Mar 15, 2010

Walking Around in Someone Else's Green Pants

In college I had a professor who said something that resonated with me at my very center—he said, "You don't really know a person until you walk around in their green pants for a while."
The reason this particular slice of wisdom resonated with me is because in the second grade, I was forced to wear someone else’s green pants.

I switched elementary schools mid-year, and by the time I arrived in Mrs. Roux’s class, my classmates had already formed their circles of friends, and I was on the outside. My teacher only added to my intimidation. First, there was her name: Mrs. Roux. Any name with an X in it was cause for awe. Some of the kids spread rumors that she was from France, an exotic place none of us had been. She was also young and beautiful with long legs and straight brown hair. Her one strange behavior (which probably helped me in the end) was that she would often excuse herself—sometimes mid-sentence—to go to the restroom. We all sat in silence and listened to her high heels click across the hall to the girls’ room and then click back a few minutes later. As a group, we never spoke of this. It was too strange to think that teachers had the same needs we did.

One morning, still in my inaugural month at the new school, I had to pee during class. In most of my elementary school classes, there was always plenty of activity going on, and asking the teacher for a bathroom break would not have been difficult. But that day, Mrs. Roux was standing in front of the class, talking on and one, in more of a lecture style.

In order to be excused, I would have had to interrupt her, and the entire class would have stared at me. The thought of being caught in a circle of gazes terrified me. So, I folded my hands together on the desk and concentrated on the letter R, written in chalk on the board. After a half hour of trying to hold my bladder, my eyes began to glaze over. Mrs. Roux did not intend on stopping. I was strained almost to the breaking point.

Finally, I released a little. I felt some pee leak out, and I realized that I was too late. Letting go felt too good. My bladder slowly emptied while I sat in the same position in my wooden chair, staring at the chalkboard.

The warm liquid oozed slowly under my thighs to the edge of my chair and then followed the curve of the metal post down to the floor. A dark circle slowly grew outward on the avocado green carpet.

Had I thought things through, I would have realized that what I had done was probably worse than interrupting Mrs. Roux. But I wasn’t thinking. I was staring forward trying to become invisible until lunch recess, when I hoped to come up with a plan. I was still staring at the chalkboard when Mrs. Roux was by my side.

She whispered, "Sweetheart, do you need to go to the office?"
I nodded and carefully looked around. The class was involved in an activity and didn't notice our exit. Mrs. Roux walked me to nurse’s office, and the principal’s gray-haired assistant called my house.

My mother was not home to come for me or to bring clean clothes. I couldn’t believe it. How could she be away from home in my time of need?

The assistant went to the lost and found and brought back some abandoned clothes for me to wear—a red shirt and green, bell-bottom pants.

At the time, I was too self-conscious about the bellbottoms to think about whose they might have been or how they came to be abandoned at my elementary school. Through some unspoken communication, though, I knew that Mrs. Roux had once been in the same situation, and because of it, I was spared much embarrassment. When I got back to class, I dreaded the worst, but Mrs. Roux had somehow covered for me about the water on the floor. There was nothing she could do, however, about the pants.

Me and my brother. Circa green pants era.

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