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December 22, 2014 | Nonfiction

I Was Nine

Steve Anwyll

I Was Nine photo

The year I started school was too much for me. My father had just married a woman I had no recollection of ever seeing around the house. A stranger.

I felt nothing for her; made no effort; withdrew. Treated her like a stranger.

My own mother had died. Six months after I was born. No one ever talked about it. And we all became strangers to one another. Separated by age. And sadness.

And up until this point, my father, grandmother and older sister and I all lived in a rundown house. Part of a collection in the middle of nowhere, rural Ontario.

We had a large pond. The neighbors had horses; farmed tobacco. There was a forest; lots of room to roam, to run around; wild animals.

I liked it.

My new stepmother worked in the closest village. She was a bank teller. Back before that was a machine. But she had no driver’s license. So we had to move.

Which probably overwhelmed me.

I started pissing and shitting myself regularly. I'd get wrapped up in something, drawing a picture. Reading a book. Then I couldn’t let myself get up.

It was preferable to sit in hot shit, have it smear out the leg holes of my underwear, to finish the chapter. Then to have to wait.

One time I was sitting near a row of bushes along the side of the house playing with some toys. Immersed in what I was doing. And a thick river of shit flowed from my asshole.

I barely noticed.

The neighbors’ son Kevin came by, asked if I wanted to play catch. I told him I couldn’t, that I was busy.

He didn't buy it. I'd been sitting long enough for flies to gather. Crawl in and out of my shorts. I absently swatted at them

'What's the smell?' he asked.

I told him I thought there was a dead animal in the bushes. He left without saying goodbye.

And this was not the kind of behavior my stepmother had bargained for. It would throw her into a rage. Which wasn't hard.

Even now, when I think about her, all I see is a red face, mouth open, snarling. 

At the top of her lungs she'd demand a reason.

I'd look up at her, emotionless, and tell her I had no idea.

And later, in the bathroom, scrubbing the impossible brown stain out of my underwear I'd wonder, Will she ever lose her voice?

Her family was always over, a seemingly endless parade of brothers and sisters with their own damn children. I wasn't used to this. Everything about them confused me.

It was like they knew the steps to a dance I'd never been taught.

I couldn't wait to be alone again.  

Because out in the country not many people visited. There weren't any other kids around. Most of my time was spent with my grandmother. Or an old dog. Or alone.

Friendship wasn't a word or a concept that I knew.

But now I was expected to play with other kids. Interact with adults. Ones I wanted nothing to do with.

I was afraid. To me they were nothing more than voices. Shadows. Two dimensional characters. Like the things I saw on television.

Which was a realization that if I just concentrated, I could block them all out; which was just as good as turning them off.

And when school started, it was the same shit: A room full of strangers I ignored. I retreated into the safety of my brain.

Which probably came off as snobby. But it was just too much to wrap my brain around.

So as other kids paired off, formed groups and played games together, I'd keep to myself and my books and my drawing.

I remember once. Standing on the playground by myself and looking out across it. Thinking that I was an alien. Sent here to observe.

Which came as a great relief.

But I didn't notice that I was missing out; that friendships were being formed that would determined the next eight years: who would bully or be bullied.

I was stuck with these kids until we got old enough to be shipped off to the next biggest town for high school and were given another chance to fit in or do the best we could.

But for now it was too late. I was beginning to be labeled as ‘weird’. There was no coming back.

So at school I was uncomfortable. And when I got home things weren't any better.

This new woman, there was a wall between us. I'm not sure if I ever gave her a chance.

My old man wasn't around much. He favored working the afternoon shift at the Ford plant a few towns over. Slept in the mornings. Got home after I went to bed. A loner.

He was more of a rumor of a man than a being.

My older sister was just that: older by about nine years. She had a job, a boyfriend, a big tough muscle car. A life of her own.

I had a bond with my father's mother. She replaced my own. I looked forward to seeing her. She was my world. I could come home to her and things would be alright.

But my stepmother didn't like our closeness, so it didn't last.

After my second year of school she convinced my old man that it was better if my grandmother moved in with his brother a few cities away. I was told it was for the best.

I made it through kindergarten pretty easily. It was only every other day. There was a bathroom right in class, and almost every kid there had some emergency pants tucked away in a storage hole.

My behavior wasn't abnormal. Yet. I still had some time to pull it together.

But in first grade I sunk myself.

We were there to learn. Sit in our desks. Behave. It was time to be mature. No more fucking around. Grow up.

There was to be no more pissing and shitting myself. My stepmother tried to reinforce this. She'd ask/threaten me if I wanted to wear diapers like a baby; if I wanted to suffer that humiliation.

Of course, I didn't. I'd look up at her like she was an idiot. It sounded terrible. I told her things would be different this year.

But I didn't make it until the end of the first week.

It was the middle of class. I was in pain. I'd waited too long. I raised my hand and asked to leave. When the teacher said yes I ran out the class.

