You must never bother someone in a restroom.
At least, this is what I tell myself as I sequester myself behind the supposed behemoth of a bathroom door. I’d sneak in after practicing the piano for what felt like forever (read: one hour) and whip out a book I had hidden in a new creative place the day before. Ah, A Wrinkle in Time, for the 3rd time. Reading in the bathroom is the perfect cure for someone who finds it hard to fixate on one thing at a time. After all, it was the only source of mental stimulation within arms reach (and as a measly child, that gave me barely any distance), which meant that I usually almost memorized each book before I finally had the chance to sneak another tome in. It may be a perfect cure for my constant hyperactiviy. This is, also, the only way I have been consistently somewhat informed on news topics, pop culture, art, and random YA fiction—when the biweekly Architectural Digest or Cosmopolitan is the only thing available, I must settle, you know?
The highlight of my days, then, became the minuscule periods of time I could grab that were just long enough to make my thighs go numb after supporting my books at weird angles. I transcended beyond the boring white walls into the stories of Meg or Mrs. Whatsit. Suddenly the lotions and shampoos were no longer lotions and shampoos anymore… instead there stood Mr. Rochester and his burning building or the very rocket that Walked A Mile™ and… what… is that? Miss Trunchbull storming her way toward me?
Alas, no. It is my mom that has caught me in my mischievous scheme. My copy of A Wrinkle in Time is ferociously wrenched away from my rubbery hands as she breaches the sacred temple of the bathroom. Another fallen soldier, probably never to be seen again (as proof: when A Wrinkle In Time the movie came out, I had forgotten the entire plot). Perhaps more unfortunate is the loss of yet another hiding place. There are only so many places I could hide a 6’’ x 9’’ book.
The best bathroom I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing had lush red walls, graffiti art and skate stickers threatening to shroud the expensive maroon paint, and, somehow, a sparkling chandelier. All smack dab in the middle of some nondescript vegetarian bowl place I’ve gone to religiously since.
I am aware that my enjoyment of the bathroom is truly embarrassing. No one would want to make it publicly known that they like to spend tremendous amounts of time in a space made primarily for defecation. And, now that my legs are long enough, I have no issue submitting my biology homework in the comfort of the ever-persevering sound of the bathroom fan. But that is exactly it! There’s a silence to it, and now that my mom only occasionally barges in, it sometimes gives me a chance to take the first relaxed breath of the day. In a home where boundaries can mean nothing, the promise of control is intoxicating.
The sterile white walls of bathrooms almost beg to be annotated. Everyone wants to decorate their comfort spaces—to make a mark in what you can comfortably claim as yours. For me, I have a massive stack of Polaroids from a few past summers, but they were all embarrassingly smudged (read: shaking the film right after it’s printed). To avoid the possibility of judgment, I instead stuck them in direct view of the 3-AM-version of me that has spent the last few hours in the bathtub working while precariously balancing my laptop on my knees. (I fell asleep in the bathtub so frequently that my dad tried to buy things that’d make my actual bedroom more appealing to me.)
The first time I cried in the bathroom was when curious 8-year-old me explored the massive makeup/medicine cabinet behind the mirrors and spilled the entire contents of some mysterious skincare concoction all over my mother’s “favorite carpet.” (Weirdly enough, every carpet I step foot on suddenly becomes her “favorite carpet”…). The intense fear afterward means I still feel a sense of disquiet whenever I encounter an Estée Lauder.
Since then, I’ve found myself crying in the bathroom countless times. Sometimes, it’s a way to hide my tears from yelling parents. Or, crouched over the toilet as tears spring up into my eyes involuntarily. Or my back against the toilet seat as I reach the tragic ending to a book. I’m not much of a crier—I must have a vehicle that leads me to the destination. Because of that, I have rare moments of crying in front of others but many tear-stained pages as I tear up over various books. And yet, the bathroom transcends this tendency of mine? Maybe it’s because I am no longer perceived and, as such, disappears the potential of being judged?
Though, the bathroom mirror is a funny thing. It reflects back to you the face that you supposedly are—but it is lying. You can spend hours staring at the little hairs growing worryingly between your eyes or the annoying lines on your neck but never get used to how you end up actually looking in photos (hint: it’s not mirrored). While having large bathroom mirrors makes the place more spacious (something something about reflecting open space), I think it just creates more space I cannot bear to look at. If I am going through an emotional moment in the bathtub, I do not want to look up and see myself flailing around.
Sterile white walls also harken to confinement. Sometimes, it feels like I am immobilized by a series of invisible strings. Ever since my third-grade teacher complained to my parents I was too disorganized (which is true, just look at this essay), I’ve always felt like I was the joke character in a movie willed with perfect actors. Sum by David Eagleman, a book I read last year, affirms my worry: “The situation is that the people around you are Actors. Your interactions with other people were almost entirely scripted from their point of view. Your ‘afterlife,’ if you want to call it that, is your initiation to the game” (139 Eagleman). How else can everyone be so perfect, with their clean desks and backpacks, their perfect clothes and eyelashes, their normal levels of obsession for things, and their understanding of social norms… while I am stuck with my knees digging painfully into my chest on the white carpet of my bathroom as I try to forget all that waits for me outside. I can imagine the camera of a documentary film panning out with the narration: “Here is Claire, the one who never really understood.”
Works Cited and Acknowledge
Thank you to Yuliya Solyanyk, Sammie Shim, and Jackie Li for providing feedback on my various drafts and for not judging my topic matter. I reference the books Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, I Saw a Rocket Walk a Mile by Carl Withers, and Sum: 40 Tales of the Afterlife by David Eagleman.