In a conservative family with lots of kids, there are more than the usual “where do babies come from?” questions to make parents and other bigger people feel awkward. There are questions of “do I need to have a groom at my wedding?” (answer: “In this day and age… I mean, yes, you do.”) There’s “what’s divorce?” (answer: “we don’t talk about that in this house.”) And there’s “why don’t Uncle Bob and Aunt Carol have any kids?” I actually still don’t know the answer to this one. Impotence? Their kids are all off at boarding school? Unfortunate cheese-grating accident?
But whatever the reason was, I had an aunt and uncle who were childless – an aberration in my family. And of course, that aunt and uncle were the coolest ones. First of all, the relentless grind of parenthood hadn’t driven them to the appropriate bitterness toward children, and secondably, they wanted kids to like them – they bribed kids with cookies and cigarettes, just like grandparents, only they didn’t pinch your cheeks or smell funny.
This cool couple, the only members of the upper generation that you really felt like you could “hang out with” as a ten-year-old, had a party for Memorial Day every year. That was their thing. They’d bring out the flag and the Frisbee, the cooler and grill and let the kids play bocce in the big back yard until one of the cousins got the inevitable ball to the head and the blood-soaked field was declared unplayable.
When I was seven years old, I made a fatal mistake at this party and overindulged in that special barbecue party ingredient. No, not Corona… baked beans. For an hour I was as happy as a pig in shit, dunking hot dogs in the beans, topping my burger with beans, mixing beans with cole slaw, and spooning them down straight.
But those beans mixed with the five Pepsis, and an unfortunate chemical reaction began bubbling inside me. At first I tried to sweat it out, running extra hard for freeze tag. I went to the bathroom to pee and wash my hands, trying to psyche myself that if I drained the bladder, there’d be enough room for my other insides to relax. But when I got back outside, I couldn’t even run; the best I could muster was an awkward canter.
I knew I had to do it. So I waited for something exciting to happen outside that would keep everyone distracted. I prayed for a plane crash, I considered swatting little Jack in the face with a badminton racquet. I was ready to burst when Aunt Mary finally chimed “has anyone seen Annie’s shoes?”
That was good enough for me. I was up the stairs and through the kitchen in a flash, down the hallway and into the bathroom, where I slammed the door behind me and reached for the lock.
There was no lock.
Of course it made sense – with no kids in the house, only adults who come factory-installed with common sense, they didn’t need a lock.
I bit my lip. I needed this door to have a lock. I scooched the stool under the sink over in front of the door and even put the soap dispenser on top for extra weight, but I knew it was an insufficient barricade.
Now I was frantic. I had the choice to either shit in my pants or poop in the toilet with the door unlocked, vulnerable. Both seemed equally horrible. I danced at the door, doing that hop-hop-rub-the-crotch-furiously that little kids do when they really have to go.
And finally, out of options, I ran the ten feet to the toilet, sprang aboard like the Lone Ranger onto Silver and tried to speed through the task at hand. All was well for a minute. That minute stretched into two, and I was almost clear, almost free. I was getting excited. I had pulled it off! Within two minutes I would be back outside, blending in with the rest of the kids looking for Annie’s shoes.
And then I heard the worst sound in the world. The knob turned with a tiny squeak. I was frozen, horrified, my heart in my mouth.
The door swung open, pushing the footstool with a grating whine across the tile floor. I looked over, peeking around the sink as I leaned forward, a wad of toilet paper in my hand, halfway to the wiping zone. My bigger, older, scary cousin Rory looked at me. Square in the eyes.
“Hhhaagghhaaa…” I said, desperately.
He closed the door. I closed my eyes and wished God would just let me die.
I made it back outside in two more minutes, and was called over by my cousins, my friends – the people who thought they knew me. “Come on,” they said, “we’re playing whiffle ball! Paul and Rory are picking teams!”
I said “I don’t feel like playing whiffle ball right now.” And I didn’t.
Next up: I get more than the wind knocked out of me