I'll spare you the eye-roll and avoid talking about how difficult middle school was. We all went through it and those who haven't, will soon enough. Anyone who was ever eleven years old knows that grades 5 through 8 are hell on earth. If a person is at all different, he is to preteens what a tired fawn is to a pack of hyenas. I was a closeted homosexual with logic defying crushes on my bullies, so I found myself in the limping fawn group of the social food chain. But that's it, really. I was gay, they were not, they were mean and, now that I think of it, kind of ugly for children. It's a tale as old as time, and I've little original flavor to offer. What I would like to share with you, is how I avenged myself on accident.
Yes, it was an accident--I had little, little control over the situation, which is why innocent bystanders were affected as well. They were punished for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Truthfully, I didn't realize it was revenge when it happened. In fact, I hadn't regarded it as revenge until now--13 years later. In one minute, I was without any power to speak of, and in the next, I realized I had enough power to clear a room.
I am referring to the deadliest fart in the history of my life. Let's begin with a weekend field trip my 7th grade class took to a nature reserve.
It was winter, and our teachers caravanned the entire class to University of Rhode Island's W Alton Jones Campus. It is tradition for the 7th graders to go on a weekend-long nature trip for them to learn the value of teamwork, nature, and the benefits of eating leaves and dirt instead of chicken. There are cabins, there are nature trails, there are ropes courses. A handful of vegetarian college students either volunteer or are paid in peanuts to lead the annual tween sojourn into the woods.
As we unloaded from our buses, the vegetarians herded us into a large building that looked like a park ranger's headquarters. They talked to us at length about eating vegetables and beans, and occasional buckwheat and pinecone salad. All but one of them abstained from eating meat, and perhaps it was coincidence, but she always stood to the side of the group during presentations. I suspect she was marginalized by a habit of clubbing baby ducks for lunch.
We were intrigued by vegetarianism, but not sold. "What do you eat instead of chicken nuggets?" one of my classmates asked. Fiber was brought up as a selling point, which led to the discussion of fluid pooping which was enough to send all a hundred and eighty-whatever of us into a frenzy of fart noises from the boys and "EEWWWWWs" from the girls and dormant homosexuals (I remained quiet, managing a few giggles).
Before we left for Alton Jones, our Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Peters, predicted that the girls would behave like normal human beings and the boys would be inspired to fart as often as possible. Not only would our flatulence be overactive, but our shame would plummet. We're in nature! Farting is natural! Amen. I am not exaggerating when I say the evenings in my cabin were so inundated with farts that a white noise maker would have provided a less steady stream of sound. Our Vice Principal had drawn the short stick and was assigned to sleep in the advisor's room of our cabin.
One evening, he the room just as a particularly gassy boy named Steven lifted his ass over the edge of his bunk and released a staccato of rapid fire flatulence right into Vice Principle's face. His timing would have been more outrageous had the other 20 occupants not been launching their own thwapping fart-missiles in every direction. Again, I remained silent--from both ends. When everyone had finally fallen asleep, the quiet was almost unnerving. I tried to force out a little toot to make the silence less eerie, but I chickened out. Nobody, not nobody needs to shit his pants in a cabin full of thirteen year old boys.
The next day, we were presented with a variety of ropes courses and group games. First, we formed a large circle in a field just outside the Nature Headquarters. one of the college vegetarians named Sally walked to the circle's center and informed us all how to play Steal the Chicken. Beneath her feet lay a limp, rubber chicken, and she delivered the simplest instructions ever: "I'm going to say a characteristic or fact, and if it applies to you, you have to steal the chicken. But if I tag you, you are out and you must return to the outer circle.
Sally then dared everyone whose favorite color was green to come and snatch chicken away from her feet. Several of us advanced, and I don't know how it happened, but I managed to steal the chicken. The adrenaline caused my stomach to turn and feel like it might produce diarrhea, but a counter adrenaline came in and turned my nerves into a blood-thirsty urge to defend my fucking chicken at all costs. I double-triple-septuple dared anyone whose name began with a motherfucking M to come and fuck with me and my chicken. To my surprise, Sally meandered up to me with a hungry glean in her eyes. In a frantic bout of confusion, I swung out at her as if I were a single mother defending her child from jackals. I landed a balled fist on her shoulder blade, causing her to arch her back and stumble a little. She walked away with her arm cradled in front of her chest and another counselor told me to please relax. "Her name doesn't begin with M though!" I protested, as if this were good enough excuse to physically harm her.
