After being toilet trained and graduating to big-kid underpants, it’s common for a child to occasionally wet the bed for a few more years. Most kids are consistently waking up on a dry and cozy mattress by the age of six or seven.
I wet the bed until I was 25 years old. I probably would have stopped at around 12, but that’s when I was introduced to alcohol. This tacked on another 13 years of waking up wrapped in the piss-soaked sheets of beds across the United States, Canada, and France.
When I was nine, my pediatrician suggested that my bedwetting persisted because I was a deep sleeper and that the condition would ultimately resolve itself. In the meantime, on the mornings that I’d wet the bed, I’d wake up, sense what had happened, and get sad. Then I’d strip my bed down to its crinkly plastic waterproof mattress cover and trudge down to the basement, praying that I didn’t pass my mom, dad, or sister (who was five years younger than me yet woke up each day in a bone-dry bed, ready to attack the day). Then I’d throw the sheets in the washing machine with detergent and a little bleach. Over the washing machine hung a framed pastel drawing I’d done at school. It depicted bright red flowers that looked like gaping, bloody grenade wounds. Then I’d go back upstairs, spray a little Lysol on the bed, put clean sheets on it, and take a shower.
By the time I was ten, I was tired of wetting the bed. The final straw was when I had signed up for a Boy Scout sleepover camp but balked at the last minute and decided to stay home. My parents took me to the doctor to see what my options were. Option 1 was a pill I’ll call “Dehydromax 5000.” I hope to God this medication went the way of leeches and the lobotomy, because not only did it keep my bed dry, it also kept my mouth, throat, and eyeballs at the same moisture level as the ash at the end of a generic Russian cigarette. Eventually my blinks became audible across the dinner table, and my parents agreed that I should quit taking it.
The next thing we tried was a special alarm that my mom had to order it from some pre-internet catalog of horrors. I can remember it coming in the mail, unwrapping the box, staring at it more intently than anything I’d ever asked Santa for, and thinking, “Is this the thing that will save me? Will the thing in this box help me be like other boys?”
The alarm consisted of a sensor that attached to a wire, which ran to a tiny box that emitted a terrifying shriek if any moisture was detected. It was so sensitive that even the moisture on one’s finger would set it off. It slid into a pocket that my mom sewed onto the front of a pair of my underpants; its wire ran up to the alarm, which adhered to a Velcro patch she sewed onto the shoulder of one of my white t-shirts.
Perhaps the pee-sensor industry has since graduated to some sort of waterproof Bluetooth alarm that makes the wire superfluous, but in 1987 it was an essential component, which created a problem: The alarm was designed for children, who are usually short. I was not. In fact, I was the tallest kid in my school. Thus the wire wasn’t long enough to reach from the pocket on the front of my little underpants up to the patch on the shoulder of my shirt. So at night, when I slid into my little white cotton shame-suit, I had to hunch down as though I had terrible scoliosis and lurch over to my bed, already hating myself. Then I’d slither between the sheets and lie there, awaiting the inevitable. But since I did indeed sleep deeply as my pediatrician had noted, I would sleep right through the alarm and be shaken into consciousness at three in the morning in a piss-soaked bed by a bleary-eyed parent as a shrill robot scream bore into my disoriented brain.
A couple of years after the alarm, I got drunk for the first time and that made the bedwetting worth it. For a while.
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