ch 4 excerpt
To get to school, we had to drive north into Livonia: we always drove over the Newburgh Lake bridge at the Nankin Mill crossing, where the lake dammed and emptied into the foul-smelling Rouge, then cut through the subdivision where Jim Rund lived (later we’d carpool to school together) towards Mies Park on West Chicago. From there we made a left onto the street adjacent to the football practice field where I’d spend my chilled Autumn afternoons with tobacco-spitting men who coached JV and Varsity CYO football autocratically (St. Mike’s had won 5 straight in the CYO when I started playing), the first indication of the St. Michael’s campus. Hanging another left onto Hubbard, we soon came upon the blacktop playground and parking lot where I spent thousands of recesses playing two-hand-touch football with my playmates, where I would get my heart broken by Jenn Bechard in fifth grade; an eight-foot chain-link fence enclosed the blacktop playground like a prison yard, stretching to the smaller playground structures and to the school itself – a three story redbrick structure straight from the 1970’s in tan concrete trim, with tall windows under ugly mint-green panels. Two large stone crosses jutted up from either end of the school. The gymnasium and middle school were adjoined in the back of the main structure – the elementary school building – and a wood-fenced garden separated the convent/rectory from our curious eyes behind that. At the northernmost end of the campus, St. Michael’s Catholic Church – the church where I vomited in fourth grade from the incense fumes of Benediction, where I spent every Friday morning Mass in imaginary realms, where I confessed my sins to Father Bondi and genuinely prayed in silent kneeling introspection – pointed its steel rooftop cross towards the heavens, a stone statue of St. Michael the Archangel watching over the corner of Hubbard and Plymouth. It was a world of rigidity and linear thinking that appealed far less to me than the woods of my summers.
“I love you!” Mom shouted from the van on the school blacktop, traitorously deserting us there to another school year at St. Michael’s, that redbrick prison of our collective youth. In our matching cross ties and loafers Patrick and I would walk thence disconsolately, in silence, towards our respective school lines and school doors, where a chaotic frenzy of activity and eager chatter awaited us. If we were lucky, and had drawn a younger, non-religiously-inclined teacher like Mrs. Chelowa or Mrs. Salley, that final march to school might be bearable, perhaps even anticipatory, but if we were among the sad lot assigned to one of St. Michael’s notorious nuns, we knew we were dead men walking.