All Water is Blue…My Memoir of Scared and Sacred School Years

All water is blue so sometimes it is hard to tell which water is trying to pull you into the undercurrent and which water is drifting you to safety.

I’ve never shared my school location or experiences in an interview. Most middle-age Bermudians argue over whether or not I went to Bermuda Institute or The Berkeley Institute. I usually keep quiet while this takes place. Even when my books were released the newspapers wanted to know which school should get credit for my writing but on the topic I was silent. But there I was standing in front of politicians, friends, family and people that I didn’t know. My head was still swirling with jetlag and my body was still back in Nairobi. But here I was in Bermuda, in my small island about to share my story.

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My close friends have heard the story before-children fasting, religious abuse, headaches while sitting in church pews etc. etc. Almost a year ago my friend Billy encouraged me to write a memoir about it. I was horrified. Why should I write about such a horrible time in my life? But like most things in life I like a challenge. So I began to jot down several lines while doing a bit of research on memoir writing.

Unlike biographies memoirs do not have to be written in chronological order. Usually there are sayings or simultaneous stories that guide the happenings along and flow in synch with the memoir theme. Before I get too heady I will let you know what was going on in my heart while writing this. I began writing my memoir like this;

All water is blue so sometimes it is hard to tell which water is trying to pull you into the undercurrent and which water is drifting you to safety.

Nobody told me that after writing those lines I’d be sick the next day or that friends and family who read the story would recount the words, “Wow I never knew that you went through all of that!” or “How did you come out so normal?” I believe that for children the eccentricities that we experience seem like normality until we look back on our lives with the magnifying glass of maturity.

It was around that time that the Ministry of Community and Culture sent out a call for memoir submissions for their upcoming anthology. This is usually how my life works; when I follow my heart it works out well in the “real” world. I continued writing. Although I have judgments and opinions now about what I went through I tried my best to write my memoir how I thought and experienced it as a seven year old. I would later call it An Underworld Education.

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There are parts of the memoir where I give subtle clues to deeper issues going on in the text. I pair the story with the stingrays that I would often see while waiting for the bus after school. As I took a breath to read an excerpt I wondered whether or not the listeners would believe that this really happened in Bermuda. As I read silence fell upon the room. This is the excerpt that I read:

All water is blue so sometimes it is hard to tell which water is trying to pull you into the undercurrent and which water is drifting you to safety. Swoosh. I watched the current rush under the bridge and out into the waiting ocean crescent. The magnificence of the winding current circling the rocks and hugging the passageway that encapsulated it almost made me forget about my school bag straps that were digging into my shoulders because of the heavy books inside. School today wasn’t unlike any other day. My back began to hurt as my heavy homework books dragged me down, but the weight in my chest was heavier. I watched as four speckled stingrays flew into the air against the rushing tide and then back into the water, disappearing.

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As the waves crashed under the bridge on which I was standing, the swirling sound faded into the distance and I thought about the events of the day.

In me Lord, in me Lord

Thy will be done

In me Lord

            Over and over we sang that song today. I don’t know how many times we sang it. With my eyes squinted shut, hands clasped behind my back and head lifted to the sky until my legs felt numb, we repeated that song. In my school, in my home, in my church, in my lifeThy will be done in me Lord.

Crash. The thunderous waves brought me back to the present. I felt sorry for Joshua. They’d said he was a bad boy and needed to be disciplined. As another wave crashed against the rock, I thought about how he must have felt up there, sitting in that cold, dark church. Sitting there all alone until he confessed to colouring on the school building with a permanent marker. He said that he didn’t do it, but the teachers knew that he did. They always know because God tells them.

Grumble. This time it wasn’t the sound of the waves but my tummy rumbling. I remembered how hungry he was. Josh. We knew that he was made to fast to get the devil out of him. Although I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, I secretly gave him half of my tuna fish sandwich. Sure, he needed to fast to get the devil out of him, but perhaps God was as sad as I was to see him so hungry.

As I continued to watch the tide ebb and flow underneath me, my eyes became fixated on the tiny island that stood beyond me and the current. Perhaps I could swim to it. The bus arrived, and the school children got on. As the bus pulled off with me, my eyes stayed fixed on the current and the tiny island until it faded out of view. Perhaps tomorrow at school would be a better day if no one made the teachers or God angry. Thy will be done in me Lord.

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Flatt’s Bridge, Bermuda

Ring-a-ling- ling. Mrs. Ball appears in the doorway and begins ringing the school bell. It’s a handheld bell and when I get to ring it I use two hands. Mrs. Ball only uses one hand. Her puffy fingers grasp the bell while numerous golden and silver rings glitter on her fingers. Mrs. Ball has the same name as me but she is not my aunt. She is my teacher. Even though she is married to my uncle, she will always be Mrs. Ball and never Aunt Eleanor.

