Halloween is upon us. How I love Halloween. Halloween is especially great when you’re in elementary school in the early nineties. Parading through classrooms as a pirate, pumpkin contests in the media center, partying with candy and games while that one kid stands alone in the hall, and of course, the most fulfilling busy work art projects of the year.
It was second grade. We were all tasked at creating a jack-o-lantern of crumpled orange construction paper on a black construction paper background with yellow construction paper features and green embellishments: construction paper. I have never used as much construction paper in my whole life as I did in elementary school. Nobody has. I bet the industry would cave in if not for projects such as this.
School was winding down. Lunch had passed, math, social studies; we were in the remainder of the day. Where busy work lives. The whole class was tearing off little bits of orange paper, shaping them around the end of a pencil, and gluing them to their black paper sky. As many had done, to keep my desk clear for the task at hand, I had placed my sheets of orange paper on my seat. Tearing the bits from between my legs and applying them as described. As the minutes passed, and the time moved slowly toward the end of the day, I heard a faint call. It was nature.
No big deal, school would be out soon and I would be able to relieve myself. As I sat tearing and crumpling orange paper over my pencil, the call turned into a yell. Clearly, waiting until the bell was no longer an option. I raised my hand. Almost immediately, I realized that the teacher had left the room. It was the nineties, and teachers were allowed to leave a class full of students unattended for extended lengths of time. In an effort to drive this fact home, my fellow classmates also informed me of the teachers’ obvious absence. My body panicked. The yell in my bladder turned quickly to a scream. Like the phenomena in which the human body amps the urge into overdrive as soon as home is in sight. Only home wasn’t in sight. Not even close. In a foolish effort, I raised my hand even higher. I frantically threw up my left arm, creating a figure four, holding up my right. Whether it showed or not, I was in a sheer panic. My peers continued to inform me that the teacher was gone. A fact I well knew yet was apparently unable to comprehend in my predicament. I only had one thing on my mind. I fought and squirmed. Hand firmly in the air. And I lost the war. The screaming from my bladder faded as warm urine filled my desk chair. I slowly lowered my hand.
Moments later the teacher walked back in the door. If my classmates took the time to let me know of her return, I didn’t hear it. I was in a daze. I sat silently and stared into nothing. When the bell rang, I slowly stood up, making sure that nobody was watching. I looked down, contemplating what I would do to clean the inevitable puddle on my seat. Nothing. The orange construction paper that I had been sitting on had absorbed what my pants hadn’t. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I told no one, stuffed the wet orange papers into my desk, and escaped.
A few days after the incident I completed my pumpkin masterpiece. Soon after placing it on her desk, the teacher called me back. She informed me that, while my pumpkin was very good, if I were to move some of the darker orange pieces to spread them out it would look more balanced. The darker orange pieces, she said. It may have been in my own head, but I would have sworn there was something behind her voice when she used those words. She could just as well have said, “Move around those stinky urine ones. At least make it pretty. By the way, I know what you did.” I did as she asked, and for the rest of the season, my pumpkin was prominently on display in the halls of Hugo Elementary. The only one with mysterious dark orange pieces in perfect balance with the light. I never brought the project home. It was a great Halloween.