When I was 16, three months from my 17th birthday, I was writing my final exams for 10th grade. I’d lost a grade at school due to failing 10th grade the previous year, which is a long story in itself but back in those days failing and falling behind in school was much more commonplace than now I think. Anyway, I had two exams left to write, once of which was science and the other math. I had to pass both to make it through to 11th grade and was therefore very nervous, made worse by the fact that my parents were putting a lot of pressure on me. I was already going to school with kids who were younger than I was and my parents kept reminding me that I didn’t want to be a “two time failure.”
So, the exam was on a Tuesday morning, as I recall. The previous day I’d written my history final and got through that okay and felt I’d done fairly well. But I wasn’t good at science and so tried to avoid it, but ended up cramming the night before the exam on botany, biology and chemistry. The teacher had a reputation for setting hard exams so I was particularly concerned as the final exam was worth 50 percent of the course mark and I went into it with about 27 or 28 out of the remaining 50 percent, which was based on course work and tests. I studied until about 1 am before finally deciding I should go to bed or I’d be too tired in the morning. Like all teenagers, I was still growing at the age and usually functioned on about 9 hours of sleep. My alarm clock in fact went off at the prescribed time of about 7 am but I must have shut it off and didn’t wake up again until my mother called me about and hour later, telling me I’d be late for my exam if I didn’t hurry up. Knowing the exam was at 9 am, I jumped out of bed, took a quick shower, put on my jeans, shirt, socks and shoes and headed downstairs, pouring and drinking a large glass of orange juice from the fridge before heading out to school with about 15 minutes to spare before the start of the exam.
I barely made it to school, rushing into the gymnasium just as the proctors were getting ready to close the doors. I briefly thought on the way in the door that I should have gone to the bathroom but figured that my exam was only a couple hours long so it shouldn’t be a big issue. I attended a large high school with about 1,500 students and final exams were always held in the main gymnasium, where the seats and desks, which were taken out of classrooms, were arranged in neat rows and 300 to 400 students wrote exams at a single time. I quickly sought out the row assigned to my science class, finding a seat about halfway down the row. On both sides of me were rows assigned to students writing exams for senior class subjects.
Once we were all seated, one of the proctors read out the rules, noting that we’d have to put up our hand and be accompanied by a proctor if we had to leave the auditorium for any reason, and, further, that we couldn’t leave the room on our own until the end of our allotted exam period. Exams for 10th grade subjects were almost always set for 2 hours long, while more senior years often had longer exams. I settled into my seat, nervously, waiting for the exam papers to be handed out. When we were told we could open our exam papers and commence I noticed that the exam was mostly in written answer format at the beginning and then multiple choice for the latter part. Anyway, I started on the written questions and moved on to the multiple choice questions about an hour into the exam. About that time I started regretting ignoring my bladder’s message on the way in telling me that I needed to go to the bathroom. I started shifting back and forth in my seat, telling myself mentally that there was only an hour to go and it was no big deal. With about three-quarters of an hour left, though, it started becoming a bigger deal.
I hadn’t wet my pants at school since 7th grade and, before that, since 5th grade, and those were pretty humiliating episodes that remained etched in my mind. When I was younger I was “pee shy” an affliction I got over only when showering after gym class in 9th grade when I came to realize I was as well-endowed as most guys, and better than a lot of them. But to return to the story, as the pressure in my bladder grew, I eventually figured that I had only one choice and that was to get the attention of the proctor who was watching over my side of the gymnasium, an older male PE teacher who quickly came and stood beside my desk once he noticed that my hand was in the air. Without asking me what I needed, he was quickly distracted by another proctor a few rows over and said he’d get back to me in a few minutes after attending to another issue. From what could be heard and seen, it sounded like they’d caught somebody cheating, and as I watched from the corner of my eye it appeared the proctor covering my side of the room had been asked to accompany the cheating student to the school office.
By then, I was becoming increasingly more desperate. I waited in vain for the proctor to reappear but there was no sign of him. I gingerly put up my right hand a couple of times, trying to get the attention of one of the other proctors, but none was near my row and it didn’t appear they were paying any attention to my area of the gymnasium at all. In fact, mostly they seemed to be talking, probably about the cheating incident. Privately, I was whispering under my breath, ‘c’mon, I gotta pee here real bad’ but to no avail. The pressure in my bladder grew stronger by the moment and I started to get a kind of light-headed feeling, probably caused by an increase in endorphins, as my desperation increased. In my mind, I started making mental calculations about my options. I knew I couldn’t make it to the end of the exam period so basically my choices were to piss my pants or flee the exam room without permission, the first of which would surely be humiliating and the second of which would nullify my exam causing me to fail. In those days we used the expression that our back teeth were floating when experiencing a full bladder and I felt increasingly as time passed that this was literally true.
