I am Not Responsible for the Smell in this Restroom
At some point in my early twenties, older friends and relatives began sharing with me the myriad advantages I should expect with the onset of middle age. A coworker named Debbie once told me that, at the age of forty, I would stop caring what other people thought of me. On another occasion, Aunt Sharon watched me wince and hobble about in an ill-fitting pair of heels, then said, “Don’t worry. One day you’ll be forty, and you’ll be able to wear more comfortable shoes because no one will look at you anymore.”
I’ve been holding tightly to those promises for over a decade now. I have pondered in my heart the ways in which such realities as self-assuredness and invisibility would change me life for the better, and I suppose that, on some level, I went to bed last Tuesday expecting to morph, overnight, into new woman. The sort of Crocs-wearing woman who speaks her mind without disclaimer, apology or regret.
I’ve worn heels twice since turning 40 last week. I happened to be wearing them over the weekend when I had cause to use a public restroom. And this restroom, y’all. How can I put this? It was the sort of situation in which the odor of the restroom greeted me at the door. I felt myself grimace and cringe upon entrance like the psychologists on “Hoarders” when they walk into a home which is occupied by 80 cats. Offensive. You get it. But it was what I had. I buried my nose in the collar of my dress and hustled into the stall, heels click-clicking.
The worst thing about this restroom, however, was not the odor, but the awkwardness I felt when I emerged from the stall to see that another woman had entered the restroom. The worst thing was that I cared what she thought about me. I shouldn’t have, being forty and all (so said that Debbie character) but I did.
It crossed my mind to address the embarrassment head-on. To say, “Listen lady, just so you know, I walked into this nightmare same as you. I am not responsible for the smell in this restroom.” That is crazy, though, right? It would have made me look overly defensive. Guilty as sin. Better to say nothing at all. The air quality was so poor, though. I couldn’t very well keep quiet. I just couldn’t. (I never can.)
“This bathroom,” I said to the other woman in exasperation. I said it like I knew her. Like the smell was not a source of embarrassment to me but, rather, a problem we shared. “This bathroom is the worst.”
The woman said nothing in response. She looked away from me, then cast her eyes toward the floor.
Maybe she thought I was the culprit. I don’t know. Maybe she was embarrassed for me. There is a chance, though, that she was just admiring my shoes.