The Big Sister I've Always Wanted!!

A Bond that Will Never Be Broken

The Big Sister I've Always Wanted!!

I am a huge advocate of the computer. I practically live with it. I can never do without it. My life is pretty much geared around it. Obviously, this article was written with it. During the course of its use, I may need to use the internet from time to time. When you come across something interesting, you would bookmark it so that you can go right back to the exact page you wanted. You might change the page in some way, but you can always return to it at any time in the future anytime you want.

If I could I would bookmark a point in my life that I want, for the sake of this article, to return to from time to time. I wouldn't change anything about it. Instead, I just want to take a lesson from it.

If you will, picture a nice, clear September day in 1970. It was the first school day after Labor Day. Sunny and very mild was the only way to describe the day. A day earlier, I was fantasizing about this day. I was up nearly all night because I was about to do something that millions of others have done before me. I was about to start a new page in my life called high school. That morning found me sitting on the second bus of the day, the B53. It was a bus that, for this part of the route, started in Queens and ended somewhere in Brooklyn. For me, the very first lesson I learned is that it was going to be a long ride, roughly a half an hour on a good day and, therefore, getting that AM seat would be very helpful. One had to pick the right seat as this bus filled up very quickly within two or three stops. I choose to sit by the last door which was the middle of the bus, totally oblivious to the world outside of it. I was going to high school.

I was assigned to attend Christ the King High School in Middle Village, New York. It was a diocesan high school. All of us Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens who were a part of the Diocese of Brooklyn were allowed to apply for admission. I originally applied for a place called Archbishop Molloy, but I never claimed any academic superiority in my lifetime anyway. AM was a place where the 8th-grade brainiacs attended, but guys like me go elsewhere. I was on a waiting list for CK. Somehow, I had a really good feeling that I was glad to be there and not at Molloy. I am so very glad that CK accepted me instead.

When I got off that bus with the huge crowd, I merely flowed with the rest of them. We entered through a huge marble and iron gate. I was here the April before to take my placement exam and then go home, but now, I was here for the day. I looked at the majestic building that I was to call home for the next four years of my life. It was huge. It was like no other building I have ever seen. You had to look down as it sat at the bottom of a hill. To its left was a cemetery. To its right was a set of railroad tracks surrounded by brush and a NYC train station behind it. Very spooky railroad lines at times. The building looked like the architect tried to squeeze a very long building into a very small space. From a bird’s eye view, it resembled either a large W or M. I used to watch a whole lot of horror movies in my day. My favorite was always Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. I was worried about seeing vampires at this place but realized that they only appear when the sun goes down. As nice as this building was, there was no chance of me being there at night anytime soon.

On the inside, CK was equally impressive. It had only been in operation since 1962, although I was there some eight years later, I could still feel the spirits of the years past. It was high school. The halls were clean, long and well decorated. There were honors given over the years along with two trophy cases outside in the lobby leading to a massive gymnasium. I have never seen such a huge athletic room outside of the arena in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. The floor of the gym was a waxed hardwood that you could almost see your reflection. There were bleachers and basketball hoops. There was also a wall, which, if it was opened at that moment, would have revealed the second half of the gym.

When I started that day at CK, it was a co-divisional educational institution. In other words, it was two CK schools in one building with the same name. The girls attended class on one side of the building while the boys attended classes on the other side. Very rarely did we share any activities outside of lunch or an occasional assembly together. There were just a few classes where we did attend together like music theory or art. Other than that, boys went to their classes while the girls went to their classes. That is why there was a wall in the middle of the gym.

I have to admit that I was an obnoxious little snot. I had a fast mouth with no aim. I was able to talk without a follow-up. It got me into big trouble on many days. If I was going to succeed here, I needed to get that in order very quickly.

