Many of my posts are sweet, sappy occasions that make you
feel the feels and possibly even shed a tear. This is not one of those posts. I’m
fighting colon cancer; you had to figure that my colon and its contents would
make an appearance at some point. Things are going to get a little icky today.
If I ever had any doubts that Facebook knows me on a level like no actual person in my life does, the day I got a sponsored post about the “Restroom Request Card” convinced me. It’s a card meant to be carried by people who suffer from abdominal afflictions that cause them to need restrooms suddenly and urgently. Of course, it’s a thing made up by a pharmaceutical company to get you on their mailing list and engrain their brand into your psyche. But I can’t say that I didn’t consider it for a brief moment. My mind wandered back to the role that public restrooms have played in my life.
As an itinerant teacher, I made note of the cleanest restrooms in my territory, often planning routes accordingly. I rarely left the little schoolhouse in Reading without first using the bathroom because I knew how long the journey could be for me if I didn’t. I tried never to use bathrooms in people’s homes because I hated the thought of them feeling that they needed to clean their toilet for me on top of everything else they might be dealing with in their lives. Also, I learned pretty early on that teachers don’t use the kid restrooms. There are reasons. I’ll leave it at that.
At one school in southern Vermont, I found this sign and continue to think about this club and their vast array of responsibilities:
In the months leading up to my cancer diagnosis, I had a couple of bouts of explosive diarrhea that prevented me from considering any factors beyond the mere presence of a toilet before entering the closest bathroom. Sometimes, I was simultaneously vomiting, which forced some interesting choreography to avoid a huge mess. These incidents were few in number, short in duration, and spread out enough that they hadn’t raised any red flags before the bout that eventually led to my diagnosis. Still, they were not fun (sorry Fore-U).
When chemo came along, it was much more of the same urgency. The folks at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center don’t even blink when you hop up, unplug your pumps, and roll down the hallway at top (turtle) speed. But acquaintances at parties aren’t quite as nonplussed. Often, I would try to sneak away from a group unnoticed, only to hear the gentle knocking of some kind soul who felt the need to check on me when I exceeded the maximum acceptable time of bathroom-related absence (MATB-RA).
I’m grateful that my church trusts me with a key, since the only possible way I could go for a walk during the worst months of chemo was if I knew of a place where I could go to the bathroom along the way (sorry, Old South).
The toilets with the automatic flush sensors are pretty great, until the time when you’ve been sitting there so long that the sensor thinks you must have left and decides to flush before you’ve stood up. It’s like a little passive-aggressive message from the bathroom gods, “Oops! I didn’t realize you were still sitting here. No one else ever takes this long!” (I’m looking at you, Bradford, VT rest area.)
I took my boys to San Diego last summer to meet up with my brother and his wife and to see the Pirates play the Padres. On the morning of the game, we got some very special donuts downtown and took them to a pier for breakfast with a view. They were yummy, but immediately caused me to need a bathroom. There was one there in the park, and, without the luxury of time to inspect it to see if it was clean and comfortable, I ran in. While there were multiple stalls (a very important feature to me so that I don’t feel like I’m in anyone else’s way), there were ZERO doors. But there was also zero choice. I had to go. So I went into the last stall and hoped for privacy. I didn’t get it. I kind of felt like I was going to die of embarrassment, but I survived. It made the long row of stalls that I went into later at the ballpark feel like the height of luxury.
Sometimes in my travels, the fun stuff is going to happen while I’m in the bathroom, and I’m going to miss it. But I’m happy to know that my kids will have the memories of us being together in places like that San Diego pier and Petco Park, even though I might be MIA for some 15- or 20-minute chunks here and there. Thankfully, that’s not the part they’ll remember; instead, they’ll remember that I didn’t let a little diarrhea keep me from finding the donuts and watching the baseball with them.
Tom, Trish, Dalton, Kerry, Megan, Max (Petco Park, July 2017)
Shout out to some of the great bathrooms I've seen: Tami's Head Lines in Windsor, where the restroom is like a tranquil oasis in the midst of the chaos of regular life. At the Eric Carle Museum in Western Massachusetts, there are adorable mini toilets for their many adorable mini guests, and there is, of course, fabulous artwork in the tiling. Do you have any restrooms of note to add to the list?