All My Darkest Secrets Are Hidden In The Office Restroom
The modern office bathroom has become a place for things to be said and done that would never be uttered beyond its walls.
“Are you okay in there?”
It’s 8a.m. and a foreign female voice is talking to me through the cubicle door of my office building restroom.
I hastily sniff back tears and blot escaped mascara onto toilet tissue before hitting the flush button to emit its familiar noise and throw off suspicion.
“Sorry. I didn’t realize you were waiting,” I tell the woman, now facing me; a look of concern painted across her thin over-contoured face.
“Oh, not at all. I was just worried. You sounded like you were crying,” she continues, reaching into her bag and plucking out a fuscia lipliner before facing back toward the mirror to retrace her cupid’s bow; an oddly soothing sight.
“Is everything okay?”
“Actually…no. It’s not,” I find myself revealing to this stranger.
“How can I help? Want to borrow some mascara?” she offers, a consolatory smile spreading across her face as she plunges her hand back into her bag.
“Yours is all smudged.”
I wipe the last couple of tears away and reply with a silent, contented nod.
What is it about the women’s restroom that compels us to reveal parts of ourselves we’d never dare expose on the outside?
I’ve often found myself pondering this while tucking a stranger’s hair behind her ears during a vomiting spell, or in the midst of a comforting hug with a tearful coworker I’ve barely exchanged pleasantries with outside the stall doors.
Even the most powerful, perfectly coiffed female executives allow themselves to fleetingly be fragile behind the exclusive gendered stamp on the Ladies Room door – a kind of signal it’s okay to let our weaknesses out once it’s swung shut.
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.
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.
Images via shutterstock.com.
Comment: Do you relate to the experience of feeling safe to be yourself inside the women’s restrooms?