I am a guy who never sought popularity. If it happened, it happened. I was worried about me. I knew lots of people, but I never concerned myself with having lots of people around me. My shoes were made for me to walk in. Therefore, the path I had to choose was for me and me alone. I was now in an atmosphere where I was able to make a change. I like to keep my circle small, but dependable. I wanted to have friends that I could trust and rely on. Originally, there were nine of us who were assigned from my grammar school to attend CK. I dubbed us as “The Fine Nine.”

CK also presented its challenges. You had to pass its rigorous academics and very strict behavior standards. At first, I did not know if I was in high school or an elementary Marine Corps basic training school-boot camp if you will. If you were even five minutes late for school or even from one class to the next, we boys had to report after school to a location known as The Rock, a place located outside of the back of the auditorium where the hardcore offenders had to stand until they were dismissed. It was either an hour or two. I don’t even remember. The Rock was supervised by the boys’ Dean of Discipline. He was a very tough cookie named John Coleman.

Mr. Coleman was about as tough as they could come. He was a six-foot tall white man. He never smiled and was not paid to do so. He was always well-dressed and looked athletically fit. He spoke directly to you and when he spoke, he aimed his voice at his intended target or targets. When I did see him smile, it was like a smile a spider would give a fly if it could after getting caught in the spider’s web. When Mr. Coleman caught you or you tried to lie about something, his smile was your low point because you knew that he had you in a position where you could not escape. You knew that his next sentence would be, “I will see you at my office at 3 today,” as he took your ID card. He got me one day. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was at my locker after lunch and just before class so that I would not be late for class. Ironically, I got busted for being early.

September was so tough that the “Fine Nine” lost a member. As I arrived at school shortly before the beginning of class, I saw my friend Stephen walking in the opposite direction. ”Was he going home for the day?” “Did he forget something at the top of the hill?” He stopped me and told me that he was being transferred to another school. I was so stunned that I remember saying "Okay," but I forgot to get his phone number so that I could call him later. He was gone by the time I remembered to turn around to wave goodbye. He was my buddy and as soon as I got more comfortable at CK, we were going to plan activities to join together. Now what? I felt that, at that point, I had no friends. I did not trust the rest of the “Great Eight,” the new name I called the group.

Now, I had to come up with a game plan. After nine years with the “Great Eight,” I really wanted nothing to do with them anymore. I needed a fresh start. After all, I was now in high school. There were hundreds of people—students and teachers—to meet. I was bound to find someone. I just could not find them now. I was scared. I needed someone to help me and I did not know where to turn.

The next day, I was back on the B53 headed for another day of school. Unlike Stephen, I managed to successfully conquer September, but the school year lasts ten months, not one. The bus made its second stop. As it did, I noticed a fellow student who got on with a group of her friends. I don’t know if she noticed me at first, but I noticed her. She was a brunette and wore glasses. I don’t know what she was talking about, but it must have been pretty good. She and the girls kept talking with each other. Eventually, they found a seat. Two of them sat down while the other two students handed them their books. She was one of the two to sit. I felt very awkward because the young lady was very pretty and I did not want to give her the wrong impression about me. I decided to read the advertisements in the runners above the seats. Occasionally, I would look at her and try to get a glimpse before she saw me. One time, she caught me looking and smiled. I didn’t know who she was, but she did not seem to be angry at me looking at her. Finally, we all arrived at CK and left the bus for class.

A few days later, I happened to see her again. This time, I wasn’t that afraid as I was on the bus. If things did not turn out nicely, I could have said, “Bye. I got to get to class.” That day, I did not need to. I first waved and then spoke.

“Hi’” I nervously spoke.

She responded in kind, “Hi. What’s your name?”

For a brief second, I actually forgot. Then, I remembered.

“My name is Maurice. I am a Freshman.”

“Welcome to Christ the King. My name is Susan. What school are you from?” she queried.

“I am from St. Catherine of Sienna in St. Albans,” I replied.

Sue then said what I needed to hear. She said, “I am a Sophomore. If you need help, let me know. I will help you.”

