I AM THE DEVIL
There is a much bigger word than the word “why” and this word is universal and has been the subject of mystery, discussion, arguments, debates, and it is not a word that is a whole sentence or a paragraph but a whole book, in fact a whole set of encyclopaedias. The word is God. Is there a God?
I was brought up a catholic and introduced to God by the Presentation nuns at St Carthage’s primary school in Lismore then across the road at the Marist Brothers High School. Even though I do not necessarily subscribe to beliefs of Catholicism I am glad that I was exposed to them. .This statement is not a conundrum for it could be said that I am glad to have experienced some poverty to understand the plight of the poor. I am catholic because I was baptised a Catholic and even though I will never renounce this status, I profess to believe in Christianity or having Christian values which apply to morals and ethics and of doing the right thing by your fellow man rather than applying the guidelines of Catholicism.
Perhaps it was a different era back then and yes as children we believed because these were holy adult people that were teaching us to learn and live by the Catechism which you had to learn off by heart. You were not allowed to question these laws and you had to know the ten commandments and live by them. You had to go to church on Sunday and go to confession before you could go to communion because you couldn’t take God into your soul if it had sins on it.
Oh those days of confession. Every week you had to confess your sins so the whole class would march over to the cathedral and you must not talk in church and you bless yourself with holy water and make the sign of the cross and sister was always watching that you actually put your fingers in the water. Even way back then I just couldn’t understand how blessing it would make it so damm holy. It was very
important to go to confession because if you died after committing a sin and had not been forgiven then you had a date with the devil in hell.
A class full of ten year old boys; good holy boys. Good holy boys who were scared shitless of going to hell because it was so hot down there and the sisters would tell you how hot it was down there.
“Do you know what it is like just to touch a hot stove with your finger? Well imagine what it would be like to to be thrown into the fire inside that stove and you had to stay there for eternity and then she would explain that eternity meant for ever and ever and ever.
Do you want to know what being scared is to a ten year old boy. We were sitting in the class room paying attention to I can’t remember what, and by the way you were told to pay attention at least twelve times a day without fail. Well were
were all being good and holy and then there appears at the door fat sister Mary Assissi who wore glasses and was always red in the face and we began to wonder what was going on because she was sort of walking side by side and had her hand cupped
below his right elbow and this was really strange because nuns never touched a man.
The man she was with was a little man with baggy pants, no shoes and I can remembert he had a big head and straight brown hair which was not combed. His name was Lance and he had escaped from the asylum and she escorted him up to the very front to the desk in front of the blackboard and he stepped up on the chair, then onto the table and stretched out his arms upward with his palms facing the class. He then stomped up and down on the table and his face went bright red as he screamed and screamed over and over“I am the devil. I am the devil.”” and then he piddled his pants and then no one knows what happened next because forty two ten year old white face scared shitless school boys ran out of the classroom screaming. Yes this was the devil himself who had paid us a personal visit and if hell was where he lived well we were going to go to confession straight away.
Sister Mary I cant remember her name came running out and tripped over her rosary beads on her long black habit but luckily she didn’t fall over, gathered us with consoling words and took us across the road to the recreation field below the weeping willow tree and told us to join hands and say a prayer for the man who had piddled on her books and on the Virgin Mary she had in a frame on her desk..
What? Is she insane? I mean the devil himself comes in, scares the shit out of us, piddles all over he books and her holy picture of the virgin Mary and she wants us to say a prayer for him. For the Devil? Of course none of us wanted to and it is hard to say prayers when you are still shaking but you had to be obedient so we joined hands and prayed; the whole forty one of us. Yes forty one and not forty two becausePat Fields was so scared, he piddled himself and was the first one to run out of that classroom and he ran and ran and did not stop until he got to the safety of his home in Keerong with is more than ten kilometres from the school. I almost forgot, we also had to say a prayer for sister Mary Assissi for being so brave in being there to see that the devil did not hurt us.
I have never seen Pat Fields again but I have heard that he has a bit of a reputation for handling many situations with his knuckles, particularly after a few beers, and if that is the case, who can blame him after meeting the devil himself at such an early age. It is probably why I have a drink now and again also.
