The Commode Malfunction: A Break-Up Story
When she left, the only tangibles that didn’t go with her were an old gray T-shirt she liked to sleep in, a fluorescent green toothbrush, and a black hair tie.
Initially you thought she’d taken everything aside from the smell of her hair, which was still on your pillows and your sheets. You refused to wash those sheets for much longer than you care to admit, even now. Especially since that smell was, she had admitted during the brief break-up discussion, also lingering on another boy’s sheets, in a bedroom in another borough.
She left, and you stopped doing whatever it was you were doing before, which was, you suppose, doing what you could to build a life with her. One you hoped and even assumed had potential to last until one of you died.
You went to work, but took sick days on the premise you were physically ill instead of metaphorically heartbroken (because if your heart was literally broken you’d be fucking dead, and because if calling in because you’re sad about being dumped is probably a fireable offense).
During these days of sickness, you wouldn’t even watch television. You’d just wake up, call in, then toss back a few pills for allergies or a cough or whatever, as long as they had something that would help knock you out until the evening time, when you would wake up and listen to music by empathetic artists while you stared at the ceiling, replaying memories all the way back to the night you kind-of-sort-of met, when you didn’t really talk to her except to nod that yes, you would hold one of her legs up so she could execute a keg stand.
And when you stopped you didn’t really pick up with much else. Not even drinking or drugs or anything. You didn’t really even eat that much anymore, which was odd because before you were damn near gluttonous, to the point that your roommate’s simultaneous admiration and disgust filled the air. He noticed right quick you hadn’t been eating – because he was fending for himself at dinnertime for the first time since you’d moved in.
“I’m about to order some Asian Yummy House,” he said one night when you walked out of your room and opened the fridge. “You want anything?”
You declined, said you were only snagging some water, and he said “Dude, food is good. You need to eat. I’ll even buy you some of those crab rangoons or whatever the fuck you like so much.”
“I’m good,” you said, looking up from the fridge. “I eat. Just trying to get healthier with it. Fiber and stuff. It keeps you regular. Actually, I have to take a shit right now.”
Then you went into the bathroom, sat down, and let one go.
When you tried to flush it, nothing happened.
When shit’s not going well, it’s the little things that help hold you together. Like being able to flush your actual shit without too much of a hassle. But now you had to lift the porcelain cover and manually pull up on the plug that set the flush in motion. The chain connecting the flush handle (technically: the trip lever) to the plug had rusted and eroded away, eventually breaking in two.
The little things can also put you over the edge. The commode malfunction was enough to make you cry for the first time since she’d broken up with you.
You weren’t just tearing up, either. You were sitting on a toilet – which was full of all kinds of terrible things – in your tiny bathroom, busting out some heaving, wracking sobs. The ones where you have to inhale in sets of three before releasing a long labored breath. You cradled your head in your hands, forgetting one of the hands was wet from the aforementioned manual flush.
You crawled into bed and cried some more.
Three weeks of manual flushing came and went. You and roommate adopted an unspoken “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” mandate, and you tried everything you could to return yourself to normalcy. You threw yourself into your work, and when you weren’t doing that you went out drinking with friends. The time in between was spent either in bed or exercising, something you picked up as a sort of outlet after your brother told you living well is the best revenge.
First, you found the toothbrush in a glass inside your mirror cabinet. There hadn’t been occasion to look in there until you decided eventually to bust out the shaving foam and get rid of the sad, spotty growth you’d been wearing half out of despondency and half so people might feel sorry for you, that they wouldn’t expect you to keep up with personal grooming norms while your heart was in such squalor.
You left it there. Because you never know, right? She could come back – something you would accept without hesitance – and you could say, “I thought you might. See? I kept your toothbrush.”
The T-shirt was crumpled and wedged at the end of your bed, under the comforter. You found it when you finally changed the sheets, which wasn’t done symbolically. You had just been spooked by a story your mom had emailed you about bed bug outbreaks and you didn’t want to – or didn’t think you could – deal with that kind of extreme inconvenience in your current state. (You hadn’t forgotten that you’d broken down on a commode mid-shit weeks before, and that you’d broken down frequently since then, most recently when someone played a Lifehouse song on a bar jukebox. Fucking Lifehouse had made you cry. In public.)
You smelled the shirt, which still held her scent mixed with that of your own dirty feet, and stared at it for a few minutes before you swept it under your bed. Just in case.
The hair tie was on the nightstand next to her side of the bed. You found it during the sheet change, as well. There hadn’t been occasion to see it before then, because even though you’d been spending so much time in bed you never inched to her side, never even approached the fan on the night stand to turn it up or off. It just stayed on medium spin for a month straight. (It was a Vornado. Those fans are reliable.)
She always had hair ties around, for convenience, even though she wore her hair down more often than not. When the two of you were in the early relationship Honeymoon Period, she had asked you one night before dinner if she should wear it up or down, and you said you liked it down.
“Here,” she said, presenting you with the hair tie. “I guess I don’t need this right now.”
And you wore it on your wrist for more than a year, until you took it off one day for a job interview and lost it. You never asked her for another, because she never noticed it was missing.
You put the hair tie back on the nightstand and turned the fan up to high. Because spring was here and you thought the louder the ambient noise in your room, the quieter your own thoughts would be in the early morning hours when you finally shut the music off to try and sleep.
Late in May a friend got married. You’d been preparing for this day, because you knew she was slated to be a bridesmaid. Your nights were filled with grand romantic gestures you could execute to win her back, to convince her she should be with you and not him, whoever he was, if she was still seeing him.
She was. And he was with her.
You realized you had not prepared enough.
You avoided her before the ceremony, wondering what it would be like if you spoke to each other. And when, after the bridesmaid/groomsmen dance, you saw her approaching you, smiling. You decided you weren’t ready for all that, and retreated to the bathroom, where you sat in a stall for a long time.
You took a piss and flushed the toilet. The seamless flush at the handle’s behest made your lip tremble. Everything here was working. Everything where you’d come from was broken.
Then you went home.
You went home to fix that fucking toilet.
The rusted chain was still attached to the trip lever. All you needed to do was connect it with its missing half, and it would work again.
So you snagged that black hair tie, pulled it until it broke, and used it to tie the chain back together.
You’d brought the T-shirt in with you, on the accurate assumption you’d slosh some water around in the midst of your home improvement project. You wiped the toilet water up with it, and, as you were about to take it to the kitchen wastebasket, you noticed a tiny hole near the radiator where a pipe jutted out of the floor. You also noticed some mouse shit, which you wiped up with the shirt.
After rinsing the pellets off the shirt, you stuffed it as far as you could into the hole.
The euphoria you felt when the water began swirling as you pulled the trip lever cannot be understated.
When shit’s not going well, it’s the little things that can help bring you back together.
In your excitement, you decided you’d open the mirror cabinet and get rid of that toothbrush, since it was the only thing she’d left that served no practical purpose in your life anymore.
But instead you rubbed the bristles on your taint and testicles, and put it back where it was.
Just in case.