This week I got in touch with an old friend. Our parents were friends and then we went all the way through high school together. Then, we ended up in graduate school three thousand miles from home together after college.
Over the last ten years, we’ve lost touch with each other but recently Jesse and I reconnected via email and text. Yesterday I tried calling her and left a long message. Later in the day I got a text trying to schedule a time to talk. She wrote, “When I heard your voice I almost cried realizing how much I’ve missed you.”
Last night as I was thinking about her, a memory of first grade came into my mind. That was the year my parents were getting separated and I had a mean teacher. Mrs. Kuber had red hair, a sharp nose (I swear it had a mole on it), and always wore navy blue. I was scared of her strictness.
My friend Jesse and I shared a four-top with two boys- Simon and a boy I don’t remember. Simon was translucent pale with steel-gray eyes and a bowl cut. He was always the last kid picked in gym. One afternoon towards the end of the school day Mrs. Kuber told us we’d be getting popsicles. I had to pee and didn’t want to spoil her good mood by interrupting her so I decided to try and hold it.
The minutes ticked like hours as we waited for the student teacher to bring the popsicles from the teacher’s lounge in the big building across the playground. My bladder was throbbing and the moment when I might have salvaged my integrity passed. I let go and peed in my chair.
Eventually, Mrs. Kuber noticed. She walked over to our table and asked who’d had an accident. With lightning speed, before anyone could say anything different, I shot my arm across the table and pointed to Simon. Mrs. Kuber stood patiently, waiting for me to cop to my accident.
I stood my ground. I would say nothing and this would pass. My friend Jesse was nervously sitting beside me, my partner in crime, not saying what she and everyone else knew. After a minute of waiting Jesse turned on her chair and looked at me, “Laura, are you sure it wasn’t you?” I remember how gently she asked, how sweetly, how earnestly. I felt like she might have actually believed that, despite the puddle slowly expanding towards her shoes, it wasn't me who peed in my chair.
I’ll never forget that moment. It was a microsecond of believing I could actually change history. By asking that question she was inviting the possibility that maybe it wasn’t me. I seized the moment. “Yes, I’m sure,” I said, “I had to go, but I held my breath.”
I’d recently learned that holding one’s breath could stop hiccups but I’d confused it with holding pee. No one believed me. The jig was up. The gigantic pool of pee under my chair gave me away and Simon was acquitted. I had no choice but to confess to my crime.
I don’t remember a popsicle or anything else about that day. But what is etched in my memory is the moment when Jesse offered me a tiny window of kindness that gave me hope. That question, “Laura, are you sure it wasn’t you?” gave me a way to step out of the shame I was swimming in for just a moment.
Jesse was always kind. I’m sure she’d given that gift she gave me that day to hundreds of people along the road of her life. When I think about that moment of grace Jesse gave me almost half a century ago, I realize how much I’ve missed her too.