10,000 Words: 3143-3959

I suck at math. So I hope to god nobody is double-checking my word count estimates. They don’t matter that much, really. I mean, I fuck up simple addition and subtraction. I get it wrong, sometimes, even if I have a calculator handy.

I blame this on the nuns. Up until sixth grade, I went to a Catholic school. The whole nine yards. Nuns teaching you with a ruler ready, uniforms where you’d get Saturday detention if you forgot your tie. The classes were grueling. The nuns were obsessed with penmanship, Bible history, and…not much else. By sixth grade, I had learned nothing in terms of math, sciences, or world history. I learned English and writing skills more or less via the backdoor – reading the King James Bible and writing essays about it. So you pick up narrative structure and shit like that primarily by accident.

On the last day of sixth grade, we went on a class trip to Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland. We were given free run of the place as long as we “did not go past the botanical gardens.” So, of course, I went to the botanical gardens. I found them fascinating, so it wasn’t pure spite that drove me there. I attached myself to a tour and was loving my afternoon when the park police came and grabbed me. They dragged me back to a distraught group of teachers and I was harshly dressed down. My punishment: For the first two weeks of summer vacation I would clean the walls of the school with a toothbrush.

I was a latchkey kid, so my maternal grandparents had to drive me to and from school each day. I was told to lie to them about what was happening. The two weeks were “summer school” because I was “slow.” If I dared breathe a word of the actual reason, my terrifying mother promised all sorts of hellfire and fury. After three days, my grandmother – being, you know, a normal human being – figured out that something was fishy. She confronted my principle – Sister J____ — and they, apparently, had a knock-down, all out fight. (I was waiting in the car, in the summer heat, with the windows rolled up).

That day, I was “expelled” from Catholic school throughout the entire state of Maryland and “excommunicated” from the Catholic church. For 7th grade, I would go to my local public school

Now, years later, as I wrote my memoir, I discovered that there was quite a bit of chicanery here. What actually happened is that my mother was forcing my maternal grandfather to pay the school’s tuition. He refused and said that my mom would be responsible starting with the 7th grade year. Her reaction, apparently, was to get me drummed out of Catholic school in the most dramatic way possible. This was always her natural inclination so that, in itself, isn’t surprising. What’s surprising is how well it worked. The excommunication – and being expelled – was all bullshit. Yet she got Sister J____ and our church’s ushers to play along. How? Why? Well, it was mom. The memoir stands as something of her psychological profile, the conclusion being: There never was a why, and the how was because everyone was scared of her. Or maybe getting paid off, if you want to delve deep into the conspiracy fuckery that surrounds certain elements of my family.

When I entered 7th grade, it was insane. The social world of public school was brand new. The whole idea of cliques, and bullies who actually carried through with their bullying, was alien to me. Sure, that shit exists everywhere, but bullies in Catholic school were like butterflies compared to the fucking assholes I met in 7th grade.

In class, I was stunned. History? What was history? Stuff happened outside of the Bible’s timeline? A history without saints and popes was bizarre and strange. Earth sciences may as well have been in Mandarin. I knew the Earth was round and it went around the sun and there were nine planets, but that was about it.

Math class? I had never seen a fraction before. When the teacher wrote it on the board I had no clue what it was and what he was talking about.

Of course, I threw myself at school as best I could. I mean, I despised it, but I focused on bettering myself. I spent tons of time in the library tutoring myself in world history, math, and all the basic shit that every kid my age took for granted. I had no choice. I was less than remedial in everything except English and religion (which was now useless in public school).

I made it though, I got a college degree, but here I am at 43 struggling to figure out how to add and subtract words so I can get my 10,000 Words project right.