It was the first day of school, the rain was falling, and a little girl named Patricia was crying her eyes out.
That random recollection came floating through my mind the other day, possibly roused by a recent review of my Catholic school posts. Apparently I knocked it off a shelf in my memory and it just started playing.
Patricia was a classmate of mine, a scrawny, pale child who seemed to be getting into trouble throughout the entire first grade.
She pulled some stunt on me once—pushed my crayons to the floor or some such childhood version of a capital offense--and I decided that she was evil incarnate and could never be forgiven.
We had all heard she had been left back and would have to repeat the first grade, and yet there she was, sitting with the rest of us in our second year at Our Lady of Angels Catholic School.
And then the voices started.
One of the girls told the sister that Patricia had been left back and several other kids quickly joined the chorus.
“She’s not supposed to be here,” they all said.
Patricia looked around the room in terror as the accusations piled up around her.
I don’t honestly remember if I joined in with the others, but I was definitely with them in spirit; we had an intruder in our midst and she had to be exposed.
And that’s when Patricia started crying, louder and louder as the nun in charge escorted her out of the classroom.
This particular sister was surprisingly restrained upon learning of the child’s chicanery and spoke to her softly—as opposed to smacking the kid into a coma and throwing her under a speeding locomotive.
This Way Out
“Now, now,” she said to Patricia. “It’s already raining outside, we can’t have rain inside, too.”
She deserved it, I thought, she’s a liar and a cheater. I went home and told my parents about how bad Patricia had been caught and driven out of class on a rail.
But they didn’t react like I thought they would.
“The poor thing,” my mother said. “That’s terrible.”
Terrible? No, she had it coming. She didn’t belong in our class. And I still hadn’t forgotten about that crayon incident.
I didn’t begin to understand their logic. Patricia was trying to crash the second grade; she deserved to be punished. Why were they so sympathetic to a blatant fraud?
But then my mom and dad had lived through the Depression and the Second World War, so they knew what real evil, real hardship looked like. And, as loving parents, they were angered and upset at the thought of any child suffering.
I was completely confused at the time, but I see now that my parents were right. We should’ve kept our mouths shut that day.
All Patricia had done was try to get ahead any way she could. If she were a Wall Street broker she’d be hailed as a genius and if she were a politician we’d put her in the fucking White House.
The school staff would’ve discovered her scam soon enough. It wasn’t necessary for us to play Hitler Youth.
Patricia’s breakdown rolled right off me that day like rain on stainless steel, but all these decades later I can hear her sobbing and it cuts right through my heart.
I never saw Patricia again and though it means absolutely nothing now, I’d just want to say that I’m sorry for what we did to you. I’m sorry you were humiliated like that.
And I hope you’ve had a happy life with plenty of joy, much love, and very few rainy days.