For as long as I can remember I’ve hidden in the bathroom when insecure. It’s a small, dark space and in some primordial way; a safe space: a place away from the politics of the playground or the office savannah.
It was my hiding place in Primary school (though not a very clever one…). I was almost caught once. I had hidden there to sniffle after an encounter with some mean girl on the playground, and when I came out, leaving the loo unflushed (after all I hadn’t used it) one of the giant Standard Fives by the sinks vehemently yelled at me for being disgusting enough to leave the bathroom in that state. Her more emotionally literate friend quietened her, but I had learnt my lesson.
I learnt the art of concealment, swathing my bathroom visits in more elaborate flushing and hand washing rituals.
I also hid in the bathroom during gymnastics – a weekly hour of torture as my mother tried to encourage me to enjoy exercise (alas, a futile attempt). Every minute sitting on the cold porcelain lid in my leotard was a minute I wasn’t displaying my ineptitude to the slender and agile girls in my group.
Hiding in the dark space was something I never really grew out of. Even when eighteen, and on my gap year in Switzerland, I regularly spent a few quiet minutes there away from the noise, the crowds, the seemingly secure teenagers attending Webster University with me. I’d lock the door, switch the light off and sit in the dark and quiet. This was a space where there was no one to impress, no one to amuse, no one to try to befriend. It let me be lonely without pretense.
It is a quiet space, a space without eyes or ears.
Except for this week, when I committed an office faux pas. It was late afternoon and my high heels gripped my soles unmercifully; so I decided to make a (much needed) trip to the bathroom without them, walking quickly to the loo in my stockings. I moved with the quiet speed of a panther, being sure that no one could see my unshod feet.
When I arrived at the bathroom only one stall was open, and from the shuffling sounds coming from one of the other stalls it was clear somebody was about to come out. Quickly, I stepped in and shut the door – only to discover that this cubicle had no toilet paper. Ok, I decided, I’ll wait till the bathroom is empty and go into the next stall, which will surely be sufficiently papered. The room quietened, and I left the loo without flushing – only to bump into a colleague who hadn’t left, but rather had been fiddling in the mirror. We both knew I hadn’t flushed the toilet, but I couldn’t explain. As I paused, flummoxed as to my next move, Colleague One left the bathroom. Then the third stall opened, and Colleague Two came out. I had been standing out so long I had to pretend to wash my hands; it seemed the only sane course of action, as she had certainly heard me and Colleague One saying good-bye. Now had not only two colleagues seen me without my shoes on, but one of them thought I didn’t flush. Colleague Two took an inordinately long time to wash her hands, forcing me to leave the bathroom out of sheer awkwardness.
So I left, unshod, thoroughly defeated, with a full bladder.
Let’s just acknowledge that a new office can be a tricky place – even when you’re not merrily traipsing around in stockings and a full bladder (am I the only one picturing a penguin?)
Meeting new people, learning your role, perfecting the skills and handling a new workload is all part of it, but by far the most daunting part is navigating the political maelstrom that is the mug cupboard.
Everyone had a favourite mug, one that is theirs and merely lives in the cupboard after a brief stint in the sink with the other mugs. Finding a mug that is the perfect size for a cup of Nescafe and 2%, but also isn’t (unspoken, of course, since this is public property) the ‘just right’ mug of someone else is a tricky one.
Four months in, I’ve found my favourite mug. It’s an Edward Monkton piece decrying the futility of life. Though I did discover that another co-worker brought it in; after she saw me clenching the mug, and its life-giving caffeine, and shared the story of the ex who gave her the porcelain memory. With a nod and a smile, she passed on the baton.
I’ve grown apart from the safe space in the bathroom (though I do spend a few minutes collecting myself in the car sometimes) and have found comfort in the warm handshake of a Goldilocks ‘just right’ mug. Though getting there, like getting the Goldilocks job, takes a while.