Strange Confessions: Sometimes Guilt Is The Best Punishment
Posted by Mark Mayo
Strange Confessions: I once cheated on a test, got caught, forged my Mom’s signature, and lied to a nun about the whole dern thing.
At St. Vincent de Paul school in Holiday, Utah, I had one of the scariest nuns as a teacher for two separate years. Her name was Sister Annunciata, and I had her for my second and fifth grade years. I looked on the internet for any sign of what may have happened to all those nuns who use to teach there and couldn’t really find anything. The only thing I could find was this small article on the St Vincent de Paul school website about it’s history. There are some other interesting articles on nuns in Utah here, and here. The school even has a facebook page you could check out.
I am fascinated by the life of a nun. As a boy they were a mystery to me. Sure I saw them every day as they taught us, corrected us, led us to meals, to services, to other classes. I never saw that they really cared for us, about what we would do, or what kind people we would be. But where did they live? What did they do after classes? Did they go shopping? Did they go to movies? Did they go swimming or hiking or skating? Did they ever take off those robes? To shower? Did they have to go to the bathroom? It wasn’t until the later years at school when we went to some sort of service or prayer meeting in the nunnery that I saw where they lived, sort of. The nunnery was east of the school, hidden, from the parking lot behind many trees and a wall. At the east exit of the upper grades you could see their building, their house, but you never went up there; it was like sacred ground. We never talked about what it was, it was just always there. Strange to think about it now, how we give… distance to those places. I mean, it was never like the first day of school they would stand before us and announce not to venture into that area east of the school; we just… didn’t. They would take us over to this sanctuary that was small, dark and gloomy. We would sit in silence, in awe of this strange new place. We didn’t go over there often, in fact it, if I remember correctly we only went over there two or three times. Why? I don’t know. To introduce us to their place? Perhaps. Whatever it was, it just made me more suspect to their lives. They woke up and went into this gloomy place to pray or whatever. How odd.
Years later, as an adult, I saw them at a Catholic gatherings, and they would remember me and my name. Incredible! I developed the idea that this was a nuns super-powers. They took some oath when they became a nun and inherited a power from God: the power to remember everyone they have ever met.
But now they are all gone. That way of life is disappearing. Does it make me sad? A little. For I don’t really agree with it, but there is little in this life that reflects such dedication, such devotion to ones beliefs as saying, “I give everything to you, my God.” That is what we need to say as Christians, that we give our all to God. To a Catholic nun or priest it is so strong, so symbolic to wear the vestments of their office day in and day out, their lives are laid out bare for all to see. Yes they make mistakes just like we all do, and like many who try to uphold some sense of rightness in this world, when they fall, they are held up to be mocked, jeered at, that no one can be as right as what they try to be.
They are human. Just like us all. This time of confession reminds me how they did care, and how they tried to make us see, or choose what is right. And I failed. But in the ways of God there was learning to be had, and He taught me a great lesson then.
I was in the fifth grade, the second time under the tutelage of Sister Annunciata. There was a test we were going to have after recess. Several of us were grouped around under the basketball hoops, copying letters and numbers. Somehow we had received the answers to a multiple choice history test. We were all amazed, and talked about not getting all the answers right, keeping all this quiet. There wasn’t many questions, and with all the talk I memorized all the answers, but I still held on to my cheat sheet as we went our way cheerfully back to class, secure in the fact that one more test would be done, but with great success.
As I sat in class, cheat sheet under my right thigh, I wondered about what this all means. I never had done this before; had all the answers to a test, hidden, ready to be pulled out and utilized for a grade I may or may not have been prepared for. I had all the answers memorized, but for some reason I started sneaking a peek, because this is what you do when you cheat, right? Sneaking another peek, I heard the teacher call my name. My heart began racing, I was a tight ball of panic. What was I doing? Cheating on a test that I already knew all the answers. Oh my goodness! No fair! Everyone’s cheating! And here I am getting caught! “What is that you are looking at?” Sister Annunciata asks suspiciously. “I don’t know,” I reply stupidly. She has me pull it out and hand it to her. I put on my best “how did that get there” face, and wait for the hammer to fall. She had me come up to her desk and stand in front of it while she wrote a note to my parents explaining what I had done. Cheating on a test! Arrghh! How could this have happened to me? She told me to take the note home and have one of my parents sign it.
