Spilling Your Guts on Paper
© Copyright 2021 by Maureen Moynihan
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
I attempted to publish my first story during Sunday school. While the other children colored pictures of Jesus Christ resurrecting from the tomb, I penned “Happy Bird Flies Home.” It was a somber tale about a deceased parakeet who returns from the dead to sing songs and march on the head of its 8 year-old mother. The protagonist, Happy Bird, was named after my pet who was killed by flying into the dining room window. Splat. We were eating dinner at the time, roasted chicken specifically. My siblings claimed the act was suicide but I did not accept their garbarge. Happy Bird was perhaps the world’s only self actualized parakeet and more content than a Budist monk. How I loved that bird. I’d spend hours grooming his smooth, turquoise feathers and didn’t even mind when he pooped on my shoulder. Or head.
“What do we have here?” inquired my Sunday school teacher. Mrs. Case was a supersized woman in both proportion and local stature. Not only did she teach Sunday school but she also ran the only Girl Scout troop in town. I resented my mandated membership to both organizations and questioned their claim to character building as neither program was designed to accentuate my personal strengths.
“Nothing.” I said, clenching my story close to my heart and away from her sausage tips. Each one of her nubby nails appeared to have been gnawed by a squirrel who had seen an acorn since the Nixon administration.
“Oh Miss Moynihan,” said Mrs. Case, her hippo foot tapping in a stuffed pilgrim shoe. “We both know you are up to something.” She peered over the brim of her glasses that rested next to a large mole protruding from her left temple. A thick black hair sprouted from the mole that could have doubled as an antenna for a supersized Queen ant. I suspected the hair had magic powers as Mrs. Case could sense whenever I was stretching my creativity.
“It’s just a story, “ I told her. The foot tapping ceased so her nostrils flared with an anger so potent that it could cast a booger to Kansas. It was ironic for an adult taxed with teaching the wisdom of Jesus Christ to have such a low tolerance to frustration. Perhaps it was a personal issue.
Mrs. Case’s contempt for me grew obvious the day I asked why she did not pluck the hair out of her mole. I would have followed the class rules by raising my hand but Mrs. Case never called on me, even when I stretched my fingers way past the tips of the other children, which caused my arm to practically pop out of the socket. Therefore, I had to resort to verbal inquiry.
“Why isn’t Jesus ever smiling?
“Don’t you think it’s weird that we can't eat meat on Friday and the Apostles were fishermen?
“Why don’t you pluck that hair out of your mole?”
The other children, I’m sure, wondered the same thing but were afraid to ask. It was 1975 and Google, Siri, or Alexa were not around so questions could only be answered by 2 sources; Encyclopedia Britannica and a teacher. Even if the teacher did not like children.
“I believe you were instructed to color Christ’s resurrection from the tomb, “ She said. “Who told you to write a story?
I shrugged and thought for a moment. “God.”
Her mole nearly exploded with rage. She snatched my story from my tiny hands and snapped her eyes across my words. For a moment, I clung to hope, anticipating that we’d both agree that all God’s creatures deserve a second crack at life. Plus writing would prove that I was more than the girl who could not sit still and sometimes asked irrelevant questions. Then maybe, she’d like me.
That never happened. Instead, Mrs. Case wanted to light me on fire. “This slap on the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary! she spat, eyes burning in fury. “Go back to your seat.”
Twelve sets of eyes peered up from their coloring pages and watched me make the dreaded walk of shame back to my desk back and empty handed. My peers and I stared in disbelief as Mrs. Case crumbled up “Happy Bird Flies Home” and tossed it in the trash. The room hung in silence; it just didn’t seem like a Christian thing to do.
Then something interesting happened. The twelve sets of eyes looked at me full of comfort and appreciation for an entertaining moment in catechism class. My writing had made them happy and thankful for the brief reprieve from the doldrums of schooling.
I learned to be picky about sharing my writing. It’s like emptying your guts piece of paper and allowing others to see your deepest, truest feelings and then all hell can break loose; criticism, humiliation and personal judgement.
But I also realized there’s also the flip side of creativity. Someday I can write a story about Mrs. Case and her thick, overgrown mole with a black hair that doubles as a bull hook.
that would be