We had a teacher years ago, a Christian Brother called Kelly. He was a little rat-faced fellow with buck teeth, very intense, very serious, a good teacher of Latin and mathematics. He was the year head which meant he was responsible for keeping us reasonably well behaved and I have to admit his job wasn’t easy. There’s no getting around it. We were a bunch of jerks. Fourteen-year-old pricks.
I’d say he couldn’t have been more than about 27 or 28, but there was something in his over-controlled demeanour that suggested he was battling demons. You could see by his eyes that he wasn’t a man to cross, and we didn’t. We might have been jerks but we weren’t fools.
He wasn’t one of those teachers who try to make friends with the kids. Most of the time he was fair, but you were in no doubt who the boss was. He used his leather sparingly but with great effect.
Kelly turned up one morning even more tense than usual. His face was tight and his eyes bulged. He looked like someone who had been awake all night staring at the ceiling and now that I have the benefit of many years hindsight, I think he probably had no sleep. Yesterday’s chalk-dust still coated his soutane and his frizzy hair.
Today, he hissed, we’re going to talk about sssexsssss!!
Oh shit, we all thought.
His ratty little eyes darted around the classroom, daring any of us to snigger. This man was boiling with rage.
The time comes when a boy starts to hanker after sssexxxssss, he spat.
Jesus Christ, everyone was thinking. This sounds like evil shit.
And for a full three-quarters of an hour, Kelly went on to spell out the mechanics of sexual intercourse in graphic detail, his voice filled with rage and disgust as he did his best to indoctrinate us with the belief that sex was shameful.
I now realise that he had no idea what he was talking about.
Poor Kelly had learned all the nonsense he was spouting from some Christian Brothers pamphlet produced by another equally-inadequate celibate. His rage and disgust were directed inwards at himself, having probably been recruited as a young lad like us, whisked away to a monastery, with no affection, no family around him, no intimacy, no outlet for his emotions. I now realise that Kelly was fizzing and popping because, intelligent man that he was, something inside him knew what he had missed out on. But the Christian Brothers machine that controlled him was running at full throttle, and the misfortunate Kelly was in many ways no more than a glove puppet.
I can still see him, the poor rat-faced, buck-toothed little fellow, pacing around the classroom, hissing Sssexxxssss! with the contained rage that only a 28-year-old virgin might possess.
You must be kidding. Any questions? We all stared at our desks, hoping against hope that the torture would end soon.
In a parallel universe, I might be sitting there as an adult he’d be afraid to hit, and I sometimes think I’d like to ask a question.
Brother, did you ever have sex?
But you know, that might be an extreme cruelty to inflict on a man who was clearly tottering on the edge of the abyss.
I often wonder what became of him afterwards.