#metoo and me

March 12, 2020

The only photo of Miss Nelson and myself in happier times (middle table, row right, second boy from top). The blaggard Louis Licciardi at lower left of photo(first boy)

If being born male immediately put me on a course to mistreat women, I was quickly disabused of treading down that path by the time I reached the second grade. I will say that my instincts regarding the treatment of the opposite sex had gotten off to a most admirable start prior to that.

The first object of my affections was my kindergarten teacher, Miss Nelson. I was a perfect gentleman. I went down for my nap without argument; I never spilt my milk during cookie break, and I never had an accident in my pants. Even when she broke my little five-year-old heart by quitting in midyear to marry the love of her life, I mourned. But by first grade I’d gotten back on the hobby horse with the ineffable, blue-eyed Melanie Ybarzabel. My expression of undying devotion to her took the form of eating my lunch during class time. Yes, I know. I have no idea what smiling at her with bits of egg salad around my mouth was supposed to do. What it did do was subject me to the public humiliation of a spanking administered by Sister Joanita in front of the whole class. To this day I don’t think Melanie ever suspected she’d been the source of true love’s persecution.

“My expression of undying devotion to her took the form of eating my lunch during class time. Yes, I know. I have no idea what smiling at her with bits of egg salad around my mouth was supposed to do.”

But the real teachable moment took place on the playground in second grade. I’d fallen in with a class clown and part time truant named Louis Licciardi. One day at recess, Louis proposed a dare to sneak over to the girls’ playground and plant a smooch on the fetching and ginger-haired Jane Creighton. I guess I was still smarting from the thrashing my reputation took at the iron hand of Sister Joanita, and I took the dare.

I can say the little peck on Jane’s cheek neither woke her from a cursed slumber or turned her into a fairytale princess. Rather, the sudden eruption of the entire girls’ playground was more like a body’s immune response to an invading virus. Instantly it seemed, the entire female population of primary school girls had joined as one crusading army to avenge the defilement of one of their own. It would be years before my vocabulary had grown to where I could apply the correct word to describe the look in the eyes of those marauding girls that day.  That word turned out to be…murderous.

If it’s possible to be scared straight in second grade that was the moment for me. Even to that odd one or two lasses, perhaps due to their own issues relative to acceptance, who had later seemed to eye me with that mixture of revulsion and resignation that would in later years perfectly reflect the emotions of my prom dates, I knew in that instant I had crossed a line I should never have crossed. When not a one of those girls had dimed me out to the nuns only proved that they all retained the right to mete out their own brand of justice should I ever step out of line again.

In sixth grade a very delectable Charlotte Linsmeir had written a mash note to me on the blackboard. I hid out in the boys bathroom until it was erased. I knew it was a setup. The long arm of justice had found me, and if I had taken that bait, I knew what the outcome would probably have been.

Those Catholic girls meant business. And they taught us Catholic boys well – at least the ones who learned well and thus lived to tell about it.

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