So lets go back to the church and bless ourselves and genuflect when you enterbecause that is how boys have to say hello to God. Forty two boys who would not have a sin between them had to go and confess and you could not go through that
confessional door and say to the priest,
“Bless me father is it a week since my last confession and guess what. I have been good all week and did not commit one single sin.” No way, you had to go and confess something so of course I would make them up else it was a waste of time because you have to be forgiven. Now it was becoming difficult because this was the same priest that you had last week and surely he remembers your sins from last week so you have to be ready with a totally new and original set of sins. Last week you had told lies, and had bad thoughts and disobeyed your mother so what else can a boy do wrong. Surely you can have bad thoughts again and you never stole anything because your mother would give you a hiding so what could I say? Oh, the lies is always a good one and in fact you were not lying when you said you had told lies because you were in fact lying right now to the priest and so you come out because he has given you three Hail Marys to say which wasn’t as bad as last week because back then you also had an Our Father which was somewhat serious to a ten year old although a few weeks ago Trevor Clugston got a full rosary for stealing birds eggs and the rosary was very severe because he had fallen out of the tree and broken his arm. The thing that cracks me up when I look back at those kids coming out of church and querying each other
“What did you get? What did you get? And so you would like and make up bigger penance because that showed you were not a goodie goodie and you really knew how to sin and now you had another thing to confess next week – lying not only to the priest but to your friends. It is so strange how many things go into your headover the years and how many things you forget but you never forget how to say Hail Mary even though you haven’t said it for years, the catechism that you learnt parrot fashion and you army number, and of couse that devil who scared you and piddled.
Now after confession you had to make the stations of the cross and then you were truly holy. Around the church walls were these huge paintings of Christ carrying the cross and the soldiers flogging him and the last one was of him in his crown of thorns nailed to the cross standing on a plaque with the letters INRI on it and he had blood trickling down his forehead and face from the crown of thorns,
There is an art in making the stations of the cross because you have to start at the first one and stand in front of it and look up at it and feel sorry for all God’s pain because he did all this for me you know and you have to say some more Hail Marys then move onto the next one. The thing you must never forget is that if Sister Mary Assumpta is looking at you then you must look not only sad but also holy and make the sign of the cross slowly like you mean it and make your lips move like you are saying “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
What about those hymns you had to sing out loud too. It wasn’t till many years later that I found out that the words to the hymn which went Gladly the Cross I bear were not Gladly the Cross eyed Bear.Who composes these songs? How glad can you be carring a cross. Being whipped and having thorns shoved in your head and all the rest?
Now you were free of sin you were allowed to go toCommunion because your soul was clean so you would bow your head and join your holy hands and stick your tongue out and receive Jesus but it would stick to your tonge and make you want to throw up but you were not allowed to touch it because no one is allowed to touch God. It was allright for the priest because he could wash God down with some wine but kids arenot allowed to drink wine.
By the time you are fourteen you are going to become a priest and when the novena is on I was so holy that I would walk three miles down the cutting to the Church and always refuse lifts with strangers. You cannot be holier than that.
By the time you are fifteen it is time for sex education because your parents never talked to you about it and the only thing I remember was Brother Julian telling a bunch of fifteen year old boys who had reached puberty and full of testosterone
that if we had any urge to play with ourselves then we must resist and the way to do this was so say Hail Marys. I had this vision of masturbating and screaming out
‘Holy Mary mother of God, Amen.’
Those Hail Mary’s could do anything. Good old Hail Marys.
The Brotherhood was certainly a strange career path to follow and I am sure that a lot of men in those times found sanctuary in the Brotherhood where they could hide their homosexuality. I am not suggesting all of them but certainly a few. A memory from those teenage years was that Brother Julian was the one to fear most of all for getting six cuts of the cane from him wasa thing to be feared. He had the longest thin cane that he would extract from the pocket of that dress they all wore and he would make the boy stand with his rigid arm before him. It was a ritual to him as if in a trance of concentration that he would raise the cane high in the air almost touching the ceiling. He would then take a deep breath and bring that cane down with aim, precision and determination and it would come to rest with a thud on his black tussock. This is where we would watch with awe and wonder because the boy in front of him would scream and Brother Julian would have a very small smirk on his face and at the same time his tussock would move outwards around the groin area. It was quite obvious to all of us that he was experiencing some sad sexual satisfaction from
inflicting pain on little boys. By the sixth cut he would be red in the face and perhaps there was more happening under thattussock that we could imagine.
Of course every one of us had a theory on how to stop the cane from hurting like rubbingyour hand with resin your brother kept for the violin, or rotate you hand round and round till all the blood ran down to the fingers or sit on your hand for an hour before getting the cane as your hand would go asleep. That was my one but I kept it to myself.
At the same school was another Brother who everyone liked.Brother Declan was popular with the boys because he was a little more radical and didn’t present himself as one of those ‘holier than thou’ saints. When one boy went up to him and asked him what he thought of the new Camel cigaretteshis reply was ‘They are fly shit on paper.’ I left school and went to study law in Sydney and by the time a year had gone past my best friend Greg and I had a head on collision and Greg was killed and I got thrown through the window.
