If you have ever watched an episode of Elementary you have seen the Rube Goldberg machine that is in the opening credits. If not, then perhaps you have seen dominos lined up on edge and when one was bumped it started a chain reaction that caused all the others to fall. It’s amazing how one small action can result in a cascade of fallout.
I’m afraid that is often the story with me. One simple mistake with the letter “R” on my first day of high school set into motion a chain reaction that has not ended to this very day.
There was only one Catholic High School in the county where I grew up, so students came from all over. On the first day of freshman year every student was a stranger unless they rode your bus. The school was about a forty-five minute bus ride from our church and school. All the grades rode the same bus to the grade school. There, the older kids transferred to a bus that drove them to the high school. If the afternoon bus that transported the high school students home was running late the entire grade school was kept waiting to go home. A late morning bus would make all of the high schoolers late for school.
On my first day of high school, my bus was late, so I entered my homeroom just as the bell was ringing. The only vacant desk was the one by the door. Before I could be seated Sister handed me a clipboard with instructions to record the names of each student on the matching desk in the seating chart on the clipboard. This was used to take roll each morning.
Nervously, I made my way around the room and in the process made one little mistake that was to haunt me for the rest of my life. It also insured I would have a hard time making friends that year. One of the girl’s surname was “Strunk.” I left out that one little letter “R” when listing her name. It was weeks before Bea could get the nun to stop calling her “Bea Stunk”. Beatrice became my instant enemy that morning, and swore I would regret that fatal error for the next four years. Beatrice was a very pretty and popular girl and she soon corralled all her friends to assist in making my life a living hell. They never passed up an opportunity to say something derogatory about me or to cause me some embarrassment.
One day just as I reached the top of the stairs going down to the first floor I felt someone’s hands on my back and realized I was being pushed. I tumbled down that long flight of stairs and landed in a heap at the bottom where I could not move. The principal, Sister Superior sent me to see a doctor. I had a bad sprain in my lower back. For several months a janitor drove me to weekly visits with a local chiropractor. During this time I was exempt from attending gym class.
My first day back in gym class we were assigned to do wheelbarrows around the gym. We were paired up and took turns walking on our hands around the gym while our partner held our feet making us look like a wheelbarrow. On my turn we had barely covered half the distance when my partner, and a friend of Bea’s, lifted my feet up high and flipped my body over my head. Again, I was sprawled on the floor unable to get up. Back to the doctor I went, and for most of the year, I had weekly trips to the chiropractor. Once the school stopped paying for my visits, my Mom immediately put an end to them. Mom believed all chiropractors were quacks who sucked you dry of money.
To this day I have a very touchy back and have to be very careful how I move. Thanks, to my own klutziness I have had two more serious falls down stairs adding to my injury and causing me to be hospitalized. But, unlike my mother, I do find seeing a chiropractor helpful. There were times when my chiropractor was a Godsend.
The nuns never learned who pushed me down the steps, and the girl who flipped me claimed it was an accident so no one was ever held accountable.
During one recess, while at my locker, someone said something that became the final straw for me. I got into a loud and nasty confrontation with them. Bea stepped in and hit me. The fight was on. All the students backed off and gave us room. I was getting just about as much as I was giving and both of us were badly bruised. Just as one of the Nuns stepped in to stop the fight, I managed to get Bea in a neck hold with one hand and grabbed a locker door for support with the other. The entire wall of lockers (that someone failed to anchor during construction) pulled out of the wall and landed on top of the three of us; Bea, the nun and me.
Once the lockers were lifted off us, and it was determined no one was hurt, we were marched to the principal’s office. Seems Mother Superior was well informed on Bea’s feud with me. Sister let Bea know she held her responsible for both my injuries. She ordered Bea to call off her posse immediately. We were both ordered to go to confession. Bea’s penance was to spend all of her study halls, for the rest of the year, in the chapel saying her rosary. I had to write, “I will not fight” three hundred times.
Because of my omission of that one simple little alphabet letter back in 1960, the dominos are still falling. I’ve had fifty years of pain and suffering and more spent in medical bills than is possible to tally. In fact, trying to avoid back surgery, I just spent the last six weeks in physical therapy thanks to another flare up of that old injury.
Like Rube Goldburg's complex chain of events, my flubbing one name resulted in assaults, meanness and a host of injuries both physical and mental. Several of which are with me still. I can only thank God that people like Bea are seldom encountered.