She explains to me the meaning of venial sins and mortal sins, and their consequences with regard to the meaning of purgatory, of hell, of limbo. I do not understand the full meaning of her words, nonetheless I feel utter terror seep into my very core. I feel as if I am in peril.
She appears to me to be livid with rage, her face contorted, encased in her nuns habit, and to me she is as an immense and all powerful force, a dark brooding monolith standing above me and I felt that woman’s rage penetrate me as a complete body shock.
I froze. I was literally terrified rigid. The thought of hell seemed as real to me as her assumption of my sinfulness and guilt, my worthlessness as a person utterly proven.
I knew there was no escape, no possible salvation, and shame, guilt and fear surged through me,
I stayed frozen in that shock and fear for a long, long time.
I am standing in the back of a classroom, in the months that followed, ashamed and terrified, tears streaming down my faces, trying desperately to not move, trying not to not speak but I have to, so I stand out from my desk … because I have just defecated on myself, and there’s urine and faeces seeping out of my pants, running down my leg, onto my white socks, onto my brown sandals …
I am standing in a line-up, with other boys, and I am once again, silently terrified, and we young boys, at age 6 and 7, are standing on the polished wooden floor of our dormitory, which from memory included a wooden panelled hallway, leading to wooden panelled bathrooms and past a nuns bedroom, a room that was ‘guarding’ us.
I am in line, and I am holding up my underwear for inspection by a nun. There is a small poop mark on my underwear. An angry shrieking voice confirms my fears, and I get roughly pulled out of the line, I am slapped and publicly told off about the poop mark, shamed once more in front of everyone else; I am sent to wash my underwear…. This was a regular experience, and obviously, given my previous traumatic shitting experiences in class, I am being targeted – however at the time I don’t see it that way. I believe that the nuns are right and that I am wrong and I accept their judgement of me as defining me.
I am in a large assembly hall, with all the other boys. We are all wearing white arran jumpers and shorts. It’s a weekly gathering, it’s a Sunday. We are lined up in rows. The Nuns are listing the crimes of individual boys, and punishing them in public. Ritual humiliation for the benefit of our souls. MY name is called, and I am expected to walk up to nun at the front. I do so. She reads a piece of paper, she declares some offence I have committed, like a hanging judged, her loud pious and angry voice denouncing my crime to the entire assembly.
And then she gives me a sound beating with a cane, ten times or so, across my naked rear. I stifle my cries and try to not show any feeling… at age 6 I can master myself to mask the true emotions and feelings. After all this is for my own good.
The priest, Father Murphy, or Murchu, the Irish version of his name, is my music teacher, and he is here, again, to question me. We have already had confrontations, because I wanted to try out ALL the instruments in the School Orchestra and of course that led to an altercation with him.
Father or was he a Brother, I can’t recall, Murchu/Murphy also teaches us swimming and PE. He was the one who threw me into the deep end of the swimming pool, fully clothed, plus my Pyjama bottoms, to ‘teach’ me how to swim, and how to save myself by removing my trousers and tieing the ends to make an air trap to support me. He forced me into the water, physically, after shouting at me and all this in front of the entire class and I was absolutely sure I was going to drown. I was being called a coward by this beastly man.
“Crowley, are ye a man or a mouse?” he says, with a barely disguised disgust. I know the routine.
If I answer ‘man’ he beats me for standing up to him, for being ‘cheeky’.
If I answer ‘mouse’ he beats me for being a coward.
This happens every few days for a few months. I tell no-one. There is no-one to tell. I am utterly alone.
Fleeting memories haunt me from time to time: