Today while sitting in a quiet library trying to write anything, a dust particle that could not possibly be seen by the naked eye flew into my throat and made me cough as if I had been a Salem Lights chain smoker since kindergarten. I got up like my pants were on fire and ran out to find some water before a throng of unemployed screenwriters, not a loving bunch, attacked me with stilted conversation and outdated movie dialogue.
Having your body react in embarrassing ways in public has always been the nightmare that anyone with a brain more advanced that a monkey’s often has. The younger one is, the greater the fear, as it could result in lifelong social banishment. As with all terrifyingly embarrassing moments, the longer time passes the more amusing and banal the incident seems to be. It can even be a great anecdote at a party or an icebreaker in a job interview. In this economy, a catastrophically mortifying tale could land you the job at a company that is not hiring but just interviewing people to make themselves look and feel busy. The boss would sit behind the large, rented mahogany desk that H.R. is about to repossess to pay for a new Coke machine in the CEO’s executive bathroom and laugh like a mule when you spill the beans about farting at choir practice while rehearsing for the sophomore spring concert or having a booger in your nose when you asked Travis Sibley to the Sadie Haskin’s dance in 7th grade.
For me, the list is clear, concise and as fresh in my memory as a “loser” loaf of bread hot out of my “Oh my God, that did not just happen” oven. In 5th grade, I was standing in front of Foster’s Freeze drinking a peach shake after playing basketball on the city team when Brian Mueller pulled my shorts down in front of everyone, revealing not only a really lame pair of white UnderRoos but no sign of pubic hair or maturity of any kind. Cue copious amounts of group laughter, cue tears, cut to me running home to mommy and wanting to die a quick, painless death.
Then, in 7th grade, I was waiting on the lunch line in the cafeteria and I impulsively picked up a huge piece of chocolate cake without paying for it and stuck the whole thing in my mouth. Josh Davidson starting laughing at me and yelling to anyone and everyone nearby that I looked disgusting and ugly because all the chocolate crumbs were stuck in my braces. To this day I am obsessed with not getting shit stuck in my teeth. I carry floss everywhere I go and obsessively check my smile in any reflective surface just in case Josh shows up again and ruins my day and the little self-esteem I have left.
But the one that is etched into my mind like a cheap, unattractive, lower back tattoo one would get on spring break, occurred the following year during 8th grade. After taking a quiz on a collection of historical facts that I clearly did not know and most likely did not receive a satisfactory grade on, as was the case whenever I had a subject that required a binder and a small amount of interest, I got up and walked to my teacher’s desk to drop off the collection of wrong answers I had so carefully scrawled in my wispy and whimsical handwriting. Upon my return to my assigned seat, I noticed that the chair had a rust colored stain the size of a donut and resembled an impressionist’s brush stroke gone awry. Instantly, I knew it was not an example of bad modern art but was, in fact, a clear sign that I had just become a woman all over my plastic desk chair in Mrs. Craig’s 6th period Social Studies class. I turned around to see if there was a stain on my backside and was shocked to discover that a mass murder had taken place on the bottom of my yellow and green plaid Bermuda shorts. I choked back tears and a keen desire stab myself in the chest with the American Flag that so patriotically hung over the chalkboard and quickly sat down. I then thanked God that I had recently embraced a preppy lifestyle choice and tied my cashmere, dark blue cardigan sweater around my waist.
With the speed and acumen of a professional pre-teen pick pocket, I formulated a plan to get out of this horrendous scenario, one that could easily end up as an After School Special about a girl with no friends, a facial tick and an unfortunate dependency on adult diapers. The clock told me I had exactly five minutes until the bell would ring, sending in the next wave of students for 7th period. Not only did I need to clean up a crime scene as gruesome as Lizzie Borden’s sitting room, but do it as quickly as possible, so as not to alert the incoming kids, including the three most popular boys in school, one of whom sat directly in my seat the following period. With their blond hair and boldly colored polo shirts, these dudes ruled the school and could ruin any chances I had at normalcy if they discovered I was capable of bleeding out like a Luau pig before the tourists disembarked.
