The Worst Thing That Can Happen

fear the toilet
fear the toilet

My fear of bathrooms can be traced back to one specific event. Actually, I suppose it could originally be from my childhood when, on what seemed to be far too many occasions, the toilet would overflow and my father would react with the same intensity you’d expect from someone whose limbs were being torn off by a mountain lion — [screaming and enunciating each syllable] “Jesus Jesus Jesus H. P. Q. f***ing T. F. L. Keeeyyyy-riissttttt-T, why?! Jesus God Almighty! Oh, God, why are you punishing me!?” But he has that same reaction if he drops a fork or the newspaper isn’t delivered on time, so if my fears are based on witnessing his overreaction to things, I should also be afraid of cutlery, newspapers, my name being mispronounced, junk mail, uncapped toothpaste, etc. You get the point. So, while a clogged toilet is a whole separate issue for me, I have my best friend from sixth grade (or, more specifically, her mom) to thank for my practice of locking the door on every bathroom I’ve entered since this distressing event.

Let’s step back in time, shall we? Let’s go back to sixth grade when the necessity of playful adolescence was not yet past, the yearning to be taken seriously as a young adult was imposing, and everything was embarrassing. At my new best friend’s house, we amused ourselves playing with torturing her pet hamster by putting it on a spinning record player or watching it try to climb out of a window in a closed up ‘Little People’ village. We arranged Michael Jackson pins on our denim jackets and played Centipede on her Atari 5200. At some point, probably after downing a half gallon of Diet Coke, I needed to pee. My friend pointed me in the direction of the bathroom, so I entered, closing the door behind me. It was a long, narrow room and all the fixtures were along the right side of the room — first the tub, then the sink, then the toilet — all pink. Towel racks lined the left wall where mismatched towels hung (one of the qualities that was so comforting about her house was that things were laid back — no one screamed when toilets overflowed or forks were dropped or towels didn’t match) and a laundry chute that dropped dirty clothes directly into the basement was near the baseboard directly across from the toilet. (We’d use that later to further torture her poor hamster.) I lifted the rug covered toilet lid and sat to relieve myself. And then the door opened. The door that’s on the far end of the room at least ten feet from where I sat with my pants at my ankles — that door opened. It was her mom. She saw me, but didn’t take the look of horror on my face as a signal to swiftly close the door and continue whatever conversation she’d like to have at another time when I was fully clothed. She decided that this was an opportune time to deliver a soliloquy on the merits of locking the bathroom door at their house. “Oh, hi. Sorry, I didn’t know you were in here. You need to make sure that when you use the bathroom at our house, you lock the door because we never knock, we just assume it’s empty even if the door is closed but it isn’t locked. We just walk right in. We only know if someone is in here if it’s locked. So make sure you lock it when you’re in here using the bathroom. Okay?” I may have nodded in understanding, but I wasn’t sure if I should be more distraught about conversing with this woman while sitting on the toilet with my pants around my ankles or the feasible possibility of her father and/or older brother walking by to witness my mortification. Finally, she left. I’ve blacked out what I did after that, but my therapist says that when I’m ready the memories will come back. I probably hid in a closet until my friend came to find me — that seems the most likely of my actions for that age. Lesson learned.

Since that day, I lock the doors. I lock all the doors. If there is no lock but the toilet is close enough to the door, I’ll hold the door while I go. If it’s not close enough, I panic. Once, at a wedding shower where the bathroom had no lock and, again, the toilet was at the far end of the room, I held it until I could find my sister to stand guard outside the door. Friends in college had a one-bathroom apartment and that one bathroom had two separate entrances, neither one with a functioning lock. So, during one loud, crowded party, every time I had to go I dragged a friend in with me to stand guard against both doors from inside the room. Even when I’m in the safety of my own empty house with its many locked entrances, I anticipate being interrupted by someone busting through the door of my bathroom — because, really, when are you more vulnerable than when you’re sitting on the toilet? It’s the most pathetic form of PTSD possible.

It really is exhausting having this many issues.

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