Lovers No More (Ch. 1)
Chapter One: The Frightened Freshman
I have lived in Hell for close to nine years—nine long, tough, trying years. I went to school there. I learned my academic subjects there. I had to wear a uniform. I even went out to play in its yard every once in a while. Actually, I do remember going home from time to time to have lunch.
Alright, so it wasn’t the actual abode with the flames and all that stuff, but it could have been persecution. It sure was a place of daily torture. That was from my first day of kindergarten to my last day in the eighth grade. The school itself wasn’t bad at all. It was my classmates who provided the misery.
It was as close to Hell as you would want to get. I am sure that Hell would have given some lovely parting gifts for stopping by. I got a diploma. In reality, I loved most of my teachers. I have a few good times to almost fill up a month on a calendar.
I despised most of my classmates and that is that. Just the very building conjures up very bad memories. Therefore, it was very fitting for me to try and leave it all behind. That is why I would NEVER go back for any sort of class reunion. I scoff at the very notion. (SCOFF!! SCOFF!!) I’d rather bungee-jump off the Empire State Building without the advantage of a bungee cord. I’d rather wear my grandmother’s false teeth in my mouth for a month instead of enduring one more day with those misfits and miscreants.
One of my best memories of my grade school building was meeting a girl who, for the sake of this book, I am going to call Carly. She and I started and finished in the place at the same time. When we were in first grade together, I had a huge crush on her. She was very soft-spoken and very amiable.
I never told her of my secret. I remember how we used to share our crayons during our coloring periods. It was at this time that I discovered a whole new feeling within myself. I couldn’t give it a name, but I wanted it to stay with me for a while.
By the time I was ready to leave the eighth grade, I had another experience to remember. It was a fitting end to my time and the beginning of what would be a whole new life. It would be an experience that I would want again and again. My mom invited me to go with her and dad to a dinner dance at a nearby dance hall. I was game. I always wanted to go to these events and just spend the evening out with the adults.
It was a mild Friday night in June. The sky was clear and the sun was just beginning to set in the West. I had on my best suit. In fact, it was my only suit. I remember shoving a tissue in the right-hand pocket in case I developed the sniffles. I had some sort of fragrance that wasn’t as memorable as the evening to come. We walked into the hall.
In the front of the room just off to the right side was a table full of bowling trophies. They were stood in rows of size order. The smaller ones were in front of the taller ones in back. The lights bounced off them and made me believe that each trophy was bespectacled with jewelry.
Somewhere on that table was my mom’s bowling trophy. To the left of the room, just adjacent to the trophies was the dance orchestra. They were playing the songs that I knew best. When Mom and Dad went bowling on Thursday nights, I would listen to their tapes of Nat King Cole. I have always loved his music. It was a thrill to hear those songs being played by the band.
Mom and Dad went to the dance floor to mingle with their friends. I was hungry. I decided to eat my meal and watch the crowd. During the course of the evening, I got to really enjoy the meal. It was some sort of seafood. I never finished the dinner.
I heard a voice. It was a gentle voice. I heard the voice say, “I want to dance.”
I looked up and saw this girl, no, she was a woman. She repeated her request. I was still stunned to see someone so stunning ask me to dance. She was shapely, not fat. I glanced down to get a glimpse of one of her legs. There it was. I saw a beautiful leg. I looked at her again. I never spoke at all. I looked at her hair. It was shoulder length. She had a flower in her hair.
“She must have been around 23 or 25,” I thought. I had to say something. She was probably thinking that I was a mute.
After a while, I was beginning to think the same thing about myself. I prodded my brain for a response. I simply told her to go ahead and dance. With that, I felt my body suddenly being jerked from my chair. When she said that she wanted to dance, I guess that she must have meant that she wanted to dance with me.
Her name was Andrea. She came from somewhere in the Bronx. She wanted to meet someone at the dance and enjoy herself. I guess that I met the qualifications for the job. She put her hand in mine. She then took her other hand and put it around my waist. She instructed me to do the same with my hand around her waist. I couldn’t.
Andrea forced me to lead. I remember how my aunt taught me to dance when I was a wee bit younger. I took charge, but there was something wrong, something missing from the motions. I couldn’t figure it out. She did. She requested that I hold her closer. DANGER!
