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As I sat in my room, waiting, as always I
knew I was in trouble. That much was very clear. In trying to
get out of it, I had made it worse - much, much worse. In my
entire twelve-year-old life, I had never regretted quite as
much as I had my actions over the previous twenty-four hours.
It was 3:30PM. My mistake had begun almost exactly one day before.
Yesterday I hadn't wanted to do my math homework.
It was logarithms; they were long and tedious and I hated them.
The day was warm and sunny and I wanted to play outside. So
I did all my other homework and then put my books away and changed
out of my uniform into my play clothes. I was headed outside
when my mother asked:
"Mija, are you done with your homework?"
"All of your homework?"
Despite (or perhaps because of) my close to
seven years of Catholic schooling, I replied without even a
blink of the eye:
"Yes, I'm all finished."
So, without a care, I was released to roam
the neighborhood, free from the dreaded grip of pre-Algebra.
Time passed and I heard my mother call me in for dinner. My
sister and I were bathed, put on night clothes, were fed and
in bed by 7:30 (I know - I didn't like going to bed that early
It was only then, as I lay in bed, that I
considered the consequences of my as yet unfinished homework.
What would I turn in tomorrow? My father came in and kissed
me good night. I nearly admitted my lie then. He would have
helped me, would have let me stay up an extra hour to do my
work. But I knew my mother would tell him I had lied to her.
At best I would have to stay in the rest of the week. At worst
I would have to stay in the rest of the week and I'd be spanked.
I kept silent, planning to do my work the next day before school.
The next morning, I was so nervous I couldn't
eat my breakfast. I started my homework on the way to school
in my carpool. By the time we got to school, a fifteen minute
drive, I was finished with one of the twenty problems. This
was not good. I'd underestimated how long these damn logs took.
I worked frantically out on the play yard for another half hour
until the final bell. By then I had finished seven problems
and had three pages of calculations. Maybe, maybe, if math were
not until after lunch, I might finish. During the twenty minute
break at 10:00AM I finished three more. After recess, when we
were to turn in our homework, I had ten out of twenty. Maybe
she wouldn't notice, and I could do them tonight and say I forgot
to turn them in.
Sister Mary Francis began to assign students
to the board. I should have put my hand up for the first problems,
the ones I had some sort of answer for, but I was hoping since
there were thirty students in the class that I could beat the
odds. Silly me!! I was never lucky.
My heart dropped, but I hoped I could fake
it. I copied the problem out of my book and started to solve
Of course I made a mistake.
Sister flipped to my homework to help me to
do the check. Of course it wasn't there.
"Mija, you didn't turn in problem eighteen."
"Is it still in your folder?"
I walked over to my desk and looked in my
folder. Maybe Saint Teresa had performed a miracle and it would
be there. I looked. The folder was empty.
"Did you complete your homework last
My eyes began to prick with tears shame of
crying before my peers forced me to hold in.
"I ran out of time, Sister."
"Please take your seat."
I did. Ashamed, I put my head down onto my
desk. An enemy snickered,
"Look, she's crying."
My best friend sent a note with a smiley face.
I tried to smile at her, but my eyes started to water again
and I looked down quickly.
After lunch I found a dreaded reprimand slip
on my desk. It read:
"To the Parents of _Mija_:
The above student did not complete the assigned
homework in _Mathematics_ last night. Incomplete homework makes
it impossible for effective class work to occur. This has happened
_1_ other time.
Please sign below to indicate your receipt
of this notice.
My heart dropped. My mom and dad would have
to know about my lie yesterday. The rest of the afternoon went
by too fast. It was soon 3:00 and I slowly went out to the parking
lot to await my mother's car. She was already there.
I sat in the back and let my sister chatter
away while the other children were dropped off at their respective
homes. After the last one slammed the door, the inevitable question
"And how was your day, Mija?"
I took a deep breath and said:
"I got in trouble and got a note sent
"I didn't have all my math done."
There was a pause as my mom pulled into the
driveway. My sister got out and opened the garage, usually my
job. Then my mom said:
"Didn't you say you'd finished?"
I nodded slowly, tears finally welling over.
"I'm sorry, Mami. I just wanted to go
outside and play."
"You lied to me, Mija, and you didn't
do what you were supposed to. Go to your room. Your father will
talk to you about this when he gets home. And you'd better have
all your homework done by then."
