You know how we were talking about honesty?
I take it back.
Anna decided to prey upon my weakened, vulnerable state and finagle me into telling you guys the Mysterious Tale of the Bathroom Incident. She obviously loves listening to me embarrass myself.
And obviously, since I care nothing for embarrassment, I agreed.
The year was 2016, and I was a wee 15-year-old with chronic introversion, type 1 timidity, and a rare voice condition that caused me to squeak when I spoke to strangers. On one particular day, Mom, Dad, and I were on the way home from a booksale, and having been gone for upwards of 5 hours, decided we’d go out to eat.
We made our way to a Cracker Barrel restaurant and promptly devoured our food like ravenous hippos. This being done, Dad went out to heat up the car (it was November, after all, and none of us are particularly cold-tolerant), and mom went up front to pay.
And what was I doing, you may ask?
Hanging onto her skirt like the annoying child that I am and whining about having to go to the bathroom.
Literally like that.
Mom glanced absent-mindedly over her shoulder and said, “Bathrooms are to the right.”
Before we continue, there’s something you must understand about my mother: She never (repeat, NEVER), under any circumstance, lets her children go into public restrooms by themselves. In this day and age, I don’t blame her. But in the shock of having her so casually send me off, I failed to register that this was probably a result of having not properly processed what I’d said. Instead, I took it to mean that I had passed some esoteric maturity test and was now old enough and wise enough to wander into the Cracker Barrel bathrooms alone.
Feeling monstrously pleased, I betook myself off. I barreled through right-hand door, looked around, and breathed an introverted sigh of relief. The place was empty.
I barreled out of the stall in much the same fashion I’d barreled in — monstrously proud of myself. (Look, I was a weird kid at 15. Don’t judge.) I turned toward the sinks, ready to stride forward with all the purposefulness of a child who has conquered the art of independence, a smile of satisfaction on my face as I charged toward the–
There was a guy.
In the women’s bathroom.
I was not a naive little blossom. I’d heard my fair share of horror stories, and in that moment, every single one of them flashed through my mind like a panorama of doom. The guy glanced my way, and I stiffened, shooting him the most disgusted, haughty look I could conjure. He gave me a weird glance and turned back to whatever he was doing. It looked like…
Oh. I could have laughed in relief. He was refilling the paper-towel dispenser. Maybe he was just a janitor, not a villainous kidnapping creep.
Still, ice flowed through my veins as I marched past him and turned on the faucet. Hostility radiated from every pore of my being. I kept a sideways eye on him, ready to spring into a Natasha Romanoff pose should a kidnapping look imminent. Once again, he glanced at me, and with the most bewildered expression I’ve ever seen on a guy’s face.
Of all the nerve.
Despite the terror that painted my heart with ice, I felt slightly offended. He comes into MY bathroom and has the audacity to look at ME weird???
The paper-towel dispenser being filled, he left, and I took a few moments to calm my shattered nerves. I hadn’t been shanghaied. What a wonderfully unexpected turn of events!
The feelings of monstrous pride crept back into my heart, and with a shaky smile, I burst through the door, having truly conquered the lonely Cracker Barrel bathroom. I turned to find my mother, and–
HOLY HAMBURGERS, HE’S BACK.
He was just… standing there. Mop in hand. Still looking confused. (The jerk.)
The animosity stirred back up. I paused, trying to gather my bearings and scan the Cracker Barrel shop for my (hopefully) waiting mom. I did my best to NOT look at the offensive kidnapper, though he was standing right there and every inch of my being wanted to fix him with the incinerating INTJ death glare. But I resisted the urge, and did my best to ignore–
Aaaaaand he’s speaking to me.
WHY is he speaking to me?
Turning to him with hauteur plastered to my face, I tried to make out what he was saying. He had a thick accent that I couldn’t quite understand, so I just nodded stiffly and continued my mother-search. But no, that wouldn’t cut it. This guy didn’t give up. He kept talking, and finally — finally — I made out what he was saying.
“Your mother’s looking for you in there.” He nodded at the–
The men’s bathroom?
Giddiness forced a smile to my mouth as I thanked him. He nodded, and left, leaving me to stare at the men’s bathroom door. Roiling bewilderment turned to humor in my stomach. Poor mom. Poor, poor mom must have come looking for me, but confused the women’s bathroom for the men’s. Unable to find me there, she’d probably flipped out, and asked everyone in sight if they’d seen her missing child.
(It didn’t help that we’d just watched the episode in The Big Valley where all the cowboys got shanghaied. I’m sure that flashed through her mind a couple hundred times…)
I tentatively pushed open the men’s bathroom door and peered in. It was empty. “Mom?” I called, distinctly aware that I was in a place I shouldn’t be. But she didn’t answer, and when I crouched down to peer under the stall doors, they were all empty.
Well that’s just great, I thought, backing out the door and letting it swing shut behind me. Where’d she go now?
As the door swung shut, I caught a glimpse of the sign on it. And…
I frowned, squinting hard. A dizzying wave of discombobulation shot through my brain as I stared at the simple picture of a stick-figure in a skirt. Hang on. Wasn’t that… didn’t that mean…
Realization settled in my hollow stomach as I turned back to the bathroom I’d previously used — the one I’d spent almost fifteen minutes in — and looked at the picture on the door.
In case you’re illiterate, that says “men.”
When you find yourself in a situation like this, you have only one option: Laugh. And laugh I did, right there in the middle of the Cracker Barrel store, until tears were in my eyes and the poor janitor I’d stared down on numerous occasions probably thought I was insane. I must have looked absolutely loony to him, with my waist-length Eowyn hair and long, flowing skirt — in the men’s bathroom, of all places.
Laughter is nice for a while, but then it eventually dies down and you’re still faced with the problem at hand. In this case, WHERE ON EARTH IS MY MOTHER?? The store was empty. It was almost closing time. I sincerely hoped she hadn’t left me, but at the moment, not a soul was in sight.
I eventually found her on the other side of the front door, staring in with the most mournful, bedraggled expression I’ve ever seen on a human being’s face. The poor creature, having thought me kidnapped, went outside to the car and flipped out at dad. But because the restaurant was about to close, the doors were locked when she returned, and she couldn’t get back in to find me.
This is every mother’s secret nightmare.
Needless to say, she was beyond relieved when I came wandering out, tears of laughter in my eyes and a crazy story on my tongue. Later, when all was said and done, I called Anna (who was staying with friends in Canada at the time) and told her my misadventure.
It was an interesting experience. I’d never had the opportunity to listen through the phone to someone fall off their bed laughing. In case you’re wondering, it sounds rather painful.
And THAT, folks, is why my family will never again let me go into a public restroom by myself.
Have a nice Thursday. And please, PLEASE, I beg you: Always double-check the bathroom signs before you barge in.