While no one was looking I took the edge of my sweater and began vigorously rubbing the stain with the elbow grease of generations of Chinese launderers. It had already set into the plastic and stared back at me as if to say, “Be My Bloody Valentine”. It was a B- horror movie and I was the girl who gets killed in the first five minutes. Now, without any Ajax or a high-powered cleaning solution used for nuclear waste spills, I was as good as dead.
The bell rang and all the students, including Mrs. Craig, quickly left the room, without a clue as to what had just taken place in the fourth row over, third seat back. I got up and moved my desk all the way to the back of the room where, luckily, some extra desks were kept. Maybe this odd collection of old fifties school furniture was purposely left there for just this kind of emergency. What if Peggy Sue had leaked all over her poodle skirt in homeroom the day Elvis was drafted into the army and the janitors didn’t want to keep carrying heavy furniture up from the basement every time some teeny bopper was visited by her little, monthly friend. Then again, Tommy could have stuck Benny with his pocketknife after fighting over who really won the rumble at the quarry the day before, The Cougars or The Rats.
With sweat dripping down my face and my heart in my throat as if I had swallowed it whole, I pushed the new desk across the room as fast as an angry, overpaid teamster and replaced it with an exact duplicate. The only thing missing were the brilliant musings I had written on the soiled desk over the past school year. “Ozzy Osborne Is God”, “Reagan Sucks” and “Make Sandwiches Not War” were just a few of the wildly intelligent thoughts that I carved into wood to be enjoyed by future generations of middle schoolers for years to come.
Just as cute, cuter and cutest waltzed into the room, I gathered my books, adjusted the protective layer of wool I so desperately hid behind and casually walked toward the door. As was with most days, these boys didn’t give me a second look and I slipped away unnoticed and ran as fast I could to the nurse’s office. If anyone had really looked at me closely they would have noticed that behind the curtain of cardigan was a blood splatter the length of my back. I resembled a troubled teen running from the scene of a car wreck severely injured but alive, afraid of being caught drunk without her learner’s permit.
When I was safely in the bowels of the infirmary, the nurse led me to a small, antiseptic, avocado colored room and handed me a maxi pad the size of a compact rental car. I burst into tears, trying to explain that not only could I not possibly put that couch cushion in my shorts, but that I was covered in copious amounts of blood and it was imperative that I return home before I lose consciousness from blood loss. The tears came so fast and so forcefully that the nurse called my mother and they both agreed I could skip my last class, a lucky break I will never forget.
My mother, whose DNA consists of mix of a fondness for arts and craft projects, a farmer’s work ethic and a crippling fear of failure, insisted the previous school year that I sign up for Shop Class in case my plans of being a Guess model fell flat. The way she saw it, if I couldn’t wear pegged jeans for money, get into college or hold down a job that required a basic ability to spell my name tag correctly, I could always rely on my skills at making a cutting board, soldering together a metal box that might hold knick knacks or winter mittens, or manipulate rod iron into decorative wall art with curly cue ends.
Shop was my last class of the day and there was no way in hell I was going to saunter into that hornets nest of horny prepubescent boys with a king sized mattress between my legs and blood on more than half of my perfectly coordinated and adorable ensemble. The nurse conceded and said that I could go straight home but not without fastening the capsized refugee boat to my underwear. The tears came again but I knew she was right. How would I get to my locker, then to the bike racks and then home without something to stop the flow of womanhood all over the hallways of this junior hell? Surprisingly enough, the pad stayed in place but I had to waddle down the empty hall with sounds of Christmas gifts being aggressively unwrapped coming from my nether regions.
Finally, after the longest and loudest walk of my life, I found my way to my bicycle and rode all the way home, a few inches higher off the seat than I had been that morning. I climbed into a hot bath, finished crying my newly minted, womanly tears and washed away the entire, horrendous experience. I knew that I had averted a social disaster of epic proportions and had almost experienced my most embarrassing moment ever. Almost.
Lying in the hospital bed the day after Otto was born, my doctor came in and told me, in so uncertain terms, that because of my C-Section, I could not be allowed to leave the hospital until I passed gas and/or had a bowel movement. The following morning when he had returned to check up on me, I turned to him and in front of a visiting crowd the size of a hockey team, I said to him, in no uncertain terms, “I just farted. Can I go home now?”