By Clint Edwards
After my Dad went to jail I started having anxiety related diarrhea. I was 14. Regularly being on the cusp of shitting myself was embarrassing, so I lied about it. I lived with my grandmother. She was in her mid 60s and stood five two with brown hair and a short round nose, traits she passed down to my father and then to me. I suppose what I am most ashamed of is that I lied mostly to her. I spent hours in the restroom, crouching, grunting, and sweating. I turned on the tub to hide the sound. When Grandma knocked and asked what I was doing, I told her I was taking a bath.
“Why do you take so many baths?” she once asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just like being clean.”
She probably assumed I was masturbating.
Lying about my diarrhea lead to compulsive, outlandish, lies. I told her the school gave me a scholarship to attend Space Camp, when really, I just wanted to spend the weekend with a friend. I wrecked my bike and came home with a black eye and scuffed knees. I told her a cougar attacked me next to the Provo River. I was full of shit, a fact that was confirmed regularly as I crouched over the toilet.
My lies came to a head during freshman P.E.. The class was playing softball on a far-off stretch of grass. I caught a ball and it knocked something loose. My stomach turned, and instantly, I needed a restroom. I dropped the ball and ran, but I couldn’t run the whole way, only in short bursts, slowing every dozen strides to flex my cheeks. I can only imagine what people thought of me. One moment my hands were waving franticly, my legs in a dead sprint. The next I stopped and walked while clenching my butt.
There were two restrooms. One was in the new wing. This restroom was clean and had a lilac air freshener. The other was in the old wing, across from the metal and wood shops. It smelled of grease, wood shavings, and urine. Several of the toilet seats were missing. Naturally, the latter was the closest.
Once in the building, I had to grab my butt and pinch it together. It worked. I was going to make it. Just before the restroom doors, my stomach calmed. I felt fine. I got greedy and headed for the cleaner restrooms.
Two steps later it happened. I lost it in my gym shorts, and found it in my socks.
I went back to the restroom and cleaned myself with toilet paper. The back of my shorts and the back of my socks where now a brownish black. But from the front, I looked normal.
I kept my back to the hall wall and headed to the payphone. Ahead was an open classroom door. If crossed, all the people in the room would’ve see my shitty pants. I imagined it. One kid would notice first and scream, Hey, that kid crapped his pants! And then the laughter would come with damning statements mingled in: He smells like a nursing home, He’ll never get laid now, and the worst coming from the attractive brunette in the front row, And I used to like you. I quickly crossed the hall. I was forced to do this half a dozen times before making it to the pay phone.
Once outside, I called Grandma. “I need you to pick me up.” I said. “Right now.”
She asked why, and I told her a nonsense story about a bomb at the high school. She paused, exhaled, and said, “Horse shit. Are you in trouble?”
I didn’t respond.
“Damn it,” she said. “You’re just like your father. Whenever he gets in trouble he tells some jackass story and I come running. I’m through. Is that what you want? To get locked up like your father? Cuz that’s where you’re headed.”
“I crapped my pants,” I said with sincerity, honesty, and fear.
“I don’t believe you,” she said. “You’re a grown boy.”
We went back and forth, her attempting to uncover the truth, and me repeating it in a forceful whisper, hopeful that it would sink in.
Eventually I said, “Please, please, please come. And bring a towel.” Perhaps it was the terror in my voice, or maybe it was that I asked for a towel, but she agreed.
I sat outside, my back against a brick wall, and waited. I smelled terrible. Time passed. I told a math instructor I was ill and waiting for a ride, I told the secretary that my house was on fire and I was waiting for a firefighter, and I told the truancy officer that my brother had an accident on a roller coaster. “A bolt came loose and busted him in the head,” I said. He wished me luck.
I was scanning the road when I saw Samantha Jones. I loved her. She enjoyed Metallica. Her glasses were thick with heavy brown frames that matched her hair. She was just the right mix of nerd and rebel. Sometimes she hugged me. At night, my imagination projected flickering films of Samantha onto the ceiling: Samantha ascending stairs, gracefully, naked, always naked.
I tried not to make eye contact, but she ran to me, and like an idiot, I stood so she could hug me. A hug from Samantha Jones was everything. I wanted to get excited by her soft body. I wanted to smell her hair and her perfume. But all I could smell was my shit. We separated and exchanged a glance. She knew. Her nose scrunched and she swatted it.
“What smells?” she said.
“I don’t smell anything.”
She leaned in and took a sniff. I waved my hand in front of her nose.
“You smell terrible. Did you shit yourself?”
I was a mix of anxiety, cold sweat, love, and lust. She smiled, grabbed my left shoulder, and attempted to turn me around.
“Let me see your butt.”
She peeked over one shoulder and then the other as I moved my hips from side to side. She asked what was on my socks.
“If you didn’t shit yourself than what smells like a turd?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You?”
A pathetic childish refute. Samantha’s narrowed eyes and rigid shoulders, the way her jaw moved from side to side seemed to say, you did shit yourself. And as she walked away, I knew she was going to tell everyone.
Grandma honked the horn. She leaned across the seat, opened the passenger door, and said, “Get in.”
I placed the towel across the seat and sat down. As we drove, Grandma rolled down the windows and told me I smelled rotten.
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,” she said.
Then she told me of a time when Dad was fourteen. He called home and told her some cock and bull story that she couldn’t recall. He said he needed a ride home. When she picked him up, he had a black eye.
“He’d been in a fight,” she said, “and he didn’t want anyone to know he’d lost. I didn’t want anyone to know he’d been in a fight. So I took him home and put makeup on his eye. I did it each morning until it healed.”
She didn’t say anything for a while. Once our house was within view she said, “I’ve been covering up his mistakes for some time. Trying to believe his lies. Maybe that’s why he’s locked up.” We parked and Grandma looked at me. “People are smarter than you think,” she said. “Telling lies will catch up with you.” Then she looked at my shorts. “Go take a bath,” Grandma said. “I’ll wash your shorts.”
Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. His writing has appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Blue Earth Review, The MacGuffin, North Dakota Quarterly, Post Road, Redivider, Yemassee, and elsewhere. “Poop Story” in an excerpt from his memoir in progress. Check out his blog here.