Crying, I ran from the car to the (un)safety
of my room. Careful not to slam the door, I threw myself on
to my bed. Why do I keep getting in such trouble?
Out of tears for the moment, I sat down and
began my homework. Perhaps because of the excess adrenaline
of anticipation, my mind worked quite quickly and my homework
seemed to take no time at all. Then I had the two hours to wait
until my father came home at 6:30. At 6:00 my sister came up
with a tray of food.
"Mom says to eat this, take your bath
and get into bed."
"Thanks," I replied, not looking
up. She put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed.
I started to cry again as she walked out of
I tried to eat the tomato soup, took a bite
of the grilled cheese toast, drank a little juice, but my stomach
was churning. I couldn't eat. I picked up my night clothes and
went in to take my bath. As I washed, I heard my father come
home, heard my mom show him the note, tell him I had told her
I had finished my work, remind him this was the second note
this term. Heard her say,
"Nothing else gets through to her you
know. She has no respect for me at all!"
My father spoke too low to be heard. But I
knew what he said. Five minutes later my father knocked on the
"Mija, when you're done with your bath
come into my room. I need to discuss this note. . . . Did you
"Answer when you're spoken to!"
When I had finished and put on my nightgown
and robe, I walked slowly down the hall to my parents' room.
As obvious as the situation was, I tried frantically to think
of just the right thing to say to prevent the spanking I knew
I was about to receive.
Their bedroom door was open. My father was
standing next to my mother's dressing table. I sat down on the
bed facing him and waited.
"Well?" he said.
"I'm sorry, Daddy. . . . I didn't mean
for this to happen."
"What do you mean you 'didn't mean this
to happen'? Did you tell your mother your homework was finished
when it wasn't?"
"What didn't you mean then?"
"I don't know," I choked out.
"You meant you didn't mean to get caught.
I shook my head no. But I had no other answer.
"I promise. I won't do it again."
He sighed and looked at me hard.
"This isn't the first time, Mija. You
had another note not two months ago and I punished you then.
Obviously you forgot what happened."
I frantically shook my head no. I remembered
"I want you to remember this next time
you think about not doing your school work or lying to your
mother or myself. Nothing is more important than your family
and your school work. Now take off your robe."
I stood up and slowly removed my terry cloth
robe, folded it and placed it on the bed. My father turned the
dressing table chair around and sat down on it. He picked up
the Ping-Pong paddle from the table behind him (this was the
first I'd seen it this night, it must have been behind him).
Leading me by my waist, he placed me over his lap, his left
hand securing me. He flipped my nightgown up. As I felt him
tug down my panties, I began to cry with embarrassment.
"Please, Daddy, I promise I'll be good."
"I hope you will."
A split second before it made contact, I felt
the air move and tensed. The paddle swatted hard. I don't think
he swung very hard, but each time it landed it stung. As the
spanking progressed, my cries changed from being for each individual
spank to a steady wail. I felt his arm tighten as I started
to kick harder. Two swats to my upper legs convinced me without
words to move about less. Finally we reached the magic number
twenty-five and he stopped, I hoped for good.
I felt him lift me on to my feet and turn
my shoulder so I faced him. I continued to cry, my hands holding
my bottom through my nightgown. I bent down to pull up my panties.
"No, Mija. You're not finished."
My surprise at his words almost stopped my
"W-w-w-what?" I choked out.
"I want you to be very clear on how unhappy
your mother and I are about getting letters from your teacher
and your lying." He stood up and picked up a long (3 foot)
thin switch that had been leaning against the dresser. I'd never
seen one before, but I knew this would hurt.
I started crying again.
"P-p-please, Daddy, I'm sorry. I won't
get in trouble again."
He didn't reply. Instead he directed me to
lean over the bed and pull my nightgown up to my back.
"I don't -"
"- want to have to sign -"
"- another note -"
"- from -"
"- your teacher!"
Aaaiiaannnnoooooo. . . .
"Is this clear, Mija? Because you'll
get ten if this happens again, understand?"
I didn't answer right away. It was a second
or two before I was sure the switching was over. I could feel
every sting, like a burn. Gently I reached back and pulled down
my nightgown, turned around and replaced my panties. I was still
crying very hard. Finally I gulped out,
"Yes, Daddy. I'm so -s -s-or-ry."
