In the fall of Grade eight we are bitterly disappointed to learn that Sister Maureen is moving up with us into Grade eight. People in my class look to me to lead them all of the time and want to know how we can fight this grave injustice.
“We must be able to get her moved,” they wail.
I am again Student Council President and my peers are pushing me to organize Grade eight dances and field trips again, but Sister Maureen remains firm in her position that girls and boys will never have any physical contact in extra-curricular settings on her watch. We are ready to strike against her autocracy when in December of that year, by some Christmas miracle, she is reassigned by her order and we get a young, male educator who is in his first year of teaching. We like him but we still do everything in our power to make his life a living hell. We go wild after the nun departs.
My mom goes out to work full-time and I am in charge of getting Lil up and dressed in the morning. I also have to bring her home for lunch, see to her lunch, return her to school after lunch and get her home from school. If she ever injures herself I am routinely smacked for her clumsiness. She splits open her chin once as she copies me swinging between the sewing machine and the sofa in the basement. She slips and hits her chin on the concrete. I am hit for that. When we ride our bikes to school Lil falls off of her bike and slices open her chin in the exact spot she had received stiches after the unfortunate sewing machine incident. I get my sister home and keep her conscious as I call my mom at her factory job to ask her to come home and help me with Lil’s injury. My mother is hugely inconvenienced that day and that accident is my fault too. I am a stupid bitch, my mother tells me.
When I am in charge of getting Lil to school, she refuses to get up in the mornings. I have to yell and scream at her to get out of bed. I am full of rage then. I have been hit and when a child with a rebellious spirit is hit she doesn’t become contrite, she becomes enraged. One morning as I storm at Lil, Shirley MacKirdie knocks at my door.
“Is everything okay?” she asks me.
I am mortified. My shouting has been so loud that the MacKirdies had heard me from across the road through closed doors.
My rage begins to emerge in school. I am stranded at school one day because my little sister leaves without me. She unlocks the bikes, takes her bike and locks up mine again taking the only bike key home with her. I am furious. I stand with two of my friends and curse my little sister.
“That fucking little cunt,” I scream. “I am going to fucking kill her!”
I use the F-word and the C-word repeatedly as I fume. One of my teachers, my music teacher, comes out of the portable and calls me inside.
“Angela?” he says. His brow is furrowed. “I couldn’t believe my ears. I am shocked that it is you using that kind of language.”
I put my head down. I am ashamed of myself. I am filled with fury. People are beginning to see my resentment but no one helps me. I need help then and so does my family as a whole. I suggest to my mother that we need family counseling.
“The only person who needs counseling in this family is you,” my mother says each time I suggest that we should go and talk to someone as a family.
We are all traumatized and depressed. Both my sisters stay in bed all day if they can. Avoidance is their way of coping with the traumas of our childhood home. Confrontation is my way of dealing with it. I am always trying to change what is though I am incapable of changing anything in my childhood home. I am powerless there.
I break my hand in basketball practice. I play very aggressively and am often injured as a result. I play through the pain in a tournament the following weekend not realizing it is broken. In the first game of the tournament, the referee calls me for a foul and I slam the basketball onto the floor as hard as I can.
“FUCK!!” I scream. The ball hits the gymnasium ceiling.
The referee blows his whistle at me and points. His brow is furrowed. He gives me a foul. My coach did not see my face when I swore, nor could he hear me. After I receive the foul my coach pulls me aside and asks if I swore at the ref because the ref told him that I had.
“No, Coach” I lie.
I say that I hadn’t but I had and my father, who was facing me when I did it, saw me swear. He wasn’t impressed. The parents of one of my teammates notice my hand and asks if it is broken. She is a nurse.
“You’re really favouring that right hand,” Mrs. Green says. “It looks broken to me.”
They notice that my hand is broken in minutes whereas my parents think there is, “Damn all up way it!”
In the winter our class goes to tour the Catholic high school. It is a freezing cold January day and we huddle in the portable waiting for our bus to pick us up. Nikki stands next to the fire alarm and I dare her to pull it.
“Go on,” I say. “I dare you.”
Without a second thought Nikki pulls the alarm and we bolt out of the school. The bus pulls in front of the school and we run down the hill and quickly board the bus. We laugh as a group, amazed at Nikki’s nerve. As the bus pulls away from the curb I look up to see the kindergarten kids outside of the gym doors in their undershirts, underpants, their tiny bare stepping up and down in the snow. They had been having gym class and were caught unaware. My stomach drops. I feel ashamed.
“Okay, you guys. No one says what happened. If we all stick together we will be fine,” I tell my crew and everyone agrees to a pact of silence.
In the weeks that follow our basketball coach, who is also the school Vice Principal, pulls each of us out individually to question us. He starts with me.
“Just tell me the truth. Some girls said they saw who pulled. I know that it wasn’t you but we know who it was,” he tells me.
“I don’t know who pulled it,” I lie.
He holds my stare with a steady gaze as he swoops his thick, dark hair away from his big, beautiful, blue eyes the way John F. Kennedy used to do. I have a huge crush on my coach. When he arrives late to our weekend morning games looking disheveled and hung over I assume his responsibilities and chat with the refs and the opposing coaches pre-game.
“Where’s your coach?”
“He’s coming,” I always tell them praying my coach arrives soon. “I can start things off without him.”
So I feel terrible lying to him about the fire alarm but I choose to stand with my girls in falsehood. Snitches ended up in ditches after all. That is why when Nikki cracks before her ass even hits the chair in the VP’s office, I am furious. I had lied for her and she caved. I look detestable in my coach’s eyes, and that I cannot bear.