Today’s PoeWar writing prompt is: “Write a 500-word biography of your life. Think about the moments that were most meaningful to you and that shaped you as a person.” Well, as a surprise to no one, I could not keep this story under 500 words.
“It’s time to go to the hospital!” my mom yelled with donut crumbs spraying out. She had the last of a dozen donuts in her mouth when the contractions started, one final and urgent pregnancy craving before my screaming arrival. She will forever after blame herself and those donuts for my landing in the hospital at age four with type 1 diabetes. I have very few memories of that hospital stay, but my party favor, type 1 diabetes, has colored all of my subsequent life experiences.
I spent my childhood and teenage years being painfully shy, and my diabetes earned me a lot of unwanted attention. I liked to keep to myself, yet I had teams of doctors constantly asking what I ate, when I went to the bathroom, what I planned to eat the next day, am I sexually active, do I want to get pregnant after puberty… I was ten years old when they asked me that one. I also had to inform all of my teachers about my diabetes in case I had to eat in class, go to the restroom frequently, or leave class to go to the nurse. I’ve been fortunate to have understanding teachers, but as a result of volunteering this information they treated me differently than the other students. They always had an anxious eye on me like I was a bomb waiting to detonate. I wasn’t a student, I was a liability. Sometimes they embarrassed me with well-meaning questions about my medical needs in front of the entire class.
I had a sixth grade teacher who would bring up my frequent urination almost every day in front of the entire class. As I have stated before on this blog, I abhorred by needy diabetic bladder as a kid because I hated being interrupted. One day in my sixth grade class, I started bouncing my leg, as I often do unconsciously while concentrating. He spotted my restless leg and stopped his lecture to say, “Laney, your motor’s running. Do you need to go to the bathroom?” The last thing I wanted was the class’ attention focused on my bladder. Plus I didn’t even have to pee! All eyes in the room whipped around on me.
“No, I’m ok.” I said, barely able to look up from my notes.
“Are you sure? Don’t you want to go to the bathroom before you wet your pants?” There were snickers across the classroom. I was 12 fucking years old not two! Why did he have to bring this up in front of everyone like he was teaching a kindergarten class?
“NO!” I said, still not looking at him, and feeling shamed and mortified. Then suddenly I really did have to pee. I tried to ignore it, determined to deny the teacher any kind of satisfaction at my weakness. My leg started bouncing again for a different reason and the teacher chuckled and returned to his lecture.
The need to empty my bladder intensified and I was soon unable to focus on anything else. Still, I refused to raise my hand for permission to go to the restroom. I was in pain. I couldn’t move, but I had to. Finally I got up to run out of the room, but it was too late. I wet my pants. I ran from the room hearing the teacher saying, “Well, Laney, I told you to go before you wet…” and laughter from the class. The shame continued when I got home from school that day. I was told that I was too old to wet my pants (I was), and I had to tell the entire family what had happened. I was told to apologize to my teacher the next day for not listening to his suggestion. The deep shame I endured in this situation still angers me today.
I did what I was told, unwillingly, but that marked a shift in the fault lines of my identity. I discovered the birth of a resolve that has become virtually indestructible in my adult life. On that day I resolved that diabetes would never define me again, and I would never again feel shame for something so out of my control. I recognized that I had to be in charge of myself from then on, and have fought a lot of battles since I was 12 to stay in charge. I have become obsessed with facts and truth (the irony of my aspirations to be a fiction writer is not lost on me) because despite the costs of some relationships and opportunities, I have never regretted staying true to myself.
If I had known, as a sixth grader that I could choose to be sassy, I would have looked my teacher in the eye, maybe waved my hand around a little, and said, “You take care of your bladder, I’ll take care of mine, and if I need to talk about it in front of the entire class, I’ll bring it up my own damn self.” Then someone in the class would have said, “Yeeeeeeeeeah boyeeeeeeee!” and they all would have been afraid of me. I think I earned that rewrite.