He sat down on the bed and picked me up onto
"I know you are, sweetheart."
At that, all the tension of the day seemed
to break all at once and I began to sob. I wanted to tell him
how bad I had felt, that I had nearly been ill, that I wanted
to be good more than anything. But all I could do was cry into
his chest as he stroked my hair and said,
Finally, when I had quieted, he got up and
walked me to my room and put me in bed. As I slid under the
covers, I could feel the sting of my punishment and started
to cry again. He turned off the overhead light, then turned
on my desk lamp and sat down next to the bed.
My father wiped my tears with his handkerchief
and asked me if I had one under my pillow. I said no and he
gave me his. As I sat there and watched him he read over my
I drifted off to sleep as he checked the math,
his pencil making corrections.
Now you would have thought with that punishment
fresh on my mind (and my bottom) I could have stayed out of
trouble for weeks and weeks. It did motivate me to study more
and with greater diligence. My homework was neatly done and
checked every night. I did extra credit problems, practiced
my handwriting, had my mom quiz me on spelling words. As has
been the case in my recent past [see Pablo's
story], spelling was my downfall.
Monday of every week my class got twenty-five
words to learn the spelling and definition of by Friday. Defining
the words was never a problem; I was always a very well-read
child and usually I already knew the words and what they meant.
But I rarely, if ever, knew their correct spelling. And of course,
as with all things I'm not good at, I didn't like to even try.
Most weeks I barely passed the tests with a 'C'.
This was not 'most weeks', however. My motivation
was boundless and I had my mom quizzing me daily. As is the
case with all things, if you work at it hard enough, long enough
and shed enough tears over it, eventually you'll succeed. So,
by Friday I had the words memorized letter perfect (my mother
knew them still better, of course). Instead of dreading the
weekly test, I was looking forward to it, knowing that exhilarating
feeling of being completely prepared. We had to get all our
tests signed, so I was looking forward to bringing home an 'A',
thinking of how proud everyone would be of me.
As I sat counting my chickens, the test was
passed out. My teacher, still Sister Mary Francis, read aloud
the words and we wrote them and their definitions down. Then
came the task of writing sentences. I was zooming along when
I felt a pinch at my left elbow. It was the new girl LaTisha,
who had become my tablemate the previous week.
When I say LaTisha was new, I don't mean that
she was new to the school. She was two years older than us (actually
closer to three years older than me) and had been removed from
the seventh grade for a poor midterm report, placed in with
thirteen-year-olds. Of course, this had been quite embarrassing,
and she was very angry. This would make the second time she
had been held back. She was more mature physically than any
of us, and at twelve I was much smaller and slighter. I had
lost in a confrontation with her (she had been mad that I was
'staring' at her) earlier in the week. She hadn't hurt me, but
had knocked me to the ground with a hard push. Wisely I had
stayed there and she had walked away. We hadn't talked at all
since then and I had learned not to make eye contact.
I'd forgot she was even next to me.
"Psst. . . . Let me see your test."
Without thinking I dropped my left arm to
my lap and turned the exam toward her. How ironic! Most of the
students in my class had been with me since I was four. None
of them would have even thought that I might have the
right answers to a spelling test. Most weeks I wouldn't have.
But I did, and LaTisha craned to look and I shrank myself so
as not to block her gaze.
From behind and overhead an arm came down
and snatched both our tests away.
"LaTisha, Mija," the voice of Sister
came from behind, my spine suddenly chilled, the golden day
broken. "Go wait outside. Class, pencils down." There
was no argument to be made, we were already dismissed. Yet LaTisha
was brave enough to say:
"Why pick on me? I didn't do nothing."
She was ignored. Sister didn't even look at
us, but raised her arm and pointed toward the door.
I shuddered. I had never done anything that
warranted being sent from the room. With all eyes upon me (or
so I felt) I cleared the books from my desk and closed the lid.
I tried to move out silently. LaTisha, by contrast, slammed
her books into her desk, slammed the top down. She bumped other
students' chairs on the way to the door, muttering about being
picked on the whole way.
The door opened and closed. We were outside.
I wanted to go to the bathroom.
