The Prince of Tides Lunch

I have a really sad story to share which is unusual for me since I like to keep things light and happy, but I feel the need to write about this so I’m going to do it here.

I was back in my home town over the Christmas holiday and had lunch with a friend from school who I haven’t seen in 31 years. We weren’t close friends and didn’t hang out together after school, but we did have classes together off and on from 1st-12th grade. I was very shy and socially awkward in school (okay fine, I still am!) and Debi was very friendly and outgoing but she was always kind to me and I appreciated her very much for that.

We had a really nice lunch, gave each other a brief synopsis of the past 31 years, and reminisced about a time when our thighs were smaller. We both had the same homeroom teacher in first grade but when Debi asked who my homeroom teacher was in second grade I couldn’t remember. This has always been an issue for me because I used to be able to list all of my homeroom teachers from 1st-12th grade except for my second grade teacher…never could remember who it was.

Debi informed me that I had Mrs. Beelzebub because she did too. Obviously her real name is not Mrs. Beelzebub but you will see that it’s an appropriate pseudonym.

When Debi asked if I could remember any specific incidents from second grade I couldn’t come up with any. I do remember an incident in first grade involving another student being injured but other than that I can’t recall anything specific until maybe 6th grade. Debi has a memory from second grade that involves me but it’s not a pleasant memory and she was reluctant to share it for fear it might upset me. I’m sure I have forgotten more than one unpleasant memory but I remember a lot of them too so I assured her it was fine.

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Debi’s first memory of me was when we were sitting in Mrs. B’s class and I raised my hand to ask if I could go to the bathroom. In first grade we had a bathroom in our classroom that we could use as needed but in second grade we were given scheduled bathroom breaks. It was not time for the bathroom break so Mrs. B told me no. A few minutes later I raised my hand again and asked if I could go to the bathroom. Again, Mrs. B said no, I would have to wait until the bathroom break.

You can see where this is going, right? Mrs. B wasn’t very bright and clearly had no idea how a child’s body works.

Debi said the third time I raised my hand I was bouncing in my seat, I seriously had to pee. And for the third time Mrs. B told me no, I would have to hold it until the bathroom break. Obviously I peed my pants. It happens, right? When a kid tells you they need to go, they need to go!

Evidently Mrs. B somehow thought that peeing my pants was my fault and I should be punished for it. She made me go get a mop from the janitor then she made me clean up my own pee in front of the whole class while still wearing my wet pants. Debi asked Mrs. B if she could help me but she was denied, I had to do it by myself.

Debi said the whole incident seriously traumatized her and apparently every other kid in the class as well. She said everyone was so affected by Mrs. B’s cruelty that no one ever made fun of me for it. That says a lot. Kids rarely pass up an opportunity to make fun of one of their own.

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Absolutely horrifying, right?! The whole time Debi was telling me this I was thinking…oh my gosh that’s horrible! I feel so bad for that little girl! Oh wait. It was me.

Nothing Debi said triggered any kind of memory for me, which is probably a good thing. And I know she’s still wondering if she should have kept it to herself but I am SO glad that she didn’t. It actually explained a lot, including why I never could remember my second grade teacher’s name!

This happened around 1973-74 and things were a lot different then. Can you imagine that same incident happening today? That teacher would be facing criminal abuse charges if the parent didn’t kill her first. I don’t know what happened to Mrs. B but picturing her in this scenario brings me comfort:

Hortus deliciarum manuscript

After our lunch I texted my sister since she is the keeper of our memories. She had no memory of me peeing my pants but she remembers peeing her pants in first grade and having to wear someone else’s clothes for the rest of the day. She said it’s a miracle we weren’t known as the Pisser Sisters. I nearly busted a gut. My sister is the funniest person I know.

I texted my mom and asked her if I peed my pants in second grade. I believed every word Debi said but was hoping to maybe get more information or another perspective. My mom’s response was, “I think so. OMG I tried to forget.”

Okay, so it pretty much traumatized everyone involved and clearly my mother is extremely proficient in teaching her children the art of the repressed memory!

I was always shy and quiet in school and Debi wondered if that incident had something to do with it. A second grader peeing her pants at school is bad enough but the way that teacher handled it is sure to leave permanent scars. I told Debi that I feel sure it did have an impact on my social development or lack thereof. But compared to what I experienced at home as a child it was really pretty minor. How sad is that?!

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I experienced a lot of terrible things growing up but at the time I honestly didn’t realize that they were not “normal”. I thought every family was like mine so if you ask me if I had a good childhood I would say yes. I didn’t understand how messed up it was until I was grown but I don’t have any regrets or remorse about my family’s dysfunction. We’re all half-baked and that’s okay. All those traumatic childhood events were necessary for me to be the person I am today. I am still shy and socially awkward but I’m perfectly comfortable in my own skin. The messed up person I am today is necessary for me to become the person I will be tomorrow.

Life is like puzzle where each piece is an event from our lives. It takes all of those pieces, good and bad, to complete the puzzle. That means that we sometimes have to pull our skeletons out of the closet to see where they fit in our puzzle.

So thank you, Debi, for taking that skeleton by the hand and gently guiding it out of the closet. I didn’t even know it was there but I’m a big proponent of freeing all closet skeletons.

I don’t know who said this but it has always been one of my favorite quotes:

I am a portrait of my past, a painter of my future. 

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