August, 1982 + Waterville, Maine
It was a very hot day, for Maine. I was between my first and second years of law school. I worked in Skowhegan as a part-time assistant in the prosecutor's office. On the day in question, I was scheduled to work in the afternoon. I was dressed in attorney clothes, suit and tie and new, shiny brown leather shoes. As usual, I hurried about, preparing myself for a half-day with my friend the assistant prosecutor.
My apartment at that time was the same where Jean and Connie would make their salacious debuts later in this book. This apartment, which will be described more completely as we go on, was small, with two tiny bedrooms and a bathroom about the size of a walk-in closet. This bathroom was of a sickly pale blue-green pastel hue that seemed to neither absorb nor reflect light. It was just there. The room was a cramped version of a one person jail cell, cold and comfortless. The ceiling appeared lifeless and close. I felt claustrophobic and ill at ease there. This bathroom was hidden away at the very back of the apartment. A person there had to yell to be heard.
I had neighbors I hardly ever saw and definiitly didn't know. There were three apartments in that building. We all kept our distance one from another. If I hadn't caught glimpses of my neighbors every now and then, I could easily have believed I lived in that place alone. (I am not a particularly neighborly neighbor). When in the bathroom, I was more alone than ever and more so when I was at the toilet, which was stuck in the back corner. I would then be at the greatest distance from anyone in the two story building.
I had been alone for about five hours. I knew my leg bag would have to be emptied before I left. There was no way i was going to drip piss on my friend's carpeted floor. That would be a very hard sell to his boss, the District Attorney who was tough to please on the best of days. I headed into my bathroom, which seemed on that day more like Cell # 28549 at the County lock up than ever. I didn't much care for this leg bag buisness anyway, but I had no choice. The whole thing would take about five unpleasant minutes. Then I would exit, pronto, and be off to Skowhegan, about fifteen miles away.
I leaned over in my chair to check. I was well aware I had to either empty the bag now or it would burst later. I steeled myself to just do it. With this injury, a whole lot of things are decided for you, some of which are listed above, some hereafter. At any rate, I knew I had to suck it up and do it now.
I overcame my resistance, sidled up to the left side of the toilet facing the far wall, and hoisted my right foot onto the toilet bowl. I forgot to lift the toilet seat. ("Raymond, always remember to raise the seat before you pee"). This meant I had to lift my foot higher, increasing the risk of some foul outcome. After lifting and groaning, I finally got my foot up onto the lid. I had sucessfully navigated these waters something like a thousand times. Though unpleasant, it was no huge undertaking.
So far, so good. So far, that is. I emptied about a quart of freshly minted urine into the bowl. The unmistakable odor of piss spread through the bathroom. All had gone according to plan. Given my brand of quadriplegia and my limited mobility and dexterity, the most trivial deviation from what had worked in the past could lead to disaster in the present.
You will recall that I had left the toilet lid where it was, rather than taking the trouble to lift it out of my way, as I had been taught when I was very young. You will also recall that I was in a hurry. This combination of factors led inevitably to what follows:
I closed the metal leg bag clamp and reached over with my right hand under my knee to take my leg off the lid. In a more kindly world, I would then have set my foot back onto my footrest, moved up to flush, and been on my way. Yeah. That's how it would go. When I had reached the maximum extension of my right arm, my foot slipped off the lid into the bowl.
Well, that had happened before. All I had to do was lift my foot out and go. I would then call my friend who would understand and prepare something or other so I could work. Or at least be there. I would take the heat from the boss, if need be. What's the worst he could say, "Gill, you're stinking up my office, go home. You're fired. And I'll personally see to it you never practice law in this state." That was a long shot. More than likely he'd say, "Open a window, this office smells like a hooker bar bathroom."
Resigned once again to the lose-lose scenario, like so may times before and after, I gathered my resources to do what I had to do. This injury not only limits mobility and dexterity, it also limits choices. As in, there is one choice: get the fuckin' foot out of the bowl. I stretched over to do this, grabbed my right leg...and yanked it up, or so the plan went.
No. I had left the lid on, so my foot, shoe and all had lodged under the toilet seat. They would not come out of the piss, no matter what I did or how much effort I put into it. In fact, the harder I pulled, the stucker I got.
There I sat, in my lawyer outfit in my spiffy shoes in the apartment in the bathroom in the bowl in the piss. There was one way out. I had to set aside another huge dose of dignity, take the humiliation, and yell myself hoarse calling for help. Here I was once again, in an impossible situation, needing help, and having to holler into thin air for I didn't know whom.
I yelled, hollered, called, begged, pleaded, and yelled some more for probably an hour. Then there came a knock at my door.
She: "Hello in there, do you need help?"
Me: "Yes, my foot is caught in the toilet and I can't get it out."
Me: "My foot's in the toilet and I need help."
Me: "Yes, I need help."
Warily, my sixty or thereabouts neighbor I had seen once or twice from a distance followed my voice, walked into my bathroom, and stared in utter amazement. I think this was her first time seeing a grown man in this exact predicament. I mean, drunken men on their knees hugging a bowl face first maybe, but not this. I gently asked her to get my foot out of the toilet. I didn't want to hear, "Hell with you, you can stay like this for all I give a shit." No, she was quite sympathetic.
She was a large, strong-looking, low-budget Yankee. For all that, she had a hell of a time getting me out of the bowl. I asked her to put an absorbant pad under stinking foot. She did. I thanked her over and over, but it just didn't seem to be enough.
I swung back into buisiness mode, called my friend, and explained. He never missed a beat: "You can come in if you want; we'll figure out something", he said. You have to love your friends, especially when you smell like a gas station urinal and he's treating it like mismatched socks.
He said things were slow and he was just sitting around. I grappled with my options. My Father's stern voice spoke, "You go to work, whether you smell like an outhouse in July or not, or else you're half a man."
The Voice of Reason spoke: "What's the point? You're late already, you drip and stink, George doesn't care on way or the other. The Boss would be very pissed, so to speak, and you'll live to fight another day."
"Sorry, Dad, you lose this one. Besides you'll never know", I thought. With that I made the call and settled back for a very long day. Not surprisingly, the odor got worse and worse, until it took over the apartment and ruined supper. It is hard to eat in an outhouse.
I dedicate this limerick to all piss-problem people:
"Being crippled can take quite a toll,
Like the day there was piss in the bowl,
My shoe, it got caught,
Though I fought and I fought,
I just couldn't get out, on my soul"