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Stephenson, Hallie, Can You Hold It


Hallie Stephenson
Age: 18, Grade: 12

School Name: Poly Prep Country Day School-Uppr, Brooklyn, NY
Educator: Christy Hutchcraft

Category: Personal Essay & Memoir

Can You Hold It

         When I was around nine or ten, I would bring an extra change of clothes with me just in case it happened. A weak bladder, my mom would say. Don’t forget to pack your extra pants. 

        It happened for the first time that I can remember in Disneyland. I was six years old and sister Fiona was around four. Melissa, our nanny and best friend in the whole world, came along for the trip to help my parents take care of all four of us. We were coming back to the Grand Floridian after a night of pure bliss and revelry at the Magic Castle, when I burst out laughing at the sight of a bald man trying to pick up his small child. It’s like an egg chasing a chicken! I thought. And soon enough, we were all hysterically laughing at almost nothing at all. Without ever being invited to the party, it happened. My pants were completely drenched. I laughed it off, and soon we were in the elevator with sunbathed women wearing white lingerie as they were turning in for a night of rest. I held a newspaper in front of my body, exclaiming Oh, the pool is so wet! My, the pool is so wet, isn’t it Fiona? The ladies in the elevator laughed and we told our parents about the whole adventure when we reached our room. 
        I was eight and at the playground with two girls my age. They were both taller and bigger than me, their silhouettes monstrous next to my frame, shriveled and small. 

    “Don’t make her laugh!”
    “Why not?”
    “Because she’ll pee! She can’t help it!”
    “So what? It’s funny.”
    “That’s mean.”
    “Who cares? Let’s do it.”
    “Are you sure?”

     Becca and Scout scrunched up their faces and made pig noises at me and I couldn’t stop it from happening. In seconds my pants were soaked, my best jeans mom had bought me and that Grandmother had embroidered little white jasmines and camellias onto the waistline. My shoulders shook and heaved against my own breath, my legs were aching from trying to close them together so hard, and my laugh was like a baby elephant’s pained cries when injured. 

     Once I had stopped laughing, the girls both looked at each other in the eyes and giggled, snorting and hissing with their tongues out. They looked down at where the stain was on my pants and their lips curled. Immediately I felt the sting of tears readying themselves behind my forehead and the glazed feel of wetness on my eyes. I looked down at my pants and saw that they were completely soaked down to my mid thigh, where the color of the blue jeans was deeper and darker. It felt cold, sticky and horrible. I squeezed my legs together desperately to no avail. I scolded myself silently and pulled my sweater from my arms and wrapped it around my waist. The cool air hit my shoulders and I wished I’d brought another one like my mom had told me to. The girls had stopped laughing and walked closer to me, putting their arms around my shoulders and grinning. We walked home together after that. Now looking back I can’t understand why I stayed friends with those girls, but then I suppose that at the time they were all I knew.

       Grandaddy said it was a shame that my laughter came with a price. Science says that daytime wetting happens in about 4% of healthy children. All types of involuntary urine loss, regardless of the amount, can be referred to as urinary incontinence. Urine leakage is usually caused by a sudden increase in abdominal pressure, including but not limited to exercise or coughing. Stress urinary incontinence causes urine to leave the body without it meaning to, as a result of the bladder outlet being weaker than normal. Sometimes it can be controlled after a little while, but in other cases the bladder can empty entirely. Most regularly the cases appear in children 4-9, but can also progress into adolescence, through puberty and into adulthood.

        A year later, we went to the fair in Southampton, the one with the big rainbow slide made out of plastic that shook and bent with the weight of the little kids. A large cutout of a smiling cow was lit up with bright white lanterns. I held onto the sleeve of my dad’s jacket like I always did, my arm following wherever he went like I was his own personal growth of fungi. Fiona was being dragged on the other side, her head of dark blonde rising and falling to the beat of dad’s steps. His hair stuck up like prickly thorns if they were soft and fluffy. My mom was walking nearby, her stout form and deep brown hair a silhouette holding the hands of my two little brothers. Their legs were little walking sticks, heavy from drinking a bit too much soda, both Frank and Beau walking unsteadily as if already tired before we had even arrived. But not me. I was awake. I was ready for anything. Full belly, full smile, full bladder. 