"My middle name is Mary," she said, rotating her shoulder blade. I don't remember asking anyone to throw their middle names into the ring, but I felt embarrassed all the same. I appeared to not understand the range of variations the game called for, but also, I earned the reputation as the hyper student who needed containment. I recalled every martial arts class I signed up for as a kid, in which there was always a spaz case whose ADHD left his parents no choice but to encourage violence as a hobby.
I collected myself and refused to enter the ring. "No I wasn't born in November, you're mistaken." "Did she say 'all boys,'? I'm not so sure." Several other students jeered and flapped their hands in mock-pansy imitation of me. I did my best to ignore them and focused on doing the next activity with a cooler persona. The vegetarian forrest guides split us up into groups. Each group was given their own vegetarian/nature guide. Sally took a deep, smiling breath through her nose when she realized I was part of her troupe.
We didn't quite understand what she said next: "All right guys, lets go to the field."
We glanced around trying to make sure we weren't actually in a field already, but rather a valley, or a deep mirage. "We're in a field...," a rotund boy named John offered.
"This one will be different. Trust me."
We shrugged and followed her through a modest patch of trees and indeed came upon another field smaller than the first. Sally stepped in front of us and announced this was going to be an exercise in letting it out. The phrase triggered a response nerve and my diarrhea sensation came back. Letting it out? Letting what out? Please don't let anything come out. I was under pressure to not look like a fool again, so I was sensitive to anything that could be construed as a freak-bowel movement.
"I just want everyone to think of all the terrible things that bother you," Sally said, breathing deep at the end of her sentence. "Put it all in a ball right here," she said, pointing to her chest. "When it's there, hold it, and when I say go, I want you to all run as fast as you can in that direction and scream! When you can't scream anymore, stop and freeze. Then just... look around yourself, you know?"
Okay, Sally. I realized this was a let-the-stress-out activity, and my bowels became motionless once more. Nothing is going to be let out that I'd have to hose off. No need to get worked up over screaming and running. An ape could do this. Sally lined us up single file so that we stood shoulder to shoulder and said, "Take a deep breath... and... GO!"
"AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!" We all ran forward and screamed our brains out. We charged a line of trees in the distance like the Scots in Braveheart. One by one, we fell away, with myself and two others charging ahead. AAAAAAAH I continued, breathing in between screams. AAAAAAHHHHH (breath) AAAAAAAHHHHH (breath) AAAAAH. When I sensed a too-distant absence of my twelve group members, I turned and ended my scream as a question: AAAAAAAHHH? From about thirty yards off, everyone silently furrowed their brows in unsympathetic pity. Clearly, I missed the small bit about going only so far as one breath could take us. I walked back, bruised again by looking like an idot.
Sensing my defeat, Sally put me in charge of the next activity. We walked about a quarter of a mile through more woods and came upon a tall wooden pole, and a car tire.
"Your job," Sally said like a game show host, "is to get the tire over the top of the pole." I suggested the easy route and have someone throw the tire up to the top. A couple of my classmates made futile attempts, coming short by about ten feet.
"Okay, Sam," Sally said. "How else might this work?"
"A human pyramid!" I said, gleeful with my idea. I figured Once the tiniest member of the group was at the top, maybe she could lift the tire up and over.
"Okay! Sound good everyone? Great!"
The group stood before me and I relished my position: it was the complete opposite of being picked last in kickball. The first person to be picked would be the bottom center. Rotund John, the largest and strongest member of the group, looked at me with a silent fuck-you, as I instructed him to get down on all fours in front of the pole. We got halfway through the third row up before he started making muffled cries of pain.
"It's okay, John, Almost there." I coached.