I was so relieved. I told her, “Thanks, Sue. May I call you Sue?” I wondered.

“Sure,” she said.

What Sue did not know is that she was the answer to my prayers. I never had a big brother or big sister to help guide me. She was as close to being a big sister that I was ever going to have.

As time went on that year, I would see her occasionally, trying not to bother her too much. I did ask her questions from time to time. When we were on the bus, however, I had to be very careful. Two years before walking into CK, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. As a black teenager, I was constantly called upon to watch my place when it came to dealing with white females. Even the “Great Eight” tried to make me feel guilty for talking with white women beyond the traditional hello and goodbye. Why? We were all in the same school together. Why can’t I associate with whomever I want? What’s more, Sue did not run away from me. She never complained or called upon some adult to rescue her. She was a very attractive and extremely amiable white girl and she did not have to offer me any help, but she freely did. Nobody else helped me. It was not like I was hidden. No, she helped me. Ever since that day, I considered Sue to be the big sister I always wanted.

Other than in school, I would see her on the AM bus because I decided to try some after school activities. On the AM bus, though, I tried to extend courtesy to my big sister. Whenever I saw her, I would offer her my seat once in a while, trying to be aware of how my actions would be perceived by others. Yes, I would give up my seat to this white girl, but I did so because she was MY friend and it was not a problem with me. Other times, I would signal to her to pass her books over so that I could hold them for her. I didn’t mind at all. It did not matter how tired I was on that bus, she was my friend and it was never a bother.

As time went on in CK, I grew more confident in myself while remembering that if I ever needed help, Sue was somewhere nearby. Sometimes, I found trouble and other times, trouble found me. I remember one time when I did something silly. It wasn’t anything to be punished for, but it was silly and Sue just happened to be there to see it. When I looked up, she looked at me right in the eyes. She wasn’t smiling and it was a look that I did not want to see again. I stopped my silliness and apologized to my friend. I then gave a sheepish wave to Sue and kept walking. We never talked about it. I learned my lesson.

One of the activities that I loved and still do to this very day was the school band. It was conducted by one of the teachers from the girls’ side. His name was Mr. Keeler. Even though I did not practice like I should have during my first year in the band, I obtained a private music teacher for the remaining years and started making progress. During my second band year, Mr. Keeler made arrangements for me to report to St. John’s University in order to play with them so that I could make more improvements. I did. That meant that on Monday afternoons, I had to catch the earliest PM bus that I could and get to the campus way across Queens. From time to time, I would see Sue on the bus again.

For the remainder of Sue’s time at CK, I sort of took her for granted. I was secure at school, but I knew that she was there. In my third year, I promised myself that I would not bother her so much. She had her own activities, too. One thing I did keep forgetting is that she was a year up in school on me. She was a Senior and I was a Junior. She had to get ready for graduation and college.

As part of my band activities, we had to play at the girls’ graduation in the gym that June of 1973. It was a standard program. I felt both happy and sad. Why? I was glad to see my fellow schoolmates get their diploma, but I was sad because they would also be gone. One of those who would no longer be here was Sue, my big sister. When the program was over, all the new graduates left with their families in order to continue their celebrations. I hurried to pack up my trumpet and return my music. I wanted to thank Sue, but she was nowhere to be found. I left the gym, got on the late bus as it was already 8:30 PM and dark. When I got home almost an hour later, I put my trumpet next to my dresser and I collapsed on my bed and cried like an infant wanting a bottle.

“My sister is gone! What do I do now?”

I went through my Senior year without incident. Even though I had no way to contact her, I knew that Sue was somewhere out there. I remembered how she used to care for me when she had time. I decided to do the same for anyone else who needed my help. I figured that is what she would have wanted me to do. So I did. I even kept reporting to St. John’s for my band sessions. This time, I would never see Sue anymore on the AM or PM buses. I was now alone.

