by Angel Eduardo
By the third grade, we had all become experts at knowing exactly when and how to ask to go to the bathroom. Even I, who moved to Fort Lee at the beginning of that year and had just begun to settle in, was wise to the system from practicing it back in New York. The ability to read the teacher’s mood and determine the precise moment to ask was essential. You didn’t want to interrupt her train of thought during a lecture, and you definitely didn’t want to draw too much attention to yourself by breaking classwork silence. The exchange had to appear as casual as breathing and as unimportant as a paper cut. You also couldn’t ask if someone else had just gone, for fear of a pattern being suspected. If the teacher ever caught wind of something like that, bathroom breaks for everyone the rest of the day would be under high scrutiny. You did not want to be that guy.
Proper scheduling was also important. In the morning, you had to gauge the distance between your bathroom trip and recess. In the afternoon, it was finding a good spot between lunch and three o’clock. Planning things this way, you could maximize your free time. If you asked to go to the bathroom twenty minutes before lunch, you wasted a perfectly good break. You also couldn’t go at the same time every day, because they’d definitely notice the pattern. I’ve seen many of my friends fall into that trap—mysteriously having to use the bathroom at ten forty on the dot, three days in a row. Their teachers called them out on their schemes, denied them escape, and embarrassed them in front of the whole class. Their bladders were never trusted again.
Asking for the bathroom pass in elementary school had little to do with actually using the facilities. Sure, we did our business while we were there anyway, but it was more an opportunity to take a slow walk down the hall and dilute the drudgery of the school day. Once, early in the year, I had been biding my time for that golden moment. When it finally came, my hand shot up and I asked. The words had been rehearsed endlessly in my mind. I experimented with shifting the emphases, altering the tonality, doing anything and everything to make sure I sounded as casual as possible.
“Mrs. Urgo, can I go to the bathroom?”
After this come the few seconds between the petition and the response, when your heart feels like it might fly out of your chest from the anticipation. This is the hardest part. You have to keep your face straight, your hand up, and your eyes wide with the subtle urgency of nature calling. If she accepts, you’re free to venture out into the hall for a brief respite. If she declines, you can do nothing but slump down in defeat, sharing your red plastic chair with the boatload of disappointment that she has just dumped on you. Moments like those seemed to slow the clock, make class subjects even more mind-numbing, and bring your tolerance for it all to near non-existence.
“Yes, Angel, go ahead.”
Success felt great, and it was always difficult to hide that, but you had to. Your teacher could just as quickly retract her permission if she began to suspect foul play. You had to keep cool, acting like you were doing nothing more than carrying out a simple bodily function—a biological necessity. It was also important not to dash out of the room. Besides making your true intentions obvious, you were also risking everyone thinking you had diarrhea. You didn’t want to seem totally lax, either, though. After all, if you asked to use the bathroom, it clearly meant you had to go. It took practice and skill to find the right balance, but, like I said, by eight, we were pros.
I slowed my pace significantly once I walked out of the classroom and into the hallway. I hummed my way down the hall, looking at the art projects that adorned the bulletin boards on either side of me. I had the added luxury of getting completely lost in thought this time around, so the three-minute trip to and from the bathroom felt like a glorious eternity. I stopped at the water fountain to take a drink—another great trick for stretching the break time. The best part about this was that it could be done once on the way to the bathroom and again on the way back to class without arousing the slightest suspicion. We need water to live, after all, and you can have as much as you like. Still daydreaming, I pushed open the bathroom door and stepped inside.
My mind suddenly snapped back to reality as I looked up and around the room. There were many more stalls than I remembered, and they were on the opposite side than the day before. The walls and tiles were pink, and there weren’t any urinals. I stood for a moment, disoriented, with an ominous sense welling up in my gut that I was at once lost and trespassing. Halfway through wondering why the school would suddenly re-paint the bathroom pink, it hit me. Horrified, I quickly jumped through the door and started back towards class. My mistake was painfully obvious. The water fountain was located on the wall between the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms. Since ours was closer to class, we had to pass it to take a drink, and then double back to it afterwards. I must have been so lost in my daydream that I just kept walking. Luckily for me, their bathroom was empty; they didn’t care as much about ditching class as we boys did. Nobody saw me. No one can tell. Still freaked out, I forwent my second stop at the water fountain and tried to hurry back before anyone would notice.
No dice. Mrs. Urgo was talking to another teacher outside the classroom door as I approached, and since I was the only kid in the hallway, I was impossible not to see. There were no corridors to duck into and no nooks to hide in. Noticing that I was a little farther down the hall than I should have been, they stopped chatting and stared as I made my way towards them. I struggled to force nonchalance into my gait as the fear of what might happen to me filled my belly and threw me off center. My legs were shaking. No matter what I did, I was scared as hell and completely unable to hide it.
Mrs. Urgo’s friend turned to her with a smirk and asked, “Was he…?”
I stopped in front of them and stared blankly.
“No,” Mrs. Urgo answered casually, “he wouldn’t do that. Would you, Angel?”
It took me a moment before I shook my head in response. They both took a long, hard look at me as I stood there, staring down at my sneakers, desperate to just get back to my seat and forget about this whole thing.
Finally, Mrs. Urgo spoke.
“Ok, Angel, go ahead inside.”
I didn’t realize that my entire body had tensed up until I heard those words. Upon her pardon I felt my shoulders drop, my breathing slow, and my face loosen. My body felt like jelly as I walked back into the classroom and sat down at my desk. Pulling out my notebook and pencil to get ready for the next subject, and trying to avoid eye contact with anyone, I looked up at the clock. There was still an hour-and-a-half left until recess.
About the author
Angel Eduardo is a writer, musician, and photographer from North Jersey. He writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing for Memoir at CUNY Hunter College in New York City. More of his work can be found on his official website, www.angeleduardo.net.