You know why I like Catholic school? Because we get out of school before the public school kids. They always make fun of our uniforms and the fact that we have to march in straight lines and pray to Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. They wear what they want to school. Their teachers let them be loud, and some of them don’t even know who Jesus, Joseph, and Mary are, which makes me want to pray extra hard for them because everyone should know the Holy Family.
We get out a full three days before they do. I’m so excited to be done with second grade. Sister Barbara Ann was strict; she used the ruler on your knuckles if you did not march in a straight line or pray loud enough to Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. I never got the ruler, though. Not once all year. I was afraid of that ruler.
On the first day, Sean O’Toole got the ruler three times on each hand. We had just marched in for the morning, and we were saying our morning prayers. Sr. Barbara Ann walked around the room to make sure everyone was praying. She stopped in front of Sean.
After the prayer ended she said, “I can’t hear you Sean. Don’t you want to go to heaven?” She got right up in his face. I wondered if he could smell the coffee on her breath.
“Yes, Sister, I do?”
“You do what?” she asked.
“I want to go to Heaven, Sister.” He was looking down at his toes, even though his nose was almost touching hers.
“Well, you aren’t going to go to Heaven if you pray like that.” She stepped back, went to her desk and grabbed her ruler. “Hold out your hands, Boy.” He put his hands out. Her lips pursed when he did. “Put your palms up, Sean.”
Sean turned his hands over, and she hit him hard. Three times on each hand. She wound a little higher with each crack. Sean shut his eyes, and every time the ruler came down, his shoulders jumped and his eyes squeezed.
After it was over, she said to him, “Now you think about how you want to pray to the Holy Family. You want to pray loud so they can hear you.”
He shook his head and sat down. Sean O’Toole sat at his desk and cried. He was the biggest kid in the class, but there he was with tears rolling down his face like rain drops. Sister ignored him. I don’t know if she felt bad about it; I thought she should because he wasn’t a bad boy, but I guess she was trying to save his soul.
Yep, I definitely am glad to be out of the second grade. Next year I will probably get the pretty, young lay teacher, Mrs. Lucky. She has a reputation of giving out butterscotch candies on Fridays after mass, and no one has ever said that she raises her voice. I doubt she even owns a ruler.
But first, I plan on playing all summer. We have the pool in the backyard and I am going to take swim lessons. I can ride my bike or my big wheel, and once all the kids are out of school, we will play kick ball and tag. Oh, it is going to be the most fun summer of my life, I know it.
Today, Mary Novak and I are going to walk to the public school after lunch. All our public school friends will be in class, but we are going to go and play on their playground. Oh! How envious they are going to be of us swinging on the swings and sliding down the slides! And they won’t be able to do anything about it because they have three more days of school, and we don’t. I plan on wearing my new terry cloth shorts and my Tony the Tiger t-shirt. It just came in the mail. Rick and I ate 22 boxes of Frosted Flakes to save enough box tops to buy it. It is the best t-shirt I’ve ever owned. No, it’s Gr-r-r-eat!
Mary comes to my house at 12:30 and knocks on the front door. I open the door and she is wearing the cutest pink terry cloth shorts and a tube top in bright yellow. She is three years older than me and her mom lets her wear tube tops. My mom thinks I’m too young.
“Are you ready?” she asks me.
“Yah, let me just tell my dad.” I walk back inside and tiptoe into the family room. Dad is taking a nap on the couch. He takes a nap every day about this time because in five hours he will have to go back to his bar and work until two in the morning.
“Dad,” I whisper. “I am going to swing with Mary.”
“Okay,” he says without opening his eyes.
I walk out the front door and close it gently so as not to disturb Dad. Mary and I walk the two blocks to the public school. She likes a boy there, and she hopes that his classroom faces out toward the playground. I notice that she has some make-up on, and I think she looks funny, she is only eleven years old. Mary wants to be in high school and drive a car and forget about swings and walking to the park, but she has to wait, just like the rest of us.
We get to the school, and no one is outside. Mary immediately gets on the swings.
“I bet I can go higher,” she says to me. Before I even have a chance to kick off, she is already pumping her legs and pulling on the chains with her arms.
“No you can’t,” I say. Mary and I are competitive, and it stinks for me because she usually wins. She is older and smarter and stronger, but every once in a while, I pull one out of a hat, and then I have something to brag about for weeks. When she wins, I just say, “Well you shoulda. You are three years older than me.” Sometimes that shuts her up; sometimes it doesn’t.
I pump my legs and pull on the chains. I get my legs out as straight as I can when I fly forward, and I make sure to point my toes; I don’t want any drag. I pump and pull, pump and pull, but still, I can’t seem to get as high as she. After a few minutes, I realize it is futile, I won’t win at this game, so I stop pumping and just let the swing come to a stop.
“Are you giving up?” She already has that smile on her face she gets when she gloats.
“I thought we could do a different challenge.” I don’t want to admit to giving up.
I look around the playground. There is one of those dome climbers, but I don’t know how we would turn that into a competition. I think about challenging her to the carousel. I think we should push the other person, and the one who can stay on the longest wins, but then I remember that last summer I was on a carousel with my brother right after eating pizza and drinking red Kool Aid. Ah, I never thought pizza and red Kool Aid would look like that coming back up. It was like greasy red bread with stringy cheese mixed in. It was gross.
“What about the slide?” I say. I love the slide.
“What kind of challenge can we make on the slide?” she asks. To be honest, the slide is pretty boring, too.
“What if we do different ways of going down, and see who does it best. Like we could go on our stomachs first.”
