Bathroom Pass -- fiction by Hazel Fry
My dark bathroom clutched me like an ancient goddess, and I tilted my head backwards until gravity became a meaningless word. I jumped up on the toilet seat and opened a window, letting the breath of other people in my apartment building seep into the room. My skin prickled in the breeze. This rebellion of sitting on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night gave me a temporary flash of adrenaline.
Suddenly I heard the doorknob turn, and my little dark cave was being invaded. I slammed my palm into the door, feeling my muscles tremble as I held it shut.
“Can I come in?” whispered my mom’s exhausted voice. “It’s the middle of the night, sweet girl.”
My head ached as the word ‘girl’ cut through my brain. “Um, one moment,” I said, my voice shaky. I pressed my foot against the door just in case as I pulled out a young teen girl's puberty book I hadn’t seen in years and pretended to be deeply invested. “Okay, yeah, come in.”
My mom gently opened the door and turned on the light. I blinked through the white spirals in my retina like an infant. “Hon, you have school tomorrow – actually today by now. I want you to get enough sleep.”
“Mhm,” I mumbled. “I will. Like I just got here. To the bathroom. Just a second ago.” I was lying, but I forgave myself. My lie would make mom less worried, which was honestly me being very nice.
“Okay, I’m glad. Try to go back to bed though, or you’ll be a grump tomorrow.”
“I’m never a grump.”
My mom scrunched her nose the way she does when something is annoyingly funny. “Night, sweet girl.”
The next morning at school I couldn’t remember if I had slept or not, which logically meant I did sleep a little. My backpack was slung over one shoulder, hurting my back to the extent that I wondered if looking like I didn’t give a fuck was worth the pain.
Right as I awkwardly wove my other arm under the backpack strap, a pack of pretty people with hair the color of the aurora borealis paraded past me. Two of them wore skull fishnets under baggy, ripped jeans, and I watched in awe and concern as they nearly twisted their ankles in their buckle platform boots. It was horrible timing for me to be in a dorky, in between position with my backpack. I stopped trying to get the strap over my shoulder, and acted again like I didn’t care.
Suddenly, I felt a twinge of discomfort in my bladder. I got out my phone and checked the time. There were seven minutes until my next class. I hurried to the gender neutral bathroom, my backpack thumping against my riveted belt and making me sound like a walking percussive instrument. When I reached the two bathroom doors I recognized, even from a few feet away, the red “occupied” rectangle that stared at me like a judgmental little bitch. Of course they were closed. It’s not like I was surprised, but I glared back at the “occupied” sign and scolded it for locking me out, for telling me I could not use the bathrooms that were supposed to be designed for people like me. I wondered if I should wait just in case the door opened right when I was leaving. But as I inched closer I heard the faint beat of music rattle the door, sneaking under the cracks, and I knew there was no hope.
I ran in a strategic way that made me look like I was walking with something important to do, but not like I was rapidly fleeing from my own discomfort. I stepped into the women’s restroom, the numbing scent of flavored vape drifting up my nose. I saw a cluster of girls snuggled together like chattering rodents with one girl in the center. She must have been the cheese. She had long brunette hair with artificial waves at the tips, the color of pink crayons and year old lollipops. Her hair was dyed in the way that straight girls can get away with and still look obviously straight. Her clumpy mascara stained her upper eyelid as she leaned her neck back into the wall, a puff of smoke escaping her lips.
“No, because he is literally the finest man alive,” one girl said in an unnecessarily loud voice.
“No, for real. I would let him run me over with a fucking car,” another replied. “Like with a Mercedes-Benz, or like some other fancy shit.”
“Oh my god, one of those new Teslas with the convertible roof.”
“Yes,” she let out a longing sigh. “Oh my lord please.”
I froze in the doorway, half mentally laughing and half overwhelmingly aware that I didn’t belong here. I hated the fact that I could get away with walking into the women’s bathroom without anyone caring or being uncomfortable. Part of me wished that someone would tell me to get the hell out. That someone would say: “You aren’t a girl, you shouldn’t be here.”
I decided to say it to myself instead. My therapist would be proud of me. I turned around and felt my breath quicken as I headed for the men’s room, changing my walk slightly to look like a dude who doesn’t wear deodorant and is probably going to skip his next class. I glanced at the security guard, wondering if he would look me up and down or shoo me away. He was lost in his phone. I don’t know how he’s supposed to keep security while staring down all the time, but I trust him I guess, I thought.
