I’ve always been frustrated with the state of poop culture in America.
In my early years, I always pottied with the door open. As an only child – a “single kid,” as my husband likes to say – of parents who insisted on living in two-story houses (yet always complained about stairs), everybody mostly kept to their respective floors.
So, there wasn’t really anybody around to hide from or keep out.
As a general rule follower, I acquiesced to keeping the door closed in kindergarten. But even then, I never locked it. Not even after Miss Hannon walked in on me trying to pee standing up (hey, if guys can do it…) To me, pottying just wasn’t anything of which to be ashamed.
It wasn’t until middle school that I remember feeling nervous about the big Number Two. I recall the exact day that it started. It was 9:35am, in-between first and second periods, and I was at my locker switching out books. Hearing a bit of commotion behind me, I turned to see my friends crowded close together, whispering and laughing.
Gathering up my belongings, I slammed shut my locker and hurried over to get the scoop.
Apparently, my friend Chelsea – who was somewhat of a rabble-rouser – happened upon the world’s largest turd earlier that morning. She was headed into the second stall of the first-floor girls’ bathroom, and there it was, lying helplessly – unable to be swallowed by a toilet whose design wasn’t crafted for such girth.
By the end of the day, it had its own name – the Sea Cow.
And even though the poor janitor had, somehow, managed to successfully evacuate it by the 3pm bell, its epitaph will forever remain in black Sharpie on the stall door: “Here lies the Sea Cow.” Or maybe it’s been removed since then. Probably.
All I know is, the whole day my mind was racing with existential questions. Who could have done that? How did they escape notice? What did she eat? WHAT IF IT HAD BEEN ME? That’s when I knew: pooping was shameful. It was gross. It was taboo.
Worse, it could get you laughed out of school.
From then on, no matter how hard I fought against it, the fecal fear kept creeping in. Suddenly, I was incredibly nervous about spending too long in the bathroom, because only pooping people are in the bathroom for any length of time. It got to the point where I feared being seen going into the bathroom at all.
And my biggest fear? Experiencing a fire drill while going poop. It was a real and constant threat. What if I couldn’t wrap things up in time to flee the building at the same time as the rest of my peers? If I emerged fashionably late, there could only be one reason: poop.
College provided a short reprieve from these water-closet woes.
Gals tend to play it fast and loose in a single-sex dorm.
We all had the same parts and bodily processes, so nobody cared all that much. Which really only left one acutely valid threat: house parties. Entrail embarrassment loomed large within the context of mixed company house parties… of which I went to maaaaybe three.
After all, I was an uber Christian at a minuscule Christian college.
I was busy praying, pooping, and prepping for exams.
When 2008 rolled around, I found myself a newly single post-grad working as a guest services agent at “America’s Best Hotel.” At least, it was then. In my mind, it still is. Our rag-tag crew of front desk agents had some great times, man. It was probably the best-case scenario for a gal itching to dip her feet in the water of life as an independent woman…
Who still relied on her parents to help with her car payment every month.
In the way of all youngsters trying to make a living in one of the most expensive cities on the planet, I shared a two-bedroom apartment with four fellow graduates. That’s right: five almost-adult humans inhabiting a space built for hamsters.
But for us, it worked. We all kept different schedules, spent our free time painting the town red, and really only returned to the wormhole to sleep. This meant that there was rarely anyone around to bogart the bathroom, should you need to drop a deuce.
Our dust-ups were over other (usually kitchen-related) things.
Coffee grounds in the sink. Not enough fridge space. Someone needs a sweet dip to pair with their animal crackers, but the Nutella’s gone missing. Even if the call-of-the-wild came during peak apartment hours, my roomies were either female or gay, neither of which I felt compelled to impress with an inhuman ability to never fart or poop.
That impulse never really grabbed me, anyway.
Even when I met my post-college rebound, who turned into my live-in boyfriend, who turned into my fiance, who turned into my now husband of almost a decade; to his great chagrin, I never once left anything to the imagination. At least not in the bathroom department.
I couldn’t see the point. Every human farts. Every human poops. Every human knows this. Why should I endure the stabbing pains of holding it all in?
It’s illogical. It’s indecent. It’s inhuman.
Plus, it just sets up the other person for disappointment when they realize I’m not a living Barbie doll, void of inner organs designed to process food and produce waste. I do realize, of course, how American culture works: that a gal’s hotness is almost directly related to one’s inability to envision her breaking wind or making waste.
Seriously. Think about it.
Natalie Portman. Scarlett Johansson. Megan Fox. Margot Robbie. Adriana Lima. Britney Spears back in the day. Hell, Britney Spears now (have you seen her lately??) Practically all of the Kardashian klan. (Except maybe Khloe. She’s always kept it real).
If word got out that any of these women pooped – even worse, if there were photo evidence – two words, my friends: career suicide.
But maybe I’m just jaded.
I’ve been an open dumper forced into hiding by a poop-prude world. I’ve been reduced to cheap parlor tricks, like running the faucet to mask that telling splash; working to become an air freshener dynamo, capable of spritzing off just the right amount to suggest a polite favor, rather than a complete cover-up; trying like hell to go quickly and all in one fell swoop to avoid multiple flushes.
The other day, at my wit’s end on potty training the most stubborn almost-four-year-old on this planet, I found myself making feeble attempts to shame her into submission. “Are you going to start school next year still pooping your pants? That’s not cool. You’ll get made fun of, ya know.”
I knelt to rinse yet another pair of tiny soiled undies beneath the bathtub faucet, remembering all the times I’d done so before – for Joey’s barrage of cloth diapers, for Junie’s tired days-of-the-week panties, each pair now boasting a permanent coffee-colored tint.
So on and so forth in a long, successive line of feces-covered clothing that will likely never end.
Amidst the hopeless sea of resignation that threatened to swallow me whole, the memory of the Sea Cow rose to the surface.
All of it – the humor, the wonder, the horror, the legend – came rushing back. I thought of this giant, ugly thing; this source of such mockery and scorn that lives in infamy to this day. And here I was, perpetuating a culture of poop-shaming with my own offspring.
I thought about the Sea Cow’s host.
Where is she? What is she doing? Did that day change her life forever? Does she ever even think about it? Has she produced more cows? I considered now, all these years later, how silly the whole situation was to begin with.
I allowed my mind to drift to that second stall in the first-floor girls’ bathroom, curious if that epitaph still lingers on the wall, now faded from years of neglect, nobody around to remember or pay homage, still whispering the tale of the Sea Cow, and shaming every girl who dares do business on its resting ground.
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