Mrs. Ball’s stern face glances over the playground as she motions for everyone to line up to come inside. She wipes a few gray strands of hair away from her forehead and inspects the students’ uniforms. “Angelo, pull up your socks! Maceo, fix your tie! Caljonah, you look nice today. Shayna, your skirt is too short.” Mrs. Ball yells with military fervor until she is satisfied at the look of her student subjects. As her voice grows silent, the sound of sobbing can be heard from the middle of the line. Mrs. Ball turns around quickly and sees Samaya crying almost uncontrollably. Someone snitched that Diana, the mini-bully, hit Samaya while on the playground before school. Diana is scolded for her behavior as everyone files quietly inside for morning devotions. I’ve heard that at other schools it is called morning assembly, but not at Christian Academy. Dr. Landy tells us that we are not children of the world, so we use heavenly terms, because we are children of God. I feel proud to be a child of God and am happy that my school clothes look neat in front of Him and the teachers today.

Inside the classroom for morning devotions Dr. Landy knows what Diana did on the playground this morning. She always knows. A look of disgusted displeasure appears on her face as she speaks about the need to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Diana has not done this. Diana has sinned. Diana needs to know what Samaya felt when her hand slapped sweet Samaya’s face in careless anger. Dr. Landy’s mouth is quivering now. She is pacing the floor back and forth in rhythmic motion as the creases on her cheeks seem to sway with her winding movements.

“Bring the dunce cap!” she hollers to Vance. He runs to grab the cone-shaped, beige coloured hat. In bold, permanent marker letters running diagonally downward is the word STUPID. Dr. Landy calls Diana to the front of the classroom. Unlike the aggressive outgoing energy that we often see from Diana on the playground, here she stands silently, almost limp, as the beige cone is fitted onto her head. Dr. Landy’s fingers follow the diagonally written words down the cap as if she is teaching a spelling lesson. She motions to the class to chant the word out loud: “STUPID, STUPID, STUPID,” we all call out in unison. If Diana is sad, I cannot tell. She is standing without protest, eyes cold and blankly staring at no one in particular while the jeering takes place.

The students are now in frenzy mode, and for a moment I forget about Diana and the reason for this permitted hysteria. I bounce around my chair with hands raised in the air giggling and yelling with the others. But Dr. Landy isn’t finished just yet. Diana must feel what Samaya felt. Suddenly everyone is lined up again, but this time in an orderly fashion. The yelling has stopped. Boys and girls, high school students and primary students are in a single file in front of Diana. Each student must slap Diana so that she learns how it feels to be slapped. As much as I hate Diana for her frequent rude behavior, my hand turns limp when my turn arrives for sanctioned revenge. My brother tells me after school that he gave her a ringing slap.

I don’t know how Diana felt during the dunce cap-slapping process. I’m sure she felt very sad, but at least now she knows how it feels to be slapped.

As we walked home through the shortcut by Twin’s Variety Store down to Flatts Bridge where the rushing flow and the island beyond my grasp would be waiting for me, I wondered if I’d see the triangular beasts today.  These were not like the other fish, being swept away easily by the twisting tide. Rather, they swam against the current and rose up out of the water majestically and triumphantly when the sway became too tough. It’s as if time suspended itself for these creatures in a moment.

As the bus pulled up to the bus stop I wondered where the speckled creatures were headed. Somewhere far away from here, I supposed. Somewhere safe and quiet where there are no ringing bells, cardboard caps for naughty little girls or socks to straighten. I slowly pulled my backpack off of my shoulders one strap at a time, wincing with a bit of pain. My nose shriveled up and my eyes squinted for a second or two. Everyone had lots of homework since devotions took extra-long. There wasn’t enough time to finish our schoolwork in class. I would do all of my homework so that God and my teachers would be happy in the morning.

 

In me Lord, in me Lord

Thy will be done in me Lord.

-end of excerpt-

 

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Me, Rachel Manley and Wayne Carey at the Bermuda Anthology of Memoir and Creative Non-Fiction Reception on May 15, 2014.
Rachel Manley is the daughter of the late Michael Manley, former Prime Minister of Jamaica.

You can purchase your copy of my story and many others on amazon.com under the anthology title, Take this Journey With Me:

Please, take this journey with me…

 

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4 thoughts on “All Water is Blue…My Memoir of Scared and Sacred School Years

    1. Thanks for sharing my blog and my story. I’ve found that many Bermudians have suffered religious abuse in Bermuda but it’s not talked about. Hopefully this will start the conversation…

  1. Thanks for this post! When I first read about the stingrays you used to see while waiting for the bus, I immediately thought of the bridge in Flatt’s Village–your post transported me back there.
    Congrats for being published, and keep writing!

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