I don’t remember much about that whole era and perhaps there was something psychological taking place inside of me that did not want to remember but two things are still clear. One was the day of his funeral and I was kneeling in the church and an old woman came up to men and placed he hands on my head and he hands spoke ’I know the pain you are in.’ As soon as they spoke those words the floodgates of my eyes opened. I will never forget those kind hands of that stranger.
An other thing that is still vivid is a lady called Lui Torkler who was a tenant of one of the rooms at my sister’s house. Lui was a very large lady and a beautiful and kind woman who had become part of our extended family. I was a boy and she was a mystery to me for she had no husband and a son who sometimes would visit and show me a collection of slides he took when he was part of a crew on the first expedition to the Antartic who went there for research and he had clides of Mawsons hut.I had overheard a vague conversation that she had a daughter who was Aboriginal and she had adopted from Western Australiabut her son did not know she was adopted.
Lui worked at some home for the elderly so had that caring air about her and put me into bed with her so she could give me body warmth and that felt good. When I read Bryce Courtney’s “Power of One” he talks of the young main character on a train and there was a huge black lady sitting beside him and she died in the night. That lady reminded me of Lui Torkler and I cried for both ladies when I read that book. I only realise now why I cried when I read that chapter. Lui also found me in bed clutching onto the set of car keys that belonged ton Greg’s car and she confiscated them; I think I needed something to be close to Greg.
There was another funeral going on at that time and that was the burial of my normal happy self and my smile. That smile had been given to me at birth and it got bigger in my childhood and had remained with me through my teenage years but now it had passed away.
I had intended to move over to Greg’s house and board there that very same weekend he had been killed and with a confused mind and a dampened heart I knew that life had to go on and I had to “get on that horse” and ride again so I did move over to the concern of my sister and brother who paid a visit to Greg’s father and implied that he was replacing his son with their brother. No the old man had not done this for it was me and my decision that had moved in.
Had that occurred in this era then the psychologists and therapists would have been called in and they would have concluded that I needed time and ‘closure.’ Christ, how much closure do you need when someone you love dies? There is never closure.
I’d Like to Propose a Toast.
Pop was an incredible man who was sixteen when he put his age up to fight in the first world war. He was the captain of a navy destroyer and had two fingers missing and these were chopped off with a machete when an irate husband found him in bed with his wife on some island some where. He made his own beer and always had a batch of ‘old’ beer and ‘new’ beer bottled. The old beer was the one he bottled last week and the ‘new’ was bottled that same week.
Three months after I had moved in his wife Edna was out one night and she got hit by a car and she too was killed and the day of her funeral was the day that my smile returned. We had been to the funeral which was of sad for I was feeling that I was attending two funerals that day. We had returned to Pop’s house in Como for the traditional refreshments and of course the menu included his home made brew.
They were mainly people I did not know and relations from Kandos who I had never met and a few friends I had. Pop could see I was reliving Greg’s funeral and on the verge of who knows and he came over to me and put his arm around me.
“Frank, remember one thing. Never lose your sense of humour for when that goes you have lost the lot and your life is a misery. This day reminds me of the Irish wake.”
“Why is that Pop.”
“Well they had been drinking for two days when a man got up and said ‘ladies and gentlemen I want to propose a toast to the bride and the bridegroom.’
Another man called out ‘excuse me Paddy, but this is not a wedding. It is a funeral’ and Paddy replied ‘I don’t care what it is. It has been a tremendous success anyway.’
Yes, that is when the smile returned and I thought of what a great man he was that after losing a son and a wife that he had the strength to smile and pass that onto a grieving young man. God bless you Pop.
There was an incident on the day of Greg’s smile that I did want to smile but couldn’t. Lui and mum’s cousin Tony DiCara who drove the car accompanied me to the funeral as my carers and minders; At least I felt not alone. We were coming back home and had just crossed the Tom Uglys bridge and Lui announced ‘God I am hungry. I am so hungry my belly button is touching my back bone. The only thing I have had today was a piece of toast. Tony who did not speak English very well only picked up on the word toast, which to him sounded like thirst.
“No me missus Lui, I had tree cups of tea and I no toasty at all. No. No toast.” Tony is another who has passed on and he needs to be blessed also.
Up until this point in time I had had a beautiful life, caring parents, stable upbringing, very good at school, a fit soccer player, ballroom dancer, popular with the girls though fairly inexperienced and I laughed a lot and myself as well as our family had never suffered and ill health or tragedy or knew the meaning of death. We lived life and never had anything to do with the other. Now I was not laughing and my soul had been splintered and my being shattered by confusion.