LaTisha pushed me against the outside wall,
holding one hand against my chest, the other raised as if to
slap my face. "You don't say we did anything. I wasn't
cheating, neither was you."
I nodded and she released me, sat down on
the floor and took a small ball out of her pocket and began
rolling it around on her hands, humming. I was terrified. I
had to go to the bathroom but I was afraid to leave the door
Soon the class filed past us, released for
recess. We were called back into the classroom. Sister sat at
her desk, we stood before it.
"Cheating is illegal at this, and every
other, school. It is immoral, lying. LaTisha, I watched you
copy from Mija, and I watched you, Mija, allow her to do so.
Being the means of sin is as wrong as committing the sin, as
She looked at us expectantly. I couldn't meet
her stare and looked at the ground. My heart felt like Poe's
tell-tale one. I couldn't tell the truth, yet I felt too guilty
to lie. I wondered if LaTisha might tell Sister that she had
cheated, but without my knowledge, yeah . . . right.
"I don't know what you're talking about,
Sister. I was just trying to take my test. I don't even know
LaTisha seemed to have her story down pat.
How could I tell the truth without holding her up as a liar?
"I wasn't cheating, Sister." With
a bit of a stretch I could say that was true. I didn't think
that I had cheated.
"Did you let LaTisha copy your answers?"
"No." So now I was lying. But what
else could I say? I couldn't admit what I'd done without calling
LaTisha a liar.
"Mija, LaTisha, I know what you both
did. You both cheated. This is against school rules and you
both know it. In addition you both have lied to me. Come with
We followed her. I felt my feet dragging.
We were heading to the principal's office. What was going to
happen? I'd never been sent to the principal - had barely spoken
to her except to say "Yes, Sister" or "No, Sister"
when she asked me a question.
LaTisha and I were directed to sit down in
the chairs in the lobby, where the school secretary did not
even look at us, let alone offer a smile or reassuring look.
Students came in with notes. I remember one first grader coming
in looking at me with frightened awe. I was a 'bad girl' waiting
to talk to the principal. Overlaying all this was my desire
to go to the restroom, which was becoming overwhelming. I found
that I was choking back tears.
A voice from behind the door called LaTisha
in. I tried to hear what was said, but all I could hear was
a low murmuring. Finally, LaTisha came back out. I could feel
her stare, but looked only at the floor.
"They want to talk to you."
I couldn't look, didn't want to see the threat.
I felt friendless and alone. The thought of what my friends
where saying about me on the playground passed through my brain
and I felt a hot flush.
The faceless voice of authority was calling
out to me. I stood and walked into the office.
When I walked in, the principal was seated
behind her desk, my teacher in a chair by her right side.
"Mija, you've been a student here since
you were four years old. This is the first time I've seen you
in my office. Is this the first time you've cheated, or simply
the first time you've been caught? Cheating is a form of lying,
lying is a sin against your teacher and God. Are you going to
I shook my head no. Stared down at the floor.
"Did you cheat on the test?"
"Yes, Sister. But it's the only time,
"Then you should be glad you were caught.
You most likely will never want to be in this position again."
"Thank you for telling us the truth,
She reached for the telephone and dialed a
number. I saw her pause while it rang, was answered.
"Good morning, Mrs. de Perez. This is
Sister St. Paul. I'm afraid we have a bit of difficulty here.
. . . Mija has admitted to providing answers for another student
on her exam today. I would appreciate it if you could come over
as soon as possible so we could discuss this. . . . Yes, that
will be fine. I'll be expecting you in the next hour. "
I was in shock. A telephone call. No note,
but a telephone call! I was dead dead dead dead.
"Your mother will be here in forty-five
minutes. Sister Francis, will you call LaTisha in?"
While LaTisha and I stood there, I heard the
phone call to LaTisha's mother. I knew just from this call that
this was not the first time LaTisha's mother had been called
in. Her mother arrived five minutes before mine. With her mother's
support, LaTisha began protesting her innocence. I was called
upon to accuse her and I asked to go to the restroom.
In there I found I couldn't go, but I was
sick. I stood over the sink and cried, remembering what my father
had said about the 'next time'. Yet, for the life of me, I could
hardly say where I had gone so wrong. Washing my face in the
cool water, I realized I couldn't delay much longer.
I dried my hands and headed back to the main
When I got there, I could hear Sister St.
