My turn

I was in the first grade, sitting in a tiny orange chair, fit for a six year old. We were seated in a circle. It was time for Show & Tell and today it was my turn. I can’t remember exactly what I brought, only that it didn’t matter, because today it was my turn to stand in front, my turn to talk, my turn.

Mine.

I heard the teacher call my name and I looked at her, smiling, but I couldn’t move. She repeated my name and her expression changed as she looked down at the floor below my seat. As I turned my gaze down, I noticed for the first time that I was hot and wet in my seat. I saw the pale yellow puddle forming below my chair and I couldn’t look away. I was sure that children were laughing and the teacher was saying something to me but all I could hear was the drip from underneath the chair releasing to the puddle below. The tiny drops were loud like thunder and I felt my face flush with embarrassment. I didn’t want to look at her. She was going to tell me to get up. And then what? I imagined that everyone would be going outside for recess soon and I would be free to remove myself without further humiliation. But they were not moving and she was not telling them to and I hated her. I heard her say she would call my mother and then she asked if someone else had something they would like to share for Show & Tell. Another child started speaking and the teachers’ aide lifted me up from the pool of urine collected in the seat of my chair. I could smell it now and it reminded me of the dog next door who always peed in our azalea bush, turning the pretty peach blossoms brown. My pants were cold, the warmth was gone, and they bunched between my legs as I walked. When I got to the school office, the secretary gave me a look full of pity and told me that my mother would bring me clean pants shortly and then handed me a pair of too-big gym shorts to change into. She ushered me into the bathroom and pat me on the head before closing the door behind me. I stood in front of the mirror above the sink, only able to see from my nose up, and realized that I had been crying. I was still holding my Show & Tell item in my hand and I was suddenly infuriated that I didn’t get my turn. I wanted to run back and tell them all to shut up and listen because it was still my turn.

My turn.

But instead, I peeled my wet pants off, pulled on the gym shorts, sat on the toilet seat and cried.

My life before me.

It was 1982 and I was 12 years old, holding a tattered photograph in front of my mother. I’d found it in a box of old photos in the garage. I’d been working on my Autobiography, an assignment from my 6th Grade teacher that seemed a bit premature.

In the photograph, there is a young boy in flannel pajamas sitting on the back of a frosted blue upholstered couch. He is beaming while holding a board game of The Jungle Book. Next to him sits an adolescent girl, in a blue nightgown fit for a princess with matching lace and satin blue robe. She holds her hands folded on her lap and smiles at the camera with lips pursed and head cocked slightly to the right. Sitting in front of them is a teenaged boy in his green and blue plaid bathrobe. He is barely smiling at the camera and looks as though he was woken up far too early. Next to him is a girl of four or so, bundled up in a puffy, satin pink bathrobe holding another board game. This one is Winnie the Pooh, and she is smiling wildly. Above their heads hangs a string of Christmas cards against a backdrop of bamboo styled wallpaper, with vertical lines seeming to grow out of the couch. The date on the photograph is January 1969. I recognized the first three children as my older brother and sisters, however, I did not know this fourth child, the one holding The Jungle Book game, which is why I was standing in front of my mother with the photograph.

“Who is this boy, Mom?”

“What boy?” she replied. My mother was not looking at me. She was standing at the stove, stirring an enormous pot of spaghetti sauce. It was Wednesday, spaghetti night at my house, and the smell of fried peppers and onions permeated the kitchen. When she finally looked at the picture in my hand, I saw something in her eyes that I had never seen before and it confused me. She immediately turned back to the stove to add the meatballs to the sauce.

“That was Steven. He was your brother. He died.”

She continued to stir and I continued to hold out the photograph, trying to understand what she had just said to me.

“Set the table, dinner is going to be ready soon.”