03 December 2011
As a small child I was so proud of myself for accomplishing “developmental” milestones. By early kindergarten, I knew how to tie my own shoes, read small books, and not only wipe myself, but button and zip my own pants after using the toilet.
This last one was a pretty big feat as far as I was concerned. It meant that I was grown, a big girl. I didn’t have to yell for the teacher after doing my business like some of my classmates had to. It meant that I didn’t have to risk that oh-so-embarrassing, “oops, I wet myself waiting for someone to undo my pants” moment.
Time passed, and I grew more confident of my self-toileting skills. I knew how to use the bathroom and more importantly, I knew when I had to use it. I could plan it; time it just right so that I would never have an accident.
I was a big girl.
Second grade was here before I knew it. My arithmetic skills were improving, I was learning cursive—I was learning the art of “spot the different kid.”
There was at least one in every class, and spotting them was like playing “Where’s Waldo.” You’d look around your classroom every day for the first few weeks of school to spot them. To find that boy or girl who, although they looked somewhat normal, had an amazingly bizarre habit that could not be ignored.
These kids seemed oblivious to the fact that their eccentricities were on display for the world to see. Maybe they did know, and enjoyed the attention, the stares, whispers and giggles. On the other hand maybe their desires were so great, so blissful that they forgot the world existed, forgot that others were watching wide-eyed mouths gaping.
There were two “Waldos” in my class this year, both girls. They were very similar in appearance. Both had brown hair always looking in need of a good washing and combing. In addition, they both had an odor that made you wonder if they often urinated on themselves and never really cleaned up afterwards.
The one’s habit seemed to revolve around ingesting items which were of crunchy, yet still slimy consistency, like boogers, or Elmer’s Glue. The booger thing I get, many kids eat their boogers. The glue thing left me a little puzzled.
I’ve seen many children eat paste, and it was as if it was an automatic response to the presence of this gritty white substance. They’d sit there shoveling it in while adhering cotton balls to a paper plate in attempts to recreate the beauty of a sheep’s face. Almost like eating the paste was just a part of life for these children. Not my Waldo.
She would sit, blocking out the entire world, methodically squirting the glue onto the lid of her pencil/art supplies box. She would start by making a border around the entire thing, and then fill it in, slowly, carefully.
I would be watching this, thinking to myself, “Why is she doing that? Is she going to eat it again? Does she think it tastes good?”
She would leave her case open, letting the glue air dry all morning.
I’d glance over periodically wondering, “Is she going to eat it yet? How does she know when it’s ready?”
Come early afternoon, dinner would be served. She’d start peeling away at the slightly coagulated white feast she had prepared earlier that morning. Peeling slowly, taking her time to get a decently sized piece on which to dine.
The other Waldo was way more curious.
She had a love, a tragic attraction to the corners of hard objects. The corner of desks, her chair, bathroom sinks. It didn’t matter what the material was, if it was hard, she wanted it. She would sit and writhe on the corner of her chair, rub her private area on the corner of her desk or the sink in the bathroom. It didn’t matter who was around, who was looking she did it, almost compulsively.
Once, she was standing at Mrs. Stewart’s desk grinding and rubbing up against the corner of it—while the teacher was sitting at it!
It went on for what seemed like an eternity before Mrs. Stewart finally noticed her and said, “Stop it, go sit down!”
“How embarrassing,” I thought, “the teacher caught you and pointed it out in front of the entire class!”
Mrs. Stewart, my teacher, had to have been in her mid-forties to mid-fifties—which seemed ancient to me at that time. She was a short woman with stereotypical mid-eighties big hair (big ALL over and super curly/teased looking), and large framed glasses which covered the area of her face just above her eyebrows down past her cheekbones.
The glasses anyone born in the eighties has spent many years laughing and commenting on when seen in photos of friends and loved ones. The same glasses which are for some reason popular again and these same people who snickered now think they are super cool when these ginormous frames are perched atop their own nose?!?!?!
Anyway, Mrs. Stewart was a great teacher. She was informative, she would joke around with us from time to time, and she’d put us in our places if need be. She seemed like a knowledgeable and fair woman…
Until she crushed my innocent spirit, and embarrassed me in front of all of my classmates.
We had certain times designated for bathroom breaks this year. It would be announced that such time had come, and we’d line up, boys on one side, girls on the other and travel across the hall to the multi-stall bathrooms. We’d use the bathrooms, make a mess with water, splashing and smacking while washing our hands like elephants bathing in the Serengeti.One day, I didn’t have to use the restroom, so I spent my time grazing at the drinking fountain. Lapping up the clear tasteless flow of deliciousness as if I’d spent the last forty years wander through the Sinai wilderness—
We returned to our classroom and our seats to continue the day’s lesson. I was learning. I was staring at the Waldo’s of the second grade when it hit me.
I shouldn’t have drunk all of that water. I should have tried to use the restroom even though I didn’t feel the urge to expel the contents of my bladder at the time. I am going to get into trouble if I ask to use the restroom now. There is no way, I thought, the teacher will let me go. I have to wait, have to hold it until lunch. I can do it.
I sat there squirming in my chair, writhing like Waldo upon the corner of the plastic seat trying to form a barrier through which the urine could not pass. It worked—for a few minutes.
Before I knew it, a warm sensation was growing between my legs, spilling onto the floor in an amber colored puddle. I couldn’t stop it. Once the action was put into motion it had to continue until its end, until every last drop had been expelled.
I hung my head in defeat.
Within minutes I heard my name, “Jamie?”