Paul talking to my mother. The conversation stopped as I walked
"Sit down next to your mother, please.
I was just explaining the consequences of LaTisha and your actions
to your parents." She turned her face toward my mother
as I slid into the empty chair. I did not meet my mother's eyes.
"Both girls will be suspended five days,
not counting today. They may return to school a week from Monday,
having completed all assigned work and having written the assigned
lines. Neither Mija nor LaTisha may return without these assignments
LaTisha's mother interrupted, "But I
have to work. She can't be home alone all week. I pay tuition
so that she has a place to go during the day, not so that I
can stay home and baby-sit on school days."
Sister St. Paul picked up her pen and wrote
on a sheet of paper for about thirty seconds. Then she said,
"You pay tuition for the education of your daughter as
a student and a Catholic. In both cases, cheating is opposed
to the school's mission. LaTisha and Mija will absent themselves
for a week for their own good and the good of their classmates.
If you disagree, you are naturally free to enroll your daughter
at another school with policies more to your liking. If you
give this to the secretary, she will assist you in forwarding
records and transcripts."
LaTisha's mom snatched the paper away, grabbed
her daughter's arm and dragged her from the classroom. Sister
watched them leave then looked at my mother and me.
"So, Mrs de Perez, will Mija be returning
to Nazareth School?"
"Yes, Sister. Her father and I are glad
she wasn't expelled."
"Mija has been close to a model student
behavior-wise as far as Sister Francis and I are aware. I think
she simply showed poor judgment in her friendship with LaTisha."
I began to cry. I wasn't friends with LaTisha.
I wasn't. They would, could never understand.
I couldn't hear what they were saying. The
dread had begun. What would my father say, do? This
just wasn't possible to explain. How could things have gone
so wrong? I knew they could never be set right, that I'd never
be the good girl I'd been before I'd been sent from the classroom,
made to sit in the front office. I remembered how that first
grader had looked at me and felt so low, so guilty. The three
adults had stopped speaking and were staring at me. I wiped
"I believe this is all that needs to
be said on this for now. Sister Francis will give you your assignments
The principal wrote on a sheet of lined paper,
"I am judged by the company I keep. I will keep on the
side of the angels." She told me I had to write it one
thousand times in pen in good penmanship by next week. My hands
shook as I took the paper. I had never been assigned more than
fifty lines. One thousand seemed impossibly large. But my hands
were shaking with dread of what my father would do when he heard.
Had I anything left in my stomach I would have lost it.
My mother prompted me. "Don't you have
something to say, Mija?"
"I'm so sorry, Sister Mary Francis. I'm
sorry Sister St. Paul. I-I-I want to come back please."
My voice broke and I hung my head in humiliation.
Sister St. Paul nodded. "I look forward
to seeing you when this is over with."
We were ushered out. My mother didn't speak
to me on the way out to the car. Once inside she said, "I
don't know what to say to you, Mija. I'm so disappointed in
you. I never thought of you as the sort of girl who would cheat
on an exam."
I burst out crying again and we drove home
When we got home I went to my room without
being told. My mother made calls to arrange another mother to
pick up the carpool and take care of my sister for the afternoon.
I lay down on my bed, took my grandmother's throw from the end
of the bed and cried.
I must have fallen asleep, because when I
woke up there was a golden dusk outside my window. My father
would be home soon. I hadn't taken off my shoes, let alone my
uniform. No one had come up with dinner, to tell me to bathe.
I felt untouchable.
My father got home barely an hour later. I
pretended to still be asleep, wishing that I could vanish or
become deathly ill (then they'd be sorry). I could hear their
voices, but not their words. The phone rang and I realized it
had rung several times while I slept. I heard my father on the
phone. Then I heard him come upstairs. I was turned toward the
wall and had my eyes closed when he walked in.
"Mija? Wake-up, Mija. . . . Mija, I need
to speak with you."
I sat up and turned over on the bed, facing
him, my feet dangling off the side. I'm sure my face and eyes
were swollen from crying.
"I heard you had quite a morning. Tell
me about it."
"I got into trouble for letting someone
copy my answers. I had to go to the principal. Mom had to come
to school. I got s-s-s-sus-ss-pen---d--dd-d---" I started
sobbing again and couldn't continue.
