By Frances A. Garcia
In 1957, nine-year-old Paquita, living in the dusty border town of Laredo, Texas, lived the most embarrassing moment of her life.
She squirmed and tossed in bed, and her mother’s yelling startled her.
“Paquita, get up!”
“I’m sleepy, Mama.”
“OK. Don’t go to school. Grow up and work like a mule. Do you want to buss tables? Do you want to work in hot kitchens or clean toilets—collect urine in bedpans? Go ahead! Do what you want!”
At the mention of urine, Paquita squirmed, restless and worried that her mother would find out. She waited for just the right moment to jump out of bed as her mother swept their three-room house. She slipped into the back room, took off her wet clothes, burying them in the pile of dirty laundry in the basket, which was starting to smell. She would wash the clothes after school, before her mother returned from work.
Paquita, an exceptionally bright and independent child dreamt of the day and the hour she would grow up to help her mother. Her father had died, and they had to move out of their home and sell the car. She wiped away her tears, knowing her mother would worry that she missed him. She remembered the good life and how happy mama had been. But now, there was no money.
Pretending nothing was wrong she kissed her mother and ran off before she hugged her. If she got too close, she would know. She wandered through the streets of the few rich people that lived in town and enjoyed the fragrance of the blooming roses that masked her body odor. Suddenly, she heard the school bell ring. She was late! She ran through the streets into the musty old hallway of Barton Elementary School. She went to the office, got the late slip, and finally, out of breath, arrived at her classroom. Mrs. Galindo, her teacher, frowned.
“You’re late again.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Galindo. I overslept.”
“It’s the same story lately. I need to speak with your mother. Tell her to come see me. Go ahead. Take your seat.”
Paquita sat down between two of her classmates, Audrey and Sandra, who, moving their chairs side-way, turned away from her. Paquita pretended not to notice, but secretly yearned to be their friend. She grabbed her long black hair and gathered it in a pony tail with a rubber band from her desk.
Mrs. Galindo began the lesson. Paquita daydreamed of dolls and doll houses, which she saw at the Kress Store downtown. Her mother had gone to buy a sewing kit. She knew her mother could not afford toys for her, but she dreamed of them anyway.
“Paquita!” yelled Mrs. Galindo.
Startled, Paquita blushed.
“What is the answer?”
“I don’t know. I am sorry.”
“You’ll stay for recess.” Mrs. Galindo’s voice was stern.
Paquita, pleased that she did not have to mingle with her classmates, believed they did not like her. And besides, she thought, I didn’t even take a shower.
Mrs. Galindo lowered her tone and asked her, “Paquita, did you bathe today?”
“I didn’t have time. I couldn’t get up.”
“I must speak with your mother.”
“No, please, Mrs. Galindo. Don’t tell her. She will be very sad.”
“She needs to know, Paquita.”
When recess was over and the children gathered in the classroom, Paquita approached her teacher and lied to her. “Mrs. Galindo, my mother is working two jobs this week and can’t come.”
“Very well, Paquita. But you will tell her?”
Paquita sat at her desk and sighed. Her mother must not find out that she was in trouble with her teacher. She would think of something else to tell her teacher next week. Lately, she often lied. She pretended her father worked far away, and she bragged about living in a two-story house, like the one they lived in when he was alive.
Suddenly, Mrs. Galindo announced to the children, “I’m going to the office. Audrey, please monitor the class while I’m gone.”
“Yes, Mrs. Galindo.”
Everyone was quiet as Audrey took her seat at the teacher’s desk. When Mrs. Galindo was out of ear range, the chaos broke loose. The boys spit balls, and the girls chattered and giggled. Paquita did not stir. Her bladder blew up like a small balloon, and she raised her hand waving it wildly at Audrey. “Please! May I go to the restroom?” Her plea drowned in the commotion. “Please! Please!” No one heard. “I need to go! Please.”
Paquita felt her warm urine flow from her bladder, and she cried because she could not hold it. Some of her roommates quieted down. Then an embarrassed hush spread through the room. The only sound heard was Paquita’s urine dripping from the chair onto a pool on the floor and her sobbing.
“I told you! I needed to go!” she cried.
At that moment, Mrs. Galindo walked in and Audrey ran and told her what happened. The teacher took Paquita outside and asked, “Do you still need to go?”
She whimpered and shook her head. Mrs. Galindo took a chair from the classroom and asked her to wait. She also asked Paquita, “Where is your mother working right now?”
“She’s at the hospital.”
Mrs. Galindo patted her gently on her shoulder and went to the office. Paquita knew they would find her mother with only one hospital in town. Paquita cried and slouched in shame. Sick, tired, and very wet, she could hear her classmates whispering inside but no one laughed…no…no one laughed.
Mercedes came quickly.
“Mama, I’m sorry. I’ve been wetting myself. I can’t hold it.”
“Oh Paquita, you should have told me.” She took her daughter by the hand and they walked home in silence. Paquita thought her mother was angry, but when they arrived home, Mercedes took off Paquita’s wet clothes and bathed her. Paquita’s head hung low. Her mother spoke soft words, loving and kind, forgetting her anger. “I’m sorry I have been hard on you. You should always tell Mama if you are not feeling well.”
Her mother fed her some ground meat and beans with flour tortillas, but Paquita tearful and ashamed, could not eat. So she lay down in bed. Mercedes heated some olive oil and mixed in an herb tea. It turned into a gooey, thick blend. She then rubbed it around Paquita’s belly button and placed a warm damp towel over her stomach. Paquita heard her mother pray as she dozed off, and she felt her mother’s soft lips kiss her. She heard Mercedes lock the door as she left for her night job. Paquita drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, after sleeping well for the first time in weeks, she found herself dry. She flipped the towel off, kicked the sheet and jumped in the shower. She dressed and heated some refried beans and tortillas to make breakfast tacos for her mother. Mercedes walked in and smiled. Paquita ran and hugged her big dark brown body. They shared breakfast chatting and laughing. Paquita was so relieved that her mother was neither angry nor sad.
“Paquita,” she said. “If you are sick, I need to know.”
“I was worried Mama. Big girls don’t wet themselves.”
“Oh Paquita, this could happen even to me!”
“Mama, I feel better. It doesn’t hurt or feel full anymore. Now I’m ready. I’m going to try hard in school.”
“You are not ashamed, Paquita?”
“Yes, I am. But I need to go to school. I’ll make them forget how silly I’ve been. I’m going to be a good student and make friends.”
“I love you my Paquita.” Mercedes hugged her daughter, kissed her, and blessed her, and Paquita left early for school. Her mother’s words of love lingered in her mind. As she walked through the beautiful rose gardens, she planned the good things she would say to her teacher and classmates. After all, they did not laugh at her.