I told a sturdy girl named Laura to brace John with more support, and instructed a petit trio named Ricky, Leslie and Ryan to climb up and form another row. As they pawed up their classmates' strained bodies, John's wailing grew louder.
"AAUUGH!" His hands had begun to sink into the ground as his face turned a pretty shade of fuchsia.
"Almost there, John!"
"You can do it!"
"Okay..." Sally stepped in.
"Okay! OKAY!," she yelled. Ricky, Leslie and Ryan froze on their treks to the top of the pyramid, hands and feet covering various eyeballs and mouths. "That's enough! Climb down!" They dismantled, and I stood apart, unsoiled, a beatific look of disappointment on my face.
"That was a good try everyone. Excellent work!" Sally exclaimed, clapping her hands together as she knelt by John, whose eyes were beginning to uncross.
"But we didn't get the tire over the pole," Ricky said.
"You can't," Sally said, matter of fact. "It's impossible."
The twelve of us were silent, waiting for a punch line. "Huh?" Leslie asked.
"The exercise is to see how we approach an impossible task," she said, without a trace of irony. "Your teamwork was commendable. Really good work everyone." John's eyes regained focus and flashed between me and Sally, deciding which of us to smother first in our sleep. Fortunately, his wrists were in no condition to murder anyone. For a second, I thought they might be permanently stuck in a waving position.
A ropes course and several trust-falls later, Sally took us back to headquarters for dinner. For no apparent reason, a classmate from another group trailed me the whole way back whispering "You're gay," and "faggot" into my ear. The hate speech was a crummy punctuation on an awkward day of team-work failure. By the time we made it to the dining hall, I singly determined to eat my feelings. My stomach had been jittery, but I ignored it, grabbing brownies, pizza, hotwings, potatoes, garlic bread, and something called "ethnic rice." I even grabbed a vegan cookie for the hell of it. Whatever, I thought. I don't have to eat all of it.
About half way through the meal, I got pretty full. I felt the food slowly make its way past my chest, blocked from everything else I crammed into my face. I soldiered on, obligated not to waste too much. As I regarded another two full slices of pizza on my tray, one of the counselors/vegetarian forest guides clanged a trash can lid at the front of the hall.
"ALL RIGHT, STUDENTS!" He yelled. We all fell silent.
"YOU'VE ALL DONE GREAT SO FAR!" the other counselors applauded and we took our cue to clap, too. "But we've got... ONE MORE CHALLENGE for YOU, toDAY!"
Oh fucking fuck. I could barely sit up straight without my stomach pressing against my lungs. If we did another trust fall I would likely shart into someone's face.
Loud counselor man held up the large, metal waste bin. "You see this BIG TRASH CAN?" he asked. We nodded. We could see the big trash can. "IT. IS EMPTY!" Yes, it was empty. "If we can KEEP IT EMPTY..." Everyone leaned in to hear what would happen if we kept the can empty. I panicked, realizing I was about to be forbidden from throwing my 7th brownie and 10th slice of pizza away.
"If we can KEEP IT EMPTY... Mr. Potts.. WILL DANCE AROUND WITH THE TRASH CAN ON HIS HEAD!!!!!!" For some reason, the entire 7th grade was stupidly and radically thrilled by the possibility of this and wolfed down their left overs. A girl named Clara turned to me and said, "You better finish that."
"Ha! Don't you worry about that!" I said. I feared I might be the first person to actually eat himself to death, as it had become difficult to inhale. Dinner was almost over, but I managed to consume the last pieces of food on my tray. And, as promised, our beloved science teacher danced around with the trash can on his head. Everyone was elated and I tried to smile, focusing all my energy into being very still, and chuckling very softly.
"GREAT JOB, EVERYONE! WOOO!"