I took the note home in despair. I couldn’t let my parents see this. This was me: the boy who didn’t stir up controversy or issues of any kind. I drifted along, not wanting any attention unless it came from me intentionally making a fool of myself, which I did as often as I could. But this was different. Everyone should be blamed. This wasn’t my fault, so I was going to figure a way to keep my reputation clean. So I forged my Mom’s signature. I agonized over this for hours. Somehow I had her signature and was trying to copy it. Finally, I was ready to forge ahead. I had the curves, the stops, the skips and the beats down. This was my Mother’s signature.
Before the end of the next day, Sister Annunciata called me to her desk to ask for the signed note. I handed it to her and she opened it to examine the veracity of the impressions marked upon. “Is this your Mother’s signature?” she asked. I looked, deep into her eyes and bluntly lied, “Yes.” “It is?” she inquired a second time. “Yes,” I degraded myself a second time.
“Well I am going to call your parents during the break to talk to them about this, okay?”
“Okay.” I said, with not a quiver, a choke, a break, or a squeal in my throat.
This was the last day before Thanksgiving break, and now it was to be the worst vacation ever. My parents would find me out. My sin would be exposed to the family in the most shameful display of modern turkey consumption gatherings ever. I don’t remember much about that week except fear. Fear for the phone to ring. Fear for my Mom to come to me with that sad, disappointed look in her eyes, and the conversation that would ensue. Fear that I would be found out as a fraud I always knew I was. I must not have tasted the turkey, smelled the stuffing, felt the spoon shock of slapping down a mound of mashed potatoes. The whole four days was pure torture.
The weekend came and went. I had punished myself beyond what any mere mortal could handle. I came to school on Monday with no mention of the previous weeks activities. It was forgotten by all but me. There was a reprieve to be had. I was released. I had suffered and was let go. It was if it had never been. Thank God, I would never cheat again. I learned my lesson. Don’t use notes. If there is no evidence there is no guilt. No, I really did suffer a punishment and I didn’t cheat again; for I did much worse later in my life. This may very well have been the gateway to the next years failing classes, which led to illicit use of things, which led to a careless attitude of any type of grade. It was all intertwined really. I examine my life to see if there is the pinpoint I can say, “There! There is where it all fell apart.” But to no avail. We can all look at things this way, but what we need to look at where do the things go right? Sister Annunciata knew very well what she was doing by ruining my usually joyful weekend that year, and somehow in many ways, I am the better man for it. Thank you Sister Annunciata, wherever you may roam today for punishing me in such a way that I would live in even more awe of these enigmas called nuns for the rest of my life. And thank you God for helping me remember this time, to remember that those instances were not the end of everything, but only temporary, and we can suffer much at the hands of ourselves as long as we learn something from it.
I confessed this incident to my Mom years later, when I had kids of my own. You know what she said? “Oh I knew all about that.” Really, Mom? You knew all about it? I still don’t know if I believe her, or if she was just saying this to keep up the façade that as a parent she knew all, even when we thought she didn’t. She is a strong woman and I love her dearly for bringing me through the tribulation of Junior High and High School and beyond, on her own for many of those years. I will never forget the sacrifice she made for us. In fact, I think I’ll call her tonight and tell her this story all over again to see what she says this time.
Posted on September 7, 2013, in Strange Confessions and tagged Catholic, Cheating, Consequences, Devotion, Forging, God, Guilt, Lying, Mom, Nuns, Punishment, Salt Lake City, Sister Annunciata, St. Vincents, Strange Confessions. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.