The next year, it was my turn to graduate. During that year, CK became one school. No more did we have boys’ and girls’ sides. Now, it was one school and I was free to go anywhere, except the ladies’ room and their locker room of course. Now, when our graduation came, it could not be held in the gym. It was moved to—Where else?—St. John’s University.

Like the four years before, I was about to start a new step in my life. This time, thanks to my two years of band study on the campus, I had a bit of an edge. I was a bit familiar with the campus. But, lo and behold, I had a huge surprise. As I was walking through St. John’s Hall one day, who did I happen to see talking with her fellow sorority sisters? IT WAS SUE, my big sister!

I ran over to see her and gave her a big hug. This was my big day. What were the chances of ever seeing her again? We spoke about CK and about life at SJU. She still looked the same—same wonderful smile, same charm, same beauty and her uncanny ability to spread cheer wherever she went. Nothing about her changed except that she was now college-smart. She was even studying what I wanted to study. She was going to become a teacher. I told myself that it would be really funny if we both became teachers and ended up working in the same school.

Those SJU years went by nicely. I had a better idea of what to do. College life kept me very busy. I would see her from time to time, but I never bothered her. My coursework managed to keep me busy, so I knew that bothering her when she had a lot of work was not the best thing to do. Besides, if she was worried about me, she would help me whether I asked her or not. She was that good about it. When she graduated this time in 1977, I did not cry because I knew that everything was going to be fine for both Sue and me. I owed her a huge debt of gratitude because she did not have to do what she had done for me. She did it because that was the way she was-kind, generous, loving and caring. She was going to be an awesome teacher.

I did graduate to become a teacher. One day back in 1981, I had a female student walk into my 7th-grade classroom. She was a blonde young lady of Portuguese descent. I stopped her and took a hard look. Sensing that she was understandably nervous, I let her go to her seat.

“Why did you do that?” she asked.

“Sorry,” I said, “but do you have anyone named Sue or Susan in your family?”

She said, “No. Why?”

I told her, “You look exactly like someone I know. That’s all.”

I also stayed at SJU to continue my studies on the graduate and postgraduate levels. I also had to change with the times. I learned about the computers and the various programs out there including Facebook. After my Dad died in 2012, I stopped working. My school closed and I had to be a caretaker for my Mom. When Mom was asleep, I would get onto the laptop, go to Facebook and socialize since I could not go somewhere and leave Mom alone for any undetermined amount of time. I still do. One day, I just so happened to see a name as I scrolled through a page. It was a PTA representative. The name looked very familiar. It said “SUSAN.” The last name looked familiar even though I did not recognize the married name. Was this the same Sue from CK or just a coincidence? It is someone connected to education. There was only one way to find out. I had to friend her and see. If it wasn’t her, I will apologize and go on my way.

A few days later, I got an answer from the person. IT WAS SUE!!!! I found my big sister once again. She was happy, married, and raising a family on Long Island. She now has two grandchildren. And, like that 1970s Sue, she was still full of energy giving her time to serve Parent-Teacher Associations all over the country.

In closing, I had to thank her, something I should have done before she graduated from CK in 1973. My only other regret is that she never met my Dad, my Mom who died in 2015 or my baby sister who died in 1987. I wanted everyone to meet the ONLY person on this Earth who could ever be a big sister to me. She was an excellent example—and still is—of the type of person I should be. She showed that race and gender should not be a stumbling block when it comes to helping others. She has always been a person who not only talked the talk, but she walked the walk as well. She knew the examples and led by example. She was what a person should desire to be. She is my inspiration to do much better in life.

In this writer’s view, if EVERYBODY on this planet was exactly like Sue, no matter where they live or background they came from, this world would be a BEAUTIFUL place……….

……...just like my Big Sister, Sue!!!!

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Maurice Bernier

I am a diehard New Yorker! I was born in, raised in and love my NYC. My blood bleeds orange & blue for my New York Mets. I hope that you like my work. I am cranking them out as fast as I can. Please enjoy & share with your friends.

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