I have a disturbing number of bathroom stories. They humble me in the moment and entertain me later…sometimes it’s a while later. This post is dedicated to bathroom stories so do not read further if you’re unprepared for disturbing potty-related mishaps. If you make it to the end, there will be a lesson learned. It just arrives after an indelicate journey.
I have found that the automatic flush feature in airport bathrooms is either incredibly hypervigilant (rushing me off with continual Niagara-like flushes) or not at all functional (where I am frantically waving at the sensor like Annie Sullivan trying to communicate with Helen Keller for the first time). Then, once I arrive at the sink for hand washing, there is extreme inner conflict as I realize anything I touch in an attempt to wash the experience away will actually only make me more contaminated. Recently, I had a particularly disturbing experience with some guys sponge bathing in the sinks and I couldn’t make peace with any plan that involved handwashing. I engage in prepared self-talk, reassuring myself that I had hand sanitizer in my backpack and I would survive this. Seated at the gate, I begin the process of trying to extricate my hand sanitizer from the seven levels of zippers in my bag. Next I’m trying to go back and sanitize anything I have touched while trying to access the sanitizer. Oh the futility.
Then, last week, the family and I went a couple hours south of our hometown so I could have a meeting. While navigating the various traffic hazards, we decided to dismount the interstate for a gas station bathroom and candy break. This is a travel stop sort of place and there is quite a line in the men’s room. As I walk in to the bathroom, a man with some fascinating face tattoos (who seems to have proclaimed himself as mayor of the travel stop) directed me to choose between the “line for number ones” and “the line for number twos”. I fall in line behind him because I always try to align myself with those in power. He immediately takes me under his wing and advises me not to enter any stall that is exited by a guy with a backpack. Because I’m me, I need more information. In 25 seconds or so, he succinctly describes drug mules and the role of the cartel in the upcoming presidential election. While I’m trying to process the possibility that I was being initiated into a gang or cult, a man exited a stall with a backpack overflowing with plastic bags. Mayor Face Tattoo raises his eyebrows and waves the third in line into the now available stall and I decide I can hold it.
Perhaps the most traumatic of all my bathroom experiences happened in the middle of the night at a Walgreens. It is possible I am about to admit to breaking any of a number of city ordinances. In order to digest this story, you need to know that when I get sick, I get SICK. There is no off switch. When the fluid starts to exit involuntarily, I have to get to an ER. So, several years ago, I get sick in the night and my wife can’t take me to the hospital due to having little ones at home. It is a relatively short list of friendships that I think can survive taking me to the ER in the nighttime for this particular ailment. Enter friend V. V has witnessed some of our catastrophic and historic family moments, but none would compare to this night. V comes quickly and begins the seemingly never-ending drive to the hospital. While unsuccessfully trying to override every biological impulse in my virus-infested body, I unleash a fury in V’s car that simply can’t be captured in text. I ask for her to pull in somewhere, anywhere. Enter Walgreens. I urgently and gingerly walk through the empty aisles in search of the bathroom, evidently gathering suspicion in my plight. As I assess the situation in the bathroom stall, I realize there is no option other than search the store for replacement clothes. I find some sort of moderately offensive t-shirt easily, but there are no pants. I’m panicking. Anything will do. I’m not picky…please let there be pants. Any pants. And then I found them….one pair of way too small WHITE sweat pants. Honestly. I get the white sweat pants and make the purchase while avoiding any eye contact. This, in retrospect, is just adding to my suspicious behavior. I rush back to the bathroom, which has no lock, and start to clean myself in the sink when the manager comes in to discover what illegal activity is going down in his store. Unclothed and unspeakably disgusting, I feverishly tell my story and, let me tell you, this guy couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I put on the t-shirt and terrifyingly white pants and, with relentless apologies to V knowing she can never un-see this, resume my trip to the ER. By the way, that did not make the Carfax for whatever poor soul next got that car.
Let me tell you something about frame of reference. When I consider myself as the one to be contaminated by others, as in the airport bathroom, there is a part of me that looks upon others with disgust. When I see myself as the straight-laced law abider, I judge the life choices of others, as in the travel stop. However, when I see that I am the actual broken, filthy, break-any-norm-to-survive-the-moment person, I soften. I remember that every life choice is preceded by a story and that context gives capacity for seeing situations through a filter of grace. I shouldn’t need humiliation to remind me of this, but it sometimes takes that. Remember that in your future bathroom moments.
Reflections on lessons learned from being a therapist and adoptive dad.