18 minutes


yesterday as i began my drive from dc to pa, i was optimistic. the commute to dc that morning had been fast and almost traffic-free. i hoped it meant light traffic for the afternoon trip.

adding to my optimism was the fact that i had thought ahead that morning and brought a bottle of gatorade with me for the drive home. go me! exciting stuff right there.

okay, not really, but i usually don’t have any snack or drink item with me during my drive home, and i get reallllly tired and bored.

i started enjoying my gatorade right away.

after a few gulps and long before i’d even gotten out of dc, my stomach gurgled. it was clearly not as pleased that i had brought the gatorade along for the ride.

i took another swig.

more gurgles. some discomfort.

is this something? i asked myself. or will it go away? do i need to find somewhere to stop? is my beautiful commute home in jeopardy?

the discomfort subsided.


it returned.


the discomfort wasn’t acute, but i could tell that at some point during my drive home, i would have to stop and visit the comfort room.

i knew there was a mcdonald’s a few minutes ahead on the drive. i have stopped there once to buy a water of all things. it was so hot, and i was so thirsty (and tired and bored) that day.

or i could continue on until the situation was more pressing and hope for a convenient place to stop at that point.

i decided to stop. a quick in and out and back on the road. maybe 3 minutes. my commute could still be awesome.

i walked into the first of three stalls, locked the door, sat down, and started relieving the discomfort, so to speak.

it was then that i looked at the toilet paper dispenser on the wall. both of the rolls were completely empty. not a single scrap.

i was alone in the bathroom.

“noooooooo,” i said out loud. “please no.”

i grabbed my purse. nothing. no kleenex. no wet wipes. nothing. i didn’t even have my phone to call the mcdonald’s and tell them of my plight.

what am i going to do? i thought.

what could i do?

my optimism about my drive home was waning, to say the least.

my options as i saw them were as follows.

  1. wait for someone to come in and ask them for some toilet paper from one of the other two stalls.
  2. wait until i had drip-dried sufficiently that i could waddle out and over to the next stall. i mean, who knew how long it would be until someone else came in the bathroom.

the bathroom door opened.

SALVATION! i will be driving home again very soon.

now, how long should i wait before i say something? i really want to get out of here and back on the road. but obviously, i don’t want to be rude and pounce on this woman before she’s had a chance to do what she came here to do.

i waited until i heard what seemed to be the completion of her business but before i heard the toilet flush. what if she was someone who doesn’t wash her hands and would be out the door before i could get her attention from the depths of my toilet paperless prison cell.

“hello?” i said. “is there someone there who can help me? i don’t have any toilet paper, and i need some. can you help me?”


[tangent. as i write this, i feel like the clown in the little engine that could. can you please pull us over the mountain? our train has broken down and the good boys and girls on the other side won’t have good food to eat or toys to play with unless you help us.]

i waited a few minutes and then repeated my humble plea.

more silence.

i checked my watch.





the bathroom door opened again. someone else was coming in. or was that the first someone going out without flushing? (hey, we’ve been in enough public bathrooms to know it was a possibility.)

i couldn’t hear anything coming from the two other stalls. maybe i’m alone.

here goes nothing, i thought. maybe i’ve drip-dried sufficiently.

i was wearing a dress, so i left my unders around my knees and let my dress down gently as i stood up. i waddled out of my stall only to find that both doors were shut.

i sat down again.

i was about to plead for assistance when one of the toilets flushed.

it’s now or never, i thought.

before i could speak, the water got turned on. man, was that loud. at least she’s washing her hands.

i called out again.

“hello,” i said loudly.

“what is it you need?” i wish i could describe the nastiness in her voice. like i was the worst person for making her talk to me.

“i don’t have any toilet paper. can you give me some.”

“well, why didn’t you check for that before you went in there?” each word dripped with disdain.

“i’m stupid?”

“you’re more than stupid. you’re [words inaudible because, well, because my mind was reeling and because she was stomping out of the bathroom]!”

and she was gone.

[i am a very important engine indeed. i will not pull the likes of you. and the big engine steamed off.]

“i just need some toilet paper,” i whimpered.

i stared at the floor. this isn’t really happening.

at this point another wave of discomfort demanded relief. i obliged. what else did i have going on?

well, at least i was stuck here long enough to get that over with, i thought. i can be thankful for all of this because it means i don’t have to stop later.

the other toilet flushed, and a few seconds later the water turned on.

“can you give me some toilet paper? please?”

no response.

and she was gone.

i waited a few seconds, thinking. what has happened in the lives of these women that one would choose to speak so cruelly to me and the other would ignore me entirely? wow. there is a lot of anger and hatred out there. (or maybe the second one speaks no english.)

i stood up, again with my unders around my knees.

again i waddled to the stall next door where i found ample amounts of toilet paper, some of which i put to good use.

toilet flushed. hands washed. back on the road with a resolve to forever and always be willing to offer toilet paper to someone in need no matter the consequences or how hard life is or how scary the world gets.

i will always give you toilet paper.


post-script. maybe the second woman was wearing headphones and never heard me. or, like i said, maybe she didn’t speak english. i find myself far more willing to give her a pass than the woman who spoke to me with such ugliness. but i’m sure i just will never know how how hard her life has been, how beaten down she is. it is a very sad thing, isn’t it, if life has been so hard on you that you are unable to do the smallest kindness for someone else.


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One Response to 18 minutes

  1. Carol says:

    Is it so hard to be civil?
    I can’t prove it, but I will suggest that it requires less energy to be kind than to be nasty.
    P.S. I just can’t like gatorade.


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