I wrote one of my college entrance essays about the bathroom. The prompt was, "Where is your favorite place?" On lined paper, in blue ink (I know, I'm that old, and my parents didn't buy us one of those giant word processors that some of you had then.)I wrote about how the single bathroom at our house, shared at the time by two teens and two adults, was my sanctuary. After a long and arduous day carting a 20 pound back pack up and down the high school halls, studying for pig anatomy tests, preparing presentations on the aorta (which I pronounced ahhhh-orta?)and conjugating Spanish verbs, I returned home and made a bee line for the bathroom. There, I would shed the angstful worries of a teen's day, load the tub with hot water, sprinkle in some Calgon, light a candle and read until my fingers and toes wrinkled into prunes.
My parents' bathroom, like all other parts of their house, is tiny. As an adult, the sink rises only to my upper thigh. You are really practicing your squats when you sit on the toilet which feels as though it was made for a child. When I started dating Andy, Mom and Dad bought a fancy, bendy shower head so the spray hit his head and not his chest. Everywhere you go in my parents' house, you can hear someone else doing something else. Like, when I was in my room in the morning, I could hear my Dad stirring sugar into his coffee, then slurping it to taste. (The beginning of my misophonia problems...)We all played different music on our boom boxes and would yell at the others to turn down their tunes in favor of ours. The so-called "little room" in the house is just big enough for a chair and we all fought for time in the little room, even though it had no door, because no one else could go in there with us.
As a teen in my parents' home, whispers sounded like shouting, foot steps like thunder, walls closed in on me and I often felt as though I was Alice who had taken a pill and fallen down a hole. Before I knew it, I was ten feet tall and everything else was teeny tiny.
Yet, while the house is small, it is sparkling clean. One really, truly can eat off of the floor at my parents' house. Even when we were kids, my mom dedicated hours to cleaning, finding her peace of mind in the hum of the Electrolux. As a teen, I took comfort in the combination scent of bleach and bath salt and the way that the water flowing blocked the rest of the sounds of a full house. I was not the only one who took refuge in the tub. Both my mom and my brother took to the tile-walled room to soak and relax, finding quiet in a few uninterrupted moments.
Except, we all could pick the lock. And there was only one toilet in the house and one place to brush one's teeth or comb one's hair. People had places to go, people to see, glasses of cold water to throw over the shower curtain onto the naked bather reading a book, or in my Mom's case, smoking a cigarette. Plus, even though it was suffocating at times, we all were so used to being together, it felt odd to be alone. So, when my Mom was in the tub, she'd close the curtain, and like confession, my brother and I would squish ourselves, cross legged, between the tub and the wall, stare at the curtain and tell Mom about our days, share our worries or ask her to name a noun, adverb or verb ending in -ing to complete the funniest Mad Lib story of all time. I grew accustomed to leaving the door open when using the bathroom, straining my head around the wall blocking one's body from view, to shout out whatever story I'd been sharing and just couldn't wait to finish.
This was my normal and as many of you know, my normal is of a different variety. Ask my college friends and roommates who had to get used to me walking around naked, taking a bath in the shared bathroom, (they threw grapes at me from the other side of the door) or asking if they wanted to continue a conversation while I peed. Needless to say, being out of the Goshen Tiny Home, and co-habitating with non-family took some time to adjust to. The bathroom is an intimate space and sharing that space with others means you get to know personal things about them. Like whether they practice good hygiene. Like whether they leave toothpaste or hairs in the sink, or whether or not they can plunge a toilet.
Now, Andy doesn't remember the topic of his college entrance essays but he is pretty sure it was not about the bathroom. However, in the 15 years that I have shared a home, and a bathroom, with this man, I am most certain that it, too, is his sanctuary. Yet, unlike my family, Andy is not loading the bathtub with Calgon and reading a book to quiet his mind. He NEVER EVER invites others to join him in his bathroom time, say to partake in Mad Libs or a confessional-like conversation. After most outings together, after every arrival home from work, or on a Saturday morning when I go for a run and he is alone with the girls, Andy bee lines to the bathroom, shuts the door, locks it, and doesn't come out- for a very long time. When we were first living together, I'd try to follow him into the bathroom, or talk to him through the door, but I learned quickly that was frowned upon. Knowing what I'm doing in the bathroom, but not knowing what he was doing, seemed a bit of a mystery to me. Because I am the prying-type, I'd ask him what he was doing and I'd get no reply. I've learned over time that, with Andy, "What happens in the Bathroom, Stays in the Bathroom." I am most certain that, like my 16 year old self, Andy feels, as the only man in the house, the only person with any desire for privacy in our house, that he, too is Alice who has taken a pill, fallen down a hole, and is ten feet tall in a tiny, unfamiliar world. Ironically, the only space in the house in which he doesn't feel suffocated by demanding, loud women, is the smallest room of all.
Luckily, we have two bathrooms, so Andy can spend all day in one bathroom, while the three women of the house can enjoy our bathroom rituals in our own time and in our own space. And yes, I miss him while he is away- in the bathroom- but I respect his need for alone time. And yes, despite my efforts to bathe in peace nowadays, my bathroom door is always unlocked and open for little visitors. And yes, when I am home, I always squish my body between the shower curtain and the wall to catch up with my mom while she takes a bath.