The words ‘public toilet’ don’t exactly have positive connotations. They can be awful places: smelly, dirty, hot and windowless with long queues and no loo roll. A whole plethora of negative words. But any woman who’s ever been pissed in public will know the wonders of the ladies room.
Bathrooms have always been something of a sanctuary for me. They’re a place where once you’ve shut that door, no one can follow you in and expect you to put up a performance. You have privacy. You can have a good cry if you want, chuck water over your face or give yourself a good talking to in the mirror. You can wash the day off your skin in the shower and sing as loud as you want to block out the intrusive thoughts that often turn up in the evening.
It stands to reason that a public bathroom is the next best thing. If I’ve ever teared up in public or found myself on the brink of panic, stress or whatever – the bathroom is my first port of call; it’s a place to cool down, or even warm up if you’re out and about in town in bleak midwinter. Now, on a night out, it’s the place I come up for air.
Bathrooms in a bar, bathrooms in a club. They’ve always been my favourite places. Even when there’s no loo roll left and the floor is swimming with spilt drinks. Your ears buzz with that sudden quiet and chatter. Girls, regrouping and coming together (sometimes in more than one way). Holding back hair and taking selfies in cracked glass mirrors. Sharing drinks with strangers and crying on their shoulders when you’re all out bravado and your actual friends are nowhere to be seen.
It’s a collective experience of taking a break from the drinking, the dancing, the bitching about life and the spilling of your problems. A break from the you that you are with people you know. It’s like emerging from a swimming pool and gasping for breath. Waiting till you’re ready to go back down for more.
There might be a girl with copper coloured hair standing in the corner with sad eyes. A beautiful barely-even-woman girl. When her chin wobbles you ask her what’s wrong. I don’t know what it is about these toilets; if you saw her on the street you’d probably just walk on by. Leave her and her shit behind. She shrugs. That shrug you do when you don’t want to say something’s wrong, but if you open your mouth to say you’re fine you’ll cry. So you do the sad eyed shrug and wait. The overwhelming sadness of being drunk. Of wanting to cry when everyone else is having a good time.
You hug her, this absolute stranger, because you just want her to be happy, and to know she’s beautiful and surely she must be loved. And because you’ve been here a tonne of times before. You’re doing fine, you say and she smiles, you are too.
You’ve sat on the toilet and sobbed as though no one could hear you. Wrote in lipstick on cubicle walls. You’ve stared at yourself in the mirror and said ‘I look disgusting’. Shown a brand new love bite off to total strangers. You’ve head butted doors as you stood up to go and cut your arms on difficult locks. Washed your mouth out after a drunken kiss. Fucked people pressed up against the door.
You’ve hated it, and you’ve loved it. This community in the women’s public loo. There’s no place like it. You wipe tears, change tactics, tell your friends home truths, or tell other people about your friends. Recite the alphabet backwards in a bizarre bid to appear sober. Grab hands and hug. And give each other the guts to get back out there, in the world again.