Monday, July 4, 2011

The Places We Pee

Her face is embedded in my memory: the lines drawn each to the sides, cast downward, the painful look, the awful exposure, the ragged clothes, the loss of what she was--might have been. It was Northern Ireland, 2001.

I was walking near the tragic Falls Road, on a side street, and there she was: a woman perhaps forty, dressed in clothes that wore dirt more than she wore them. Crouching on the sidewalk, as dozens of people walked past--peeing. Her teeth gritted. Her face grimaced.

It's a picture of pain. For her. For me. Though it felt undeniably rude to watch, my eye's refused to move. I could have cried. Her eyes met mine, and it seemed as though the light had left them. The only question I could ask was: When? When? When?

Fast forward ten years. The place: Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England. Jen and I, Tyler in tow, and my brother and sister-in-law, Paul and Diana, are on our way to the beach, having taken the 50-minute train ride from York here. The air is warm, with a cold wind that every once in a while lets us know it hasn't departed the day. The storefronts of the main street are busy with people--coffee shops, fish and chips haunts, knick-knack stores, beach balls and buckets everywhere. And casinos. Small ones, flashing lights, beckoning the weary to make a quick buck--or pound, rather.

And as we pass one such storefront casino, I spot the older woman--perhaps sixty--dragging a young boy--maybe five--by the arm from the casino. She stops him near a large crack in the sidewalk, facing the brick wall.

"Go," she says.

He obeys.

The stream of urine shoots from him fast and fluid.

As soon as he starts, she is back through the blinking doors of the casino, heading towards the slots. The boy finishes, then spends his time chasing the urine as it rivulets and gathers and makes it own river down the sidewalk, heading towards the ocean.

Fast forward one week: ten minutes from Lesley Avenue--home. Tyler can't hold it. We look around, anxious to find a place for him to pee. Anxious to prevent an accident, a setback in his potty training regimen.

Nothing. Nowhere.

A small bike path appears on our left, flanked on both sides by the large military base in York. Tall brick walls make for a shaded, secluded space in which to go for it. Barbed wire rolls in currents across the top of both tall walls.

We find an especially secluded spot, and help Tyler pee on some nettles. (They have given us far too many minor injuries already, I figure.)

Tyler feels better. We feel better. No accident. And the walk home is peaceful, calm.

Today, the questions that linger in my mind and refuse to flee are these: where do we go when our urges cannot be suppressed? How do we deal with the necessities of life that remove every wall we'd like to construct and instead force us to reveal our own humanity? What prevents us from acting in love in the face of exposed humanity before us, within us?

A lot of us learn to hide well. We can build the most elaborate structures around every minute aspect of our lives, often tricking others into thinking that, somehow, we are above the need to pee. Just because you can't find us on the sidewalks of life, painfully doing what our bodies demand while our minds try to make a way forward, however tragically, we are there nonetheless. All of us.

Finding some crack where we think no one can see us. Hoping that afterwards, just maybe, things will be better. Chasing the rivers of our urine to the ocean, hoping that there--maybe there--we'll find a space and a place where we can be free. Protected.

What spaces and places do we hold back from one another, for fear of real trust? What good might we offer, but don't, for fear of real love?