Catholic School Girl: The Taming of the Shrew
After getting an NI in my report card, I felt really bad. I thought, I may have to impress my religion teacher. I wasn't the favorite but I wanted to be more or less favored since I was at home. (My favorite uncle, who I always admired for his wisdom, always allowed me to listen and participate in adult discussions about Martial Law and the Philippine society while my young and old cousins were out in the streets to play games. I was born at the time when EDSA, the People Power Revolution 1 against the dictator Marcos, would become a significant historical marker not just in Philippine history but the world as well. After all, this would make a woman president.) However, school was a different set-up. Teachers liked kids to be prim and proper and to be nice and obedient, would I become one then? Well, I wanted to have stars more than my classmates or as many as them. So for the sake of the stars that I could post on my wall or show to my mom, I thought maybe, it would not be a bad idea to be normal. I became friendly. I made friends with the weakest in the class (those who would rather sit still with arms stretched on the desk and hands were clasped than to recite in class). I thought they were boring because we never talked not even during recess unless we talked about the brand of shoes we wore or who had the cutest pencil case in class. Sometimes, I'd rather be with myself than with them but they would always follow me. Their mothers or nannies would bring them food during lunch while I had with me my lunch box. I was sincere in being their friend but I was looking for friends who could talk to me. But why didn't I befriend the smarties in class? The ones who received medals every year? Well, for one, most of them were daughters or sons of some teachers in school, or their parents were friends with my teachers because they always attended the PTA meetings. My mom, never attended a single PTA meeting. Maybe, I was just envious of them because they always got our teachers' attention. I felt there was a growing uneasiness in me. If I spoke and told my teachers every opinion in our lesson, especially religion, I would certainly be labeled as a bad girl again. If I agreed on everything that they told me, then I'd lose myself. So I came to a decision to just be quiet. My mouth was shut but the voice in my head grew stronger. I thought I no longer deserved a single star.
I seriously listened to the stories of the Saints, how their love for God compelled them to help the needy and the oppressed. I liked the idea of helping the poor. I thought I couldn't always agree with my religion teachers but helping the ones in need was a sure way to divert my attention. I wasn't even thinking of pleasing God since I was so sure my classmates pleased Him well. At a young age, I dropped the idea of competition. I didn't like it anymore. Grades no longer mattered to me. Of course, I never allowed myself to get a below average score (85 was average for me) but I never aspired to become an honor student. When grade 6 graduation came, the valedictorian was a male classmate and the salutatorian was also a guy. When mom asked me why I never even got a medal, I simply told her, "well, you were never present in PTA meetings." I wanted to tell her that it was totally ok if I didn't graduate with honors since I was pretty sure (at least that's how I convinced myself) I was a lot smarter than them. I never thought a male classmate would be smarter than me. For some reason, I was never intimidated by a mister-know-it-all. My favorite uncle made me believe that I was smart and talented enough and that I'd go far if wanted to. He thought me several things: (1) never be afraid to say what's on your mind but be respectful, (2) know your rights, (3) never allow others to trample your rights or allow yourself to participate in abusing other people's rights, and (4) be diplomatic and calm. However, as I grew up, I saw him less and less for he committed himself in helping poor and oppressed people in far-flung places. But his words to me were embedded in my heart.
One time, it was in grade 6, I was done with my lunch and had time to read quietly inside the classroom. It was the book "Choose your own adventure". A girl classmate of mine was crying and running from someone. I didn't mind her at first because she was always crying and after awhile would be better and would again flash her dimples as if nothing happened. But then three male classmates came after her. They were bullying her. The two guys were just laughing at her and the leader of the pack, a mestizo big and chubby guy was shouting at her. I was so pissed because my reading was disturbed and I died in my adventure (choose your own adventure has many different adventures and if you make a wrong decision, you will definitely die in that chapter). My girl classmate kept crying, the longer she cried, the higher her pitch. I wondered where her 2 girl friends were. Then the big chubby classmate of ours was not contented in calling her bad names. He went close to her and started poking her head which made her cry even more, and the other two boys laughed louder. I told them to stop it. The chubby guy pretended that he didn't hear me but the two other boys stopped laughing. The chubby guy slapped our girl classmate's face. Seeing this, it really made me so furious. I stood up and punched him in his stomach (he was taller than I was and the stomach was the level I could reach better). I said, "your parents should teach you how to treat a girl". I didn't know I could punch, and punch hard. It was so hard that he puked and fell to his knees. His face turned so red, since he was fair-skinned. His two male friends were scared but helped him get back on his feet to go to the washroom or the clinic. Meanwhile, I went to my girl classmate who was seated on the floor at the corner of the room. I felt really bad for her. I gave her my favorite flowery, branded and ironed hanky (grade school was a powerful cultivating years of “brand consciousness” to which I was an innocent victim) so she could wipe her tears and blow her nose. I asked her if she was ok and if she needed someone to go to the clinic. She told me she didn’t want to go to the clinic but to the washroom instead so she could freshen up. I told her to never, never allow any guy or any person to say bad words to her or hit her. After that incident, the chubby bully never bothered her again. She, on the other hand, asked me if she and her two girl friends could join me and my friends during lunch. I was ok with it although I was more comfortable being alone most of the time, especially if I just wanted to read.
