I’m seven years old, and the numbers in my math workbook are starting to swim in front of my face. I look up.
Everybody else’s head is down, including my teacher’s. Her name is Mrs. Kneff (pronounced Kuh-neff), and she is red-haired, portly, and sweet. She sits at her desk and cannot see me in my seat, squirming—no, vibrating—my arm in the air, straight as a pencil, my hand waving wildly.
I have to go. Now.
An eternity passes. My teeth are tingling. My left hand is holding on for dear life. “Yes, Cory?”
I’m out of my seat, bolting toward the door. “Can I go to the bathroom?”
“Can you wait five minutes?”
I turn to her to say no, but I don’t need to. My answer is a dark spot spreading across the front of my jeans. She jumps up to rush me into the hall, but it’s too late. The kids are already laughing.
Have you ever noticed that the pants they keep in the principal’s office look nothing like the pants you wear to school? It’s apparent, coming back to class, that I was wearing…
The pee pants.
At lunch, my group of friends decides not to sit with me. They push me off to the other end of the table where the bad kids hang out. Terrance, the short black kid who rides the bus from downtown says, “It’s okay. You can sit with me.”
We didn’t hang out before that, and we don’t hang out after that, even though we stay friendly until I move away. But I still remember that kid, his kindness, and his disregard for what anyone else thought of him.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think he understood humiliation. I think he realized everybody walks a tightrope daily, and that we’re all one moment away from being ostracized, shoved to the wrong end of the lunch table.
Thanks, Terrence, wherever you are. You probably don’t remember me, but I sure remember you.