August 19, 1993
I was sitting on the floor in front of the new TV when Dad gathered everybody in the room. He was brandishing papers and calling a family meeting. This intrigued me, as there had never been a family meeting that I could recall. Were we selling the house and moving…?
Mom hustled me out of the room – much to my annoyance. I was stuck listening at the crack of my door as usual, resentful that I wasn’t included. I heard Dad telling my brothers and sisters that he hadn’t wanted so many kids, but he did it to make my mother happy. And now his resources were strained to the limit and he couldn’t afford to send all of us to Catholic school anymore.
Johnny and Kathleen were the oldest and had already graduated from college. Shannon was allowed to finish her last year in Catholic high school. But Mary, Patrick and I would transfer to public school.
Fuck me. Public school!? I felt the earth giving way beneath me as I tried to imagine what horrors awaited me there. It was probably an undisciplined, riotous hell hole. But on the bright side, it was probably a lot easier. The workload in third grade was so much that I had to enlist both my mother and Shannon to help me finish it all just so I could go to bed before midnight. My backpack was crammed with so many books it wouldn’t zipper all the way, and standing up straight while wearing it took a herculean effort. And after my father’s last interaction with my teacher and principal, I probably wouldn’t be welcomed back for fourth grade anyway.
My third grade teacher was a real piece of work. All the kids called her Mrs. Witch. She’d cut us off mid-answer and yell at us that we were wrong, she chuck books across the room, and one time she even overturned a desk while someone was sitting in it. But she only picked on the boys.
“Probably because she’s a lesbian,” Dad snarled when I told him about it.
Earlier in the spring Mrs. Witch incorrectly marked one of my vocabulary answers wrong. I thought something was awry when I got my test back, so I asked her about it. However she wasn’t interested in discussing it and shot me down immediately. Still unsure, I brought it home and showed it to my mother and she noticed it too. She signed my test and wrote a note asking Mrs. Witch to telephone her. Mom’s note went ignored, so she wrote another one. I handed this one to Mrs. Witch and stood at her desk while she read it. She flipped it over in exasperation and scribbled something and thrust it back to me. She finally agreed to rectify her mistake and change my test grade.
Dad had caught wind of the issue by the time the next parent-teacher conference night rolled around. He’d always delegated that sort of thing to my mother, but this time he decided to join her. Right away he started in on Mrs. Witch, demanding to see my changed test grade in her book. She refused to show him because then he would see the other students’ grades as well.
“I don’t care about the other students’ grades, I want to see Tommy’s grades. There’s a very simple solution: take two pieces of paper and use them to cover everyone else’s names,” he said testily. She still refused, so Dad went down the hall to see Sister Mildred, the principal.
Sister Mildred was an ancient, quivering, tiny old lady who couldn’t say “boo” to a goose and barely came up to Dad’s chin. She assured him that she would talk to Mrs. Witch and went into her classroom, closing the door behind her. When she came out she informed my parents that yes, the grade was changed in the book. Dad still wanted to see it. Sister Mildred wouldn’t let him see either. Dad called her a “son of a bitch” and Mrs. Witch a “piece of shit” and then left the building.
Dad did not get along too well with women. In addition to smearing his shit on a teenage girl’s car, he once told me that whenever he pulled over a woman she always got a ticket rather than a warning. His excuse was that he was covering his ass so none of them would make up a story about being propositioned by a police officer. But Dad had been retired for five years so those days were behind him.
Unfortunately Dad still found ways to make life miserable for other people.