But I had no idea where I was going. I was lost. My vision blurred. The walls and floors lost solidity. All I could do was wander aimlessly. In a fit.

By the time I found my way back to class there were tears in my eyes and piss in my pants.

After one kid started laughing, they all did. The teacher got me out of there into the front office, where I waited for an unemployed brother of my stepmother to bring me something to wear.

When he showed up I could tell he didn’t think much of me.

And I started to feel the same way.

One day after class the teacher asked me to stay behind. She had a question for me. Why didn't I have any friends?

I looked up at her, confused. I didn't know that it was important. All I could do was shrug my shoulders. And tell her I had no idea. I hadn't thought about it.

She excused me from class

As I was leaving, there was another kid where we kept our jackets. He said he heard what the teacher said. He offered to be my friend.

I scrunched up my face, unsure of what was going on. I told him it was all right. I was fine. His empathy scared me.

I looked at him. there was no way I could hide how this troubled me. my brain was racing. Trying to figure out why? What drove him to say this? And why were his eyes so watery?

I grabbed my little jacket and walked away.

A couple years later I took him up on his offer. After we'd both been cast out, ignored. He made a bad time bearable.   

I got lucky. The pants pissing incident went over pretty quickly. The school suffered a tragedy.  

A beloved kindergarten teacher, on her way to work one morning, drove headfirst into a big yellow school bus.

Full of the kids she taught.

At the time. All Ontario public schools were still steeped in religion.

We recited the Lord's Prayer after the national anthem every morning. And each week a woman came to the school. Used felted puppets to teach us the stories of The Bible.

There was never any of a god at home. So these tales of a bearded man who lived in the clouds came to me like fiction

Even so. I had to thank this man in the sky. He gave me back my peace.

I didn’t buy into it, but I thanked this strange bearded man who lived in space for taking away this woman and giving me back my solitude.

For a couple of months. Until I couldn't keep it together again.

The class was in the library. We were being lectured on something. I had to piss more than anything. But the librarian was strict. And had no sympathy for full bladders.

I gave up on listening to her or acknowledging the existence of the world around me. It took everything I had to keep from pissing all over the place.

And I was doing good, only another five minutes. Then the bell would ring. And the old bitch couldn't keep me here any longer.

I had it made.

Until she did the worst. Called me up front. To assist in some boring lesson.

I begged her no. She took it as shyness. And dragged me to stand beside her.

From where we were standing I could see the boys’ room just across the hall. I couldn’t take it. And before I knew it, everyone was laughing at me.

I’d sealed my coffin.

From here on in I was labeled a pants pisser and a crier. The boys started to beat me up and the girls encouraged them.

I learned to ignore the world even more, retracted into books. And drawing. Did my best to become invisible.

And it worked, as good as I could hope, for the next couple of years.

Because I pulled back from society. And concentrated. I got better at drawing. Something the other's could be jealous of, so they eased off.

Still, the only people who'd play with me were a couple of older outcasts. They were softly retarded in the way a child is when they've suffered a mild electrocution. Or have been kicked in the head too hard.

They both thought they were transformers. Or pro-wrestlers. Depending on the day. When they came over, my folks gave them weird looks and made fun of them after they left. 

These two didn’t last because of their age. They graduated six years earlier than I did.

I shuffled through hanging around some of the other losers in the village. We usually gave up on each other pretty quickly.

For the most part. I was ignored. I was happy.

But in grade four it took a turn for the worse.

I had a cousin through my stepmother. We were in the same class. He was cooler. I think he was forced to hang around me.

He elevated me from the bottom rungs.

His mother was taking him and his younger brothers to Disney World She asked if I could come along. My parents agreed.

She drove us there. It took three days. It was the best thing that happened to me since my grandmother moved out. It was the first time I was really happy. I felt free from the horrors of school.

And all the yelling at home.

On the drive back though, I made a grave error.

Since my grandmother moved out I gave up asking for even the simplest luxuries. Because every time I did, I got an earful.

So while we were driving back, through North Carolina, I had to shit. I knew it was going to be bad, but I was too afraid to ask to stop.

Even though I knew my cousins’ mother would stop for me. She was kind.

But I just couldn’t do it. And as each gas station passed, I begged the cosmos that we'd stop. But we didn't. And I couldn’t hold it any longer.

The rest of the ride home my aunt made me sit on a garbage bag, alone in the back seat.

My cousins all kept their distance.

I wanted to jump out the door of their speeding van. But I didn't have the guts. I hung my head in silence the rest of the ride home.

Which is where things got worse.

Of course my parents were told. My father barely looked at me. My stepmother launched into a fit, more concerned about her own embarrassment than anything else.

I lost all privileges.

At school, by the end of the first day back, everyone knew what I'd done. Not just the kids in my grade. But across the board. Older and younger. Now they all had something on me.

This was the beginning of the worst year of my life.

I was nine.

image: Tammy Mercure


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