During the first grade, my teacher forced me to kneel on corn kernels in front of the class.My first grade teacher was also my baptismal godmother.
She stood next to my mother during the inculcating ceremony. Years later, I felt the wrath of her acrimony.
I could have run away, but I didn’t. I could have run home.She was good friends with family. She moved pathetically with a socially- protected dome.
Her abuse seemed to last forever…at the speed of a gnome. After a few minutes, I could not tell which part was was more excruciating:
…physical pain or emotional shaming.
When I was finally allowed to stand, I saw that the indentations gouged into the soft skin. The corn kernels dug only until they hit bone, but they were deep, shameful marks that planted seeds of unhealthy emotions yet unknown.
The notches quickly disappeared but the experience immediately imprinted into every brain cell…
…the pain internalized at gut level
…incurred knee injuries as an adult to ensure that the event is never forgotten.
Later that year, the same teacher forced me to hold up 2 books in each outstretched hand. Where else, but in front of the entire clownish band.
That was the first time I ever felt muscle failure. It felt like my arms would unhinge at the shoulders, a handcuffed rotator.
I was terrified that my tired arms would drop the books. I was afraid that my arms would permanently separate from my shoulders. So, I stayed in that crucified position, taking the stick hits to my knuckles at the hint of lowering my undeveloped arms ready to buckle.
The teacher’s accurate blows at my knuckles immediately elevated the books back up to shoulder level. The effect shook the vagus nerve & navel. I was impressed at my energy reserves. But, I was not impressed that I could not run away after each stick’s reverb.
The entire class laughed while I cried.
I didn’t know whether I was crying for my bruised knuckles, for my aching shoulders, or for my sad existence. I still don’t know. Maybe I don’t need to know. I didn’t understand why I bore the brunt of the abuse while other kids never get punished.
My abusers knew that my father was a lawyer, yet that didn’t deter them.
Maybe they abused me due to the fact that my father was a lawyer? Maybe my father professionally hurt them?
But my father was a wonderful man. Were they braver than my father?
Still, I was afraid to tell my father.
I was deathly afraid to tell my mother.
Why run home and tell?
Why would I double punishment into the late night until?
Crushing Embrace & Fear of Public Spaces.
When I was 7, I watched a boxing match in the town auditorium. At the end of the event, the entire crowd began to exit out of the one and only narrow door. As I made my way to the door, a crowd of drunk adults in front of me slowed the pace, and a rowdier inebriated group began piling up behind me.
I was stuck in a sea of tall drunks, and I couldn’t jump up to get their attention.
Initially, I was able to scream for help, to beg for others to stop pushing. But as the crowd behind me gained power and momentum, in loudness and in boisterousness — I lost the ability to inhale.
The pressure was crushing my chest, pushing my lungs inward — and prevented me from uttering a word. The pressure felt like the hug that I always longed for, but this time — it was an embrace with deadly and drunk ambitions.
I didn’t have the strength to push the adults away. With shoulders that had previously withstood muscle failure while holding up books, I could not muster the power to clear a few inches of breathing space.
I was voiceless again, this time — in words and in physicality.
The men just laughed.
The last few inches to the door were the most difficult. It seemed that I was going to die within arm’s reach of fresh air. I didn’t want to die in that horrible way, but the choice was not up to me.
The mean men just laughed.
When I finally made it outside, I took a deep breath a safe distance away from the door. No one asked if I was okay.
That experience forever shaped my choice of public venues.
As a soldier, I reasoned personal security to justify my back pinned to the wall. As a veteran, I couldn’t cite a regulation that would legitimize my deathly fear of crowded locations.
I was afraid. I was scared as that little kid — the one almost not spared.
Cathecism by Fire.
At age 8, while I was at church full of people, I was slapped by a Spanish-born, Catholic priest. He was the same priest who 8 years before, baptized me with holey (intentional misspelling) water.
His beaming face is on every baptismal picture — did not even apologize for waking me with sprays of water while humming unintelligible overture.
He struck me because he thought that I was talking.
I wasn’t talking.
The kids behind me were horsing around and I turned around to rebuke them. My intent was to help the congregation, to lighten the load of the priest.
The priest quickly stopped the service and moved from behind the altar and walked towards the congregation. When he got to the edge of the elevated altar (his safe place), he motioned for me to walk towards him.
On the way to the altar, I imagined that the priest would congratulate me for doing a good job, for keeping the kids obedient without pay.
Wait, maybe he wants me to confess in front of the whole congregation? From my position at the pew, I walked to the center aisle, turned right and strutted proudly towards the waiting pious priest.
I remember his eyes getting more intense as I got closer. As soon as I was within arms-length, the priest vigorously slapped me with his right hand, striking my left cheek.
I was in shock. Surprised. Embarrassed.
Angry at myself for following directions.
After the slap, he said a few words but I could not hear. My ears were ringing. My cheek was screaming. I must have been red on one side of my face, and fully engulfed with helplessness and shame. I could see his mouth moving, but the words didn’t register.
The tone of his foreign voice crushed my colonized soul.
When he was done spouting hate, he motioned for me to take a seat. I turned to walk back to the pew with my eyes glued to the floor. I could not cry.
I wanted to cry and run out the unholy door. I was hoping for an adult to step up, confront the priest and say, “Why did you strike a kid so poor?”
No one, not one religiously pathetic, spiritually-malformed, fear-absorbed, idolatry adorned — life form — dared to help me.
I could have ratted out the two boys behind me, but I didn’t.
I was afraid they would gang up on me. And, I was afraid that the priest would not believe me.
I wanted to leave the church, but I did not have the courage. So I stayed glued to my seat, and later got up to take communion.
I immersed myself in holy Catholic shame.
The same burden on hundreds of millions — placed by an institution of which — holy violence — is its claim to fame.
Not a single religious, pious, saintly adult came to my aid.
Why risk exposing existence as sedate, unadventurous, and staid?
No one said an encouraging word.
No one, not even a single nun (pun intended).
I walked home flanked — from a safe distance — by other parishioners that would not dare speak to me.
They were afraid to walk with me. The walk of shame seemed so familiar and so natural by now.
The following Sunday was my turn to be the altar boy.
I stood in front of the same Sunday crowd diligently performing my ritualized duties. I felt ashamed, but my white robe quickly and authoritatively suppressed my shame.
I was wearing professional garb, why should I be ashamed?
When it was time for communion, I stood next to the priest as the spiritually-hungry lined up to be hand-fed. I looked into their eyes, but they quickly shuttered their eyelids.
Were congregants in deep prayer, profound regret, or shallow, please-don’t-hit-me-too-Catholic Father — despair?
Were they afraid that they would not get their blood-soaked meal?
Were they scared that they could be next? How will they reach gates of heaven, if in a spit-ritual burst of anger a priest pry permission with, “Hell, no. Be vexed”
After that, I chose to not return to church.
But as a result, I would get beaten or humiliated, or if on a good day both. So, I obediently went back to church every Sunday to…
…deeply inhale toxic shame..
..as the priest exhaled his decrees about heavenly love & earthly human kindness.
I often wonder what would have happened if I had to courage to tell my parents.
I often wonder how differently it would have turned out if one of the super-religious adults told my parents.
All Rights Reserved (January 2022).