I ignored it.
“Jamie?” I heard once again.
I had to acknowledge her. I looked up at the teacher, thinking maybe she just wanted to ask me what ten minus three was. Thinking maybe neither she, nor anyone else in the class had noticed yet. I could make it until lunch time. I would just grab paper towels after recess and clean up the mess. Done. Nobody had to know but me!!!
The teacher, insensitive to the look of complete shame in my innocent, big blue eyes said, “Jamie, will you come up here please?”
Please God, don’t do this to me.
I began the walk of shame towards her. Walking past the desks of my classmates, inner aspect of my jeans a darker shade from my crotch down to my shoes, I kept my head low. Maybe they wouldn’t notice who I was. Maybe they were all too busy eating glue, or crayons or cutting their hair with safety scissors to notice that somebody was up and moving.
Maybe, if only my sneakers hadn’t been squeaking, as if announcing to the world, “Look at me. I’m indoors where it hasn’t been raining, which must mean I’ve been resting in a golden pond of humiliation. Look at me!!!”
I reached the spot where she stood and looked up at her. She said quietly, as if her volume made a difference, “Turn around.”
Turn around!?!?!? Why would I want to turn around? If I turned around I could no longer fool myself into believing that nobody noticed. If I turned around, I would be exposed to the stares and gaping mouths of my peers. The same peers who giggle and smirk at the Waldos with me, peers who tease the Waldos for having pee-pee-pants.
She repeated, a little louder this time, “Turn around.”
I spun slowly towards the crowd of awestruck faces, head slung low, glancing up expecting to see a few snickering faces, fighting back the tears, wondering what had I done, again, to deserve this…
Her hand gently patted my rear-end while she said softly, “Go down to the nurses office.”
My nose was practically scraping the floor at this point, as I noisily walked towards the door.
The nurse’s office was in the library and was more of a cubical, open to the viewing, judging eyes of the world. I sat there atop an orange plastic chair lined with brown paper towels while the nurse tried reaching my mother.
“Yes,” I thought, “she didn’t answer. Now she’ll have to call grandma, and grandma won’t be mad.”
She reached my grandmother, who never having learned to drive sent my Aunt Marsha to pick me up.
At my grandmothers, I was treated as if nothing had happened. I was given lunch, and cookies, and love, as if I was still the perfect little girl I was earlier that morning. It was nice.
I was playing in the living room when I heard her speaking on the phone. I heard her say the words, “had an accident” and instantly knew to whom she was talking. I ran into her bedroom, and quietly pick up the receiver to spy in on their conversation. I heard my mother’s voice say, “Really?” sigh, “I’ll be right over.”
Oh no. Is she going to be mad? Will I be in trouble? I’ve never done this before. What happens to a little girl who knows better than to wet herself?
My mom was there within minutes. I walked out to the car, glancing back at my grandma hoping it wouldn’t be the last time I would see her.
The three minute ride home was in silence. We pulled into the driveway, my mom looked at me and said, “When you get into the house, go straight to the bathroom and take a shower.” There were no reassuring comments like, “Oh honey I love you,” or “It’s ok, it happens to everybody at least once.” There was nothing to make me feel like I hadn’t become a disgrace to the family, the talk-of-the-town.
I walked into the house, and as instructed went directly to the bathroom, hoping the shower could wash away the stench of dishonor streaking my legs.
I came out, wrapped in a towel, expecting to put on play clothes, and spend the rest of the day recovering from my ordeal.
Not even close.
My mother had my favorite dress sitting out. A white cotton dress with small red velvet hearts freckling it, which came paired with a small red velvet vest. It had spaghetti straps, and the bottom was three ruffled tiers. I loved it. I felt so special and pretty when I wore this dress. Maybe my mother just wanted me to feel good about myself. Maybe she wanted to help me to forget, to cope with, the events of the day.
As usual I was wrong. My mother had me put on my special dress, white bobby socks and black dress shoes. She put my hair into a ponytail and affixed a pretty red bow at its base—and informed I was going back to school.
Why would I want to go back there? Why would I want to step foot into the classroom where it all happened? The odor probably hadn’t even had time to dissipate, let alone the dampness of the tile to dry.
Didn’t she understand that I was a Waldo now, and that meant I’d spend a lifetime being laughed at and whispered about? I didn’t want to return to the same school, let alone the same classroom! Couldn’t I just switch schools? Why did she always insist on torturing me, as if she had taken a vow to ruin my life?
She dropped me off; it was recess. I walked slowly across the lot towards my friends playing on the jungle-gym. I feared what they had to say. I feared that they’d laugh and point fingers.
Almost to them, they called out, “Jamie, come play!”
Did I hear them right? They were happy to see me. They called me over to join them. They didn’t hate me!
I ran over towards them, smiling in disbelief, and started playing. One of them turned to me and said, “You changed your clothes. It’s a pretty dress.”
They didn’t even notice! Nobody did. Nobody cared. Nobody laughed or joked. It was like it never happened. As if a girl changing her clothes from jeans to a dress midday was the norm.
The rest of the day happened as every other had. No laughing no snickering. I didn’t get my lifetime membership card to the “Where’s Waldo Club.” Even when I got home, my mother didn’t mention it. She didn’t tell my father nor brother. She kept my secret. She did love me!
That day, I learned that although you should never pee your pants, you get one free pass. You get one chance to have an accident, and not be ridiculed or tortured for the rest of your life. I had used my get-outta-jail-free card, and swore that I’d never find out what happened if you did it twice.