My family’s yellow Labrador retriever is the reincarnated soul of my sixth grade teacher, a nun named Sister Mary Catherine.
There, I said it. So begins the road to redemption.
I know you must think I’m crazy and you’re in good company. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for believing that the soul of a nun is living inside our dog Oakley. But I know it’s true, and Oakley knows it’s true. Every night he sits by the couch and stares at me with those… eyes. I try to ignore him and focus on the television but it doesn’t do any good. Sister Mary Catherine is in there, and she wants me to know that she knows all about what I did in sixth grade.
I’m convinced that Oakley is repayment for the sin that I committed in sixth grade. He not only stares at me for hours at a time, he also destroys everything he can get his paws on in our backyard. He has ripped every piece of lattice from underneath our deck, torn long strips of vinyl siding from our shed, and dug so many holes in our backyard that it looks like a huge Whack-a-Mole game. The only person it aggravates is me, because I’m the only person it is supposed to aggravate. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie Marley and Me. I can tell you that Marley has nothing on Sister Mary Catherine.
So what did I do in sixth grade that was so bad that I am now being haunted by the ghost of a nun? I broke a Commandment, that’s what I did. More specifically, I broke the one about bearing false witness. In simple terms, I told a lie. But I didn’t lie to just anyone. Oh no, I had to lie to a nun. No one, and I do mean no one lies to a nun and gets away with it. After all, they have friends in high places. Very high places…
I remember the day it happened like it was yesterday. I was standing by the condiments table in the lunchroom of St. Patrick’s Catholic school putting ketchup on my hot dog. There is a hooligan inside of every Catholic school boy and I was no different from the rest. When I finished putting the ketchup on my hot dog I quickly turned to see if anyone was looking. When I realized the coast was clear, I unscrewed the top on the squeeze bottle of ketchup and then sat the bottle down on the table, along with the loose lid, where it could lie in wait for an unsuspecting victim.
I had no idea that the victim would be Sister Mary Catherine.
Before I could stop her, Sister Mary Catherine walked up to the table, picked up the ketchup bottle and gave it a hard squeeze above her hot dog. The resulting explosion of red ketchup splattered across the white material of Sister Mary Catherine’s long sleeved habit from her elbow all the way down to her wrist.
She stood there speechless in her black patent leather shoes with her white shirt sleeve covered in red ketchup. Then she calmly looked over at me standing there mortified. Anyone that has been to a Catholic school knows that the nuns have written permission to whoop ass if the need arises. Visions of Sister Mary Catherine doing Kung Fu on me right there in the cafeteria bolted through my mind. But instead of striking a classic Grasshopper pose, Sister Mary Catherine instead just calmly asked me a question that still haunts me to this day.
“Dale, did you do this?”
The next words out of my mouth sealed my fate.
“No Sister Mary Catherine, I did not.”
There you have it, seven words that changed my life. Forty years later I’m still paying for them.
So every night I sit and try to watch TV while Sister Mary Catherine looks at me through the eyes of a yellow Labrador retriever, eyes that tell me that she knows that I lied to her about the ketchup and that she will repay me for the lie by eating the cover on the gas grill or maybe chewing the handle off of my favorite hammer.
But the guilt is becoming more than I can bear. It’s time to release Sister Mary Catherine so that she can go on to a better place. Besides, she can’t possibly like living inside of Oakley. He stinks and does unholy things with his tongue. The poor woman has suffered enough and so have I. It’s time to confess my sins.
The next stop for me is the confessional. I have not been in many years but I still know the words to use. Every good Catholic knows them by heart.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned…