The Reason I Never Forgot Eddie Pee Pants
Posted by Trina Bartlett
On a beautiful spring day several weeks ago, my kids and I were heading to lunch a few blocks from my husband’s office on the crowded streets of Washington D.C . Dressed in only shorts and t-shirts, we didn’t really fit in with the men and women in business attire who were walking with a great deal more purpose.
But we had one thing in common: we all pretended we didn’t see the homeless person still wrapped in a blanket and sleeping in a doorway on a busy sidewalk.
I saw both of my kids glance over at him, but neither said anything. I didn’t either. Soon, the homeless person was forgotten.
Because somewhere in the back of my mind, he stayed with me.
He’s still there.
It’s not that I’ve never seen homeless people before. I see them every day. I even have a semi-relationship with the guy who hangs out at the park where I walk my dog. If I don’t at least wave at him, he coughs or makes some other noise until I acknowledge him.
But the homeless guy sleeping on the steps was different, because he might as well have been invisible. Everyone, including me, blatantly ignored his existence.
I understand why the business people ignored him: they probably see him everyday. He’s as much a part of their daily landscape as the traffic lights, the street signs and the blur of faces they regularly encounter.
But I didn’t have any excuse, and I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t even talk to my kids about him. That’s just not like me at all. If anything, I usually talk way too much about such things.
The only explanation I could find is one I don’t like: I was going along with the crowd. It was just easier.
It’s not the first time I’ve had to make that admission.
When I was in elementary school, I didn’t even know the full name of the boy who rode the school bus. I just knew everyone called him Eddie Pee Pants. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out how he got the name.
I don’t remember calling him that to his face, but that’s the name I used when my peers and I were discussing how to avoid him. No one wanted to have to sit with Eddie Pee Pants on the bus. If you did, you’d not only have to smell him, but you would get “Eddie Pee Pants germs.”
I knew what we were doing was wrong, but I justified my behavior by telling myself that I was never actually mean to his face. But the guilt got worse when Eddie’s life got worse.
One Saturday morning, I joined my dad at the top of our driveway to watch the drama unfold on a hill about a mile from our house. A dilapidated mobile home was on fire. Flames were shooting out the roof, and smoke was turning the sky black.
“That’s a total loss,” my dad commented.
I didn’t know until Monday that the old, junky trailor everyone said was an eyesore was Eddie’s house.
I have no recollection of what happened to him after his house burned. I just know he never rode the bus again, and I don’t remember ever seeing him at school again. I don’t even remember if there were any injuries or fatalities in that fire.
What I do remember is wondering why I wasn’t nicer to Eddie and feeling horrible that I’d never have an opportunity to undo my misdeeds.
Eddie isn’t the only person I’ve ever discounted or belittled. But he’s the first person who taught me three essential life lessons:
1. Treating someone poorly never makes you feel better about yourself.
2. Sometimes you don’t get a second chance to do the right thing.
3. Issues such as poverty, child abuse and homelessness are actually about individuals — people who, regardless of the reason for their circumstances, still have value.
I’ve taken that third lesson to heart. Eddie, like the homeless person in the doorway, gave me something priceless. They taught me to look beyond the unkempt appearances, poor hygiene or odd behavior. They’ve taught me that sometimes the person who needs to change their attitude or perception is me. And they’ve taught me that speaking up feels a lot better than putting someone down.
They were priceless gifts in my life, and I hope I can pass their lessons on to my children. And that, if nothing else, is what makes their lives so valuable to me.
Posted on June 10, 2012, in Family, My life, perspective, Uncategorized and tagged bullying, Family, homeless, inequality, life, life lessons, musing, parenting, People, random, Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.
In hindsight, what exactly do you think you should have said or done differently in DC?
I wish I had openly talked to my kids as we continued down the sidewalk… had a conversation then and there and not acted like it was no big deal…. it is a big deal when someone is sleeping on the sleep – no matter what the reason.
Great post! There were people I did not always treat well as a kid and I look upon it with regret. It is interesting that you compare it to seeing this homeless man as an adult.
Thanks for the positive feedback…. and yes, it’s strange how the mind makes those connections.
I wonder if its too late to talk to your kids now? You might even be able to fold in some discussion about why none of you said anything that day.
I have had very similar experiences, and they do stay with me. Once I was on vacation with my then five year old daughter, very far from home. There was a homeless woman sitting outside of store, with her hand out. I didn’t really look at her as I entered the store, but I pulled my baby close to me as we passed her. When I came out of the store, I did the same thing, and the woman laughed. She said, “It’s OK, really. I won’t hurt her.” I’m still ashamed of that moment, and it happened 21 years ago.
Maybe its through our shame that we learn and grow and do it differently the next time.
I’m happy to have found your blog! Yay, WordPress!
Thanks so much for your positive feedback…. and I haven’t talked to my kids about the homeless man, but I have shared the story of Eddie….
Trina – most of us have found ourselves in the same situation you were in when you were younger and when you were in DC. It’s the feeling of “what do I say and what do I do with the situation that I see?” I’m sure we have all felt guilt in one way or another.
One of my sons friends, who is fixing up a house to sell, has a homeless man living in his storage house behind the house he is working on. He gave the man permission to live in the storage shed. My son and I were on the property and my son knocked on the storage shed to see if anyone was “home”. No one was there and we looked in the small storage area – EVERYTHING was in order – this was a HOME!!! There was a mattress with sheets and all his belongings were in a special place. It truly was a home. Not much but a home.
This left a big impression on me and my son. It doesn’t take much to make a home or a place to be. My son is thinking about buying this property and my question to him was “what about the homeless man living in the storage shed?” You have to think about him too!!!!! At least, I have never forgotten that he does have a “home” in the back of this house. These are big emotional decisions we all have to make one time or another. I’m not sure what my son will do if he buys this house, but I know what it feels like to see someone make a home out of nothing!!!! My heart hurts to know that anyone might have to make a decision about where someone lives and that there are so many folks out there that have to make a shed into their home.
Thanks for putting so much out there for all of us to think about!!!! You are the BEST!!!!
As Mother Teresa said, “Live simply so others may simply live.”
Calling yourself and us to task in great ways – as always.