It was shortly after my social explosion that Rebecca informed me:
"I seriously never even knew what your voice sounded like."
And this is after growing up our entire lives on the same farm road, only a half-mile apart; after attending the same nursery, primary, and Sunday school classes for thirteen years. To say that I was shy as a child feels like an understatement.
But it's not like I didn't have good reasons. My mom dressed me only in D.I. clothes, I lived at the very end of a three mile, dead-end, farm road (Rebecca was my closest neighbor), and I attended a private school fifteen miles away, with a bunch of rich kids, who lived in rich neighborhoods, very far away.
But I guess those things don't speak to the real root of the problem, the insurmountable catalyst resulting in my shy behavior: chronic urinary tract infections hacked at my immunity starting at age four. I felt like an alien attending kindergarten with a portable I.V. strapped to my arm. I used to imagine that my portable I.V. was a fish while I was in the bathtub. The draining sack of medication floated in what seemed to me, such a buoyant and graceful way on the surface of the water among the bubbles. This inspired me to draw a picture of a fish on each new sack of medication. Once a boy in my kindergarten class approached me and pointed to the sack. "What's that?" I just couldn't get the words out," Oh. . . it's a fish . . . uh, I mean . . . really a bag with medicine . . ." He walked away giggling.
Incomparably worse than that-- was the enduring embarrassment of peeing my pants on a fairly regular basis. In the case of urinary tract infections, you simply don't experience the sensation of needing to use the bathroom until it hits you all at once and you think you're going to explode. It's like no matter how hard you try to hold it, you could still use a count-down as some kind of prediction method. You feel like you need to go and you may as well start counting: "10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . ." And you erupt at "1" no matter what location you're in. It could be the playground, your desk, the hall, your chair during primary class, wherever. I always felt guilty at having some adult clean up after my "accidents" but the harassment from my peers often seemed unbearable.
The worst of all was someone I called my “evil twin” but her real name was Kelsey Frazier. We were born in the same hospital, on the same day, within the same hour. We also shared the similarities of curly hair and blue eyes. She would, however, not share her half of the primary classroom with me.
“Hey, Rebecca, Emily, come sit over here . . .” and she would prance to the corner of the room near the window. “. . . but Laura can’t sit over here. Nobody who pees their pants gets to sit with us.” I didn’t say a word or even look in her direction. I thought of possible retorts, like, "Your dumb!" or "You're ugly!" but I think of them too late, and I know they're not very clever.
So I just hold it in.
One of our first Young Women’s activities when we turned twelve was country square dancing in the church gym. There was a part of the dance where you had to link arms with your dance partner for a “dosie-doe,” or something like that. And everyone had to take turns being partners with everyone else. Kelsey refused to touch me, and messed up the order of the dance, confusing everyone else. After I link arms with Rebecca for our “dosie-doe,” Kelsey whispers in her ear, to set her straight, and then nobody touches me for the rest of the night.
I almost cry, but I just keep holding it in.
Just after we turn thirteen there’s a scrap-booking activity. We’re cutting things out of magazines that are supposed to represent us or our hobbies. I’m cutting out a picture of an easel and paintbrush. Rebecca’s cutting out a picture of a deer and some rainbow trout. But Kelsey’s squeezing a glob of Elmer’s glue in the palm of her hand. She waits for it to dry a little bit and she peels up the edges so that it looks like dead skin. She squeezes another glob as I stand up to grab some more magazines to flip through. “10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . .” She spits in her palms as I’m sorting through the stack and starts rubbing her hands together. “ 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . “As I am looking down at some pages, she walks toward me, smacks her sticky hands on both of my cheeks, and starts giggling in my face like she’s going to get away with this. “3 . . . 2 . . . 1” I explode. It isn't my bladder this time. No. It's like the whole person I am in that instant comes rushing through me and I can't keep her in anymore. It's like a dam breaking under the pressure of the water it's supposed to hold back. Everything I’d restrained for so long came out in an uncontrollable burst.
Without thinking, I push her away by thrusting both of her shoulders down as hard as I can. My cheeks burn from how quickly her hands tear from my skin. She’s on the ground now, not sitting, but all laid out. Nobody says a word. I can feel my face turn hot as I stalk out of the room. I’m scared to call my mom to ask her pick me up, so I decide to leave on foot.
I start running home, full of energy and smiling. I’m not even afraid to talk about it by the time I arrive. The person I am is flowing freely. My voice, locked away for so long is suddenly there, pouring out of my mouth. "Mom, you will never believe what happened . . . I kinda got in a fight . . ." and I go on for a half and hour without taking a breath explaining everything. I'm surprised that my mom isn't mad. She justs listens carefully and hugs me when I'm finished. "I hope it doesn't happen again, but she probably deserved it," she says. And I feel so warm, so validated.
The next time I attend Sunday school, I just can’t stop talking and I'm drawing on my sacrament meeting program and showing everyone: "This is a picture of my mom, who's a little fat--this one with the poofy hair; this is a picture of my dad, who's really fat and he has a pocket protector 'cause he's a nerd; and this is my brother, who's medium fat, 'cause he hides cake under his pillow at night. . ."
The other kids are surprised, and laughing, but Kelsey is silent. The teacher seems surprised and lets me go on for a while, but finally interjects:
"Uh . . . Laura, we really need to get on with the lesson; and maybe your family wouldn't appreciate that very much."
It was so hard to stay quiet during the lesson that I had to concentrate on keeping my top and bottom lips touching in order to stay silent.
The funny thing is, around that time, my urinary tract infections dissipated. Just as I gradually gained control over my bladder, I lost control over my mouth. I basked in the liberation of saying anything, anywhere, anytime I wanted. But I kept blurting things out and getting myself in trouble.
With my mom: “Do you really like your hair all poofy like that?”
With my brother: “Your Tetris high score is seriously only 86?!”
With my math teacher at school: “Man, this class is so boring I’d rather be doing heavy labor.”
Just like with my explosive bladder, my explosive mouth caused a lot of “accidents”, only this time no adult would clean them up for me.