What was she saying?
Boys are little hormone factories. Holding her close, I thought, was the sure path to fatherhood. I felt like I was in deep trouble. Catholic boys are not allowed to hold a girl this close. There has got to be some room for the Holy Spirit to get between us. I haven’t even held a teddy bear this close.
I could have sworn that I have seen Father O’Reilly warning me not to get to close to this woman. I was certain that I was going to be thrown out of the altar boys organization.
I made sure that I had about 6 inches between us. I didn’t want the Holy Spirit to have trouble getting between us. She pulled me even closer to her. I was in trouble. I was beginning to enjoy this more than I was supposed to enjoy it. I felt a body so close to mine. It wasn’t the teddy bear I used to sleep with when I was an infant. It was a warm body. I was dancing with a real, live woman. I was on the super express to the hot place.
The band started playing the Nat King Cole standard, “Around the World.” I held her as close as I could and gently sang the words of the song in her ear. She rested her head flat on my chest. I waltzed around the dance floor. I was certain that this was the right thing to do.
“God, please save my soul. She is nice, though. Uh, could you make the song just a little bit longer, God?”
When the song was almost over, I gave her a kiss on the cheek. I felt the flames of Hell just waiting for me. They were stoking them just for me. I was headed for a life of fire. She gently kissed me back. Then, she forced a piece of paper into my hand. I looked at it. It was her phone number. I was ecstatic. I found my first real experience with a woman.
This was much better than sharing crayons with Carly. I was so sorry that the night had to end. It was about 1:30 AM when we went home. I remember looking up at the sky when we left the hall. The stars had a special glimmer to them.
For weeks after that, I have always dreamed about her. Until I met someone else, Andrea was never out of my thoughts. My graduation was a week after the dance. I had Andrea on my mind when I got my diploma from SXS. She was a nice girl but I was so sure that I was going to find much better when I got to high school. I just couldn’t wait.
This is how my adventures began. I applied for Christ the King High School. I wanted to get away so far away from my hellish venture and start a whole new life away from the area. I heard so much about the place. I remember how I actually applied to Molloy earlier in November.
One of my classmates wanted Molloy and not CK. As a result, when he was accepted to Molloy, it moved me off the waiting list of CK to the acceptance list. I was honestly thrilled.
For the first time in my life, I learned how to take the bus by myself. On the way to school, I saw the tower that I would stare at in my earlier school days. I was always jealous of it. It was nestled a few blocks behind the railroad tracks that separated the two locations.
The tower was especially pretty when the Western sunset behind it in the evening. I just knew that there was a whole new life just beyond the tower. I just had to go out and find it. Now, I was on the bus and actually traveling beyond the tower. In a sense, I was about to find that life.
I have always wanted to be a teacher. I have always been influenced to do so by my favorite teacher of all time, Mrs. Fryer. I would watch how she conducted herself with the school. This was a profession that I wanted to be in. I wanted to meet new people. As it was, I was sent to CK with a group of eight boys. I knew from the very start that not all of us were going to graduate together.
Some might transfer, get left back or thrown out while the remainder would go on to success. I was determined to be one of the successful ones. To do so, I had to put the group behind me and find my true self. For the past nine years, I have always been close to being a follower. Now, I was getting a chance to be a leader to myself. To be a success, I had to get the job done.
We were told to report to the back schoolyard. It was the very first day of school on a sunny day in September of 1970. I still felt like it was all a dream. I had some memories of my kindergarten days. The one thing I couldn’t recall was my very first day in a school.
Now, at the ripe old age of 14, I was experiencing another first day of school in a new school. I was still overjoyed. There were just so many people standing around just waiting to get their room assignments. the school was open to so many other parishes. I was certain to find a new friend somewhere. I felt the invigorating feelings going right through me.
I listened carefully. We were being grouped by our last names. I was assigned to the first homeroom on the first floor. There I was with 34 other boys in a plain room. I don’t recall any decorations or anything else that was common in my previous school. We were told that we would have lockers in the hallway. We were sent out to find them. Mine was further down the hallway near the entrance.
