Did you know that the least-used bathroom stall is the one closest to the door? I know this because as a germaphobe, I’ve done my research. People skip the first stall with the assumption that everyone goes to that one first and so it will be the dirtiest. The most used. But not so. Go swab the door handle on the second stall, stick it into a petri dish while you make out with your hot professor and then come back and compare it to the first stall swab and you’ll see that what I say is the truth: Your first instincts shouldn’t always be trusted.
It was about this time in October, two years ago now, when Andrew was in the hospital. The thing about Andrew is that as much as I love being alone, he’s the one person on earth that I’d rather be with than myself, and that’s saying a lot coming from a youngest/only child. Growing up, I’d fantasize about getting sent to my room as punishment. I had no problem walking home from school with my nose in a book while all my friends were walking together, arms linked, skipping and sharing germs. To me, being alone > sharing oxygen with other humans. Give me a book and a cat and I’m as happy as a pig in mud. But after meeting Andrew, my feet search for his under the covers, my eyes scan for his in crowds, and my day isn’t complete without his body pressed up against mine.
Except, back when he was sick, I knew he needed the help that I couldn’t give him. So when I’d lay there in bed alone, I’d be okay knowing that he was safe. I’ve got a lot of self-confidence, but I know enough to know that there are some things that I just cannot fix or control, and Andrew’s bipolar disorder is one of them.
I’d often have all six kids on my own to care for, not just physically (making lunches and dinners and helping with homework, driving to soccer practices) but emotionally as well (their dad/stepdad was in hospital, and all the other things they were dealing with at school and with friends etc). Thankfully, Andrew’s parents helped me keep my head above water; I’m not sure what I would have done without them. I remember one night when they took Kylah and Ethan (Jake, Freddy and Katie were with Jason) and all I had was Callum (he was napping), and I crumpled into a hot mess on the living room floor. I hadn’t eaten all day, and I cracked open a Guinness, poured it into a glass and sat in front of the fire. The silence was ringing in my ears, and in that moment I felt like it’s all I really needed. To be alone.
But then Andrew’s mom called me up and invited me over for pizza. At first, I balked at the suggestion, like are you kidding me? I haven’t had a break in weeks. Months. I’m barely hanging on. But she kept insisting. She wanted to care for me, and I kept declining. I sipped the Guinness in silence, clenched my molars together and stared out our living room window. But halfway through the glass I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be alone.
Sometimes, we need to just take the first bathroom stall. Chances are, we’re going to save ourselves from a bigger mess.