Sister V

That day, shortly after our schoolyard workout, we went back to our classroom and sat quietly, listening to Gilhouly out in the hallway where she was reprimanding Sister V. in a furious whisper. The way Gilhouly was carrying on, you would have thought Sister V. had taken the class outside for a smoke break.

“What if one of the children had sprained an ankle?” the old windbag said. “What would I have told their parents?”

“I thought a little exercise might help the children—”

“We are a learning institution! If parents wanted their children to do jumping jacks all day, they would have sent them to public school.”

Sister V. walked back into the classroom and closed the door behind her. Arms outstretched and palms turned up, she said, “Well, I tried.”


Connie was a freshman and had been attending Long Island University in downtown Brooklyn. One morning, while we were getting ready for school, she and I got into a blowout. She was insisting I put on a pair of old galoshes that belonged to my brother.

“It’s pouring outside,” she said. “If you don’t put these on, you’re gonna ruin your shoes, and then I’ll never hear the end of it from your father.” (Connie had a habit of conveniently removing herself from the family lineage. Whenever she got heated with me, she made a point of referring to our dad as “your father.”)

I didn’t have any rain boots, but there was no way in hell I was going to wear Frank’s galoshes. They were too big and made my feet look like Goofy’s from The Mickey Mouse Club. “Forget it,” I said. “I’m not puttin’ those on.”

Our argument woke my father, who was sleeping off a hangover. He came charging out of his bedroom, wearing only boxer shorts. “What the hell’s goin’ on here?”

“It’s raining out, and he won’t wear galoshes,” Connie said, one hand on her hip. “He says they make his feet look big. I swear, I don’t know what I’m gonna do with him.”

My father grabbed the galoshes and pushed them into my chest. “Put on the goddamn galoshes!”

“I’m not wearing them,” I said, folding my arms.

My father slapped me repeatedly—right hand, left hand—his eyes wide and threatening. I held my arms over my head and tried to back away, but he didn’t let up. He slapped me from the dining area all the way into the kitchen, where he rammed me against the wall and kneed me in the stomach and thighs. “I don’t wanna hear another word out of you!” He grabbed my hair and dragged me back out of the kitchen. “You put on those galoshes and get your ass to school. And I want you back here by three thirty—no dillydallying after class. Now get movin’!”

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John Califano