Yes, I was confused and went in search of the answers. I found Brother Declan in a high school at Hamilton in Newcastle and he was a man of the world and of religion and surely he would have the answers for me. I was welcomed and although I cannot remember what we talked about I felt a little consoled. He was good and I visited often and he told me about life and death I think and gave me a book to read called The Little Prince.
Time marches on and I now had a best friend Calvin and I got conscripted into the army in the Vietnam war era and I received warm letters from the man of cloth who again consoled with words of philosophy quoting Nietsche. “Often to survive is to suffer but to find meaning in that suffering…..” Yes he was a good friend and he was the only person alive who I had opened up my heart to and poured out my emotions. At that age you do not do this as it is a sign of weakness and never in my life have I ever needed someone to talk to; only that one time. Brother Declan knew more about me than anyone on earth.
Calvin and I had a motor vehicle accident during the week of an R and R and after discharge I continued with my ‘talks” with the Brother and we became friends. He had left the brotherhood and was living in a flat at Darlinghurst. Even at that age I was thinking ‘this man is stuffed.’ He has been a brother all his life. He is forty two and unemployed with a flat to maintain. How will he ever get a job if he knows nothing. I was also stunned that he did not have a fridge full of food and yet he will say ‘I have faith that God will provide.’
By now I was working as a security night watchman and living in a Company supplied unit at Maroubra. My supervisor was an ex crook and he would help himself to whatever he wanted in the warehouses we were supposed to be guarding and consequently he would pass onto me whatever I wanted as well as things that I didn’t want. I was never brought up this way but it seemed acceptable as I would pass these onto the brother – electric frypan, kettle, toaster cutlery, crockery, canisters, sheets and blankets. Well wasn’t I helping to a man of God?
We spent a day overlooking the ocean from the rocks above Coogee beach and I had bought fresh bread rolls, Bodalla cheese, salami, olives and other delicacies and a bottle of expensive wine. At the end of the day we returned to the Unit and listen to music – the Beatles.
“I’d like to be, under the sea, in an octopus’s garden in the shade..He’d let us in – he’d let us out” As it got rather late and it would not have been prudent to
drive after the wine, I invited him to stay. The unit had one double bed only and that is where we would sleep. I was not embarrassed about this as Calvin and I had often slept like that. It is funny how people seem to think that two males sleeping together are doing that for one reason but they seem to forget how they laughed at the old movies of men sleeping in the same bed like Bud Abbot and Lou Costello or the three stooges.
During the night he made a move on me and I made it clear that there was only two people who were allowed to touch me and that was my woman and the other was my barber. He said ‘thanks for letting me know.’ What? I drove him home next day and have never seen him again but the whole thing left me with a sense of duplicity that over the years all his words of consolation were designed to one day get me into bed. In cleaning up I threw away the painting he had painted for me and on the back he had written “Frank – 22. Leo – 42.) I think that might have been his way of painting a picture of us together. Yeah, in your dreams brother. I also glanced at the book he had first given me and it was called ‘The Little Prince.” I threw that away also as even though I don’t remember too much about it, it did seem to have some homosexual connotation. “Yeah” I thought, ‘queer as rocking horse shit in a whale pond.” I now think that he misinterpreted my talk of love for my friend who had died as some form of physical love.
This gay movement fascinates me. I certainly do not mean that I do not understand and accept that two people of the same sex can love each other and can share their lives discretely and privately but I do inwardly object to soft-wet-fish-
handshake-banner-waving-Mardi-Gra-marching-jockwearing-dressing-as-a-nun-everyone-should be like us-public-kissing-Sodom-and Gamorrah-revering-queer-as-rocking-horse-shit-in-a-whale-pond-type of love as against the steel-like-handshake-
‘Ow ya going Jack.” slap-ya-on-the-back-punch-ya-in-the-guts-kick-ya-in-the nuts,brute-of-a-overall-wearing-dinkum-Aussie-true blue love.
Oh this word “love.” From the day you are born the mother nurtures you with love. From when you start to understand she teaches you love and now you can talk the little boy uses that word constantly. “I love you mummy” and he uses that word to every other human being he is in contact with . He uses that word freely until he reaches the age of puberty but now he is a young male he can’t say to his best
friend who is also male “I love you.”No, here you like your friend because he is your friend or your mate.
Right through his teenage years and through his life as a man he does lot love other men, Society does not permit him to do so because if you do your macho image is tainted. It is only when you are mature and probably having reach mid life that you can sign your letters to another male as ‘luv ya.” You see only older mature males know that to love another man is have the ultimate in respect and you can say freely that you care for when you know how to care you know how to love. The male is also permitted to love his male friends who have passed on and of course at that age everyone knows that there is no connotation whatsoever to the world ‘love.’