Katie vs. the Toilet

I figured since yesterday was a post about scary things that aren’t really scary, today could be a post about my own personal childhood phobia: toilets.

Apparently, when I was really little we drove down to Florida from Michigan, and cut through Pennsylvania in the process.  I have no memory of this, probably because I blocked it in some subconscious effort of self-preservation in which memories tend to shut down.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania on this trip I don’t remember, we stopped to use a public restroom.  It must have looked something like this:

filthy toilet with bloody mess

Note: the photo I’ve attached was actually taken at a Haunted Firehouse in Bayville, NY a few years ago.  Yes, it was staged.

Okay, I’m sure there weren’t rats sitting on the toilet, or a skull on the tank, or a huge bloody murder-scene mess, but according to my mother, the pipes had frozen and there was a messy flood or something.  Again, I don’t remember…

I DO, however, remember being afraid of every toilet except the “safe” toilet at home, and even then, I’d freak out if it started to look as though it might possibly “over-float.”  It wasn’t exactly a rational fear – I didn’t somehow think it would spill enough water to drown me, nor do I remember thinking that I would somehow get pulled down the drain of the toilet into the sewer.  Was I afraid of the dirt?  I don’t know.  I remember freaking out in a hardware store that had plastic wrap right under the seat of the toilet, because it looked like water, and I thought it really was water at first.

Here’s the thing – I wasn’t particularly squeamish or a scaredy-cat as a kid.  I was “Woofman” for Halloween when I was three, for Crissakes.  I caught lizards, and didn’t hide from spiders, the only horror movie that really bothered me was the clip of the bleeding elevator scene from The Shining that played in a preview in a movie theater when I was a kid.  Oh, and yeah, Poltergeist freaked me out the first couple of times I watched it, until my little brother made us watch it every single time it came on HBO… Every. Single. Time.  (I can still quote half the lines…)

But public toilets?  Nope.  No.  Especially the ones with the black seats, for some reason.  (That was a trend in the late 70s to early 80s… a white toilet with a black seat… Probably to hide the filth that people left behind…)  I do remember in kindergarten that I wouldn’t use the bathroom at school, and how DESPERATE I was by the time I’d get home.

As I got a little older, I realized that I had to overcome the fear.  So I would use the bathroom, get all ready, pants pulled up, etc., OPEN THE STALL DOOR, and then lean over and quickly flush the toilet from as far away as my Tyrannosaurus arms could reach before bolting out the stall door in a quick bee-line to the sink.  My mother and sister both noticed this and teased me.

Automatic toilets?  Why?  Just why?  Those bastards flush WHILE YOU ARE STILL ON THEM.  Yeah, thanks, I wanted germ-infested water to splash onto my bare nether-regions.  Eek.

But what finally “cured” me, as much as I could be cured, of my phobia, was what happened in the rental condo where we stayed in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, when I was about 12.  Okay, I may even have been 13…

I think this was the same trip where my little brother was thrown from a horse into a nest of yellow jackets, so I suppose the universe decided that only one sibling should have a phobia in the family, and it was time for me to lose mine.

I was either alone in the condo, or I may have been babysitting my little sister.  Everyone else had gone hiking, or gone to Dollywood, or something.  I don’t remember those details, and that is completely understandable.

I used the toilet.  I flushed it.  No problems.  I went into the living room and sat down.  Not long after, I heard a strange sound…  a gurgling sound.  It was coming from the bathroom.

I walked in to see water GUSHING from the toilet.  Not just dripping.  Gushing.  Like a geyser.  Out of the drain part.  I reached over as calmly as I could, trying to avoid coming into physical contact with the water, and turned off the faucet leading into the toilet, as my grandmother had once showed me how to do.  I don’t know if that actually helped, or if I just got lucky and it stopped, but it DID stop.  And then, I got to clean up the water all by myself.  Joy.

In my panic, I used every single towel in the condo.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to use a freakin’ mop, but it didn’t.  I used the nice, pretty, white towels, much to my mother’s horror when she did come home.  (Although she laughed about it after we did the laundry…)  After that day, I haven’t really had any issues with phobia over toilets, though I try to avoid particularly disgusting ones…

Good thing, too… because the house we’re living in now?  It has a few plumbing issues.  Let’s just say that from time to time, two of the toilets here do not accept offerings of toilet paper, or water.  And let’s further add that the little “off” faucets that lead to the toilet are pretty much stuck in the “on” position, even after I sprayed the hell out of them with WD-40.  But I’ve learned that my Hoover Steamer can suck up the three inches of water that accumulated on the bathroom floor the last time we had a problem, as long as I keep emptying the collection tank.  And I’ve taught my kids the proper plunging technique, just in case…

Has the phobia found a new generation?  Perhaps…


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