Sixth Grade at Santa Barbara School was momentous to me for several reasons. There were no longer Seventh and Eigth Grades at the Catholic school so it was my final year there. My previous year in the 5th grade was very difficult because we were in a class of over 50 kids due to a shortage of teachers. We had also gained a reputation of being a very difficult group.
I was also one of the kids marked to be bullied and teased that year relentlessly. I was called everything from “Sissy” to ” goody goody.” My home life was not good at the time. My parents were having a difficult time. So between the fighting at home and trying to survive at school, I was just trying to cope each day. My only refuge were my friends, books and prayer. That was a pretty tall order for a kid.
So when sixth grade started, our class size was much smaller. We also had a new teacher , Sister Mary Rose. The teasing subsided for the most part and Sister Mary Rose was our teacher. She was in control of the class so classroom decorum was kept well.
My friends and I were close. My parents were still having difficulties but I found more solace at school and in my studies. One of my good friends was named Ronald. He excelled academically. He and I were competitive in this area and I think we motivated eachother. He left mid year for the states. That was a loss for our little group of friends. We missed him.
I continued to worked hard on my studies and found that it was in my academics that my self esteem really began to rise. It was the one thing where I was finding the affirmation I needed. It was my safe place.
At the end of the year, awards were being given out for different areas of achievement. The final award for Highest Academic Achievement was announced by Sister Mary Rose. She called my name. I walked up to the head of the class. My heart was thumping with excitement. I could not believe it. She handed me the award. As she shook my hand, she pulled me close to her and then whispered into my ear, “If Ronald were here, he would have gotten this award.”
I walked back to my desk in shock. I could not even look back up at Sister Mary Rose. I was only 11 years old. As my buddies patted me on my back and congratulated me, I remember feeling so empty. I kept wondering, “Why did my teacher, this nun, say such a cruel thing to me to deflate me?” When I returned home, I went to my room and sobbed for hours. I was a latch key kid so mom and dad were at work. It was hard being alone especially on that day.
This nun ‘s statement seem to justify all the teasing that I got from the boys, all the angry words that came out of a drunken father’s mouth towards me. What was it about me that people would want to belittle me? I remember looking up, as an 11 year old boy, and asking God why was he letting these things happen to me? I felt like a target with a big bulls eye on it. I was free game.
I showed my mom and dad the award later that evening. They were proud. I never told them what Sister Mary Rose said to me. I don’t know why. I guess I did not want it to ruin the moment. I learned later in my life that I just had bottled up too many things inside of me. Thank goodness for therapy!
Somehow, I did work past my Sister Mary Rose moment, and actually made it an impetus to strive more to do productive things. Believe me it could have gone the other way. However at the same time, I also left behind that childhood trust in adults and the automatic respect in teachers. Like those bullies that harassed me, there are adult individuals who teach, mentor and watch over our children who do far worse damage to our young people’s fragile egos and self image. I hope, as parents and guardians of our sons and daughters, we continue to remain vigilant and make sure we weed these individuals out.
By the way, Sister Mary Rose, you were wrong, I deserved the award, no one else did.