        We decided to try the flying swings, so I removed my flip-flops so they wouldn’t fall off while my feet were soaring in the air. As if on cue, Fiona decided she was hungry, and the boys were too small, so mom decided that I could go on myself. So I strode up to the line, my tiny arms and tiny legs the size of the limbs of bugs and my blue shirt embroidered with the Star Trek symbol hanging loose off my frame. It took a little while, but I managed to boost myself onto the seat. Granted, it required manipulating the force of gravity a little and a boost from a park worker, but I did it. 

       The ride started, and soon we were ascending towards the sky and my toes were little fish sticks against the far away surface of the park and the tops of my family’s heads. A boy, I thought about a year older than me at the time, maybe nine, reached out his hand towards me. He wore red overalls and a blue baseball cap that must have been glued to his head because it would certainly have fallen off otherwise. I thought about reaching my hand back. And with those red overalls looking like they hadn’t been washed in weeks and that dreamy, dusty blue baseball cap stuck on backwards, I couldn’t refuse. So I reached my hand over to him and tried to make our fingertips touch. Eventually they did and he smiled at me with all his teeth. 

    Once we got off the ride the boy went over to his mother and took a stuffed blue dog from her. He walked over to me said here and gave it to me. He asked me if I had been scared and I said no. Then he looked a bit sad and I didn’t know why. He walked away and I could see that he had peed right through his red overalls. After that I felt a little bit better. I asked mom if other kids have accidents a lot like I did, and she said that yes, they did. I wondered whether or not the boy ever brought extra pants. I kept the blue dog. 

    I was no stranger to wetting the bed either. I would wake up with all of the sheets completely deluged as if someone had thrown my mattress in a lake while I was sleeping and then put it back without me noticing. Bedwetting, nighttime incontinence or nocturnal enuresis, consists of involuntary urination while asleep after the age of which keeping the bed dry could be expected. Bedwetting is common and nothing to worry about before the age of seven, after which it becomes a bit of a concern. Some factors that might play a part include a small bladder, a hormonal imbalance or the inability to understand when a bladder is full. However, other more serious causes may include a family history of bedwetting, ADHD or anxiety.  The correlation between stress and bedwetting usually involves low self-esteem, irrational fears or other related issues. 

    The days when I had recurring nightmares would be the worst. There were two that I can remember, both equally horrifying. I would be sitting on a swing set in the desert, with my dad and my two little brothers beside me. My dad would say, “time to go now” and they start walking away. I tell him, “coming!” and start walking, but I cannot catch up. I scream and run as fast as I can, but they never turn around. In another dream I would be sleeping in my parent’s bed between two bengal tigers, and then a hunter would come in through the window and shoot them both with his gun in their heads. Both times, I would wake up with my bed soaking. After either of these nightmares, I would be unable to wake up without having wet the bed. 

        Every time someone came over to my house or if I went to theirs, it usually ended in disaster. I remember going to a sleepover with three other girls and waking up with my side of the bed wet. Ally, the girl next to me was still sleeping. I came up with a master plan. I would rise from the bed, skirt around the other girls sleeping on the floor, get to the bathroom一 and blow dry it away. But upon reaching the cool tiles of her bathroom I revaluated my strategy. Instead I crawled down to her kitchen, opened the fridge and grabbed as many apple juices I could find. I do not remember exactly how I got out of that one, but I do remember three quizzical faces and drinking a whole lot of apple juice. 

      My parents never took me to see a doctor about it, because we just assumed that it would go away eventually. And then one day, it did. When I was almost reaching my tenth birthday, all of it stopped. No more accidents, no more incidents or embarrassments. I had more clean pants than I knew what to do with. When we brought it up, doctors said it might have been a mix of psychological and physical problems, something that had miraculously sorted itself out. But looking back on it, I think it was me who made the decision for it to stop. I think of that first day of a dry laugh was ten-year-old-me letting go of the past. I think that it was the first time that I realized that I did not have to think so much and wasn’t a slave to my own fears一that beds were for sleeping and laughing was for me一and that I could pee or not pee, whenever I wanted.