“Is everything okay, Zach” the receptionist asked.
“Yep,” I reply quickly. “Just don’t like hospitals.”
It’s true. Haven’t been a fan of them since I was a kid. My foot tapped impatiently on the linoleum surface that lined the entire hospital infrastructure. My fingers drummed in the same tune. It would only be moments before I wiggled my foot and lose the foundation of my courage and bail. The receptionist doesn’t have a clue who I’m here to see. She might not know. Neither would the person I’m here to see.
“Do you need the name again,” I sighed like a kid who was silently whining.
“No, sir. It’s fine,” she answered. “Just a slow computer is all.”
I know it would be a few more moments until I start to sweat. The uncomfortable sensation of sweat forming and building beads is maddening to me. Then it starts to form tiny streams that cascade off my bod—
“Maybe I can come back,” I blurt out.
“No, sir,” she said, her eyes fixated on the old, massive tube computer screen. “It’s coming up.” The attendant tapped away above her plastic keyboard making an obnoxious slapping sounds. “Just have to load…” her voice hovered, “the program.” My mind darted on how irresponsible it was to have old computers in a way to cut costs.
“I’ll be right back,” I said after a few more agonizing seconds.
The receptionist put her palm up to me. “It’s coming right up, sir.”
My face dropped. Was she serious? “Where’s the bathroom,” I asked finally.
“Oh…” she said, catching herself, not realizing that I might’ve been ill. “It’s down the hall,” she said, pointing to the empty hallway over her shoulder. Her eyes returned to the bright blue computer screen.
I strode over without asking for further instructions, for fear her directions might be convoluted. I decided to make a run for it, following the signs for the restroom.
I shoved the door open and thankfully it’s empty. I gasp for air and grip the sides of the sink. Breathing exercises didn’t work. I threw cold water on my face and felt little relief. I wanted to escape my skin. I didn’t want to punch the mirror. My fist rested against the surface. The cool sensation felt better than the beating I would’ve given it. The wall would’ve won.
Suddenly, my face is resting on the surface. My phobia of germs had dissipated and welcomed the cool feeling. I never wanted to sit on the bathroom floor, but I couldn’t deny the feeling of relief I received in that instant.
After a few moments more, I opened my eyes and saw another man sitting down, on the floor, resting against the adjacent wall. I became startled. Had I entered the space, not knowing someone was in here? Maybe he was in the stall and came out, saw and didn’t want to disrupt my episode. That made sense to me at the time.
“Feels good,” the stranger said. “Doesn’t it?” The mans eyes were closed. I could tell he didn’t work for the hospital. Or maybe he did and he wasn’t dressed in his uniform.
“Yeah,” I said after a few minutes. I knew what he was talking about.
“It’s rare when people actually use this room for its namesake,” he continued.
“How do you mean?”
“Resting in a restroom,” he said with a smile. His eyes were still closed.
I smiled to myself. “Better than a bathroom.”
“Yeah,” he laughed, opening his eyes. The contrast between the cool surface and his warm laugh was noticeable for me.
“If you had talked to me five minutes ago and said I’d be resting on the bathroom floor, I’d laugh you out of this place.”
“Most people find solace in the bathroom,” he said as he rested his head on the wall behind him.
“Is this a meta joke,” I asked, expecting a surface level potty joke.
“No, it’s the truth. The tiles are hard. They reverberate sound with much more clarity than a classroom or a chapel. Your singing is echoed here,” he said, pointing to the walls and ceiling. “Prayers are echoed here. Thoughts are too.”
“My thoughts,” I repeated.
“Yeah! Why do you think your mind races when you’re in the shower?” I frowned in disbelief. “You think hundreds of thoughts a day, but in the bathroom, one thought bounces back to you and it keeps bouncing off you, through you… next thing, you’re having a full blown mental argument in your mind.”
“Hm… I always thought it was because of the hot water.”
“It’s part of the ingredients.”
“Well,” I said, struggling to get up. “Didn’t mean to disrupt you.”
“Why? This is a public restroom.” The stranger’s sharp hazel eyes made contact with mine finally. I was locked in. I couldn’t budge. I was compelled to sit on a surface that was all to comforting. “When I was a kid, I had a lot of siblings. It was at a point where if I managed my day correctly, I could go unnoticed. No one would see me.”
“That’s not good.”
“I liked it, actually. I would always start games of hide and seek and I would always hide in the bathroom underneath the sink. No one would ever guess to look there.”
“You sure your siblings weren’t just avoiding you?”
“Doesn’t matter. The only one person I cared about found me every time. My mom. She always knew where to find me. Until she couldn’t anymore. One day, she left for work and was hit by a drunk driver and that was the end of my mom. No one knows this, but that’s why I hide out in bathrooms… hoping my mom would show up and find me.”
My heart sank. My temperature rose. “Why’d you tell me that story?”
“Because your mom is upstairs. I know it,” the stranger said.
I blinked at the accuracy of this man. Was I so readable?
“And she can’t find you,” he continued. “But you can find her. Go find her and end the game. I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about.”
“You don’t understand,” I started.
“I do,” the man said. “I understand that when five years pass, then a decade, then two decades, you’re going to wish you had the courage to get up and push past your feelings and hold her.”
The man had read me. Fully. He sprang to his feet and offered me his hand. I had been making excuses for months, but this stranger came in at the last moment. He was right. I should get over myself and hold my mother.