So I couldn’t spell Lake Titicaca. I saw nothing wrong with writing the answers on the back of a wooden ruler in pencil for the weekly geography quizzes. It was the only object allowed on our desks during tests. Points were taken off for spelling. Foreign words and places, crammed the back of that piece of straight, hard wood.
Fifth grade was already hard enough. I had lost a month of school work, hospitalized inside an oxygen-tent suffering from double pneumonia. They thought I might not make it.
I didn’t have any near-death experiences, unless you consider wanting the toy, Rock’em – Sock’em Robots as going towards the light. I guess you could say I thought heaven was a boxing ring where kids were cheering; “You knocked his block off.”
When Sister Ludmilla wasn’t teaching, she was telling stories about her days teaching the sons and daughters of New York City dock workers. About some tough, Irish guy named Reds. However, most of her stories were full of horror. I heard of exorcisms for the first time. The devil as an actual being. A young girl who made a bad choice, had her head cut off and thrown into a well, only to have her crying out and asking for forgiveness to those walking above.
The class wasn’t stupid. We looked at each other and knew this was crazy, but it set the stage for the following years of rebellion on this Animal Farm.
I remember one morning in another grade, when our same group of classmates had Sister Leonessa. We arrived at school, and in white paint on the red bricks was “LEO COBBS.” The “Leo” reference was obvious, and “cobbs” had just entered our vocabulary as slang, not sure how or why, but the meaning was the same in the late nineties for the slang word, “monica.”
The first thing Sister Leonessa did was to tell us to write on a piece of paper the meaning of the word “cobb.”
That graffiti must have drove all the nuns crazy when they saw it, trying to figure out the meaning. Every time she said it, we had to control our laughter. When we began to write the meaning, no one dared to write, “blow-job” or else be convicted. To this day, I wish I had the folder of my classmates’ answers. The safest answer of course was that she liked corn.
It was that moment of my cheating in fifth grade, among the horror stories from Sister Ludmilla, our innocence was ending and now behind us.
Behind me was an innocent blonde, and while I was copying those answers onto my test from my wooden ruler, her hand raised. Sister Ludmilla called her name. She stood up and fingered me for cheating and copying my answers from my ruler.
Sinister Sister said; “Oh no, he wouldn’t do that. Come up here and show the class your ruler.”
Not only was I caught but I was bringing the instrument that would be used for my punishment. The nun went crazy, screaming while whacking my knuckles, tearing flesh. I was bleeding. I wasn’t going to be able to use my Rock’em – Sock’em Robots for weeks.
Forty years later, that blonde girl is a true supporter and fan of my writing. Occasionally I receive an email from her asking if a certain character or incident was true. Once, I told her something she loved was completely made-up. I felt her hand raise, and the computer I use to write, turn to wood.