Inside my pink backpack rested a brand new pack of Fruit Stripes gum. I was eager to hand out the fragrant, fruity sticks to a select few classmates. The happy, little zebra printed on the packaging served as my little animal gum ambassador.

The morning I brought the gum to school, though, something was off. With the gum tucked into my locker, the fruity scent wafted into my nostrils every time I approached, causing my stomach to do flip flops.

After another nauseating trip to my locker, I lined up with the rest of the first graders in preparation for our next class. A little bit of vomit rose up in my throat and out of my mouth. Gravity took care of the rest, using my right shoe as the landing pad.

My face said it all. The student behind me took one look and alerted our teacher, who sent me straight to the nurse’s office.

While sitting on the vinyl-covered bed, holding a kidney-shaped bowl, the urge to throw up came back. The nurse was occupied, chatting away with another faculty member. Seeing as she was distracted, I went to the bathroom next door. It was in use. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting loose into the shallow, plastic bowl so I made a beeline for the girls’ bathroom, a good 30 seconds away.

illustration of girls bathroom, door closed, vomit oozing out of threshold, pack of striped gum to the right of the door

As I hurried to my destination, my body took over, causing me to vomit in the main corridor where the two major wings of the school intersected. The entrance to the girls’ bathroom was several feet away. Almost there. I made it to the doorway and threw up again, right on the threshold. A passing staff member immediately came to my aid. We stepped over the puddle and entered one of the stalls where I kept puking. Where it all came from, I did not know.

The staff member guided me back to the nurse’s office where I received a look of disapproval. I overheard the nurse asking the staff member why I didn’t just use the bathroom next to her office. I was too weak to tell her that it was occupied. I was also dehydrated from multiple barf sessions. I began to feel unsure of myself. To also have doubt cast upon me by the school nurse in my time of need felt further damning.

The Fruit Stripes gum was eventually revealed as the catalyst to my vomit spree. My first grade teacher went to my locker for me and extracted the gum for disposal. Even in the absence of the offensive gum, the odor persisted. We took out all of my saturated books and papers to help the smell further dissipate. The janitor gave my locker a good spray and wipe down, after which I was able to return some of my belongings.

For awhile afterwards, I replayed a particular moment in my mind: the look of disapproval from the nurse who didn’t believe me. I was a pretty sincere little kid and had no reason to lie or manipulate the situation. My honesty was put into question and this bothered me more than the fact that I got sick all over the school hallways. 


Mrs. Waltz wore sensible clothes and sensible shoes. She always had on a light-colored blouse with a conservative print, usually with a bow collar. Her skirts were mid-calf length in a muted tan or forest green. She wore nude nylons down to her practical, sturdy-heeled shoes, probably Clarks or some other brand that centered itself on practicality. Her hair was always tightly curled, suggesting that she slept in small curlers and a hair net. She likely had a diligent evening routine that involved setting her hair just so.

illustration of Mrs. Waltz with tight curly hair and a pair of sensible shoes

Mrs. Waltz’ personality was stern, but fair. She gave equal treatment to all of us in our second grade class. I didn’t get into any more trouble than any of the other kids.

There was one instance, though, where I found myself needing to go to the bathroom several times throughout the day. It was unusual, as I don’t remember ever having to go to the bathroom as frequently as I did that day. As an eight-year-old child, I was especially self-conscious about my personal business. I had to raise my hand, wait to be called upon and then ask Mrs. Waltz for a bathroom hall pass every single time.

After the third or fourth trip to the girls’ room, Mrs. Waltz asked me in front of the whole class why on earth I needed to go to the bathroom so often. But that was Mrs. Waltz. She was used to a certain bathroom cadence from the children in her classroom. When the pattern broke, she was going to notice. She was simply being sensible.