I worked through some more of the multiple choice questions, marking them off with the pen in my right hand while I held my crotch with my left hand, trying not to be too conspicuous. I wasn’t sure I was answering any of the questions correctly, but my brain had stopped focusing in any case. Instead, it was focused on only one thing, which was my painful and desperate bladder. At one point I had an almost overwhelming urge to scrawl ‘I’m going to piss my pants’ on the exam form as if in the form of an explanation for what would probably occur but I was able to resist. I soon thought that if I just let out a little pee maybe I could control the rest and nobody would notice, but I was reluctant to release my bladder at all out of fear that I’d completely lose control. Finally, my body felt strangely warm and my brain seemed to no into neutral as nature took its course and I felt my pee starting to flow into my jockeys. At once, I felt both relief and then, quickly, panic. I moved myself toward the front of my chair, hoping to ensure that the pee would run down my legs and not pool under my rear end, or worse, start flowing off the back of my seat like a waterfall. What if others heard my urine pouring onto the floor? I’d be a laughing stock, pegged forever as the boy who peed his pants during final exams. But no matter my attempts at control, my pee flowed heavily and distinctly warmly into my pants and down my pant legs, quickly forming a puddle on the floor at my feet, of which I became increasingly aware.
I had tried flexing my bladder muscles to limit the extent of the accident, but to no avail. I was never very good at bladder control anyway, and it was a skill that utterly escaped me when it might have done the most good. My bladder emptied in perhaps 40 or 45 seconds, although it seemed to take much longer, and I certainly felt relief but I’m sure that my face turned multiple shades or red just as quickly with the shame that I’d just wet myself. The puddle on the floor became the more urgent issue on my mind with my bladder emptied. Would it start to flow out from under me into an aisle or under either the desk in front of me or behind me. Luckily, as I looked down, it seemed to remain in a contained lake of sorts, although I couldn’t see what was happening under my chair or behind it. Within a couple minutes a few of the students in the rows on either side of me started tittering and my humiliation and alarm grew. Given the commotion, one of the proctors quickly walked toward my desk and almost immediately noticed my accident. “You should have put up your hand,” he started, with his gaze fixed on the floor, although I tried to defend myself by saying I had asked the other proctor who was now out of the room. He seemed not to hear me as he told me to go to the bathroom and get some paper towel.
In shame, and trying not to look at anybody as I headed to the exit with the reproachful proctor behind me, I left the gymnasium and headed across the hallway to the boy’s washroom on the other side. The proctor walked in first, ahead of me, and located an almost complete paper hand towel roll, saying, “this should soak up most of it until the janitor can come in and mop up after the exam period.” He then went on to say that he hadn’t dealt with this kind of accident for several years and asked if I had “a problem.” As I rolled out a large segment of the paper towel roll, crumpling it in my hands, for absorbancy, I told him I didn’t but had slept in and not made it to the bathroom before the exam started.
Before returning to the gymnasium, the proctor told me that after cleaning up my mess as much as possible I could leave and ask for a “DNF” – or did not finish – although he said I might be able to request or rewrite. Alternatively, he said I could sit down until the stipulated exam period ended and the work I had completed as well any additional completed answers would be counted as a finished exam. I chose the latter, walking back into the gymnasium, wiping my desk seat off first and then putting as much paper towel on the floor as I could to absorb the large puddle. I could hear a couple students groan as I cleaned up and one said “yuk” as the paper towel was quickly saturated with pee and I unrolled some more, shoving the soaked pile as far under the seat as I could get it. Then I sat in the chair in my wet pants for the remaining half-hour or so of the exam period and tried to answer, or more likely guess, a few more answers, rushing out of the gymnasium as soon as the buzzer sounded and 10th graders were advised they could drop off their exam papers at the back of the room in the stipulated boxes and leave.
I took a back route home, down the railway tracks and though a local park, not wanting to be seen in my wet pants. I knew my parents were both at work so I changed at home and put my wet jeans, jockeys and partially wet socks into the washing machine, which I turned on. When my parents arrived home later that day I told them nothing about the accident, although unknown to me at the time time the school had called my mother at work and she raised the incident with me at the dinner table with my father present after telling my brothers and sisters to leave. I broke down crying, although my parents did seem sympathetic and were more concerned about whether I’d passed my subject or not. I told them I thought I finished enough of the exam and when my final report arrived I got a “C-minus” for science. Not great, but a pass. When I wrote my final exam a couple days after the science exam I was kidded by a couple guys who were were aware of the incident, but most seemed to just ignore me. No point paying attention to the big pants pisser, I guessed. Peer pressure and the worry of guilt by association seemed to take hold, but I felt like some of them were snickering at me under their breath.