Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Long Dark Corridor

(excerpts from a journal...) this day and age of maximum sexual exposure and sexual exploitation - the church sticks its nose in and says it has authority to tell you how to live and who to have sex with and how to have that sex…

...anyway, years later I am thinking of the mysterious death of my high school biology teacher, a priest who managed to wrap his car around a highway support pillar - in a "single vehicle collision".

"The Long Dark Corridor" is the title of a short story I have been carrying around in my head for years. There was this third floor corridor of my high school that ran almost half a city block long and ran toward an industrial exit door with chicken wire glass in the top half.

The door opened onto an elevated concrete foot bridge that connected the high school with the faculty house of the religious teaching order of priests, brothers and seminarians that taught at our all boys facility.

I remember the bridge of concrete about five feet wide, twenty feet up in the air - being built around the time I was five. We lived on the next block. In fact, my father could remember our Philadelphia row house being built during his high school days at the same school in the 1930's.

Well, I started this story - title and the theme have been going through my brain for at least two decades...

I think that I have always had an innate intuition - something unformed, unspoken, unrecognizable. I probably subconsciously knew how to avoid contact with the gay clique within the religious teaching order.

My older brother who is now openly gay, I think had an encounter with them some years before - still remember the stress of my father and the meetings with the principal and the whispers and then the silence - the silence. My brother rarely shared anything with anybody all this life and especially that event – a topic for non-discussion.

We sophomores had the first biology class of the day. Lab was locked.  Father Ed had the key. We would wait in the hallway for Father Ed to appear through the door over the bridge from the faculty house. He was bigger than life in both girth and his charisma and knowledge of biology. I enjoyed the class even though I have no great love of the subject matter...

All my life I never liked the roman catholic practice of confession - going into a dark box and talking to a priest about my sins - I have my faults but most I think are attributable to the natural world side of my human nature.

During Easter Week each year, high school was a week long retreat for the students. Lectures, discussion groups, mass and confessions. I never went to confession in these high school days - optional - go to a dozen different classrooms - pick your favorite priest, kneel in a bright classroom next to a seated priest - where was the traditional black box?

I have often wondered in recent years if many students mentioned their sexual nature or related matters in confession in this retreat setting. I have also wondered if somehow the heterosexual priests were competing with the gay priests to recruit new young men with vocations to the priesthood with similar sexual persuasions and natures. And of course looking back - this heterosexual/homosexual divide was not visible then in the late 1960's. Society had layer upon layer of subtlety, priority, mask -

Anyway, just before my sophomore year, and biology, the religious teaching order had gotten a legacy of a large estate in the Chestnut Hill section of Philly, half a city away from my high school. We as a family drove past it one Sunday during our weekly Sunday ride - couldn't see much beyond the massive cast iron fence and gates - lots of fog that day - I guess that the religious order had decided to maintain the property until it could be evaluated whether to sell it - use it, convert it etc. I think that maybe about fifteen priests and seminarians used the grand estate as a second faculty house - to relieve overcrowding in the primary faculty house – and commuting by car back and forth to the high school.

In retrospect I connect some dots (possibly in total error) and perhaps it was the gay section of the original faculty house that went into separate quarters at this white elephant mansion.

Oh this speculation breaks down into two categories: good gays, abstaining from gay sex religious and the bad gays - actually occasionally practicing their natural instincts -

There is not much to this story except for connecting dots and wondering. In the middle of that sophomore year, a young, dynamic, charismatic seminarian teacher died in a car crash coming back from some long distance weekend duties - deacon at some parish etc. I remember his picture in the newspaper and the official speculation that he had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car in this "single vehicle collision" - And then my biology teacher, I liked him, died during the summer break.

I suppose I would not be writing this today except that in the next school year, my junior year, a very prissy but not unlikable priest blurted out something in class. Father Tom, a history teacher, said something like a veiled admission regarding the sudden tragic death of Father Ed, the biology teacher. He said something like "wrapping oneself around a highway pillar was indeed a suspicious thing to happen" while talking to the class one day, I think his comments went over many students heads...

Father Ed, the biology teacher, had been head of the Chestnut Hill faculty house - the history teacher had now succeeded him to that post of responsibility. The history teacher was burdened with balancing budgets, replacing automobiles lost, expenses of running a white elephant much in need of repairs, out of date mansion. I think Father Tom was pissed because of all the added multitasking duties dumped on him. I also think there was a tone of hurt that day, more than sorrow, that Father Ed was no longer with us.

...but that long dark corridor of my high school as I looked down it many times both empty and full of students had many stories to tell...

Perhaps this story or it bits and pieces will never be written either as fiction or as the truth if the truth in this case could ever truly be resurrected...

...Let the dead rest in peace.


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