Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Some are real, genuine events of global proportions and some are more personal or intimate by nature. Most of my disasters have been created by my own hand but occasionally, I have faced very personal moments of crises that perhaps to the outsider or indeed in hindsight seem relatively trifling. My earliest memory of such a catastrophic event goes back to when I was six years old. I’ll let you judge for yourself the scale of the cataclysm.
Often when you look back so far it can be hard to pinpoint your exact age or other details but for me this one is easy for it happened in Ms O’Sullivan’s class when I was six years old. I began school with my very first teacher at the age of five and I was carefully nurtured to become a fan of the schooling system for as long as I was under her care and tutelage. After her came the Christian Brothers, so my honeymoon didn’t last long and I would soon enough be disillusioned. That being said I pretty much loved my teacher, who was surrogate mother to thirty plus boys for six hours every day.
People always remember their past with a certain rose coloured hue and perhaps I am no different. One thing for sure is that times were certainly different back then. By the age of six, we were seen to be capable of much more independent function than our counterparts of today. It was a good three quarters of a mile to my house from school and I had to cross one major road and two minor roads to get to my house. My loving mother brought me to school every day and collected me after school, but I knew the route by heart.
The day of my disaster started normally with no hint of what was to come. By mid-morning everything fell apart. I had cramps in my stomach and had to go to the bathroom to vomit. The solution back in my day was not to call my mother. We didn’t have a telephone in our house. No one on our street had a telephone. When we eventually ordered our first telephone for the house many years later, we went on a two year waiting list. Ah God be with the days when technology consisted of a wireless radio and a black and white television set with one channel.
So rather than have a six year old explode across the classroom for the rest of the day, the only answer was to send me home. The problem with that of course was that there were quite literally no spare staff members to escort me, so the answer was to find a boy who lived near me and he could escort me home. That boy was Paul and without further ado we set off home.
I made it out the gate when my tiny little tummy told me I was going to need a toilet very soon. I told Paul and we hastened our pace. It was a race to the roundabout by the church and we crossed the main road without being killed, at which point I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and told him we’d have to cut through the grounds of the church. I began to suspect that I would be evacuating my bowels very much against my will at any moment. I didn’t want to be on the main road where that to happen.
I half ran, half shuffled through the grounds of the church, the now pressing matter of clenching the tiny little cheeks of my little bottom together becoming a matter of near crises management. The rest of the route home could be largely made by a detour along the service road at the back of a row of shops that would see me home save for the last two hundred yards.
I walked knock-kneed along the empty lane with Paul threatening to abandon me if I fell afoul of my bodily imperative. With only fifty feet to go I was clutching my bottom and I actually began to cry with the pain. I daren’t pull my little green shorts down and empty my bowel in the laneway! Even at that very young age, my mother had drilled a level of propriety into me that I simply couldn’t bring myself to poo in public, no matter how dire my need.
But much to my absolute horror, nature beat me down. In an explosion of shame, I oozed forth and the fact that I was wearing shorts meant I could not conceal my vile emissions from the world. I felt no relief. It was horrific. What spilled forth and emerged from the leg of my shorts could not have been worse. I was stunned by my own shame and embarrassment. Paul didn’t hesitate. He abandoned me and ran off, leaving me in a state of shock. I could neither go forward nor back. If I walked fifty more feet I just had to turn left walk a few yards to the main road and go around the corner to my house. I could be there in three minutes.
The problem was that the street would be full of people and they would see what a dirty little boy I was. I don’t know how long I stood there but it felt like a very long time indeed. A lump came to my throat and my eyes welled up. I wanted to cry. I wanted my Mam. I needed to be rescued or for the ground to swallow me up and at six years of age, I had no mechanism to cope with the trauma that had befallen me.
Eventually, I acted out of need if nothing else. I had no choice but to make the walk of shame home so I stepped from the lane and walked around the corner. To my relief, there was no one around. I could see the main road and I quickened my step. There were people everywhere up ahead and I tried ever so hard to hold back the tears. It was bad enough that I would have to display my shame without adding to it with tears like a baby.
Then a miracle happened. Just as I stepped into the flow of people on the main street, my mother appeared as if sent from God to answer my prayers. She was as shocked to see me,as I her and I ran to her instinctively. The tears I had supressed burst from me in an explosion of six year old babbling and I ran to her open arms. She reached down and caught me as I jumped into her arms, my rescuer, my darling saviour, my mother. I was her little prince and she had saved me.
She looked at me in disbelief and didn’t say a word. It took only a moment for her to register the foul smell and feel of what had happened, as the unpleasantness settled on her arm and she turned and spun around to get me home. I clung to her, the relief enormous and sobbed into her shoulder. My shame transferred to broader more capable shoulders, I was able to finally relax and let my mother shoulder the burden…
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Larry Flynn Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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