I’ve really grown a lot, since turning 40. Particularly in relationship to my willingness to talk about poop.
Let me back up. (Have you noticed how, when you lead with poo, everything that follows becomes a double-entendre?) Anyway. Up until my late 30s, it was a well-known and oft-ridiculed fact that all things concerning defecation made me wildly, morbidly uncomfortable. I knew it was a natural, essential, healthy bodily function. I also realized that everyone (including me, heaven forgive me) did it. But it was so disgusting, so private and feral and ghastly, that I could not acknowledge it in anyone else’s company.
I did a lot of very silly things to avoid mutual recognition of poop situations.
I famously repaired a toilet while pregnant to avoid calling anyone else into the vestibule, lest they deduce what might have caused the trouble in the first place. For five full years, I used a restroom in a gas station next door to the building in which I worked because the bathroom at my job was right next to the lunchroom, and that was monstrous. I have had entire business trips in which my body mysteriously began apparently absorbing my waste, rather than eliminating it, until I returned home, lest I be forced to do any pooping on an airplane, or, for the love of all that remains holy, in a stall next to a client. I have left a lover’s house and driven home and back again, under the ruse of requiring medicine I did not need, take or have in my possession to avoid any implication of my defecatory habits.
I have never understood how some people are so nonchalant about pooping. Until recently, I assumed anyone who would openly, willingly discuss their own bathroom habits was either a sociopath or a lunatic. I did once work with a man who proudly sought out the morning paper or a magazine from any desk to accompany him to the staff restroom. He would nod and smile at anyone he met en route, as if to aver, “I’m on my way to poop, peers and direct-reports! Pooping! I’m taking this magazine with me because it will keep me company while I produce feces. Hold my calls!” On several occasions, he retrieved industry publications from my desk, saying, “Can I borrow that for a few minutes? I’m headed into the bathroom,” after which he would knowingly nod at me, with a twinkle in his eye and a hint of a smirk, quirking at the corners of his mouth. My God. He made me party to his pooping, against my very will.
I’ve also worked with people who announced in the break room that they needed to hit the head for some heavy lifting, and marveled at their evident desire for everyone in the break room to know that not only did they need to poop, but for the remaining five minutes of shared break time from which they would be absent, they would actually be somewhere nearby, pooping. Just 20 feet away. Pooping.
Why didn’t they keep it a secret? Why weren’t they ashamed? It was like I was from another planet.
Once, I walked into a restroom in bar and there was a significant line to the two stalls. A woman in one stall called out, “I’m sorry everybody. I’m going to be in here a while. I’m pooping.” After which the entire room full of strangers stood silently together, listening to her complete her bowel movement. I wish, when she finally emerged from the stall, that we’d had a chance to talk through what became a traumatic event for me. It seemed too intimate for her to simply emerge, fluff her hair and wash her hands, and disappear into the crowd.
During my late 20s, I shared a staff restroom with a woman who used to discuss potential dinner selections with her boyfriend while pooping. Why would she do that? How busy, how painfully overscheduled could she be that she would be forced to multi-task that most private and revolting of personal jobs? I vividly recall her asking her boyfriend if he still wanted fish sticks, or if she should pick up some ground beef for burgers. I remember thinking that if I had to do all my menu planning while in the bathroom, we would never eat again.
So, up until the age of 40, if I walked into the bathroom and the room was clearly heavily in use, I would leave like it was a fire drill. I would wait to do whatever I needed to do until I got home. Ten hours later. If I was in the washroom and someone entered a neighboring stall and got right to work, I would pee like it was my job and get the hell out of there so fast any reasonable observer would think Superman was changing in my stall. And if you told me about your own poo situation, or worse, asked me to examine a poo you made (oh, beloved hippie friends, with your colon cleanses and sawdust granola) I would never speak to you again. And when people asked me why we no longer hung out, I would tell them you’d changed. Which in my mind would be true, because now you’d be disgusting.
Moreover, my bathroom rules extend beyond just the necessity of absolute poop secrecy to conversational guidelines. For example, there is no talking during evacuation of any form. Once those doors are closed, and unless there is a fire, it’s business time. When we are done with that business, we can catch up on all the fun stuff happening in the office, our lives, Top Chef, whatever. But while I’m actually midstream? Quiet.
Once, my poo-hangup (which sounds like the worst closet accessory ever) forced me to violate my own ethical code.
I was out to dinner with a friend, and she had brought a friend of hers along to join us. I had never met this friend before this dinner adventure, although I had heard a lot about her. Conversation was lively, and the food was franchise faire — we ordered cheesy appetizers, and settled into our 16 oz. beers. I got up to take a call from home in the restaurant’s foyer. After I finished the call, I decided I should take the opportunity to use the restroom.
At the time I had a sixteen-year-old son, and via hard-won experience I’d learned some lessons in bathroom re-con. My son occasionally left the seat up, used the last of the toilet paper, and generally boobie trapped the bathroom seven out of eight times he used it. (In his teen years, particularly, it crossed my mind to build him a small outhouse in the backyard, so that in February’s 20-below weather I could gleefully shout out the window at him, “who’s butt is chilly now, my little friend!” but I did not. ‘Cause it’d be me that had to empty the receptacle, like an enormous human litter box, and I will do no such thing unless it will save lives.)
So, courtesy of my son, I always checked that the seat was down, and free of liquid adornment. I always checked to make sure there was TP at the ready (because I have walked, plastic army guy-style, to fetch a roll of TP from the hall closet more times than I care to recount). When I entered one of the two bathroom stalls in the restaurant washroom, I immediately ascertained that the situation was untenable — no TP at all. Shreds on a naked roll. I went for the second stall, and got busy.
I was mid-pee when I saw the shoes of my friend’s friend enter the neighboring stall, and thought, “There’s no toilet paper in there!” But what I said was nothing. Because it wasn’t talky time yet. And then a terrible thing happened.
In the approximately 15 seconds since her arrival in the stall, sounds of havoc and destruction emanated from her body. I don’t know what might have caused it, but bad, bad things were happening, and happening fast. It sounded like a hundred angry ninjas, fighting their way out of her butt.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh noooooooooooooooooooo. Now I was in an awful position. I knew something she didn’t know — there was no toilet paper in that stall. And she definitely needed some toilet paper (plastic gloves, tarp, etc.). I stood there in my stall, wringing my hands and shaking my head. What could I do? If I gave her toilet paper, she would know that it was me over here, and that I had aurally witnessed what she just did. And if I didn’t, I would abandon her to somehow get toilet paper from my stall, and I couldn’t even imagine how she would accomplish that task without another set of clothes, or one of those claw-things they sell on late night TV. I’m no abandoner! I’m a sister! Yes, I have a tampon you can borrow! Yes, I will check if you have any pee on your white pants! Yes, I will tell you if you have spinach in your teeth, your bra shows through your shirt, and if your butt looks strangely coniferous in those jeans. But I was frozen.
I practically ran to the table. I hurriedly sat down, bright red and sweaty. Then I scrubbed hand sanitizer all over my hands and forearms, and sat there holding my arms away from my body to dry, like a surgeon.
My friend’s friend came from the restroom almost immediately. She seemed like she was feeling great, which honestly was confounding to me. I spent the entire meal silently asking forgiveness for failing her in her moment of need.
I want you to know this now: you can talk to me while you’re pooping, although I’d continue to appreciate it if that was only a last resort. Don’t seek it out. And if you settle into the stall next to me and terrible, cataclysmic things happen to your toilet bowl and your heinie, I’m here. I’ll hand you toilet paper, hand sanitizer, or the number of a great service that friends of mine have used to clean up flood damage. You can still keep the magazine.