The school was huge. I found out that it was 31 years younger than my previous scholastic residence. I was six years old when CK came into existence. The floors were composed of shiny marble tiles. The walls had ceramic bricks which came up from the floor and rose halfway up the wall. From there, tan-painted cinder blocks went further up to the ceiling. The fluorescent lights which touched each other ran the gamut of the hallway from one end to the other.
This was the way a school should be built. Even the outside of the building was just magnificent. It was nearly buried next to the cemetery. It was just a three-floor building. From a bird’s eye view, it resembled a giant W. The most captivating portion of the facade was the white marble window columns of the library.
On the highest portion of the marble were the words CHRIST THE KING HIGH SCHOOL emblazoned in bold gold letters. This would be my new home for four years. When you turned around and faced Metropolitan Avenue, you saw a slight hill which led to a huge iron gateway.
Obviously, much money was put into the planning and erection of the establishment. Someone started out building a simple high school and ended up with a scholastic palace. I knew at first glance, something really big was going to happen here.
We were sent back to our homerooms and then instructed to meet the rest of our teachers and get used to the schedule. I was finally moving around from one room to another.
Even the cafeteria was a monstrous sight. The room was as huge as a grammar schoolyard with a 10-foot ceiling. I saw the lines forming for lunch. The menu contained real food, not that preprocessed mess I ate for nine years. The meatballs, for example, was made from real chopped meat. The gravy didn’t double as house paint. It even smelled like food and not that pungent ammonia and hot dog sort of odor I used to get at Hell’s kitchen.
This was where I could find good food away from home.
When I was done with my lunch, I departed the room and did some sightseeing on the same floor. I found the school store. Yes, a school store. I could buy supplies, candy (an early addiction) and other things. It was like a real store within the school. This was just a bit too much to comprehend.
At this point, I still haven’t digested the fact that the school had its own sports teams up and down the page. There were real live extracurricular activities. They played other high schools on a regular basis. I knew that at this point, I was going to have a whole new experience.
I wandered up to the first floor. I found the gym. It was a sight to behold. It was so large that I thought we could put my previous school in it with room to spare. The floor was a polyurethane wood covered surface. The walls resembled the hallways. I developed a slight crick in my neck just looking up at the ceiling.
It was like standing at the foot of a skyscraper and looking up to the top. I was worried about climbing a rope to reach the top. For years, I was convinced that I was afraid of heights. I looked at the corner where the gym teacher, a hulking stump of an individual, stood and saw the pull-up bars and the pommel horse. This place had real gym equipment as well as three gym teachers for the boys.
A huge partition ran down the center of the gym. On the opposite side was where the girls congregated for their gym class. This wall was rarely opened, but it gave way to even more space. I thought that it would take me at least a full day just to run around to try and touch all four walls. This was an enormous sight.
The first day was pretty much uneventful. It took me a long time during the month of September just to soak it in. Occasionally, I would walk back to the old school, sit in the yard and compare it to my new place. It was hard to fathom that I spent more time with less and will spend less time with more. I just needed to put the old experience behind me. I looked at the tower. It seemed to look much better to me. I was now on the other side of the tracks. I watched as the sun was about to set. The light on the tower started to blink.
I needed to start opening up to my new world. I was now traveling to an unfamiliar area to me. I was meeting people I have never met and learned from teachers I had never seen before. I had all of the makings of a new life. I felt like a child on Christmas morning. I was still opening presents in the month of September.
I was deeply impressed with my math teacher, Brother Patrick Murphy. He was a short Irish man who, for lack of a much better word, LOVED the Chicago Bears. To me, he resembled the comedian, Bob Newhart. Brother Pat’s comic timing was so much better than Newhart’s or any other comedian.
His pedagogical skills were amazing. His compassion was unequaled. I never liked Math so much until he taught me. He was responsible for his classes and the freshman track team. I quickly joined to be with the freshman in the crowd. During class, he sent me with a note to another teacher.
I found my destination. I forgot how to get back to my class. I missed the rest of the class period and over half of the next period. My class chuckled when I was able to rejoin them. I was the joke of the week for my accomplishment. I was probably the only freshman to get lost that week, as far as I know.
