It was 3am and I was sitting in the last stall—farthest from the door—in a communal summer camp bathroom. I was practicing a deep yogic breathing exercise and praying to god that this time I would be able to take a shit. I was 29 years old, and it had been exactly twenty four-hours since I’d last unloaded. I had a deep knot of dread that I wouldn’t be able to poop for the rest of this vacation (really a long weekend revolving around a wedding). I made a promise to myself then and there that if I ever got married, I would demand that the first thing on my registry be a colon cleanse. I was a bridesmaid in my best friend Margot’s wedding. For the ceremony and reception, Margot and her lovely fiancé, Andrew, had rented an entire summer camp in northern Michigan for three days.
It was a beautiful wedding. I was constipated for the whole thing.
You see, I am literally anal retentive. But I don’t posses any of the qualities that a figuratively anal retentive person has: I’m not high strung or inflexible or worried about perfection. My roommate, back in New York, is a figuratively anal person, and even keeps an Excel spreadsheet of her grooming habits so she knows exactly when to freshen her roots and get her chin hairs threaded. I can barely figure out our TiVo. When it comes down to it, I’m a pretty laid-back gal who thrives on chaos and spontaneity. A few gray hairs and a bit of beard doesn’t bother me—I think it’s an endearing look.
Except I have one embarrassingly neurotic habit: I can only poop in my own bathroom.
I don’t know where this habit came from, and I don’t even remember when it began. Over the years, however, I’ve pieced together that it probably has something to do with moving all the time with my Foreign Service parents, and also having gone to boarding school. There’s no privacy at boarding school, and at that tender teenage time, the communal shitting situation most likely amped up my already formed poop phobia. You would think that knowing that everyone has to go would make me more comfortable. I mean, even the school prefect, Debbie, had to take a dump every now and then. But no, I never relaxed. I was constantly monitoring when people were at a rehearsal, or in a study session, or at the cafeteria, so I could finally have some “me” time. Alone at last in the communal bathroom, I could let one rip in peace.
Ten years later and nothing had changed. Back in my stall in the woods, I was living my teenage nightmare all over again, as my exposed ass was getting eaten alive by the vicious Michigan mosquitos. I had moved positions from sitting to squatting on the toilet seat because I had read somewhere this helps dislodge things. It wasn’t working, so I closed my eyes and tried to do my visualization exercise.
There had been a three hour-drive from the airport to the camp and I was put in a car with another bridesmaid whom I hadn’t met before. Her name was Daniele and she was studying to be an art therapist. Daniele had an open, caring, nonjudgmental face, and we became fast friends, gossiping about which groomsman we found the hottest. Eventually, due to the confession-like atmosphere of being stuck in a car with someone for three hours, things got real. She started crying, and in between sobs and blowing her nose, she told me about her lying, cheating, bastard of a boyfriend. At this point, I thought it only fair to come clean about my defecation problem. I reasoned that she was a therapist and had probably heard worse, and in comparison to her situation, my story might even make her feel better. “Her boyfriend might be an asshole, but at least she can use a public restroom,” I thought. Really though, I was just desperate for advice on how to make it through the weekend when I knew there would be no private toilets. She got pensive for a moment, and then told me to envision a crowd of loved ones, standing all around me, clapping and cheering me on. She said, “Close your eyes, and think about an audience of people, everyone you care about giving you a standing ovation for doing number two.”
This sounded creepy and vaguely infantile, like when you’re potty training a baby and giving them a piece of candy every time they make it to the toilet, but like I said, I was desperate. So that night in the stall, I closed my eyes like she told me and tried to bring up an image of a crowd of comforting people. But just like when someone tells you to visualize everyone naked in the audience and then all you can do is imagine the one girl you know who has a perfect body (the kind of body that looks exactly the same when she’s sitting down as when she’s standing up) all I could do was imagine Brad. Brad was the bad-boy groomsman who had ridden his motorcycle all the way from Alberta to Grand Rapids. He showed up to the wedding with a black eye and very tight pants. The last thing on earth I would ever want would be for Brad to witness me squatting on a toilet seat at 3am, hoping that everyone was asleep so I could fart in private. I didn’t even want him to know that I farted in the first place.