Mary lights up a little. “Okay, you go first.”
I walk over to the slide and I climb the steps. I get to the top and lay on my belly and slide down. I go pretty fast on my new t-shirt, and I have to put out my hands to stop myself from falling on the ground.
Mary goes next and she also goes pretty fast.
“What next?” I ask. I can’t think of any other way to try it.
“Hey, what about Indian style? Cross your legs and go down like that.” She crosses her arms at the elbows to demonstrate.
“Okay,” I say. I get to the top of the slide and I sit down and cross my legs. I have to adjust my seat because my knees are hanging over the edge of the slide.
“Go,” Mary yells.
I push-off with my arms and start to slide. I slide for a second, and then the skin of my legs is too dry to slide down the sides and my left leg completely stops, but my right leg kind of stutters. I feel my body jerk to the left, and suddenly I am not on the slide at all, but toppling through the air. I reach for the slide, but it is out of reach. Smack! I land on my head and my arm. I hear a pop in my arm and it hurts badly. I have never felt anything so painful in all my life, and there is something wet dripping down my head.
Mary runs over and screams. She screams so loud that I think I can hear someone yell from in the school, but I can’t see because the wet is in my eyes, and when I wipe it away, I realize it’s not water. It’s blood. I start to cry. I try to get up, but I can’t. I feel woozy.
Mary runs into the school, and within seconds, I hear the footsteps of an adult. “Honey,” a calm voice says, “Mary is calling your father. Can you get up?” The voice’s hand is under my elbow, and she is gently trying to get me to stand. I try, but the dizzy feeling is worse than it was a minute ago, and I fall back on my butt. I can’t really open my eyes because of the blood pouring down my face. I’m holding my left arm with my right arm. It feels like it severed off, it hurts so bad.
I start to cry harder. I realize there is another adult. “Priscilla, let her sit. Here is some wet paper towels to put on the cut on her head. Her dad is on his way. They just live on Johnson,” she says.
“Oh good,” the adult named Priscilla says. She tells me to keep my eyes closed. She gently pats my forehead, and wipes my eyes and my cheeks. She takes her time and goes very slowly, and while she is doing it she is humming ever so gently. I feel hazy, and the humming makes me feel like I want to sleep, but the pain is so intense, and I can’t stop crying.
My eyes are still closed when I hear my dad’s voice, “What happened?” he asks. He sounds upset, and I don’t know if it’s because he thinks I look bad or because he is mad at me. I open my eyes and I have to shut them again right away. He is standing in the sun, and he looks like a giant and it is so bright, I can’t make out his face. However, I feel better now that he is there, and I somehow manage to calm down.
Priscilla speaks. “It seems that she and her friend Mary were playing on the slide, and she fell off of it. I think she needs some stitches and she is holding her arm,” she tells my dad.
“Where’s Mary?” my dad asks. I hadn’t thought about Mary in a few minutes. I open my eyes and look around, but she is nowhere to be found.
“I think she walked home,” she tells my father.
“Typical.” This time he sounds mad.
He thanks the lady for helping me and he and the lady assist me to my feet. He can tell that if I walk I will probably pass out, so he scoops his arms under my legs and my neck, and he carries me to the car. He walks slow and I can tell he is trying not to bump my arms. He puts me down, leans my against the trunk, and opens the back door. He guides me in, and lays me across the backseat. Just before he shuts the door, he checks his watch. I know he is thinking about work and taking me to the hospital might make him late. I feel lousy and my arm is throbbing.
My dad gets in, starts the engine, and lights a cigarette.
“I’m going to have to take you to the emergency room,” he says. “I’m probably going to be late for work.”
I was right. He is stressing about work. I feel so bad because my dad owns his own business and now he is going to have to pay someone more money to work for him. I start to cry again.
My dad hears my sniffling and asks, “Does it hurt badly?”
“Yeah, but I’m sorry,” I say. I’m trying to breath and not cry. I feel like passing out.
“Peachy Poo, don’t worry. I just want you to be better. Okay?” His voice is tender.
“Okay,” I say. My voice sounds squeaky because of the tears I am holding back in my throat.
We drive for a few more minutes, and when we get to the ER, he pulls in front. “Don’t move,” he says to me. He gets out and walks in the sliding doors. Within seconds, two orderlies are there with a wheelchair. They lift me out of the car, and I am wheeled into a room. My dad leaves me for a second to park the car, but by the time they have lifted me onto the bed, he is there.
A doctor comes in and immediately looks me over. “What happened?” he asks me.
I look to my father, but he shakes his head. “I wasn’t there. Tell the doctor exactly what happened.”
I turn back to the doctor. I start to see black spots in the light. I take a deep breath and my focus returns. “I tried to go down the slide Indian style and I fell off.”
The doctor and my dad exchange a look. He calls in the nurse, and they order an X-ray for my arm, and he tells her to get the sucher kit for my head.
“I am going to go get a numbing stick, and then we are going to patch up your head. You are going to probably need eight stitches from the looks of it,” he says.
“One for every year you are born,” my dad adds smiling.
The doctor walks out and I lay on the bed and just wish all of the pain would go away. Stupid Mary, I think, making me want to always out do her. She didn’t even stay.
“Honey,” my dad says pulling me from my thoughts.
“No more Indian style on slides.” His hand reaches down and brushes my bloody hair off of my forehead. He leans down and gives me such a gentle kiss I barely feel it.
The doctor walks back in with a needle the size of a ruler, and I think, maybe this summer isn’t going to be so great after all.