“You all right in there, Emerson?”
I’d been in this bathroom for about an hour now, trying to gather myself enough to rejoin my coworkers. Every time I seemed to get my composure, however, tears began anew. I’d sat in this stall through at least fifteen rounds of girls primping, preening, and puking. Each time a new group entered the bathroom, I remained undisturbed despite the fact that I was sure people heard the sniffles and saw my feet through the open space at the bottom of the stall’s door. I knew that had a lot to do with the Out of Order sign—constructed from paper towels, chewing gum, and the eyeliner nubbin I found in the bottom of my clutch—hung by Miss Denise, the bathroom attendant. It was amazing what twenty dollars could buy these days.
This was about the fifth time that Miss Denise had asked me if I was okay. Every other time, I barely choked out a yes with the sobs wracking my body. I’d finally managed to tamp down the sobbing and just sat here with tears streaming now. Wow. This was how low I'd sunk. Emerson Renee Parker was seated nearly bare-assed on a toilet in a public bathroom. The fortress of toilet paper that I’d constructed, and my short skirt were indeed no match for whatever strains of bacteria clung to public toilets. Lord knows how many diseases I was subjecting myself to by sitting on this commode.
“Pretty sure I’ve now contracted every venereal disease ever discovered and then some, but I’ll make it, Miss Denise.”
Her low, throaty chuckle brought a smile to my face. If nothing else, my humor was still intact. In the past half hour, I'd gotten to know Miss Denise reasonably well. She was a mother of three girls, two of whom were married with children of their own. Her last daughter was finishing up law school at Yale. Her husband, Orlando, was the one who had gotten her this assignment as bathroom mistress. His cleaning service was responsible for restoring the club to its glory nightly. On occasion, Miss Denise would join him when he was short staffed. As a favor to the owner of the club and to make a little extra cash on the side, she sometimes moonlighted as the bathroom attendant.
Exhaling slowly, I stood upright and opened the door of the stall. Luckily at the moment that I chose to emerge, Miss Denise was the only other person in the restroom. Looking in the mirror to assess the damage that nearly an hour of consistent sobbing had caused, I cringed.
I was usually a no-frills kind of girl, wearing minimal amounts of makeup, but tonight my coworker Micaela convinced me to let her try some of the skills she had acquired from her part-time job at Sephora. What was once a smoky eye now looked like the charred remnants of a fire. Immediately, I felt the tears welling up again. Breathing deeply, I put my head down, trying not to fall back into an emotional abyss.
“That stall is still there if you need it, baby,” Miss Denise said.
“I’m good. I think. I’m good.”
“Emerson...I’m sorry to tell you, baby girl, but you don’t look good. I don’t know what it is that has you all torn up, but I do know one thing. You need to get some help for it, child.”
“Ha,” I laughed, “According to one esteemed professional these feelings were all in my head, and I don’t need help at all.”
During my undergraduate years, I went to see the campus psychiatrist when I noticed that I was having more lows than highs. As I sat in the office detailing the days when I could barely get out of bed to go to class, I felt her growing increasingly impatient. After asking if I was boring her, imagine my surprise when she replied in the affirmative and then went on a rant about how all of us college kids were just trying to scam for meds and most of our anxieties were made up. Exactly what you wanted to hear from a trusted medical professional to whom you’d just spilled all of your innermost demons. Needless to say, I never saw her again.
“Naw baby, it ain’t in your head. It’s got itself wrapped around your soul. You go to church?”
Cutting my eyes to the side, I saw Miss Denise’s face full of expectancy.
“Now if I were a good church going girl, do you really think you would see me in this place right now?”
“Considering that I’ve seen the youth choir director, a junior usher, the daughters of three deacons, AND the pastor’s apprentice in here tonight? Nothing would surprise me, child.”
“I grew up going to the Kingdom Hall faithfully with my parents, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve been to any religious service,” I replied.
“No time like the present to get reacquainted,” Miss Denise said, with a smile.
I had a complicated relationship with religion. I grew up in a religiously strict household, being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. I spent nearly every free hour of my childhood at the mercy of my religion, tailing my parents from Kingdom Hall to bible studies to our door to door ministry, which was called field service. My parents’ dedication to living a life that ensured we would inherit the Earth as paradise as promised by Jehovah God naturally led me to want to rebel. The key word in that sentence being want because no matter what, I still maintained my status as the paragon of goodness and light in our family. My older siblings had done enough screwing up, so I felt compelled to be “the good one.” I never acted on any of my desires to break out of the box and let loose. Instead, I maintained a 4.9 GPA in high school (thanks, honors classes!), made comments every meeting, studied the Bible, read the Watchtower, and mentored children of my parents' friends and congregants in our Kingdom Hall.
Going off to college, I was sure I would finally break free and let my hair down. Only when I got there, I found myself crippled with paralyzing fear every time I attempted to party. Somehow, someway I just knew that it would get back to my parents and I would end up disappointing them, just like the rest of their kids. Never mind the fact that I was two thousand plus miles away from home, with absolutely no one from my hometown at the small, liberal arts college I’d chosen.
During undergrad, however, I decided to part ways with my childhood religion, and I rarely, if ever, found myself in the house of anyone’s God on Sunday mornings. I was usually an early riser, but for the last six months, I’d been sleeping in later and later on the weekends. I suppose it was a side effect of trying to shorten the days that had passed in the wake of the demise of my relationship with Bobby, the man I was sure I was going to marry. We’d been together for the past five years, shacking up, much to my father’s chagrin. I just knew that this was finally the year he was going to propose. He’d been dropping hints about looking into the future and where our relationship would go. Little did I realize, he was paving the way with lies for his escape path.
