"The day I found courage"
"I wanted to die. I hoped the floor would just open up and swallow me."
I was ten years old, bookish, shy and smart. My teacher, Miss Hoare, was my idol. She taught English literature, my favourite subject and I was her favourite pupil. She liked to give surprise three minute quizzes and I aced those. I never missed one and that was my downfall as one day she announced a quiz and I had to pee. I knew that If I ran down the hall to pee I would miss the quiz and I just couldn't miss that quiz. I thought I could hold it, just for three minutes. Surely I could hold it. About half way through the quiz my bladder was bursting. I decided I would take a chance and just let a little bit out, to relieve the pressure and no one would notice. I let a little bit out and suddenly it was Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls in Miss Hoare's grade five class. Pens stopped moving, all eyes turned to me and I felt the hot shame of it all building, flowing up my face. I wanted to die. I hoped that the floor would just open and swallow me. I knew my life was over. Miss Hoare came towards me, took my quiz paper and my hand and gently said "Dorothy Anne, let's go down to the nurse's room". I followed her, listening to the titters and muffled laughter as I dripped my way to the doorway.
Miss Hoare took me to the nurse and quietly explained the situation. Then she knelt in front of me and said "I will send Mary down to you". Mary had been my best friend since grade three. We roller bladed, biked, hopscotched, had sleepovers, told secrets. I hung my head, unable to look up. Mary arrived a few moments later. "Oh, Dorothy Anne, it's so terrible. George Short had to clean up your pee and Bill Beamer had to help him". George was my minister's son who sat behind me and Bill was the boy I had a huge crush on who sat in front of me. "You can never come back to school again," Mary said with a kind of glee. "Your life is over". At that moment I decided our friendship was over. The nurse asked if I could walk home by myself and change. ".You can stay home for the afternoon if you like," she added.
"Of course" I said. I got up with as much dignity as I could manage, "Goodbye, Mary" I said, hoping she heard the ice in my voice. It was a typical Calgary winter day, damn cold and windy. During the three mile walk my skirt froze and stuck to my legs. I was oblivious of everything except the fact that my life was over. Mary was right. I would have to drop out of school in grade five. I started to pray to God, although I really didn't believe in him, that Mom would be home. But I knew she would likely be at work. Since our Dad drowned she had to work three jobs to keep her three daughters fed and clothed.
I arrived home, found the secret key, opened the door. "Mom, Mom" I shouted, startled by the desperate sound in my voice. "Mom, Mom". She wasn't home. I began to cry. Life sucks, I thought, life just sucks. I stripped off my clothes and found some dry ones, made some tomato soup and cried into that. Then I laid on the sofa and thought about my life. Was it really over, I thought. "I'm still smart" I thought. "There's only two months of school left for the kids to torment me. Maybe Mom could have me transferred to another school where they wouldn't know about the Niagara Falls incident. And Bill Harrison wasn't so great, he had no sense of rhythm and couldn't dance."
I knew I had an important decision to make. The nurse had said I could stay home if I wanted. I didn't have to go back to school today, but I knew if I didn't I might never want to go. I knew I had to go back now and face the smirks, and George and Bill, and Mary, my ex best friend. I got up, locked the house, hid the secret key and started walking back to school. After a few blocks I suddenly stopped. As though hit by a lightning bolt I had the powerful realization that I had courage. And I also knew with certainty that this courage would be with me all my life. I knew that I would never lose the courage that I found on that cold Calgary day on the way back to school. And I never have.