Everyone cheered and applauded as Mr. Potts took a bow. I returned my tray to the counter and walked like the tin man to the nearest bathroom. I locked myself in the furthest stall from the door and tried to relieve myself of my obese food baby. Nothing came out, though. I seemed to have plugged myself up so focused on eating carbs that I forgot any fiber. The fiber!! Sweat beaded on my forehead as I experienced contraction like pains in my lower back and stomach. What's it doing in there?? I whispered to myself. There was definite diarrhea brewing, but it seemed to have not made up its mind about entering the great unknown. I recalled pregnancy exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science and began to lamaze-breath. Hee-hee-hoo. Hee-hee-hoo. A couple minutes later, the pain subsided. Unable to produce stool, my body decided now was not the time. "Later," it said, "when you're up for it." I pulled up my pants, washed my hands, and joined my classmates in a basement meeting room.
Everyone sat indian-style on a vomit colored carpet as the veggie counselors carried on about some campfire song featuring a moose. The kids in the front of the crowd listened half-heartedly, while the rest of us chatted amongst our assigned nature groups. I decided to spin on my butt to join a conversation when something shifted inside me. I felt something like a bubble move upward, and my diarrhea nerves were activated. Gas pockets the size of water balloons squeezed up and down and a searing thunderbolt shocked my pelvic region. Something was coming out, be it a fart, a poop, or Satan's cloven foot. I was in what my future literature professors would call, "A Point of No Return."
I begged my body to reconsider.
Oh no, please, not here.
Yes, here. It said back.
Please, not now.
Oh yes, now.
But... but.. everyone is around.
Who is everyone?
I'm begging, please no.
It is time.
You know this fart. You have been tormented by its jabs to the gut--don't deny it. It is impatient, it is bloated, it has no mind for tact or manners. It's the kind of fart you know is going to be bad before it leaves your sphincter, the kind that cannot be reasoned with. It cannot be, as my brother would say, "swallowed" back into your body for a safer exit some place else. It refuses to even be released in modest bursts, preferring to enter a room all at once in a single cloud of noxious devastation.
As my eyes watered from more rapid-fire contractions, I released a silent stream of air that lasted for five straight seconds. The relief was divine. I was a balloon popped, a rubbery carcass lying limp on the floor, unburdened by the responsibility of retaining air. I sat motionless in a moratorium of self awareness: life before this fart was over, and life after it was about to begin.
Then... the smell rose to my nostrils. Now, we all can tolerate our own smells. Though one's poo smell's much like that of another human, we tend to tolerate our own far more than someone else's. But not this time, This time was astonishing in its exception. As soon as I inhaled, I my pupils shrank. The hairs on my neck stood up, turned gray and evaporated into thin air. I felt the color drain from my cheeks as I glanced around looking for an emergency exit. It was too late for that though. One by one, the people nearby started to crinkle their noses as if smelling a gas leak from a stove. The nose crinkling spread like a ripple among the small pond of faces before me, which then evolved into full-on looks of shock, horror, and a little awe.
"Oh my god," several of them said.
"Oh my god," they said two seconds later.
"OH. MY. GOD!," some of them wailed.
"I think!... I think! (gagging sound) I think I can taste it!"
My classmates frantically turned to one another asking who did this. I denied it immediately, my face hot with guilt. Others were wrongly accused, and they retorted with offended glances and rebukes. Mr. Engel, our reading teacher, ambled to the windows and sent them up to let the air in.
"It's not enough!" Mrs. McVey shouted through both of her hands. Mr. Engel unlocked every door and flung them open. The Vegetarians/Woodland Gypsies made their way closer to the windows, trying not to make a scene. One of the kids who had whispered hate words into my ear enclosed his head within a hood. His body heaved as though he were sobbing. The smell lingered for so long, we left for bed early. Not without pride, I openly admit that it was me, Chariho Middle School class of 2003. I did it. I dealt it. I supplied it and denied it... until now.
For all these years, I never considered this as an act of karmic revenge on my bullies. However, I can't help but compare it to the scene in Mean Girls where Regina George spreads photocopies of hateful gossip throughout her school. As her classmates turn violent and attack one another in the halls, she stands motionless at the head of the stairs, regarding her work with pride. Thanks to that and 13 years to mull it over, I consider this not as a story of shame and defeat, but as one of odd redemption. It wasn't Satan's cloven hoof that exited my body that night; it was the just hand of a mischievous God.