“I have to go to the bathroom.”
We’ve been somewhere with bathrooms for hours, and now we’re sitting in the car in the parking lot of the grocery store while your mother grabs a few things, and we’re amusing ourselves with a game where we make up the answers to riddles, except for you. You have to go to the bathroom.
We were at your grandmother’s house where there are three bathrooms within easy striking distance. And now we’re in the middle of the parking lot. And because you are six, I can’t let you cross the parking lot—walk through the store into the bathroom—by yourself. Someone has to take you. Probably your oldest sister. And that would become an event. Going into the store to go to the bathroom would become the kind of thing that everyone has to get in on. A social phenomenon. The event would provoke your two sisters’ bladders. It’s possible that even the ears of your brother’s bladder would prick up upon receiving word of such a high profile gala. Attendance would be non-negotiable. All of the children would trek into the store and in their wake would follow mayhem and despair.
And your mother—who loves you, but who is also relieved to be picking up a few items in the store without you, who feels that this time apart is the key to a healthy relationship with you—your mother would find a band of roving progeny in the store. She would feel like there is a curse upon her, as though she cannot be free of an eldritch specter. She would be like a woman who accidentally opened a forbidden book of lore and in innocence provoked a unit of demons who will pursue her anywhere, even as she selects her favorite flavor of carbonated water and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap.
And so it is my duty to distract you. I have limited capabilities here. The tape thing that allows me to play music from my phone on the car stereo has failed again. The tape things last for less than a month, if they ever work to begin with. We have exhausted every CD that isn’t a solid wall of skips. The only thing I have is this game where I say things like “What’s red and can’t climb trees?”
When I come up with the set up I don’t have an answer in mind. We’re going to go around and propose what the answer should be. So we’re starting with a random couple of dots—”red” and “can’t climb trees”—and the game is to connect them in a surprising way. You and the other younger children do not understand what a good answer to a riddle is, so your answers are things like “A red dog!” Dogs don’t climb trees, it’s true. But just declaring the dog “red” feels like cheating, doesn’t it? Search your heart.
A good answer would be something like “A paraplegic tomato!” or “An acrophobic fire-truck!” or, if we’re in the right kind of mood, “Blood!” But I have to rely on the older children for answers like these. One time, in answer to the question “What’s yellow and won’t wake up?” an older sibling said, “A dead banana”, a response which deserves an award. But even these older children tend to miss more than they hit.
In light of the circumstances, I decide to say, “What’s yellow and runs down your leg?” And that was the wrong thing to say. It’s only the premise. Just setting the pins up. A good answer might have been something like “An athletic lemon!” But we don’t even get that far. You have begun to laugh at the transgression of potty talk, the joy of excretion humor. The laughter is shaking your body. I wish I could take it back. Your body is tightening. There is no going back. Your stomach constricts and the pressure on your bladder becomes untenable.
In my mind, I am already gathering cleaning supplies, paper towels. I am shampooing the rug in the back of the car. I am doing everything I can to not mention that this is why we need to go to the bathroom when we are in houses that have bathrooms, because you don’t need to feel additional shame about a situation that I largely caused. Apparently, I struggle with a kind of incontinence too, where ill-advised thoughts come streaming out against my better judgment. We are not so different you and I. Except that I remember to use the bathroom before I get in the car.
Here comes your mother, refreshed by a few minutes alone, during which she was surrounded by the bounty of capitalism and a Kelly Clarkson song. For a little while longer, she looks happy.