I Wasn’t Alone
In the third grade, I wasn’t alone when Mother Superior slapped my face for returning a smile to another student. While standing at the side of her desk, later that day, I wasn’t alone when she asked me to extend my arms towards her, and open my hands turning their palms towards God. No, I wasn’t alone when she struck my palms with a ruler, and I bowed, from the waist, to her acknowledgment.
Again, I wasn’t alone in the fifth grade, of a public school, when one of twin girls asked to hold the gold initial ring that my parents had given me for Christmas. I know this because the entire class had gushed from its glistening brilliance before laughing when squinting from the light sparking off the scars spanning its surface: in a flash, she had turned to the window behind us and swiped the ring’s face over the edge of its frame.
When I was spat upon, while being pushed into my locker, I wasn’t alone because I felt the warm spit striking my face as the wire spirals of my notebooks cut into the flesh of my palms. When I was reaching towards their flurrying pages, I, again, wasn’t alone because the gentle breeze flowing through the building’s open doors was wrapping around me as it carried them.
I think of a child exposed before the cameras’ flashing bulbs: concealed beneath his upset, a knife prevented him from feeling alone. Probably, he intended never to use it, and, considering his youth, the idea, and sensation of it frightened him probably; however, it was a companion, and guardian against threat, so, once this guardian acted killing one, and injuring another, the boy collapsed within himself probably from the sensation of penetrating flesh and striking bone; still, he was not alone. Even within his cell: he is not alone.
Never, does it seem to change: The spring comes, and everything blooms. Seasons pass, and everything returns to sleep. People live as people die. Abusers abuse while teachers look away, or, in my case, participate. I could detail this example using the austere tone that I’ve used to write this piece, but I prefer to inject a little color, so allow me to paint a picture.
Walking up, and down the aisles between our desks, the heels of his cowboy boots struck the linoleum tile floor with the repetition of a metronome. From left to right, right to left, his thin moustache danced as his lips smacked, and mouth sucked a hard candy ball.
When it stopped, he stood at the right-rear side of my chair: from the corner of my eye, I could see the fluorescent light sparking from the oval silver-plated, and brass, buckle fastening his bridle leather belt. This restraint hovered above his prize separating his plaid shirt from his faded wrangling jeans.
This teacher knew that I was nervous because he knew of my strife, so he knew that I did not need attention brought to me, yet, as an executioner with an axe hovering above my neck, he struck incising blows repeatedly beginning with: ‘Will Mr. DelMonaco be able to speak today?’
In the crush of my silence, he would ask a question in a snide tone. A question, no one could answer; then, without awaiting a response, and without allowing me to think, he would strike a severing blow to elicit jeers from his audience: ‘Are my questions too difficult for you to understand Mr. DelMonaco?’
Silent, I remained as he smirked while exhaling a breath carrying a condescending chortle; then, he would turn to the class to question my silence. With the rise of their laughter, he would stifle them stating with resounding exclamation: ‘AGAIN, Mr. DelMonaco does NOT seem to know the answers. Will he EVER get anything right?’
Behind smirking lips, he waited for their laughter and mocking whispers to relent. I remember looking to those lips: they seemed to expand stretching larger than his face until bursting open in release of laughter.
As an adult, I acknowledge this as nothing more than a modest taunting from a teacher propping his weak constitution, but it was very distressing when I was a teenager. He could see this while flaunting his pleasure before the result of his effort. He garnered energy from both my pain and his students’ pleasure. He strengthened their resolve while nurturing their aggression beyond the door of his classroom. The classroom, I was intended to learn within.
Possibly, I was being sensitive, and I misunderstood the lesson that I was to learn within that room: he was teaching me to be strong while attempting to lift me out of the pool of distress that I was drowning in. Do you agree? Do you believe that I was wrong: was I misinterpreting his lesson? Do you believe that I was sensitive or, if you prefer, weak?
Should I have been less distressed, and more amazed with his skill of smacking while sucking a hard candy ball when executing the tasks that he had been repeating for years? Should I have been able to acknowledge him suffering his limitations? Should I have known that his actions were an attempt to forge strength within him? Should I have known that he exercised his authority abusively to lift himself from his distress? Should I have questioned, and attempted understanding all of this while living the life of a threatened and shy teenager?
I was a child condemned from possessing a sexual orientation that I could neither define, nor acknowledge possessing. This was his reason as it was the reason of each of my abusers in the late nineteen-seventies. As I was raised in the country, I, despite my urban life, was a sheltered child, and sex, and sexuality was of no interest. I tell you this because, as an adult, I question if that disco cowboy substituted that hard candy for what he was actually desirous of sucking.
Now, you will note that I did not speak of teachers defending either me, or others suffering as I did. This is because I can think of one only: she was supportive, and her support was appreciated; however, her support was too little to hold any impact.
Anyway, as it was in my youth, it is, now, the same for many. This is my reason for mentioning the child and his knife. Still, we are, each of us, not alone. Oh, we have our parents, whether they know, or not, and we have ourselves; however, also, we have countless others suffering the same. They came before us, and they follow us, and they stand beside us holding understanding.