by Jonathon Medeiros
I don’t recall the question or the response I gave, but I remember the frustration rising in the nun’s face, creeping up her neck before turning her mottled brown cheeks dark purple. She asked again, her words clipped, her lips tight, her long black habit shivering with her consternation, as the class nervously giggled. And another response from me, possibly the same response. I don’t remember saying the wrong thing on purpose. I wasn’t trying to be smart or funny. There was clearly a gap between Sister Scholastica’s query and my understanding of her desires, a gap that distressed me as I watched it yawn open—
She grabbed one of those over large chalkboard erasers from behind her and threw it at me.
I ducked and the eraser clattered across the floor. The class was silent for a moment before a loud guffaw snapped the air.
She grunted, reached back behind her again, maybe embarrassed that she missed or maybe angry at Kama’s laughter. Her searching hand found the teacher’s edition of the social studies book. This she hurled with two hands and an audible, guttural effort. Kama ducked and the book hit someone else squarely in the face.
I can’t imagine this did not break that student’s nose but I can’t recall the immediate aftermath. I donʻt remember blood or crying or Sister Scholastica being in trouble or even being embarrassed by her anger at children.
Later, some other day, maybe during the uncomfortable week when the nuns taught us about where children come from, I remember listening to Sara cry from the broom closet, its door locked tight inches behind my head. I wonder what Sister Scholastica would say now that Sara is out of that closet, and all the others.
I live just a few tenths of a mile from the school now, up on a hill over town. Every Sunday I hear the bells ring, and it is a pleasant sound. But as the chimes roll over the treetops like the church breathing out a sigh and a prayer, if I think of anything, I think of that book flying across the room, I think of the sound of Sara crying, I think of Alma telling me I had nice shoes and how Sandra always talked to me at lunch and how strange it is to miss a friend you haven’t seen in 30 years because you will never see her again.
I remember the volcano we built, the way I broke my front tooth on the monkey bars or the time I had no money for lunch, so I sat in the classroom with one of the nuns. I sometimes remember the line of cactus behind the cafeteria, the time the invisible spines irritated my hands for days, or the hard ice we bought from Mother Superior’s office at the end of the day on Fridays.
I remember the time an 8th grader told me to stand against the wall in the bathroom and so I did, my corduroy pants hot on my legs. The way the tile felt cool against my back even through my undershirt and button up. The sound of his feet as he ran across the room and kneed me full speed in my crotch. The way I bent over in pain but didn’t make a sound and how his laughter turned to some kind of an apology about how he thought I might move. I remember also the time I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom or maybe I didn’t ask to go out of worry and so I sat in my own urine soaked seat, hoping no one would notice, hoping it would dry while everyone else had recess. The nun did not speak to me as I sat there alone. She must have known, right?
The school is still basically the same as it was: two long buildings, parallel, with a courtyard in between. I remember needing to look for Maile every morning, after the all school prayer in the yard. She was in 7th and 8th grades when I was in 1st and 2nd, I think. She was tall and her hair was thick and black, like a crashing wave of ink roaring off of her head, framing her long nose and dark eyes, her smile, a flower always right there behind her ear. Always. I loved to look for her and watch her walk away, to see her impossible hair almost touching the ground as she strode, barefoot, back to her class, around the corner in the other building.
Sometimes when I go to the bank in Kapaʻa I think I see Alma, from that day in kindergarten. I see flashes of these people, 5 year olds, 4th graders, former teachers, first crushes, youthful tormentors, briefly dancing behind the eyes and smiles of the people who walk by me in my present life.
Isn’t that you, Ms. Kaye? I think as I drop my daughter off at daycare and wonder about time folding over on itself, the past touching other moments across our timelines.
I don’t ask or confirm when I see these ghosts in the faces of the present. I just let the memories visit, passing me like the sounds of the bells on Sunday, like the scent of plumeria on the breeze, like the crunch of ice between my teeth as I walk up a hill under the sun, like a woman walking on the path, her long hair trailing down, like the smell of urine in a hot restroom, like the sound of a book hitting the floor.
Jonathon Medeiros, former director of the Kauaʻi Teacher Fellowship, has been teaching and learning about Language Arts and rhetoric for 16 years with students on Kauaʻi and he frequently writes about education, equity, and the power of curiosity. He believes in teaching his students that curiosity kills boredom and that if you change all of your mistakes or regrets, you’d erase yourself. Jonathon walks, he paddles, he surfs, and builds and enjoys spending time with his brilliant wife and daughters. Follow him on Twitter @jonmedeiros, visit his author page jonathonmedeiros.com, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org