Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sister: Twisted

One of my many gifts is having a great memory. Well that and being able to decipher specific sound groupings, why, at the age of 6 I was able to tell, from two rooms away, that the crash I had heard was from a perfume bottle (Shalimar) meeting a large mirror. (Late Georgian burled walnut and parcel gilt) -Quite impressive Hmmmm?

But now I have to share a sad memory from my youth and the sights and sounds therein...
Pathos, you know I love it!
It was a chilly autumn morning. Waiting for Aida, my Nanny, to bring the car around, I was wearing a puffy red coat that made me look like a blood-soaked marshmallow (one of my more avant-garde looks at the time) and a pair of shoes that were two sizes too small. I always wore shoes that were small- A kind of Catholic Martyr thing, but to this day I still can't remember any Saint martyred by tight shoes..... Anyway, on this particular morning My only possessions were a gaudy fantasy novel with a pink cover entitled "The Heart of Valor", and a "Banana Splits" lunch box with a sack lunch. (My sack lunch contained no food but a change of jewelry and a range of makeup for the always variable and somewhat fickle afternoon/evening light.)
As usual I was tardy. School had started fifteen minutes ago, so Sister Rugburn made sure to give me a full dose of the stink-eye before she signed my slip and let me go to class.

On average, I got to see Sister Rugburn about three out of every five school days. She used to ask me why I was tardy until one day I responded with "Because I'm too young to drive and I suffer from chronic ennui." After that she became content with the stink-eye. It's always nice when you're a child and adults don't like you. I was always a bit wary of the world outside my little insulated life but otherwise I was just like Alfred Hitchcock says describing Marnie in the theatrical trailer- "She was a sweet average girl. Happy, happy, happy."
I was eight so it's not as if I had any great expectations for the day. I figured recess would be a plus. I was finally going to show that little prick Sean what happens when you use Black Magic on the four square court when the server explicitly states that Black Magic is illegal. I wondered if maybe I could get half of Kyle's Twinkie at lunch, but other than that I had just intended on going with the flow. I certainly wasn't expecting to look up during reading time to find that my teacher had dropped dead of a fatal congenital heart defect.
When I got to class it was reading time. I took my seat and read "Heart of Valor." I found that it was as crappy and engrossing as I had expected it to be, I am devoted to "bodice rippers". As I read a story about brave heroes and moist young maidens, completely unlike any of the people I had grown up with, I gradually lost all sense of the world around me. For the fifteen minutes of reading time I was gone from the room, and therefore I missed the tragedy. Somewhere between the hours of nine and ten my teacher's time simply ran out. Tick. Tock. Howdy-ho Purgatory.
Strangely, I have no recollection of the sound her body must have made when it hit the ground.