October was spent getting past the personality conflicts. That was fine. We needed to define ourselves with each other. I still had the desire to fit in, but no resources to do so.
My wardrobe was a shameful collection of leftovers due to my slightly difficult build. My thighs frequently managed to burn holes in the crotch of my pants. The shoes turned up slightly at the toes. The shirts were tight enough to reveal a slight build.
I am sure that my appearance was the topic of laughter from time to time. Most of the teasing came at the hands of the guys from the old place. Still, I preferred where I am as opposed to where I was previously. If the ground had opened up and I fell in, I am sure that I still would have been happier.
Before the end of the month, the first casualty was dealt a blow. One boy was sent packing up to another school. Was I going to be next? No! I was even more determined to finish at the top of my expectations.
I went straight to track practice. The track was located in the backyard. It was a 220-yard oval painted on the asphalt. Within it were markings for a softball field. beyond the yard was the cemetery. It took up most of the scenery. The right side was the location of a bridge where the freight trains would pass somewhere.
In between the yard and the cemetery was the remnants of a lake. Water collected here and went nowhere. It wasn’t glamorous, but it must have served some purpose. Only a month ago, I was standing just a few short feet from this lake. Now I was trying to exert myself in my new school.
When Brother Pat put me through the first workout, I got through it okay. I went home, though, and hurt in places that I never even knew existed on my body. I thought that perhaps God gave me a new muscle overnight and it started hurting. I hurt so bad that even my eyelashes were in pain. But I kept coming back.
Brother Pat had a way of making even the lesser talented runners like myself feel as important as the fastest runners. If anyone knows this, I am the expert. He gave an interview to the school paper and named every person on the freshman squad. He always had a nice thing to say about them. I was able to keep the article until 1978 when it was destroyed in a house fire.
Back in class, he was a math marvel. He taught the most difficult concepts in a most simplistic manner. I never understood algebra so well. To think that before this year, I was barely holding my head above water in math. He was superb. I wanted him to help me for my entire four years.
Perhaps, if he did, I would have been a math teacher or a far better musician. By the end of the year, I had my math studies down to a science, excuse the pun. I was finally getting better in high school. I was making it through the most difficult first year.
As far as my other classes were concerned, I needed to get it together. My report card was far short of spectacular. I barely hovered above the passing level. I spent more time sight-seeing than studying for class.
I already ran into trouble. I was nearly cooked when I made it to my first detention. I was caught in the hallway during a forbidden period—lunchtime. I was warned on the first day of school about being where I shouldn’t have been in the first place.
My identification card was confiscated by the dean of discipline. I remember it well. He caught me off-guard. He held out his hand. I knew what to do. I said, ”Here, you capitalist pig!” It was either that or “Yes, sir.” I can’t remember my exact words.
There we were—30 boys who just didn’t follow the rules that day. Some were freshmen like me. Most were upperclassmen. All of us were doing time. I felt low.
Whatever the intention was behind detention, it worked. I saw the reflection in the glass in front of me of the other students who had no detention giggling at us as they passed by us. It would be my only high school appearance in detention. From that day on, I learned how to avoid “The Rock.”
Despite having detention, I was still enjoying myself in school. I never knew that a school building could be so much fun. I was still trying to find my niche. I felt good. I could have stayed in the building all day and night.
The only precursor to this situation was that my bus pass expired daily at 7 PM. I needed to further explore my new surroundings. When I came home from school, I felt very different from every other person in the neighborhood. I felt that I was going to an exclusive high school. So far, despite running into some troubles, my transition was coming along very nicely.
I was thoroughly convinced, as I am now, that I made the right choice to get into CK. CK was now becoming my home. I was getting some chances to be myself. I never had a chance to do so before. I was finally able to be me and not a follower. At last, the real Maurice was about to come through.
June had approached very quickly. I was definitely happier now than I was just 12 months ago. Last June, I wanted to retreat to my room at home. Now, I, for the first time in my life, didn’t want to go home right away. My grades surely reflected my inability to stay focused, but I felt that it wouldn’t become a major problem. I had seen my new school for what it is—one beautiful building. Still, I needed something else to complete the picture.
Chapter Two: The Seemingly Secure Sophmore