***Trigger Warning*** “The Maria Beating” Cult Child excerpt

     Mama leaves very early one morning to go to town. She lectures me the night before she leaves that I have to listen to Leis until she comes back. Mama says Leis is old enough to watch me, and that I am old enough to know how to act right. Mama tells Leis that if anything happens or I misbehave, she is to check in with Penny, or Penny’s husband, Rocco.

That morning Leis and I go down for breakfast together, and then we go to school. I feel a funny feeling in my tummy like something bad is going to happen today. I feel nervous and vulnerable without Mama on the compound. I have no one to run to if something happens. Mama sometimes spanks me if I act up. She bends me over her knee and whacks me on the butt with the paddle. But Mama doesn’t beat me all over my body like Sister Debbie used to in Massachusetts or like Sister Maria does when she beats me in class.

I sit at my school desk. They are all one piece, a chair with a rounded desk attached to it. They have a little wire shelf under the chair legs where we can keep our books. I watch Sister Maria come into the classroom. She is breathing hard from walking, and slams her books down on her big desk in the front. I feel her mood, and it is ugly, angry and out for blood.

My heart is already beating faster than normal as she has us open our Bibles to read the Bible chapter for the day. Sister Maria starts calling names down the row I’m sitting in, and we all have to read one verse from the chapter. Sister Maria always helps us through as we read because we don’t always know every word, like “propitiation” or “sanctification”. I struggle through one of my words, and today Sister Maria is getting frustrated with me.

Suddenly, as I’m trying to sound a word out the way she is telling me, Sister Maria waddles over to my desk and snatches me up hard out of my chair by my arm. She drags me to the front of the classroom yelling about me mocking her. Sister Maria thinks I’m not sounding the word out right on purpose. I tell her that’s not true, but she throws me over her lap. I can’t fight against her. She is too big. She puts her right leg over my legs, and I’m stuck there inside of her huge thighs with my behind right on top of her left one.

I scream loud when the first hit of the paddle connects with my butt. I am fading away from embarrassment because the whole class is watching. Sister Maria hits me over and over again, and I am screaming from the pain. I can hear her breathing hard. The sound of her breathing is deafening in my ear. The classroom is deadly quiet, and I hear the sounds of my own voice like they’re coming from someone else. My voice sounds like a faded echo, and I hear banging on the classroom door.

The banging mixes loudly with Sister Maria’s breathing as the next blow connects right above my ass, to the bottom of my lower back. I am throwing up spit and fighting to get away from her. The insides of my thighs go wet with hot liquid as I pee on myself. The room starts to fade.

     I am in someone’s arms, and they’re running down the hallway of the school house. I hear Leis behind us. She is asking over and over if I am okay. I hear a voice come from above the arms I’m in; a man’s voice, and realize that I’m in Rocco’s arms. I realize it was Leis yelling outside of the door and Rocco who kicked it open because Sister Maria had it locked. My lower back, butt and upper legs have pain shooting through them. Rocco tells Leis I will be alright. I am shaking. I press my head into his chest, feeling safe as he walks us upstairs and puts me on my bunk.

I lay on my bunk after Leis looks at my butt and back. I hear her say, “Oh my”, and I know it’s bad because it hurts so much just to lay there. The pain is screaming from my lower back. I am lying on my side, and Leis rolls up a blanket to support my back so I can fall asleep without accidentally moving onto my back. I fall asleep, and Leis brings me dinner upstairs later. She tells me Mama will be back really soon.

I fall to sleep before Mama returns. She wakes me up a little to look in on me, holding the lantern up high as she looks at my back. Mama is real mad. She kisses me softly on my forehead, and tells me that after tomorrow Sister Maria will never touch me again. I hear Mama tell Leis she will stay home from school to sit with me tomorrow as I fall asleep. I dream about hunters chasing me through the woods, trying to kill me with bows and arrows. I hear the whoosh of the arrows as they go by my head, and I am running as fast as I can through the woods. All night, I run from the hunters in my dreams.

After Mama has a talk with Sister Maria, she doesn’t single me out so much in class anymore, but my hate for her has settled in deep. My hate for a lot of things has sunk in deep inside of me. None of the other kids say anything to me about the day Sister Maria beat me in front of them. It just goes unspoken like it didn’t happen. A couple of the kids are a little nicer to me than they were before.

I feel proud that Mama can make Sister Maria stop being mean to me. Leis says that Mama will “kick Sister Maria’s butt” if she touches me again. We giggle when Leis says it. The frost comes to bring a conclusion of my ninth year of living on this wretched planet, and I finally get a chance to get a little silent revenge on with Sister Maria.

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