Finally, the murmurs became too loud for me to ignore and I looked up from my fantasy world. Sister Flagella was laying face down on the ground, her arms close to her sides in a position I knew at once was not natural to a living being. I realized that everyone else had been staring at her for the past five minutes.
While she was alive I always thought she looked like she was going to have a Grand Mal seizure or her heart would pop like a chicken on a train track at any given moment- well at least she did when I was in her visual range- AND she absolutely was - forgive me- a Dead Ringer for the Red Queen from Alice In Wonderland.
Seeing my teacher laying face down on the ground, her death murmurs still rattling away, was "interesting." It was so interesting in fact, that for a brief while, I could do nothing but sit at my desk, hold my book, and think about just how "interesting" it was, the sound she made. Like a sigh- a sigh that says, "Screw you little bastards - I am OUTTA HERE!" My stomach, like a fist, clenched in on itself. I was simultaneously overcome with the desire to vomit and pass out. I felt like a balloon tethered only loosely to the earth. At any moment, if the wind became strong enough I would simply float away. I needed a stiff, VERY dry martini. I dropped the "Heart of Valor" on my desk without realizing that I was no longer holding it.
Lots of people will make the claim that "sometimes the time just seems to drag on and on." Most of these people are full of shit. For the few seconds that everyone sat there and did nothing time distorted beyond all meaning. It flowed like molasses. That being said, in reality I probably only sat there for thirty seconds. Inside of my own mind, however, I had been looking at her for the lifespan of a universe. Her complexion, not that different from the mid century marble composite floor her face was in, seemed to lack the luster it had had when she stood.
I was just about to get up and get help, when someone else beat me to it. I was relieved. I had no idea how I was going to go articulate to someone that Sister Flagella had fallen over and stopped moving and that she needed help. It's not something that years of Catholic school had prepared me for. Should I pray? Boil some Holy Water? Or was that for when someone is having a baby? Where was the Priest? Sadly all I could do was stare down and see was that she wasn't wearing foundation and her hosiery were a little worse for wear. I straightened her seams and reached clumsily into my lunchbox for some blush so she could meet her glory properly attired and looking sunkissed then I returned to my seat.
A lot of people ask me if I still see her face in my dreams. I don't. But I DO see the face of one particular Nun when I watch Star Trek.
Star Trek scares me shitless.
More on that in a moment...
Sister Soeur, the teacher next door to us, suddenly ran in and started to shout "Sister! Sister!" Sister Soeur was white eyed with panic when she finally shouted at the corpse "GET UP! YOU'RE SCARING THE CHILDREN!" Sister Soeur was so wise. What we really needed at that point was some full out screaming to shock the terror right out of us. At this point in time, none of us had moved for about seven minutes. Looking from side to side it didn't seem like anyone was going to either.
Following Sister Soeur very quickly was Rev. Mother. Without yet having taken any of us out of the room, Sister Soeur and Rev. Mother turned over Sister Flagella, in an attempt to "give her some air."
I would find out later that Sister Flagella had some sort of rare heart condition that basically caused all of her blood vessels to explode. I could see every vein on her face, as if it were drawn on with a purple marker. Her eyelids looked like they had been stuffed with cotton balls, and her entire body had taken on the color of a plum. Yup, she was one dead sister of a bitch all right.
Suddenly the Rev. Mother came over to me, held me firmly by the shoulders and looked me square in the face -without muttering a single word. Never figured that out. All I could think of was to scream "I didn't do it!" I am not sure she believed me.
For a long time I had trouble remembering exactly what the Rev. Mother looked like. Later, I saw the Star Trek movie and nearly shit my pants. She looked just like the Borg Queen from "Star Trek: First Contact." Exactly. When that satanic bitch made her first appearance on screen, my heart actually skipped a beat because the resemblance was so strong. I didn't know if that woman was going to try to assimilate me into the collective or teach me long division. This is why I'm afraid of Star Trek.
Now that we'd gotten a good eyeful of a death and gore, The Rev. Mother decided the best thing to calm us was to shout again "EVERYONE OUT OF THE CLASSROOM! NOW!"
I can't really blame the old gasoline truck. This isn't a situation they cover in your Masters of Education. So, after having seen my teacher drop dead in the middle of the class, been glared at, and wondering exactly what the fuck was going on, I was hustled out into the hallway with everyone else for about five minutes before another teacher thought to grab the class and take us into their room.
It was decided the best way to help us cope was to call our parents and send us home. While we waited we were given crayons and paper. I drew a dead body. Pope Pius X to be exact. Sister Rugburn gave me another full dose of the stink eye. I think now that I'm an adult I can safely say that Sister Rugburn was a pretty shitty school secretary, but one hellava great Nun. There I said it.
Predictably, I was the last child to be picked up. My brother had had Sister Flagella the year before and when he heard something had happened to her he decided to freak the fuck out about it.

