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.