Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Inconvenient Truth

The girls in my class head to the bathroom down the east wing, so I veer to the west. The halls are deserted and my boots make that annoying squeaky sound as I walk and walk and walk. It's one of those huge suburban high schools with never ending hallways of blue lockers and the faintly metallic scent of teenager. I find the quiet disquieting. I imagine the sounds and sights of students rushing by to get to class on time, but when I shake myself, I realize that yes, indeed, I'm still stuck in this nightmare of a building after school hours with just a handful of students and a custodian. I finally find an open bathroom. I enter, imagining that I will be alone, as I regularly am.

My boots, big, clunky winter boots, are still squeaking. As I push the door open to the stall, I hear a sniffling.

I stop. I feel as if I am intruding. But...and here is what I think:

1) It's another eight miles to the next bathroom.
2) It's not like it's a private bathroom.
3) I can ignore her and she can ignore me.
4) Can I ignore someone clearly in distress?
5) I can't ignore this.
6) I've cried in many a public restroom - he broke up with me, the second pregnancy test was positive, and the bladder infection that hurt so much I didn't see how I could possibly make it home on the bus - to name just a few. I don't know if I would have wanted anyone calling attention to my sobbing, but maybe, just maybe it would have been better if someone had said something. I don't know. Maybe?

I complete what I'm there for. I wash my hands. The sniffling has turned in to all out sobbing.

I recognize a call for help.

Squeak, squeak as I move around the room. I have a roomful of students waiting for me. But do they need one more math problem more than Sobbing McSobbing does? Probably not.

"Are you okay?" I try to moderate my voice, but because I haven't spoken for so long, I just can't do it. My voice booms, ricocheting off the tiled walls.


I walk over to the closed stall door. "Can I help?" I can finally speak quieter now, more in line with the situation at hand.

She throws something out under the door, wrapped in toilet paper. I open it. Ah.

Yep. I've been there. A plus sign.

I was 18. I didn't know what to do. My boyfriend was useless. My parents were frightening. My friends were supportive in the way that friends you've just been through half a semester of college are.

She's not even 18. I don't know her. But I'm guessing she's a student at this here school and this is where she feels safest. I took a pregnancy test in the library of my university, so I guess it says what it does about all of us.

"Oh, sweetie." Suddenly I am an old woman. "Can I call someone for you?"

She still hasn't spoken to me.


I sit down and put my hand under the stall door. She reaches for it, grabs it hard. Still crying.

I begin with my story. Unsafe sex. A missed period. Two tests. The end of it all. It was over ten years ago now and I remember it, that panicked feeling, like you're all alone in the world, like it was yesterday.

She clutches my hand over and over.

I have been in this bathroom for over fifteen minutes. My class. I have to get back to them. I know it shouldn't be in the forefront of my mind, but I am responsible for their safety.

I happen to have a card in my purse for Planned Parenthood. I pull it out. I write my phone number on it with my name and slip it under the stall.

"I'm sorry I can't stay here. Here are some numbers. Someone will help you. Please let someone help you."

I'm sorry it can't be me.


  1. Oh oh oh. This was powerful.

  2. Oh, I hope she calls that number. Or you.

  3. You were there for her. Not as much or as long as you might have liked, but I'm sure that was more helpful than you know.

    Powerfully written, too.


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