A DAY OF FORMIDABLE CHANGE
by Stevie Strang
It was Friday morning, church day for the ninth and tenth graders, and we were on our way to Mass. Down the dreaded steps to the lower field, across the volleyball court and then up another steep set of stairs to the campus chapel. It was a weary trail of exercise just before lunch and too soon after the morning gym class. We couldn’t wait to be Seniors and then we would be able to walk across the coveted ramp that ran beside the library windows on the second floor. The ramp was a straight walk from the classrooms to the chapel but was also a privilege, earned and reserved, only for the Senior class.
Three months into the new school year and already two tenth graders were expelled for smoking marijuana in The Cave under the Senior ramp. As we filed into the little European style chapel, Sr. Ursula stood at the foot of the alter, arms sternly folded at her chest and hidden under the bib of her black habit, waiting to reprimand both classes and warn us of the perils of cannabis and mortal sin.
Gabby, Yvette and I sat on the ninth grader’s side, in the back pew next to the stained-glass window that had the most purple in it. The morning sun filtered through the windows on the other side of the chapel and beamed their brilliant colours over to us, making rainbow fairies on the wall just above Elaine Bronson’s ratted Bubble hairdo. Why we thought that was so funny, I don’t know, but we sat there and giggled about it until Elaine turned around and told us to shush. She was holier than we were, silently kneeling and praying for forgiveness before she would receive communion, so we followed her example and knelt down.
even the rainbow fairies
Pat Crumley came in late, as usual, and sat in the pew in front of us next to Elaine. She was detained in Sr. Leo’s office with a verbal warning about her skirt being too short…again. Sr. Leo did not know that Patricia was with the two tenth graders in The Cave, under the ramp; Pat gave us a quick glance of relief as she knelt down in prayer. The first year at the Academy, a prestigious all-girl college prep school, was a filter. If you were called into the office three times you were expelled, never to return. That was Patricia’s second offense.
It was almost eleven o’clock and Mass had not yet started. Sr. Ursula told us to read our prayer books or quietly say the rosary while she went to see what was delaying Father Booth. As soon as she was out the door both classes started accusing each other of snitching about the marijuana incident.
“You should be expelled too!” A tenth grader from the front pew stood up and pointed a finger towards Pat.
“Shut-up candy-ass or you’re gonna get pants’d during lunch.” Pat shouted back.
Blame was echoing all the way up to the exposed wooden beams of the tiny chapel when Sr. Sheila, the principal, finally came in and slowly walked up to the podium.
“You’re a goner now, Pat,” Yvette whispered and then made the sign of the cross and sat back in the pew.
Sr. Ursula and Sr. Sheila scanned the chapel from front to back with solemn faces of disbelief, seemingly searching for someone to blame, something to scream at. Gads, had we been that loud?
The chapel went completely silent.
“I have some disturbing news…” Sr. Sheila hesitantly said.
The pause was almost unbearable for Patricia. She closed her eyes and bit down on her lower lip.
remembering the moment
“The President…our President…”
Patricia opened her eyes.
“President Kennedy…has been shot and killed.”
Pat turned her head towards us and let out a scream then quickly covered her mouth. Yvette’s face went pale as Gabby gathered our three bodies together and cried. Two boarder students from Venezuela fell to their knees and started praying the Hail Mary out loud. Elizabeth from Connecticut fainted. One by one bursts of tears and gasping screams emerged from each pew and flooded the chapel as tenth grade girls comforted ninth grade girls. Elaine Bronson threw up.
Sr. Sheila tapped the microphone. “Girls, girls…now girls, we have to be strong and pray for the departed soul of our fallen President, for his wife, his children, and our saddened country. Father Booth will not be available for Mass at this time so please return to your homerooms for further instruction and information.”
She then excused herself, her black veil rhythmically flying up in an angry breeze that was powered by her hurried exit back to the privacy of her office.
Stunned into silent weeps, we filed out of the chapel, past the nurse who was tending to the bump on Elizabeth’s head, back down the stairs to the lower court and up the second set of stairs, without complaint, holding hands and comforting each other as we returned to our homerooms to listen on the PA system to the sparse details of what had gone so wrong in Texas.
The mundane childishness of ninth and tenth grade bantering and silliness seemed pointless. The purity of innocence was shattered. We were thrown into the grown up world, by tragedy, by default, by necessity.
We did not know it then but we were changed in many ways; many ways that we had yet to discover and fully understand.
how green the grassy knoll
Published in SIMPLY HAIKU, Winter 2011, Vol.8 No. 3