I'm always hearing stories about how the nuns messed up the lives of so many of my Lapsed Catholic friends. (Yes, Catholics can be friends with Lapsed Catholics. All a Catholic has to do to maintain the friendship is to nod and laugh when the Lapsed Catholic tells him how much the religion messed the LC up. When the C laughs, then the LC thinks the C is an LC and everybody is happy. One thing the C should never, ever do is try to explain to the LC why he, the C, is still a C. That's just asking for trouble. Because all the C is doing, really, is triggering the GUILT the LC has been harboring since he turned LC. And once the GUILT is triggered, the friendship between the C and the LC is endangered, because dredging up that GUILT is just not the friendly thing to do. The C rarely intends to trigger the GUILT but...that's the way it is with GUILT. It kind of sideswipes you like a neglectful Nissan driver in a slippery parking lot.)
Anyway, I never had any real trouble with nuns. Well, one, maybe. Sister Annette. I'm not changing her name because there's no way she's still alive and if she is she deserves to be really, really old. She was my second grade teacher and, I swear to God, she had us thinking the Russians were out in the cloak room ready to pounce on us if we so much as sneezed during Arithmetic. Yeah. Russians. Russians were very big back in those days if you wanted to scare the crap out of kids. And Sister Annette knew what she was doing when it came to kid crap scaring. I remember back then that I was afraid of Protestants (that's just a level of paranoia I do not want to examine right now), but not nearly as afraid as I was of the Russians. Back then, our only option when it came to escaping the Russians was to "duck and cover." Or, in the case of those of us in the Sacred Heart School, to move single file down the stairs to the basement where the Russians, we understood, couldn't get to us. Sister Margaret Claire in the first grade and Sister Perpetua in the third grade never mentioned the Russians. Perhaps that's because they were older and Russians to them still lived under Tzars and hadn't procured the hydrogen bomb. But Annette--she knew Russians, and she knew that if she wanted something out of us, all she had to do was invoke the imminence of World War Three and we would comply. Another thing about Annette that bugged me was that, one time, she heard somebody talking in the boys' room. This was strictly forbidden. I have no idea how talking might have negatively affected urinating, but she seemed to believe it would and banned chatter from the lav. Anyway, she heard talking one day (I guess she was just outside the boys' room door, listening), and when we filed out of the lavatory, she lined us up against the blackboard and demanded to know who was the chatterbox. Nobody owned up. We all knew that whoever owned up was going to be fed to the Russians. Trouble was, I KNEW who was talking. It was one of the Mulligan twins. It didn't make any difference which one it was. They looked the same and acted the same and both had a habit of talking in the boys' room. And I knew it was one of them. And it showed on my face. And Annette was really, really good at honing in on a face that showed. So she looked me in the eyes, and asked me who was the talker. I opened my mouth. Nothing came out. The Mulligan twins were enormous, and all I could think of at that moment was either I tell on the twin that I can see and who can kill me, or I hope to God that Annette is lying about the Russians.
I was punished. No Russians. Just blackboard clapping or something, I forget. But I was held responsible for the bathroom gabfest, even though I never, ever said a word in there.
I think, though, that the Mulligan twin who did the talking gained a modicum of respect for me after that day.
I have no idea what happened to Sister Annette.
But I hope the Russians got her.