Twenty minutes later nothing had happened. I gave up and walked back to the cafeteria where I pulled out the kale that was going to be used for the salad the next day. “Good roughage,” I thought. I wished I had remembered my Smooth Move tea, but I hadn’t remembered because I’m not figuratively anal retentive. In fact, I’m a flake and all I had packed for this very outdoorsy wedding was a curling iron, a pair of high heels, a tooth brush, my bridesmaid’s dress and a pack of condoms. Well, I could forget about needing those. Clearly I was in no condition for sex. Which was a shame, because as the “sex columnist from NY,” my reputation was at stake.
The next day, the wedding took place and all the bridesmaids gathered in the one cabin that had a mirror. I gotta say, for having slept on the ground, we all looked great. Even I wasn’t feeling too terrible. I’d been drinking champagne to try to take the edge off and it was working. I had almost forgotten about the dull cramping in my lower abdomen. Then we noticed that one of the bridesmaids, Erin, was missing in action. But before anyone could start bitching about what a disaster she was, Erin burst in with armloads of McDonalds. “Happy fucking wedding!” she screamed. Erin took the cake as the crazy one. (This is a role I normally play, but my bowel issues were forcing me to be more composed than usual.) All the ladies put beach towels over their dresses and dug into the hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes. It smelled delicious, but I knew if I ate any of it, this wedding would be the most painful and gassy experience of my life.
“Lacy, you aren’t going to have even one tiny bite?” Erin asked me.
“No, thanks. I don’t really eat things like that,” I said.
“You know, you could stop being such a stick in the mud,” she hissed in my ear.
I thought about saying, “Yeah, well imagine pulling that stick out of the mud and shoving it up my ass, because that’s about how I feel right now.” But instead, I just angrily applied more lipstick. Then we all walked down the aisle.
For a couple of blissful hours my need to poop became a secondary concern. I was too wrapped up in the wedding, in all the tears, and all the love—though I did pass on the beer-soaked beans that were served with dinner. Then there were the toasts, and the pictures, and more love and more tears, and finally, the best part: good old wedding-disco-dancing. The whole wedding party moved rhythmlessly from the Hokey-Pokey, to the Electric Slide, to the Macarena. And as I watched David, the guidance counselor from Ottawa, attempt the Tootsie Roll, I thought, “We are the whitest bunch of people I have ever seen.”
Finally, it was time to prepare the wedding tent for the bride and groom. I had been given this special task along with the maid of honor, Amy. Amy was a beautiful blonde goddess that spent half her year traipsing around the world working for different aid organizations. If it ever came down to me or her, she was definitely getting into heaven first. It didn’t hurt that she also had the physique of a yoga instructor, and Children-of-the-Corn-yellow hair down to her ass. Standing next to her, I looked like Danny DeVito.
We packed up all the special bedding needed for the bride and groom and drunkenly walked the half mile through the woods to the new couple’s wedding chamber: an army surplus tent we had put up hours ago in the daylight. Once there, we lit candles, covered the blow up mattress in rose petals, and even hung a Chinese lantern inside. We stepped back to admire our work.
Then Amy let out the longest, loudest fart I have ever heard.
“Oh my god, I am so sorry!” She squealed in horror. “It’s that goddamn McDonalds we ate earlier. I have been so farty, and I couldn’t let anything out when we were on the dance floor.”
“Please don’t apologize,” I said. Then I grasped her hands, “In fact, I’m having a similar problem. I can not…” I took a deep breath. “I can’t go,” I finally whispered. I looked in her eyes, and hoped she could read my furrowed brow and infer my meaning.
It took her a moment to register what I meant, but then she nodded. “Ohhhhh. Yes, communal bathrooms are difficult. But, you know cabin 18 has a private bathroom. Just go now. If anyone asks I’ll make something up about you looking at the stars or something.”
I have never been more grateful to a person. (Amy if you ever read this, you are welcome to my first born.)
I ran to cabin 18. Finally, alone without any pressure and with a door that went all the way to floor, I released.
When I got back to the party, Erin ran up and grabbed my arm, “Where were you? Were you with Brad? You were! My God, you’re practically glowing.” I didn’t dissuade her. After all, I had my reputation to keep.
The night was almost over, the bride and groom had left for their love tent, the parents had retired hours before and only the true partiers were still drinking from the open bar. I got on the microphone and announced, “Guys, skinny dipping in the lake in ten minutes!” The crowd went wild.
Down at the lake, clothes were discarded and left by the bonfire. We ran fast and wild to the dock and jumped off in all our youthful splendor. With night sky above us, we floated on our backs and formed a circle, holding hands and touching feet. We were drunk on the love we had witnessed, and also, we were just drunk. I squeezed Brad’s hand lightly. With my bowels empty, I was free.