I wonder what my 7th grade English teacher would think of this post? (See “Embarrassment.”) Would she call it utter silliness? Would she kick her big-ass English teacher foot into my sensitive and fragile student tummy? Ah, screw her.
On my mind these days are bicycles and bathrooms. They are unrelated topics except that I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time and energy atop toilet and bicycle seats. I wonder if this is yet another mid-life crisis phenomenon: as I approach that dreaded age of 50 (still almost TWO YEARS off), I need to exercise in ways that are more convenient to me and I need to sit on “the can” for more time than I once did in my younger years. If you are interested neither in my biking nor toilet stories, I give you permission to skip this blog entry.
1. Ladies Room Legends
The time is January 2nd, 2009, 8:30 a.m. and the Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee is kicking in: I need to take a crap. I’ve just arrived to begin my second semester in the Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College, and I thank God that I have half an hour to use the bathroom before I need to register and show up for orientation. I cannot use the bathroom in the Ferry Administration Building since it has only two stalls and what would I do if Meg Kearney (our wonderful MFA director) walked in while I was relieving myself. You know we’d bump into one another opening and closing our stall doors in such close quarters. She might even recognize my shoes or say hello. This is not the kind of situation in which you want to bump into your MFA director; this is not putting your best foot forward.
Thank God for that anonymous public bathroom in the Student Center, the one with so many stalls that I lose my sense of direction, with twists and turns that allow me to choose a stall way off the beaten path when I have, you know, some serious business to do. My business would be most serious this morning.
I enter the Ladies’ Room in the Student Center, I take a left, and then another left around a corner, subconsciously noting several boxes piled high against the walls. I wonder about these boxes briefly, but soon I have found my haven: the very last stall at the end of the L-shaped Ladies’ Room. No one will ever know who is stinking up the place or making those fart-y noises should they enter. The Queen of England could come in here sniffing her nose in the air, and questioning with her classy English accent, “What ‘tis that noise? What ‘tis that smell?” and I would remain hidden and anonymous. I could lift my feet up so she couldn’t even see anyone in a stall. Yes, I’ve found the most secluded stall on campus. I feel oddly proud.
I pull down my pants, let them gather at the ankles. I sit on my private throne, and think about the coming week of classes and workshops with my friends and fellow writers, and ahhh, sweet release just beginning when…
Complete and utter blackness.
I can’t see a thing.
Oh my God, I’ve gone blind! I’m blind.
My body wants to hyperventilate but I force a long breath. It takes me a few seconds, actually, to realize that the motion sensor light has gone off due to lack of movement (how ironic) in the restroom. In other words, I have not had a stroke or an aneurism.
You do not know darkness until you’ve sat in the Pine Manor College Student Center bathroom with your pants pulled down and with the sensor light using its robotic brain to throw you into total blindness. This is a darkness of the blackest pitch. There are no windows. There is no crack of light from under a door. I don’t even know where the door is or how to find it.
I wave my hands in the air from my perch on the toilet to see if the motion will get the lights to come back on, but they don’t come back on. Should I dance a jig in the stall? Is that what it takes? My heart beats like a motherfucker or a race car engine – if you can think of a better simile for absolute heart palpitating drop dead anxiety, please feel free to substitute it.
“Oh shit,” I say, not intending the cute pun. I pull up my pants and get out of the stall. I grope along the walls, and hit my face on those boxes piled up to the ceiling. I’m afraid they will tumble on my head. My mind goes haywire. “I’m gonna die in here,” I hear a voice in my head say. I’m hearing voices. The voice sounds so much like my father’s and I realize this is exactly what he said when brought to the hospital in 2005. I remember telling him, “Oh stop, you’re not going to die.” He actually died, though, Dad was right, and here in the Student Center my father’s voice of panic swarms my brain cells and his quote passes down to his neurotic daughter: I’m gonna die in here!
I keep bumping into the boxes and into stall doors, feeling as blind as Audrey Hepburn in that old 1960s classic movie, Wait Until Dark. I am scared shitless, I kid you not; there is no shit of any kind left in my body, real or metaphorical.
Oh my god, I’m gonna have to call security to have someone get me out of the bathroom!
How embarrassing is that?
Imagine: Um, Mr. Security Man, I’m stuck in the dark in the Ladies Room and I can’t find my way out.
Good grief. That will get all around campus in no time. What will I do?
I’m going in circles. I just bumped into another swinging stall door. I swear it was the same door I bumped into five minutes ago and didn’t I just hit that same box with my knee cap that I hit a second ago? Twirling in circles! I’ve lost all sense of direction. I’m sweating. My heart races. I’m having palpitations. I’m going to hurt myself. I’m blind! I’m going to die in here. I keep hitting these frigging boxes. I can’t see a thing. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. I’m close to tears. I wouldn’t even know it if I were standing right in front of the door!
How could my life have come down to this? Is this how it all ends?
Okay, Cindy, calm down for a second, you are definitely going to need to call security. How embarrassing!
And then it dawns on me. If I call security, I will need to open my cell phone, which I do have in my handbag. If I open my cell phone, there will be the light from the phone display to guide me out of the bathroom.
It took me ten minutes to figure that out.
So, I used the cell phone as my guide and when I got near the door, I waved my hand at the motion sensor light and the frigging lights came back on. “Fuck you,” I said out loud and walked out of the Ladies Room.
Very few people know this part of the story: Once outside, Meg, the MFA director, and Tanya, the Assistant Director, were walking toward me as I was heading in the direction of the administration building to finally register for classes. As they passed me, I said, “How are you two ladies this fine morning?” in my most “I’m cool and I know it” voice. Very suave of me, don’t you think? We all smiled at each other as if nothing extraordinary had happened.
I went on to have a successful and incident-free residency.
But this is a warning, a lesson to heed, for anyone seeking solace at the end of a labyrinth of bathroom stalls. Bring a well-charged cell phone or a flashlight, just in case. Or do as I have since done: download a flashlight app to your smart phone. And bring a paper bag to throw over your head in case you hyperventilate in a neurotic spasm of panic. Bring your Xanax. Bring a friend to stand next to the motion sensor light and tell her to keep waving her hand.
Soon to come: Bicycles, velcro, crotch and butt-cheek pain. After that comes the silly stuff. Screw you, Mrs. Levitz.