I sauntered into the men’s bathroom. A rush of bravery and validation traveled through my arms, swelling my biceps like a guy. The moment I stepped on the sticky tile floor I was drowned in the pungent odor of unflushed piss and sweat mixed with cologne that was clearly masking nothing. I knew I didn’t belong here either, but at least I was exhibiting a form of rebellion.
I scurried towards one of the limited number of stalls. A naked, pimpled butt flashed by the corner of my eye as I heard the strong flood of pee welcomed by the urinal. I held my breath. I pushed hard on the stall door, but it didn’t open. I flinched from the rattling noise I caused, hoping the half nude boy wouldn’t fling himself towards me to see what was going on. The stall had a pull door.
Pee bubbled in the toilet water and lingered in small droplets on the seat, so I flushed and grabbed a handful of toilet paper to clean the mess. Cleaning a guy’s mess. Once I locked myself between the tight walls I let go of my breath, plopping my heavy backpack on the ground. The boy’s footsteps faded, and I was alone. This was the moment to relish, to allow pride to swirl through my lungs instead of fear, and to relax into this affirmation of my identity. I ran my palms over my chest, grateful that I chose to wear my binder that day. I felt the tightness of my breasts morphing into my flat skin under my baggy, long sleeve hoodie with a black skull t-shirt layered on top. When I looked down I winced at the way my thighs spread out like womanly pillows on the toilet seat. I knew I needed to let go of the desire to look like a bony, scrawny teenage boy, but as I sat in this disgusting bathroom I longed for a reason to feel like I was allowed here. As if my body could grant me permission. At least I was alone. At least this was my space.
“Bro I fuckin’ ate that shit up bro,” bellowed a cracking voice that sounded like his throat had been scratched by a cat. “I could fuckin’ beat her up for sayin’ that shit, but it’s chill, you know?”
My whole body tightened. I wondered if under the door the boys could see my boots with a slight heel, if they’d know I wasn’t a guy.
“Yeah, I mean, she’s a girl,” another voice chimed in, this one deep and mistakable for a middle aged married man. “And she’s low key hot.”
“Nah, I think she’s a dyke. She has armpit hair.”
“Isn’t that a bad word?”
I wished I could hear the beginning of their conversation. I wanted to know what the girl had said. Plus, I wanted to meet her if she was in fact a dyke.
“Whatever, I’ve just been thinking about the game last night,” the second guy said. “We shoulda crushed that private school team.”
“Dude, you weren’t even there.”
“Yeah I told you, I was skating.”
I muffled my laughter. Still, I could feel my face heating up, wishing they would leave so I could hurry out of the bathroom and be on time for class. I only had two minutes. I imagined the comfort of my tiny bathroom at home with its soft silver rug and clean hexagon tiles that reminded me of lions. Then I heard the shuffling of another person making their loud presence known in the stall next to me. Once he sat down, right away he began sneezing and farting like a malfunctioning airplane engine. It sounded like he would be there for a while.
“Hey bro,” he said to me through the stall. I had never been spoken to with this specific tone of voice before. It was strangely wonderful. Sure, people had called me bro, but never with such casual confidence. He thought I was a boy, that’s why. Behind this wall, I could be anything. “Wanna play chess?”
I didn’t know how to respond, or how in the world to play chess under a bathroom door. “Well, I should probably go to class,” I said awkwardly. Shit.
“Uh, am I in the wrong bathroom?”
I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling them burn with embarrassment. I wallowed in the knowledge that my existence and validity was diminished to my voice, the way it ended in a question mark like girls are taught to talk, the way it would never crack or deepen, and I could never say “bro” the way I wanted to. If the farting, sneezing teenage boy in the stall next to me had seen me, me with my binded chest, smudged eyeliner, and thighs hidden beneath wide jeans, he wouldn’t even have talked to me. Why couldn’t my voice at least be good enough? If I had to own this body, why couldn’t I have just one thing to cloak me in androgyny? I hesitated before speaking. “Nope,” I said firmly.
“Okay,” he said. “So, do you wanna play chess?”
Hazel is a sophomore in creative writing at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. They have work published in several literary publications, including Synchronized Chaos, The Weight Journal, and Parallax Journal. They have also performed their poetry at the Youth Art Summit in San Francisco and 826 Valencia. When Hazel is not writing, they can be spotted cuddling their three cats, holding their python, feeding their tarantula, or rescuing insects from being squashed.