HOLD ON TO YOUR UNDERWEAR

The Rusty Chair

         

          Spring of 1995. They had all of us lined up like pigs about to be shot. We stood on stage shoulder to shoulder, staring hopelessly at our music teacher at the piano below us for her over exaggerated nods so when we knew when to mutter sing our “we’re moving on to first grade” ballad.  Our music teacher was a heavy lady with a slim fast shake always handy. She always seemed tired, but not really grumpy. Music teaching just didn’t blow her skirt up anymore is all. The stage was in the gym at my elementary school with an odor of dust and salty perspiration. My two kindergarden teachers stood behind the piano: Miss Sobinski was a beauty, big kind browns eyes like my mother and a sunny, toothy smile. I used to dress up like her in my bedroom and addressed my American Girl Dolls as the class.  Those were some of the greatest times of my life. She was truly one of my first idols: a warm, sweet, and humble person. Then there was Miss Q, even her name emits a robotic, severe detachment from humanity. She had short blonde hair, tight to her head, not an old or ugly woman, but completely alien looking to my five year old eyes. High pants, thin lips, and constant glares were her motto. Miss Q had those eyes that look like they’re permanently shocked in judgement of something. She accessorized sometimes around holidays with dangly seasonal earrings, but that didn’t distract anyone from those scary orbs on her face. As far as everyone else was concerned, she was a cold hard bitch with a Dress Barn credit card. With the music teacher between them, they stood like angel and devil over her shoulders. Miss Q yelling out “Nicolas, turn around!!” “SMILE!” While Miss Sobinski bopped her head to the sound of our timid, small voices, everyone in that gym hating every minute of it.

       After the second verse, about how we’ll never forget the times we’ve had together, I raised my hand. The piano abruptly stopped, the music teacher frustrated by another interruption, gulped down some chalky strawberries n’ cream. “What, Bridey!?” Miss Q snapped. I tugged at my crotch. “I have to go to the bathroom.”  It took a lot for me to talk at that age, and even in more for me to admit I needed to pee. I’d deny that shit to the electric chair. Once my family was on a trip to the Adirondacks that went horribly awry. We had no idea where those pesky adirondack mountains were once we got there so the trip consisted of a visit to a delightfully seedy wax museum and pizza in a room at the Best Western. Around three am, I had been kicking my dad in bladder discomfort for long enough. He dragged me into the bathroom and sat me down on the toilet. I glared at him as I went, watching him revel in my defeat, and then it came time to wipe myself. My eyes never left my father’s  who really just wanted to sleep after a bad trip. After I applied the toilet paper I threw it as hard as I could at my dad’s face. He screamed disgusted at the omen he brought into this world.  

         “We are breaking for lunch in five minutes. So you can wait.” The piano banged back in. And the little voices started around me again, but I couldn’t sing. The weight in my bladder was cramping my stomach and I couldn’t push my voice out without hosing down the stage. My eyes hyper focused on the basketball hoop on the end of the gym. I hate basketball, I always have. Who knows why have this aversion? Maybe I was a basketball in a past life! Oh, gosh stop that kidding. My head dizzied and the music teacher motioned for us to sit down. There was a row of metal chairs behind us. My body rested down in the chair, the relief of sitting calmed my body, and before I could stop  the alleviation, my bladder released and I peed all over that metal seat, a big old warm puddle flooded around my bottom. There was no stopping it. The smell of urine caught  on with my classmates on the stage next to me, but no one realized the origin at first. I sat quietly in my pee, wondering how I was going to pull off pretending that it never happened. I could just sit there until everyone else left or maybe I could soak up all the pee with my underpants and jumper so that not a drop was left on the seat. I stayed frozen. “Then, after Miss Bozzuto says “Welcome the First Grade Class of 1996”… You all get up and then all together take a bow.” My classmates stood up next to me. I had no choice. My secret was about to be revealed on stage in front of everyone. There was no covering up the pond behind me, or the wet circle on my denim jumper. I didn’t do it just like O. J. didn’t do it at this point. That was a reference to the fact that this was 1995.

         I chose to feign ignorance. I raised my hand again. “I have to go to the bathroom.” All eyes were on me. Nicolas jerked his head trying to see what happened. Frankie G. started pointing and laughing at the puddle, but when he saw my face glaring at him, he got scared and immediately stopped. It’s all very vivid in my head, kids trying to sneak a peak at my urine as though it was some intriguing art installation, and me standing beside it, the vulnerable artist behind the work. I was embarrassed, excruciatingly so and embarrassment when you’re a kid is one of the worst possible things. Like in Girl Scouts, when I was too embarrassed to say my favorite band was the Monkees, so instead I tried to think of someone cooler so I said “Calvin Klein” (in my head I was thinking of Shawn Calvin) “He’s not a singer” said one of those dreadful girl scout moms in a Billy Joel shirt. “Well, who sings the song “Sonny Came Home”?” But they moved on to Tracy who said N’Sync. Why didn’t I just fucking say N’Sync! Why, god, why? No one will ever like me!

