Exposure: an Essay for Trolley Journal

Two weeks ago, the NYS Writers Institute Literary  Journal Trolley, published my essay Exposure. One of my writing group members shared the call with us, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to submit anything. The theme was COVID-19, and the idea was to create a time capsule of the moment. However, my husband is a massive fan of one of the founders, William Kennedy, and I appreciate the work the Institute is doing with the Albany Literary Festival and decided to go for it. I hiked and walked while contemplating what made the bigness of this moment real for me.

At first, I thought about my cousins who had COVID in March. One was on a ventilator for over a week. Each time I tried to write about that, I didn’t know how to fit my love for them into 1,000 words. I thought about the routine my husband, an essential worker, and I created to make our home feel safe and a bubble from the rest of his day, but that wasn’t it. If the call had gone out a few weeks later, I would have written about traveling by plane to a funeral in GA, which was surreal. At the time, I tried to think of the moment that made not just the virus, not just a new normal, but the lockdown itself real, and for me, it was using a public restroom for the first time in six weeks.

When this was coming out, I thought my mom would hate it, but she had some thoughtful comments, which was great. Yes, it’s about peeing, but not really. Plus, bathrooms have been such a big part of the conversation since this began. It’s about change and what that means, sacrificing for a greater good beyond the self, and it’s a little bit about denial as well. It took me a while to feel the hugeness of what’s been happening.

I’ve had eye-opening conversations with people because of this piece. Some can’t stop telling me stories about bathrooms, which is hysterical. Others are telling me such intimate feelings of overwhelm and being scared. Still, others are talking about our responsibility to play an active role in the healing. I have loved this experience, and I hope the stories keep coming.

My cousin, who survived being on a ventilator, got a kick out of the essay. It inspired some fascinating conversations. He told me about coming to the family property in Maine to escape Polio when he was a kid, a story about my great grandmother having an embarrassed house guest who used the curtains for TP, and a bunch of other funny bathroom stories. He also sent me this article from the LA Times about restrooms being closed during COVID.

Bathrooms are a thing we use multiple times a day, but we aren’t good at discussing anything to do with them without embarrassment, being funny/gross, or some sort of tragedy. When my husband and I were driving to Maine to open the family property, I was worried about rest areas not being open or if gas pumps would be running. We’d planned to self-isolate once we arrived, but I wasn’t sure what the 7-hour drive would be like, and I struggled to get up to date information. It’s one thing to pee in the woods while hiking. It’s another thing on the side of the highway.

COVID isn’t fun. No one likes wearing masks, the shelves at the stores are bare, it’s hard to find bathrooms, I know people who have died, I have friends who’ve lost loved ones, fear is causing people to do not smart things—this is a tough time. But writing Exposure and having people react to it has reminded me that we’re in this together and that bathroom humor is still alive.

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