"You got suspended from school for a
week, you have to write lines and do extra assignments. Is that
what you were going to tell me?"
I didn't stop crying, but nodded.
"You also lied to your teacher when she
asked you about it."
I nodded some more, trying to breathe in.
"What did I say would happen next time
you lied and got into trouble at school?"
"That you'd punish me. That I'd get ten
with the stick." I hadn't yet met his eyes. My voice came
out a whisper.
"This was very serious, wasn't it?"
I nodded miserably.
After my last punishment, the switch had been
put in my closet (mean, mean) to 'remind' me daily of the importance
of honesty and hard work. I stumbled through tears (I remember
them as blinding, then clear, like looking through a crystal
prism) over to the closet, found it, got it out and walked back
to where he was standing. He didn't reach out for it.
"Here, Daddy," I whispered.
He took the switch from me and set a pillow
on the edge of the bed.
"Lean over the bed."
I did as I'd been asked. And waited, and waited.
He didn't pull up my skirt. I didn't hear him talk. There was
nothing at all. Finally, as the seconds ticked by I began to
sob some more. I heard the cracking sound of the dry switch
breaking, the chair was dragged from the desk to the bed and
I felt his hands on my shoulders, turning me over so I was again
sitting on the bed, facing him. Almost at eye level.
"Look at me."
I struggled and looked up.
"I'm angry with you for something else,
Mija. Your mother and I are supposed to take good care of you.
We try to, we want to. So why didn't you tell us this girl had
knocked you down last week? Why didn't you tell us what was
Was that only last week?
"I don't know, Daddy."
"Try. I want you to tell me."
"I thought you might get mad. 'Cause
I was fighting at school."
"Mija, you're almost thirteen years old.
Sometimes you need to be brave and do the right thing even if
you get into trouble. Had you told us we would have talked to
your teacher then. You probably would have been moved, and this
whole unpleasant day would never have happened. Instead, you
mother has to hear it from Mrs O'Shell, because Janie tells
her mother what happens every day. We ask you the same questions."
I had looked away again.
"I know what happened today. Your friends'
parents have called to tell me. But much I should have already
known and I didn't. I didn't even know you were seated next
to a girl who was much older than you. You need to help me or
I can't help you."
I nodded, staring at the floor.
"Come here. "
I stood up and walked the three steps over
to where he was sitting. Holding both my hands, he looked up
at me and said,
"Promise me you'll tell me when anything
goes wrong at school again. If you tell me, I'll never be as
angry as I will be when I find out another way."
I nodded. "I promise, Papi, really."
He didn't say anything else, but turned me
over his lap and flipped up my skirt.
"You know, children aren't just spanked
because it hurts them. They're spanked because it embarrasses
I didn't say anything, but squeaked slightly
when he pulled down my underwear. I felt his hand come down
swat on my bottom once, (ouch), twice (ouch).
This is the only time in my memory he spanked
me with his hand.
I had already been crying and this didn't
really hurt, but as I realized that this was my punishment I
started to sob. He gave me ten spanks which stung (but hardly
like a switch) but were not very hard. Still, I cried very hard.
When I kept crying and didn't get up after he stopped, he pulled
up my panties and turned me over on his lap, held me close as
Finally, as I quieted, he sent me to the bathroom
to clean up and get ready for bed (though it wasn't quite even
7:00). I did. When I came back, the bed had been turned down.
I was put into it, the sheets smoothed around me.
Yet when he kissed me good night I burst out
sobbing again. I just couldn't stop crying. I don't know if
it was the fear, or the humiliation, or the overall horror of
the day, but I was in hysterics, breathing in but not out. He
went and got a cold, damp washcloth and began wiping my face,
hands and neck, telling me that it would all be alright, that
I was ok, that my mother and he loved me.
When I lay back finally, exhausted, he pulled
the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh off the shelf, and (though
he hadn't read aloud to me in five years) began to read the
stories of Pooh and Piglet and Owl and Rabbit and Christopher
Robin. And I remembered lying in bed when I was four and listening
to him read the same stories and falling asleep to the story
of Pooh stuck in Rabbit's door.
And I did fall asleep.
And everything was ok. :)
'Course, I still had to write those lines!
It took fifty sheets of paper!! (or thereabouts). :(
to Mija's stories
to the treehouse