I came home from a hot yoga session with my friend Kellee one Sunday morning to find an eerily quiet house. Walking into the place I shared with Bobby, something felt off. I couldn’t quite place a finger on it, but my world felt slightly askew. I called out for Bobby, but there was no answer. That was strange because he never left the house on Sundays during football season. Moving on autopilot, I directed my steps toward the bedroom. There was a hanger swinging back and forth along the closet rod as if it had just been displaced. Bobby’s side of the closet was spotless, save that swinging hanger. I retraced my steps back to the living and dining areas, searching for something to be missing or otherwise out of place. A single scrap of paper from a yellow legal pad haphazardly strewn across the table caught my eye. Legal pads were for our home office, not in common areas. Walking over to the table, I picked it up to see a hastily scrawled note in Bobby’s block styled handwriting.
The memory of that day and the stress of the subsequent days since weighed heavily on my shoulders. I went back and forth between feeling utterly sorry for myself and filled with rage at Bobby. The negro left me an empty left side of the closet and had the nerve to take my original pressing of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life album. Meanwhile, while I was sitting in the bathroom of this weak club crying my eyes out, he was probably resting peacefully. I shook my head at myself. I was behaving entirely ridiculously. Miss Denise was right about one thing though, something was truly wrong with me, and I needed to work things out.
“I just need to get out of here,” I said, more to myself than Miss Denise.
Grabbing my phone, I texted my sister Grace.
I need to get out of here. Is that offer still good?
Placing the phone back in my clutch, I knew I wouldn’t receive an answer back from Grace until some ridiculously early hour of the morning tomorrow. She had yet to get used to the fact that we were a couple of time zones away from one another and still contacted me at the hours of her convenience. This late-night text was my slight form of retribution that I was sure would come back to haunt me tomorrow.
Three months ago, when I was on the brink of quitting my job from the stress of working to land a huge account for the marketing firm I worked for, my sister offered to put me up for as long as I wanted. The truth was I had enough in savings that I could afford to live sparsely for at least three years or comfortably for at least eighteen months due to no crippling student loan debt and amazing savings skills. The idea of leaving it all behind, at least temporarily, was very tempting. I’d go hang out with Grace, her husband Ted and my niece Tamia for a few weeks to re-center myself. The more I thought about it, the more I warmed up to the idea. Since vacation time at my company rolled over annually; and the last time I took an extended amount of time off a Bush was in office, I was overdue some time off. My assistant Lance was not only competent but also hungry for an opportunity to showcase that he had some serious skills. I was confident that I could convince my boss Liam to make do without me for a few weeks.
Retrieving my phone from my clutch once again, I dashed off a quick email to Liam.
Have Heather put me on your calendar first thing Monday morning. Very Important.
Knowing Liam, I wouldn’t be surprised if I received a reply or confirmation immediately. I swear I didn’t know when that man slept. It felt like his phone was permanently attached to his hand. Truthfully, I should have just reached out to Heather directly as I am sure Liam merely leaned over to her and had her update his calendar immediately. I didn't know how they did it, working together as spouses. Liam had said several times that he’s only the boss from nine to five; Heather runs the show at all other times. His domineering nature led me to believe otherwise though. My phone buzzed, and sure enough, it was Liam returning my email.
All set. Everything ok? You better not be quitting.
Seeing his ridiculous nickname for me made me smile. As the senior copywriter, all of the words for our marketing pitches came through me. When Liam first took over as VP of Marketing at our company, he deemed me Wendy Wordsmith because he said I was like a thesaurus. Whenever he liked a general idea of a pitch but hated the word choice by the copywriter on the project, I was at the ready with a synonym for the problematic word.
“You must be text messaging with your young man. Got you over there grinning like a chess cat,” Miss Denise said, smiling.
For a minute, I’d forgotten all about her.
“Nah, it’s my boss. It’s high time I got this…whatever it is…figured out, so I don’t end up crying in club bathrooms all over the metro area.”
Impulsively, I reached out and hugged Miss Denise. Instead of recoiling like I would have, she embraced me a beat longer than necessary, rubbing my back in soothing circles. It was almost enough to make me break down again.
“I sure hope you find what’s vexing you and get it all out of your system, baby. You’re too resourceful to be so torn up,” she said, motioning toward our haphazardly thrown together Out of Order sign.
Peeling it from the stall’s door, I lingered in Miss Denise’s embrace. She reminded me a lot of my paternal grandmother who I had lost in my tween years. They both had pecan colored skin, kind, open, heart-shaped faces with big expressive eyes.
Breaking the embrace, I held firm to Miss Denise’s forearms and looked her directly in the eyes.
“I promise, starting right now, to find the root of my issues and dig that bad boy up.”
“You can start by coming back to the Lord. Why don’t you stop by my church and receive the Word later today? Services start at nine am at Prince of Peace Church.”
“I don’t know, Miss Denise. I won’t say no, but I’m not saying yes either.”
“All right baby but remember. He is always here when you need Him. All you have to do is talk.”
I gave Miss Denise’s hand one last squeeze then headed back out into the pulsing music to find my coworkers. Initially, I hadn’t wanted to drive by myself to the club but was immensely thankful that I had now. Not only had no one realized that I had been gone for the better part of an hour; they were showing no signs of wanting to stop partying despite the lateness of the hour. I tapped Micaela on the shoulder and yelled over the music that I was leaving. She mimed being unable to hear what I was saying, so I merely fluttered my fingers and strutted from the club.