This article was first published on SHE'SAID' and has been republished with permission.
The modern office bathroom has become a place for things to be said and done that would never be uttered beyond its walls.
Tales of affairs, and sexual trysts, of grief and loss, of feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the job. Revelations of vices and crippling addictions, of health struggles and mental illness.
I’ve seen women at their most broken in the office stalls — hunched over a toilet seat, crying. Vomiting excesses from the night before. Purging unwelcome calories with fingers curled against their uvulas in the grips of debilitating eating disorders. Clutching at their chests in the throes of panic attacks. Silently gulping back nondescript pills before reapplying their lipstick and reentering the world, renewed — their secrets stowed safely inside the stalls.
Under its shelter, perfect strangers offer one another emergency tampons and impromptu therapy. It’s a kind of secret women’s club — a safety deposit box brimming with all our secrets.
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When I hated my job, I sat alone in the toilet cubicle at the start of each day, contemplating my entire career, fantasizing about confronting my toxic boss. And when anxiety unexpectedly struck my heart in the middle of a meeting, I crouched behind the stall door, recomposing myself to return with a calm, collected demeanor.
Inside the office restroom, I wash away my shame, regret and fear, and reemerge shiny and clean.
There’s no need for pretense. No expectation of pleasantries, or playing the part.
And so, I let my darkest secrets cascade onto the tiled floor, eagerly examined and pried apart by women with whom I normally wouldn’t even cross paths.
Those women know all my wrongs. All my most sordid, shameful thoughts. And I know theirs.
We hide our true, flawed selves in that strange space away from expectant eyes, and find a kind of catharsis in the routinely pointless conversations we hold, standing in front of the vanity mirror, the ugly fluorescent light highlighting our every pimple and pore, as we exchange makeup and sanitary pads.
Inside the women’s restroom, it’s okay not to have it all together, to be petty or gossipy, or whinge for the sake of whinging. And to admit to things I’d never admit to the outside world. Shameful, regretful, selfish things.
Because when I’m done, I can always wash my hands and apply a new coat of lipstick or mascara.
And, shallow as it sounds, it’s enough to know I’ll be okay to reemerge back into the world, my secrets safe another day.