God enters by a private door into each individual
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
We returned to the hospital in the late afternoon and within an hour, we were bored. In those days, the Children’s Ward didn’t have a television set and we were restricted to just a few rooms and a short hallway covered with white tile from floor to ceiling. A few minutes after Denny and I discovered that the hallway made a magnificent echo chamber, one of the younger nuns in the ward took us on a walk through the hospital “to burn off some of that energy.”
We stopped at the gift shop and were loaded down with candy bars by a kindly and well-meaning clerk, who, like the rest of America at that time, didn’t associate hyperactivity in kids with sweets. By the time our tour took us to the hospital chapel, we were so hyped up we could have made Jack Kerouac look like a slouch.
Entering the cool, dark chapel with its fine mahogany panels and imported Roman marble floors, the Sister pointed to a very large, very graphic statue of Jesus mounted on a crucifix.
“Here is Jesus,” she said in a very low whisper. We looked up at the crucifix with wide eyes, our mouths agape. This was unbelievable.
“You should take this down, this isn’t funny,” Denny said.
“Well it’s not supposed—” she began, but I cut her off.
“What’d you do with his clothes?”
“Well,” she said, dumbfounded, “I—”
“Denny,” I said, cutting her off again, “You remember that deck of cards Joe Mullins had on Pond Street? The one with all the bare ladies who had no clothes on?”
“Yeah,” he smiled, and turned to the nun and said, “You ever see cards like that?” outlining a woman’s shape with his hands.
“There is no joy in the naked body,” she said firmly.
“Yeah,” I added, trying to be helpful. “Look at him.”
“This,” she said waving an arm towards the cross, “is to demonstrate the price Jesus paid for our souls.” We didn’t know what a soul was and were not impressed.
In a hushed tone, the nun continued, “The Romans whipped Jesus and their whips tore the flesh from his back.”
“Jesus Christ,” Denny whispered, more to himself than anyone else.
“Yes,” the nun smiled.
“Did they punch him?” Denny asked, throwing a punch into the air.
“Yes,” she said sadly, “They punched him.”
“They kick him?”
“Yes,” she said, and nodded solemnly. “They kicked him.”
“Did they,” I began, while jabbing my index fingers into make-believe eye sockets outward, because the question concerned Jesus’s eyeballs.
“Let’s just say,” she interrupted, “that the Romans brutalized our Lord.”
“Yeah,” Denny asked hurriedly, “but what’s the rest they did to Jesus?”
There was a very long pause and I watched the understanding wash over her face that we didn’t know that “Jesus” and “our Lord” were one and the same.
“Jesus,” she said slowly, “is our Lord.”
“Why?” I asked. I didn’t care why, I was just making conversation, but there was another long pause on her part. It may have been a conversation piece question, but it was also a very deep question, too.
“You know why Puerto Ricans wear pointed shoes?” Denny asked, placing his hand on her thigh. “Because their feet are—”
“Jesus,” she began, trying to save both her dignity and civil conversation, but Denny would have none of it.
“So they can climb over—” he continued, but this time he was interrupted by the nun.
“Jesus is the son of God who came down from heaven—”
“So is he a colored guy, this guy, this Jesus? “ Denny asked. “He looks like a colored guy.”
“What did you do wrong they make you dress like that?” I asked the nun. “You drink too much?”
As to why they wore the habit, Denny was direct.
“Are you bald?” He asked with deep sincerity. “’Cause it’s okay. I got a bald spot.” He turned around to show her the patch of missing hair taken away by ringworm. This, he figured, would help them bond and allow us to solve the great mystery of bald nuns, a rumor that was alive and well in most parochial schools in America through the decade of the 1960s.
“So,” said the nun, now talking directly to the crucifix because it wouldn’t interrupt her, “the Romans nailed our Lord—”
“You know,” I added with great authority, based completely on my film knowledge from the Palace Theater, “Tony Curtis was a Roman. He’s from Brooklyn. Ask my mother, she’ll tell ya.”
The nun lowered her head in defeat and returned us to the children’s ward. A while later, Denny and I were sitting on the front steps of the hospital, facing Pine Hill with its enormous cross, when a thunderbolt struck Denny. He pointed to the Pine Hill cross and said, “It’s empty!” and then he stood up and rushed into the hospital, and finding the nun inside the chapel at her evening prayers with the other Sisters, he shouted, “It’s okay! Jesus escaped!”
In 1962, six year old John Tuohy, his two brothers and two sisters entered Connecticut’s foster care system and were promptly split apart. Over the next ten years, John would live in more than ten foster homes, group homes and state schools, from his native Waterbury to Ansonia, New Haven, West Haven, Deep River and Hartford. In the end, a decade later, the state returned him to the same home and the same parents they had taken him from. As tragic as is funny compelling story will make you cry and laugh as you journey with this child to overcome the obstacles of the foster care system and find his dreams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washington DC. He holds an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University. He is the author of numerous non-fiction on the history of organized crime including the ground break biography of bootlegger Roger Tuohy "When Capone's Mob Murdered Touhy" and "Guns and Glamour: A History of Organized Crime in Chicago."
His non-fiction crime short stories have appeared in The New Criminologist, American Mafia and other publications. John won the City of Chicago's Celtic Playfest for his work The Hannigan's of Beverly, and his short story fiction work, Karma Finds Franny Glass, appeared in AdmitTwo Magazine in October of 2008.
His play, Cyberdate.Com, was chosen for a public performance at the Actors Chapel in Manhattan in February of 2007 as part of the groups Reading Series for New York project. In June of 2008, the play won the Virginia Theater of The First Amendment Award for best new play.