In high school, my religion teacher was a very sweet and nice nun. She was always smiling and seemed so passionate in the way she taught us. I liked it a lot when she included history in religion. I was very interested to know how the bible was put together. I learned about the papyri, the dead sea scrolls, Mesopotamia, Constantinople and all other archaic terms. I was really interested in archaeology and magic (like turning cane into snake and the parting of the sea). But I could not understand why a God who was so good would allow wars to happen, and who seemed to be a bit biased because He seemed to hate Egyptians. Egypt was the first country I fell in love with when I was a child. I always wanted to be an Egyptian rather than American, which most of my classmates would dream of becoming. I was so enthralled by the pyramids and the sphinx. In a passage in the bible, it said there, “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.” I thought it was a crazy idea but of course I couldn’t say it to my nice teacher. After all, I just learned two more words: heresy and excommunication. I took my religion classes seriously, memorizing all the important events in Catholic Church history including the travels made by St. Paul. I even attended mass everyday at 6am before 7am class until I was 4th year. I was even a Catechist. Well, we were required to convert non-believers in public school. During the last Catechism lesson, I brought a bowl, a black ink and water. In front of grade 6 students I explained to them the love of Christ. With the use of a dropper, I dropped a blank ink into the bowl. I said, “This is our sin.” And then, I poured the clean water into the bowl and explained, “This is Christ and his love for us. His love for us is so much that it can erase any darkness in our soul.” I was so happy with my creativity. Our religion teacher, not the nice nun that I had 2 years ago, was waiting for me and my friend to bring all of us back to school. Me and my friend were late since the use of my visual aids ate up a little more time than others. Our teacher was so mad that she shouted at me in front of my other classmates. I felt humiliated. She was the first person who ever glared at me. I felt really really bad. After that, everything that she taught us, I didn’t believe. She always reminded us to be like Christ but if she was emulating Christ, then I’d be anything but Christ. I stopped going to the mass not just because of her but because I always heard the same sermon and I was so sick of it. I thought the bible had so many books in it, like a pocket library, but the priest kept on reading the same passages since I was in grade school. And the stories the priest shared to explain the sermon were, in my judgment, uncreative, unbelievable and not fantastic at all. I dreaded the days when I had to confess my sins. I was big on privacy and therefore I really didn’t like it when I had to say to the priest what bad things I did. The priest wasn’t even a close friend of mine, why would I want to share the things that I did? I thought, God was powerful enough to read my thoughts and I was sure, He’d forgive me. Christ died on the cross so I’d be saved so why would I have to worry about hell and eternal damnation? Christ covered up for me even before I was born. So, I just asked my friend to have my “mass card” (a 5x8 index card where the Sunday mass schedule was printed on it and which the priest had to sign after the end of the mass to make sure we heard the mass) signed. Our religion teacher was so sure that some of us where not attending the mass but she could not say that I was one of them because my mass card was signed. So she said, “Those of you who do not go to mass are going against God. You should fear Him for he will punish the sinners and exalt those who follow his teachings through his only begotten son, Christ.” That day was the last day I went to the school chapel and prayed. I said:
“Dear God, I need sometime to think things over. Frankly, I don’t want to attend mass anymore because the sermon bores me to death. I will only sin more when I’m there but criticizing instead of hearing the sermon seriously, or make little stories in my head about what the people actually think while in the mass. I’m really sorry. I don’t want to fear you. I am not scared of you. How can I love you if I’m scared of you? I know, you gave up your only Son to save me. I am thankful, of course, but I didn’t ask him to. It was his choice or his destiny. And please, I want to take back my words when I was a kid that I wanted to be a nun. No, I don’t want to be a nun anymore however the veil looks good on me. Also, I don’t want you to punish me because I don’t think I deserve it. If you favor my classmates more than me, like you favored Moses and his people in the Old Testament, then I’d understand that. That’s your choice. I cannot force you to like me. I’m not mad at you, ok? It’s just that I’m not comfortable with the things I’ve been taught in school. I am sure you know if I will or will not come back to you. For now, I just want to be quiet and at peace. Amen.”
I couldn’t wait to graduate and leave our school. I wanted badly to have a fresh air.