The insufferably cute fictional nuns of my childhood were played by perky actresses like Sally Field or Debbie Reynolds, whereas the real nuns who taught me looked like Alec Guinness in a dress. An exception was my 4th grade teacher. She looked like a young movie nun, but her personality shifted from angelic to diabolical quicker than a twist of her rosary beads. According to that Hollywood trope whereby nuns had a shtick – the Singing Nun, or the Flying Nun – she was the Changeling Nun.
One morning after recess, several students had to go the toilet in quick succession, and the Moody Nun became stormy at these interruptions, proclaiming that henceforth no one else could go the loo. You can probably guess what happened next.
Almost immediately came the realisation that I needed to shift fluids too, and after a few minutes of insistent hey hey HEY nagging from my my nether parts, I put up my hand.. Oliver Twist timidly asked permission to expel his soup, but the Tyrannical Nun made it emphatically clear that this was out of the question, which was a profound disappointment but no surprise, as she was deaf to common sense or basic human decency when her dander was up.
What we learned on that day is now lost to time, as all I remember is battling my urethra while watching the clock. Sweat broke out on my forehead as King Canute tried to hold back the inevitably rising tide. ‘I cannn do thisss!‘ Sadly, despite Herculean & sustained kegels, my tightly clenched inner bits gave one final palsied spasm at a few minutes to the hour, before finally bursting an O-ring. I leave the grim particulars of what actually transpired in my quivering pants to your imagination, but it was not pretty, and took many years for a distraught 9 year old to live down. Cries of “Euww!” broke out, and anyone near me flinched away as my humiliation puddled on the floor.
Authority needs a distraction when tidying up evidence of its overreach, so the DamageControl Nun vented hypocritical anger at my giggling classmates (as if they’d created my distress) then escorted me home and spoke with my mother as I washed. Mum was told of of my embarrassing ‘accident’ but The SpinDoctor Nun neglected to mention that she’d caused it and, in a stroke of psyops misdirection worthy of The Stasi itself, added that I’d been through such an ordeal that it was best not to speak of it ever again (my parents followed her advice, and didn’t learn the truth for years). Next day at school, The Ingratiating Nun was suddenly at pains to be my pal, and classmates called me her teacher’s pet. Wary of this ironic backlash, I avoided her altogether.
Sitting at at the very back of the class one memorable day, I was head down in my studies when I heard raised voices, and looked up.. The Overbearing Nun was already in mid-altercation with a classmate, an unruly kid who didn’t care what anyone thought of him..
I’d missed the setup to their squabble, but heard the Outraged Nun say; “You wouldn’t talk that way to your mother!” and CV fired back;
“Yeah, but you’re not my f∇<k!ng mother, eh?!”
I’d heard that word used out on the playground, not yet understanding what it actually meant, but knew it was a forbidden incantation of devastating magical power, only ever invoked in battle. All eyes turned to the Stunned Nun.. like us, she was frozen, as a long eerie stillness electrified the classroom..
POW! The Boxing Nun roundhouse thumped CV, but he immediately gave her a savage clout that took her breath away.. then the Windmilling Nun pummelled into CV, who dodged & weaved, returning fire with head shots and body blows. Oh boy, it was seriously ON now..
The 1970s saw many epic fights, like the ‘Thriller in Manilla’, or when Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman in Zaire, not to mention that it was the heyday of Bruce Lee and his thrilling screen spats. However, for me the most titanic clash of wills in that era was this throwdown when I was in 4th grade, between an unhinged nun and a scrappy 9 year old boy, and anyone who was there to witness the savage exchange of blows would surely agree. I had a panoramic view on the action, and my memories are snapshots taken by a ringside photographer.. freeze-frames of awe & war;
The nun swarms the small boy.. veil & crucifix snap back as his small fist hits her face.. the combatants crash into tables and chairs.. students ploughed into the floor, akimbo.. as a churning whirligig of fists flails from one side of the room to the other.. the Wrestling Nun goes for the bear hug, using her superior size to subdue the smaller fighter.. overwhelmed, he cries hot tears of frustration.. squirms free of her half-nelson, sprays her with filthy language and exits the ring.. a door slams.. papers flutter down over tipped furniture.. a swath of destruction torn across the classroom like a wound..
Like Rocky, The Bad News Bears, Randall Patrick McMurphy and other movie heroes of the 1970s, CV ‘lost’ the fight, but won the crowd. Well, one viewer at least, sitting in the back row slack-jawed and thinking; ‘Wow.. that’s how you do it..‘ No words were spoken for the rest of that lesson, even from the normally dictatorial nun, as we tidied the battlefield and helped the wounded..
Unworthy types are often elevated by props – A crucifix.. A badge.. A uniform.. An award.. A suit.. A job.. An office.. A collar.. A veil – and feel entitled to the respect of the thing, whether or not they’re actually worthy of it themselves. We should always look into the eyes of the person, and give (or withhold) our awe based on their integrity & actions, not their trinkets & titles. CV had no knee-jerk respect for authority (and given the authority at the time, who can blame him) thus, unlike me, he held onto his dignity on his own terms.
Ultimately, it was my fault that The Loo was my Waterloo. Yes, I was only 9 years old, but so was my classmate. Like him, I should have rebelled against inhumane & cowardly authority, cussing it vehemently on my way to the toilet. Instead, I was a hopeless little milquetoast, so concerned with being a ‘good boy‘, that it was a simple matter for ‘The Powers That Be’ to have me piss my pants on command. Trying to follow unjust rules, you’ll make yourself ridiculous, and the authorities will erase the truth after the fact anyway. We only lose our self respect with our own cooperation.
The moral of the story is this; never take any shit from the man, even if the man is a nun.