Sprawled out on the local theatre’s public bathroom, I leaned my head against the toilet lid and tried my best not to think of the petri dish accumulating on my right cheek. The checkered black and white tile beneath my blue jeans froze my skin, a much needed sensation after months of being numb and wincing at the summer sun. The coldness was a reminder. A reminder of rock bottom.
Bathrooms are possibly the number one symbol of distress and growth in the movie that is my life (or the one I’d like to think it is). Whether it’s hitting the metal door with my fists freshman year, suicidal and morbidly underweight or breaking down in London’s tiny showers, bathrooms exist for the sole purpose of escape for me. They raise no suspicion, are always accessible, and tell a lot about the place you’re in at the time. They’re arguably the most important place in most institutions. Don’t agree? Chug a soda, wait a few minutes, and then let me know.
This time felt different, as all rock bottoms tend to feel. I had taken too much of my pain medication and went out to a movie with my friends and boyfriend at the time. My head seemed to droop every few seconds and I was slipping in and out of consciousness. The beauty that my childhood theatre once held seemed absent in the moments I spent gazing at the neon lights and the peaks of the fortress-like installments of the outside. The more I thought about it, the more it was just a scene. Just another pointless scene in a very long movie I was growing bored with. The people in it would soon disappear, and I knew that.
I always know when people are going to leave. They don’t realize I know, though, because I play along and act shocked when it happens. It’s the little things they do. The changing of voice tones, the awkward glances, the stressed affection. Leaving is a science I have tackled many times before, and I’m particularly in tune to it now.
We snuck an entire arsenal of snacks and drinks in one of my friend’s coats and waddled into the theatre, looking like the childish teenagers we were. I won’t bore you with the in between details of what happens next, just know that I was sitting in a theatre with a migraine, doped up on medication, surrounded people who didn’t care about me, watching a movie about incredibly loud and bright dinosaurs. Still with me?
There was a moment. Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was me finally emerging from the depths of a fake identity I had suffered her with months before, but there was a moment. All at once I realized how much what I was doing didn’t matter. How I could disappear and the people around me wouldn’t notice or care. How I was feeding into a reality that wasn’t completely real. How I wasn’t me anymore.
Let me tell you, it hit me like a brick wall. I immediately stood up, as immediately as I could with my head feeling like a heavy, mystic crystal ball, and tried to find my way to the bathroom. The cheap pattern of the red movie theatre floors seemed to cross over each other and twist, making my walking look like a drunk man at three am in some random alley. My chest tightened, and the rainfalls started.
Pain. That’s all I felt. I’ve run out of ways to describe my bad pain days, even to doctors who beg to know. Number scales are arbitrary because there are bad sevens, manageable sevens, and holy hell pump Depakote into my veins sevens. The next question is typically what type of pain I am feeling. Throbbing. Stabbing. Piercing. Aching. In that moment, it was all at once.
A harsh reality of life is realizing that the places and people who are supposed to help you are often the ones that disappoint and hurt the most. Hospitals are typically the place you go to get better, not worse. Doctors know answers. Drugs help. The more I grow and listen, the more I realize that doctors are merely people in bleached lab coats who have read a few more textbooks than the rest of us. They are not aliens. They are not gods. They are not saints. They are just people giving their best shot at making the world a little bit better. I guess I’ve got to give them that, right?
I dug in my pocket for more Aleve and swallowed two pills dry, messing with the rubber on my fraying Converse and trying to calm down. But calming down meant focusing on the pain, and that’s the last thing I, or any sane person, wants to do. After five minutes, I threw up.
Throwing up is possibly the most disgusting feeling in the world. I guess the guilt of killing someone would be pretty bad too, but throwing up is a close second for sure. It is literally your body flipping you off from the inside out and denying you control. Even after getting very used to the waves of nausea I drown in daily, every time I vomit, I feel more defeated than ever. I feel disgusted, humiliated, but most of all, human. It is a reminder that I cannot take a handful of pills on an empty stomach and be okay. It is a reminder that I am here. I am alive. And I am not invincible.
I guess you could say it’s humbling, but frankly I just think it’s gross.
My mom came and picked me up from the theatre and I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much after that. I remember falling asleep and waking up to one text message asking where I was. I had left the theatre two hours ago. It took that long to notice I was gone.
When you realize that you could drop dead and the people you surround yourself with wouldn’t notice until a news headline is when you need to rethink your life.
The movie theatre breakdown happened six months ago, almost to the day. It was one of many. But now I am older, even just by a few months, and I am different. I think about that day more than most because it is a constant reminder that I am worth more than a movie theatre bathroom floor.
Sometimes people treat you like a bathroom floor. Sometimes it takes months to realize that.
It is now December and I’m seeing all of the things I did this year. Listening to “Penny Lane” and watching the English countryside race by. Getting drunk in a secret pub with strangers who would later become some of my best friends and learning how to properly drink a Corona. Sneaking chicken nuggets into a royal theatre. Seeing some of the best shows of my life. Writing in a hotel lobby and seeing a prostitute for the first time. Showing up to a gig alone and befriending a man who chain-smoked cigarettes faster than I could process. Going on a date with a boy who wanted to grow weed for a living. Watching someone snort a line of coke in a telephone booth. Peeing on the side of a mountain. Meeting Kate. Buying those boots. Most of all, thought, learning that love will not magically come from people who don’t care about me. My life might be a shitshow, but it is a fun one at that. Every year makes me smarter, kinder, but also harder. So as much as I’d like to water down the year to a bunch of disappointments and mistakes, the truth is that I’ve learned more this year than any other. Experience is the most valuable currency. I got a bit richer this year.
In January, I interviewed my first band. Now, I run my own magazine online. I’ve gone backstage, snuck into secret sets, befriended artists I’ve idolized, and learned that the barriers we build between each other are fragile. Doctors aren’t perfect. Artists aren’t untouchable. Friends are not permanent. Sometimes life is a dirty bathroom floor, but sometimes it is a beautiful movie on a massive screen.