A Sin To Be Left-handed

Fire in a fieldAnd then there was school. The weight of dread stooped my shoulders as I approached the steps of my Catholic classroom. Sister Rose Ileana was almost as terrifying as my dad. She carried a large yard-stick, sometimes whacking children without provocation.  At that time, it was a sin to be left-handed. A sin worthy of daily ruler whacks that turned my left hand red and sore and flooded my body with shame. I knew that something at the very core of me was evil. I deserved to be hit. They said so. They hit. I accepted.

Eventually, I learned to use my right hand. Not very well, I might add, and I couldn’t grasp letters or numbers. To atone for my sins, the nuns placed adhesive tape over my mouth and made me stand in front of the older children for what seemed like hours. Thinking of ways to die helped me get through. That, and counting. I always counted. Eventually, I was fitted with glasses, the apparent remedy in those days for any child that had difficulty reading letters and numbers. Except the glasses did nothing to help my comprehension. The kids laughed when I stuttered, or maybe it was the smell of pee that made them laugh. Defiantly, one day I fed my glasses to She-She, my favorite dumpster.

Every Friday I had to confess my sins to the priest. I can’t say which terrified me more: the darkness of the tiny confessional box, or the priest hidden behind the little black window inside of the cramped box. I knew I was a sinner because I used the wrong hand, I argued with my brother, and I would sneak food to eat when I was supposed to fast before communion. I begged God to help me, to make me good. Silence.

What does a seven-year-old child do with boundless rage? Set fire to a large, parched, vacant grass field, of course; the hottest, loudest, and fastest fire possible. Unfortunately, the death-defying intensity of the flames could not begin to match my internal rage. I started the fire at them, at all of them. Those who were hurting me along with those who couldn’t or wouldn’t stop the ones who were hurting me—I hated them, I hated them all! When the firefighters came to my house and asked why, I said that the sun must have accidentally ignited the matches. With head bowed, I murmured my apologies. Strangely, my mother did not punish me for this act. Everyone was incredulous that I could have done something so outrageous, since—at least, in their thinking—I had otherwise always been a shy, quiet, and obedient child.

But secretly, I was glad I had killed the tumbleweeds.

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