           It was probably third grade when I noticed it for the first time. There was a class assembly in the gym, and we all had to set up our own chairs from the side of the gym into organized rows in the center, child labor much?! I should be getting a check after this I’d think to myself, hauling those goddamn chairs around. So I unfold it and low and behold, there is a rusty round imprint on the seat and I knew instantly that this was the chair from that fateful day many moons ago. It was aI couldn’t believe it had rusted like that or that it was still alive. I thought after my accident, it was buried or at the bottom of the ocean, or thrown in a Toys for Tots barrel for christ’s sake.  Luckily, no one else made the connection with the rust spot, but me. I pondered how I could somehow get rid of it. I never wanted to be reminded of that incident ever again. But how the hell would I ever get rid of that chair. I tried to hide it a few times, but it always made its way back into the gym. Somehow always in my peripheral, reminding me that no matter what I do, that memory will always be right over here.

         Sometimes I wonder if I’ll haunt the chair when I’m dead. I’ll fling it all around the gym and they’ll do exorcisms on it, but they won’t work. So they’ll look into it’s history and find my DNA all over it, and one of my classmates will recall on their deathbed that I had in fact peed all over it. And then on those paranormal shows, some historian will talk about the rusty chair possessed by the soul of a kindergardener who really needed the toilet and I’ll finally be famous like my idol, Cher! What’s different now is I hope that chair is still there. I am proud of that chair. It is part of the history of myself and if some small child finds themselves peeing on it, I hope they feel OK about it too.

The Middle Seat

A week ago I was on a flight to LA sitting next to man who was a big old hunk of meat. Wearing only an undershirt, and a jungle of armpit hair a few inches from my cheek, I sat the entire flight, pouting in my head while his sand paper dry elbow rested near my ribs. He looked like a wrestler meets Bruce Vilanche, His skin was beet red and to my rapture he also sported a sour wet cough. I couldn’t help but hate him for his choice of clothing. Every time he adjusted the air vent strong fumes of deodorant stung my eyes and nose. I hated him. Spent the entire flight sulking, inside my head. I’d never be out right rude to the man, for I’m sure the flight was plenty uncomfortable for him too. The lady in the window seat was small and asleep, so I took advantage of that arm rest. Although, every move he made, made me grind my teeth, I couldn’t help but see him laugh and wave at a baby a few rows ahead. He was just a big friendly red lobster, and I made peace with his scaly elbow. 

It seems ridiculous to complain about a flight right now. My plane wasn’t blown up, and none of my loved ones were either. Flights can divorce you from humanity. They can make you want to slap a bald head sitting  in front of you for no reason other than the inescapable close proximity. I strongly believe that the discomfort of planes exists in first class too. I was on a red eye flight once where at two in the morning the flight attendant just kept yammering about how good pole dancing was for you. Her pole dancing ranting and raving kept me up the entire flight and the rage I felt towards her still keeps me up sometimes. Fortunately, on my way home from LA, I had quite the opposite experience. Usually when I say, “I had a good flight” it means that I had the window seat and the person next to me was small and didn’t talk to me, but this was really a good flight and I talked for two and half hours of it. 

I had the middle seat towards the back of the plane.I slowly made my way to my row. In the aisle seat, was a very pretty Muslim woman with her small baby leaning into her pillowy chest. With a polite frozen smile on my face I moved to the middle seat, that’s when I met Shanya. She had reddish blonde hair done up in a messy bun and her ice blue eyes darted around as though she was counting the number of passengers on board. “Wonder when we’re gonna take off? Ahh, there are so many planes in the sky!” She looked about 16, wearing a Hard Rock Cafe shirt and holding an ugly furry purple stuffed animal monster thing. Her nails were thick square acrylic, hot pink with flowers on the thumbs. I didn’t know who she was talking to at first. It’s rare for young people to talk these days to strangers. I sure as hell didn’t. I remained quiet, mentally preparing myself for yet another miserable middle seat flight. After awhile when the remarks didn’t stop I decided she was talking to me. “I hate taking off! This is my second time on an airplane!” Oh, shit I thought, now I get it. I’m gonna have to deal with her panic attack maybe even a seizure. “It’s going to be fine, we’re completely safe.” I said hoping it would end there.  The baby to the other side of me was so adorable and smiley I got distracted fast by his friendliness and so did Shanya. She reached across me to pinch his face. “Ouch” I  thought as her nails seemed to dig into his cheeks, but he didn’t seem to mind. The plane took off without her freaking out to my delight and I assumed it would be smooth silent sailing from here on out. The baby had fallen asleep and made it look so good. I was going to look at sky mall, shut my eyes, and just have a good long think about my favorite foods past and present. “This was my first trip out of Minnesota.” Shanya went on to tell me that her parents had flown her out to LA to stay with her Aunt and Uncle as high school graduation present. “Did you have fun? where’d you go?”  I reluctantly began to surrender to Shanya’s persistent yammering feeling like Mother Teresa. “I went everywhere!”, she said. “I went to the Hard Rock Cafe, Madame Tussaud’s, Disneyland.” What a horror show, I thought to myself. “That sounds so fun!” I said. She talked to me about her friends back home. I have never felt older than an 18 year old before. “Mary is nice, she turned 16 in March, but I really like Denise her birthdays August 16. She put pink highlights in her hair. ” The girl kept telling me all her friends birthdays as though the dates gave me any insight at all, but admittedly it was very cute and charming.

