting his colored and very distant cousins in East Harlem to Catholicism even if it meant breaking a few psyches along the way. Like plenty of White Catholics in the North and White Christians in the South he felt us savages in the ghetto enjoyed our heathen lifestyle and needed to be broken of it in the harshest ways possible. As a principal he treated teachers,parents,and students with equal amounts of scorn and they all treated him with complete disdain.
Brother McDonough was assigned by the Archdiocese to be a teacher, but he was nothing more than Casey’s muscle,a cold, calculating intimidator. Unlike Mr Walsh who went around cold, calculating intimidator. Unlike Mr Walsh who went around St Lucy’s like he was collecting vigs for Father Fiorelo, Brother McDonough was more of a hit-man sent to erase the problem entirely. To me he would always be that IRA motherfucker.
Imagine an All In The Family era Rob Reiner, meat head, with neatly combed red hair, parted on the left side and fitted with a handle bar mustache with all the loveable qualities of that character surgicaly removed. He stood around 6 feet, making him a giant to me, Gregory and every other 14 year old boy who had to face him for whatever programming Brother Casey had in store for us. Nothing lived inside his dark brown eyes except an angry glare, the kind you find on a White person when they come across minorities shopping in their neighborhood, bethat taunt facial expression where everything about them looks like its barely under control.
Brother McDonough was the kind of person you kept children and small animals away from. Everything was a trip wire with him, setting off his anger at any time . He was brutal, often hitting the students and belittling the parents whether they were Black or Latino with dismissive gestures or simply by walking away from them without acknowledging their presence.
His true calling was mercenary or hangman because no ones life meant anything to him.
Gregory and I and a whole bunch of other students at St Lucy’s felt his wrath during the sixth, and seventh grade; humiliating punishments, slaps across the face, throwing out parents from Brother Casey’s office and the entire school when needed. Those two religious sacks of shit sent more kids-screaming-to other schools via the transfer, than graduation and pep rallies. Gregory and I were just two of those many students who went screaming from St Lucy’s the moment those fucks got there. Our parents and any other parents who wanted their children to live transferred them out of St Lucy’s at the end of seventh grade, but I had no idea that Gregory had transferred to St. Ann’s.
I found myself face to face with him on that second day of school, feeling as if I were almost glad to see him. My kid sister had started tugging at my sleeve in an effort to hurry things up so she could find out what her new classmates looked like, her eagerness stemming from the fact that she was always a pretty girl and prettiness always transferred in to popularity, another thing she had always been since she started school. I couldn’t be bothered with her. My comfort automatically took precedence over her burgeoning popularity. Greg and I started talking like as if we had been friends since first grade, something we seldom did while we were at St Lucy’s . Both of us had been outcasts at that hell hole, but for different reasons. Me because I had been withdrawn, distrustful, and contemptuous of everyone since first grade, a condition that started at home with everyone but my mom.
Silence or outrage was my only form of communication with my fellow students. Gregory on the other hand was one of those kids who had always been big for his age,at any age.
Lanky when he remained still and gangly when he moved, the rule about big kids that I had devised didn’t apply to him at all. Now the rule is;the bigger the kid the more likely they are to be a bully, but Gregory was different; awkward and sensitive,always looking to fit in, but he had a ways to go before he grew into his size.
Not that sensitive is bad,but sensitive and tall and gawky with no desire to do harm to others no matter how funny it is to someone else is like practicaly painting a portrait of yourself as a retard. Boys aren’t supposed to be that way, at least that’s what other boys think, the ones who were bullys. His sensitivity painted a very big kick me sign on his back, making him a constant target for ridicule among the boys who thought of themselves as the proverbial little men.
Our status as outcast wasn’t enough to make us friends. Two outcasts being friends was like wearing a stripped shirt with polka dot pants: it only makes things worst.
For me it was better to be a loser on your own than to straddle the weight of having to care about someone else who was awkward. One club foot was enough for me. My immediate concern only allowed me to cover my own ass.
That day I was glad to see him though. To see one familiar face on what was my first day at a new school with my kid sister who I really didn’t like all that much and who I would never know what to make of as we got older, calmed at least one nerve in me, one wrinkle smoothed out in what was already becoming a harsh life.
I quickly shook hands with him, and we started talking about everything; how we were both glad to get away from the Brothers Grim aka Gaysee and Fuckdonough, and how we weren’t going to miss dealing with assholes like Ricky Guzman and Perry Blackmon. Things had already started looking up for Greg who had made few friends on the first day of school, two of whom greeted him as they were getting on line across the street from the school. My sister was stil tugging at my sleeve throughout the whole conversation,squawking about how she had already missed the first day of school and that now I was making her late.
Greg quickly came to the rescue, assuming the voice of reason by pointing out to her that all students lined up across the street, with the lower grades on the left side of the block and the higher grades, 7 and, 8 on the right hand side. He was kind enough to point out to my sister exactly where the fifth grade class was so she could get a glimpse at her new classmates, diverting her attention elsewhere and shutting her up while Greg and I continued our conversation. After about five minutes of catching up we started to cross the street so we could head to our respective classes. My sister made it a point to tell me she didn’t want me taking her to where she belonged because she didn’t want any of her felow classmates thinking she was baby. That’s the last thing I heard before all sound died out. Everything became mute the moment my eyes landed on Lisa Lydia Rivera. Even my foot hung there in mid step,dangling inches off the curb when I spotted her coming down the block.