This was typical. My parents were with him trying to calm him down. Not that I knew any of this until later. They left me to color while they took care of the chosen one.
Yes, you read that correctly. I had just seen my teacher fall down dead in the middle of class. Not heard about it: SEEN it. And my parents were taking care of my screaming brother. I only became aware of the fact that my parents were in the building when I heard my brother yelling at the top of his lungs. It's a very distinct sound. I hope you never have to hear it. It starts out like Roseanne Barr's voice. Then at some point it gets under your skin and worms its way into your sensory neurons. From there it begins a vicious attack up through the spinal chord and into every part of your brain that registers annoyance, hatred, and disgust. Upon hearing it, I sighed.
"YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!!! SHE WAS MY FAVORITE TEACHER EVER!" then, because my brother was a conniving evil genius he screamed "I WANT TO CUT MYSELF!" I put my plump cheeks into my hands and sighed more deeply. I needed a line of coke or some animal crackers. I finished the puffy eye-lids on my picture as my parents told my brother that they would buy him something really great for Christmas so that he didn't have to cut himself anymore.
That's when my Dad's head peaked into the room where I was sitting and coloring the dead body of Pius X. I excitedly raised the picture I had drawn to show my father what I had just seen, but put it down again when I saw him.
He was wearing an expensive Italian suit, loudly chewing a piece of bubble gum and scratching his left ass cheek with his right hand. Why he scratched his left ass cheek with his right hand I do not know. All I know is that he looked very much like a big Italian crab on its back when he did.
He did the fatherly thing at that moment and offered me some words of comfort in the form of his cocking back his head in a signal meaning that he had places to go and people to see. I put my crayons away, and threw my picture in the garbage before going with him. It wasn't a good likeness anyway.
While my brother cried and moaned at the tragedy that had befallen him, my Mom and Dad looked at each other in order to decide who was going to be elected to "deal with this shit." Meaning, who would get us something to eat, drive us home, and take turns consoling us like a pair of Velázquez Infantas until they could pawn us off to Aida and have a little nip to steel their nerves. At that very moment they actually said in unison:
"FIGLIO Di una FEMMINA! Devo fare TUTTO intorno qui!"
Do I really need to translate?
My brother continued to scream and wail at the top of his lungs. His voice is like mustard gas. And like mustard gas, it's not something you ever get used to. I looked at him ruefully for a moment and caught his eye. He stopped crying just a bit to stick his tongue out at me and wink before he resumed.
As there was never really a good time to ask these things growing up, I learned to ask questions even if people were yelling. "Umm... Mom and Dad, is Sister Flagella going to be okay?" I had my lunchbox o' maquillage held in the front of me, as a shield between myself and my parents.
They both looked at me, and again, in unison said "She's dead" before they went back to arguing over who was going to drive us home.
While I had been relatively certain that Sister Flagella had passed away, there had still been a tiny sliver of hope that my magical vision of childish immortality might survive the day intact. I was wrong. I started to sniffle a little. Then I began to full out cry.
My Dad realized that I was crying when he heard me pop a snot bubble with one of my heaves. He then did the correct thing by turning away from my mother long enough to get before me on bended knee and, grab me by the shoulders, and say "Don't be a piccolo putana, it'll be okay." He gave me a hard, consoling slap on the butt, and then he started to argue with my mother again.
I guess he lost, because he ended up taking us both into his car.
In my father's defense I would just like to add that he did take us to a nice restaurant. I got to eat all of my Veal Piccata and about a third of my Pancakes Barbara. Before I could finish my brother ate all of his and wanted more. My Dad took it from me and gave it to him to "shut him up."
That night I dreamed of my dead teacher surfing with the Banana Splits- and she was wearing makeup- she turned- while hanging ten- and gave me a quite beatific smile.(she had a bit of "Cherries in the snow" lipstick on her teeth.) I was at that moment a bit remorseful that I had given Sister a shaving mug for Christmas the previous year...
Wait a second.
I just noticed something!
I was digging in to a package of Kraft fresh Deli slices- Swiss cheese- when I realized that the same little pieces of thin vellum that separate the cheese are the same that are found in wedding invitations! Must be a connection somehow, Maybe something with religious overtones- there is that quote from the Bible about "Blessed are the cheese-makers" or something like that anyway- How my brain fills with all things perplexing and ponderous!
Let Us toast surviving Catholic school!
The Crooked Halo
1 oz Cointreau® orange liqueur
1 oz gin
1 oz white creme de cacao
Stir and strain into an old-fashioned glass three-quarters filled with broken ice.
Garnish with a cherry and a slice of orange.
Now enjoy the madcap antics of the Banana Splits!

No comments:

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
zeitgeist, particular friend, perky libertine, animated trickster, iconoclast, rabble-rouser, object of worship, provocateur, capricious damp enchantress, idiosyncratic beloved reptile, whimsical saucy booze hound, bellwether, luminary, stoic, pensive illicit paramour, aloof, engaged, intuitive, curious, perplexing deranged mastermind, passionate, lasciviously adored offspring, amorous, sultry flamboyant charioteer, scholar, scribe, exalted thespian, voracious, considerable chieftain, impaired, cynical colleague, dreamer, procrastinator, loathsome glutton, artist, oppressed peasant, dainty heathen, narcissist, self-loathing...renaissance man