She commented on how my name suited me. “I’ve never met a Bridey before.” “I’ve  never met a Shanya before” I told her. “Really? There’s like 5 Shanya’s in my grade.” Shanya said that she lived in a really poor neighborhood where meth and heroin were more plentiful than marijuana. Her father was Native American, Ojibwe, and they were a pot friendly family. She said she was happy her uncle was in jail because he was so overprotective. Wow, a lot of dark details flowing out of this girl. Perhaps she had never talked to someone who had zero connection whatsoever to her hometown. This was after all her first time out of state.  She asked me what I did, and I was purposely very vague. I didn’t want the flight to turn into a painful “What movies have you been in?” flight. I think I told her I wrote for a newspaper or something, a white lie. I apologize.  After doting on the baby some more, Shanya asked me if I had ever been in a fight. “No, never even close. My sister and I slapped each other a bunch as kids, but I’ve never thrown a punch before.” She told me she had beaten the shit out of some girl who was starting rumors about her, and that “a 25 year old guy” had to break it up or she would have just kept punching. Her story was violent and made even creepier by the unashamed and  tickled way she delivered it. She was a strong meow mix of sweet naivety and broken insanity. I looked at her arm and it seemed kind of meaty, bloated with some bruising and red dots that may or may not have been from drug use. “Do you want to get a tattoo?” Shanya asked excitedly, revealing a very crooked toothy smile, chipmunkish and sweet. “I thought about it once, I wanted an astronaut on my butt.” I said. I’m not proud of that statement, but I thought it would amuse the girl.  “OH! I want a dream catcher on my ribs that says “I will rise above” because I am going to overcome my demons.”  That  just sounded like a regret to me, but Shanya was being very honest and all the judgement or whatever I had that stalled out these types of conversations in the past evaporated. I was just there talking to this soul above the west, above all that is anchoring us to who we are. The mother next to me said something I couldn’t understand and then pointed to the restrooms, I said “oh yea”, thinking she was asking my permission, then she handed me her sleeping baby. It was a beautiful thing, this trust in my row was almost too much. Three very different women, all sharing and trusting. An ever present loneliness that always seemed natural and necessary went away.

“Are you religious? I’m agnostic, a lot of people think that’s the same as atheist.” “I was raised Catholic, but I don’t practice anything, although I feel like going to Church a lot for the meditation of it.” I said, an honest truth that I don’t share with a lot of my friends for fear of judgement. Church isn’t cool, but it can be nice. Shanya thought for a second and then said “I feel too guilty going to Church because I doubt him and it’s rude to go into someone’s house and doubt him.” Then she said, “The way I see it, it’s like were all free falling and we might have a parachute in our backpack or we might not, I’d rather not know.” This girl was nut-job but reflective and surprising. Every silly teenager thought that spewed out of her mouth was followed by scattered foresight, blossoming wisdom like gushing over Adam Levine’s abdomen and then quoting Socrates. We talked a little about reincarnation. I told her I was on a flight once with this man who I was talking to mainly because I found him extraordinarily attractive. We talked about reincarnation and he told me that his two year old daughter would cry hard out of no where and when he asked her why, she would say “because all the buffalo are gone”, without ever being exposed to buffalo or anything. “Wow”, Shanya said. For the first time the whole flight, I saw her quietly stop and think.  

I am the type of person who doesn’t attempt a lot of things out of my wheelhouse, though I may want to. I’ve been wanting to learn how to sew since forever, as well as learn french. Out of the blue I asked Shanya, “Can you sew?” “By machine and by hand.” I knew it. I thought, this girl has a lot of what I’d like to have, this self assuredness and optimism.  She also told me to that I had to try butter and peanut butter sandwiches. “A layer of butter spread on one slice of bread and then peanut butter on the other! It’s delicious.” Hideous, I thought to myself, but who knows maybe one day when I’m sad and lonely I’ll think about Shanya and make myself one and I’ll be like HOLY SHIT! THIS IS GOOD! After we landed I directed her to Baggage Claim where she was going to catch a shuttle. We hugged and took a photo. She said to tag her in it, I made her spell out her name, but alas, I cannot find Shanya on Facebook.  But I will always remember her, this extremely different person than myself, but so beautifully human that our very different backgrounds held no weight at all. On that flight, I sat between who I once was and who I want to become- the mother, the confused young adult, and then next to the window seeing the world outside of Minnesota for the first time, the even more confused teenager, but we were all there for each other, and so there’s hope.