Haste Makes Waste

I learned my “haste makes waste” lesson from Catherine Tolnay, my 4th grade teacher at my Catholic grade school. And I hope she died a lonely death at the end of a hard, empty life.

I had forgotten my tie one morning. My first time doing so, but I slept through my alarm and had one of those mornings. The sort of mornings we all have because life and work fucking suck.

When you forgot your tie in Ms. Tolnay’s class, you were issued a big Lou Costello style fat tie made out of purple construction paper and you had to wear it throughout the day.

Additionally, you were forced to stand in front of the class while you were chastised for being slovenly, forgetful, and a general ne’er-do-well. Then, for the day, you sat at a lone desk in the corner, facing the class, and was the object of a pretty constant stream of silent ridicule. Your peers making faces, laughing at you, etc.

Finally, you received double detention. That’s two hours, to be served the day of the offense. Which means your parents have to come get you in rush hour traffic.

Having this happen to me meant that I would have to face days of punishment at home. Mom was a strict disciplinarian, and she would really let go sometimes. Two hours detention, no matter the cause, would mean a brutal spanking and a week of various other punishments. All quite sobering.

With that in mind, at the end of my double detention period, I moved as quickly as I could to get my shit together and race out to my waiting, short tempered, and already at boiling point mother. In my haste, I spilled my thermos of soup, leftover from lunch.

Ms. Tolnay sighed deeply, tutted at me, and then said: “Haste makes waste, young man.”

I’ll never forget that moment. The horror I felt. The despair. I burst into tears and Ms. Tolnay shook her head like I was a pathetic waste and told me to clean up my mess or else it would be double detention all week, then she went back to papers on her desk, head down, ignoring me.

I wanted to scream at her, I wanted to beg her to help me, I wanted her to come out and explain things to mom, I wanted to ask her to save me, to take me from my broken, dreadful, sick family. My house choked with cigarette smoke and the walls yellowed with nicotine, my dad, in has last year with us, lurking in the basement with a bottle of whiskey.

But I said nothing. I cried and I cleaned up my mess and I left to receive my beating at home, my mother screaming at me as she drove home, guzzling can after can of beer.

At home, the routine was always the same. My mom would try to bully my father into beating me, he would refuse. They would fight. He would leave and vanish for longer and longer intervals until, finally, he vanished forever.

Mom would follow him out, calling him names, screaming after him, then return, turn her diamond rings around so they faced inward, pull my pants down, and spank me bloody.

Ms. Tolnay’s lesson was that there was no help for me. No one would ever stand up for me. Certainly, no one would offer me forgiveness, or compassion. There would be no quarter given till I could fight back, escape, or both.

I wish I could wash that memory away. I wish that moment would vanish. But it’s always there in the horrific pantheon of my childhood memories.

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   2 Comments


  1. mpm
      January 25, 2013

    I hate Ms. Tolnay.

  2. EVR
      February 14, 2013

    By 5th grade, my Ex refused to go to Catholic school, or any school. How could an 11-year old do that, get away with that, even THINK of doing that?, I wondered, until now. He couldn’t or wouldn’t explain it to me, except that the Nuns hated boys. I’m sorry; I wish someone could or would re-parent both of you. I don’t know if this will help you at all, I doubt it; but you have instilled in me a tiny inkling of the beginning of understanding and forgiveness towards my Ex.

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