This began as something I wrote for “the Narrative Group”, a weekly writing group in the Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry Clinic for HIV-related Concerns. I have made revisions periodically, the last being about thirteen months ago in May of 2010, usually a to and fro between naming the antagonist and withholding his name for the sake of his son, a contemporary of mine, who survives (and survived) a Dad like this.
Mr. G was a lot of things – my most memorable math teacher, principal head teacher of an English-language school in Quebec, (he lacked the qualifications to be principal until he finished his B.A. incrementally at summer school), father of a friend my age, member of my church, friend of my parents. He was also my first abuser – verbally, psychologically and physically. What follows is just one example.
One day in math class, my first crack at grade four, Mr. G discovered – in his own unique way – that I was near-sighted. He had written a number of math “problems” on the chalkboard and was now striding up and down the rows of small desks, as was his custom, while we worked.
Walking towards me, the scent of Aqua Velva preceding him, Mr. G noticed that I was squinting to see the chalkboard.
“Kenneth”, he said, in his loud, baritone voice, “can you not see the blackboard?”
“Most of it”, I think I replied, hoping to diffuse the panic that had set in to my stomach.
Mr. G lunged at my desk and, as he often did, grabbed me by a bone in my shoulder and pulled me to my feet.
“Read it!” he shouted. nodding towards the front.
I squinted, which only hastened the arrival of tears to my eyes that his taunts invariably brought out of me.
“I can’t,” I said softly, still thinking it was only worse because of the salty fog I was now trying to see through.
His hand digging into the crook of my shoulder, Mr. G moved me up the aisle.
“Read it now!” he yelled, as my classmates nervously began to giggle.
“I can’t”, I sobbed, having lost all control of the tears.
The room erupted in nervous laughter.
Mr. G, now playing to his audience as much as anything else, lifted me up by my shirt collar and carried me to the front of the class.
“Read it now!” he bellowed.
By this time I was wiping my eyes and nose on my shirt sleeves and was so shaken that I couldn’t have concentrated on the chalkboard, even if I had been able to see it. The clearer my lack of vision became the angrier Mr. G seemed to get. If not anger, it was certainly adrenalin.
He pulled me right up to the board now, this time jerking me forward by the arm.
“Can you read any of it now?” he yelled sarcastically, tapping my forehead repeatedly against the board. Of course now I was too close to read anything other than what was directly in front of me. My only response was to continue crying.
“I think you need glasses”, Mr. G said, a little quieter now as he quickly wrote a note.
“Take this home with you” he said, pushing the slip of paper into my hand.
Not surprisingly, Mr. G was to be among the first people who would soon call me “Four Eyes”. I had little enthusiasm for school that included him and so was horrified when he failed me in grade four math, forcing me to repeat the entire year. (Here I am pictured with my second grade four class, the lone boy with glasses.) While Mom tried to comfort me, that by repeating I would be closer in age, by months, to my classmates all I could think of, with dread, was an extra year of Mr. G’s tyranny.