Excerpt: 'Tis Herself: A Memoir'

There were two old biddies there who just couldn't stand me. I never knew why they disliked me so, but they jeered at and ridiculed me every day. Miss O'Meara taught English in room 8 and Miss Cook taught math in room 7. But I never saw them as two old teachers. To me they were one, a large and ugly beast joined at the side like Siamese twins, with two heads that shared one small brain and an even smaller heart. (Allow me just a smidgeon of latitude here. I've waited seventy years for this!)

One day I was sent to school wearing a brand-new sweater. My mother always dressed me and my sisters in matching outfits when we were growing up, but each of us had our own special color and mine was red. I was walking down the hall with my older sister and she looked marvelous in her new blue sweater. At fourteen, Peggy already had a figure, but, at twelve, I was still an awkward girl —big, tall, and freckled. As Peggy and I made our way to class, we came upon the two old biddies in the hallway. "Peggy," purred Miss O'Meara, "that sweater looks beautiful on you." Miss Cook followed her lead. "Yes it does. Just beautiful." But as I scurried behind Peggy, the two old biddies quickly transformed into the two-headed beast and lashed out at me. "And, Maureen," Miss O'Meara's head went on snidely.

"Whatever are you hiding under your sweater? A football?" I tried to ignore her and kept walking with my head down in anger while Miss Cook's head burst into laughter. Their shrill cackles followed me down that hallway.

I was angry, and worst of all, I was hiding. My first class of the day was English, with Miss O'Meara. Should I go or should I run? I wondered. I felt the fire inside me. It told me that I couldn't run. So I turned the doorknob and entered.

Miss O'Meara was standing in front of her desk, before the class, holding the morning edition of the local newspaper, the Irish Independent. Over the previous weekend, I had entered a very prominent acting festival and had won the top prize. It was such a big competition that the Irish Independent placed the story, with my picture, on the front page of the paper. Miss O'Meara's eyes were fixed on the article, and the corners of her mouth were turned up in a smirk. As the door closed behind me, she turned her attention to me with intensity.

"And here she is at last," Miss O'Meara began, sarcasm dripping from her mouth. "The newest star of Dublin theater, Miss Maureen FitzSimons." I moved quickly across the room to my seat, not saying a word. "Maureen, I was just sharing with the class your triumphant victory at this weekend's festival." Her eyes narrowed on me as she continued. "However did you do it? How could you win such an important acting competition?" The class began to giggle and I felt the heat of the spotlight burning my body. I remained silent, my head down, as Miss O'Meara continued. "Perhaps you could give the class just a taste of your extraordinary talent. Come up and show us what you did to win the competition." She followed her challenge with laughter and the entire class joined her.

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