Of Pain and Public Urination


I never thought the day would come.

We have lived in Los Angeles for nearly 19 years and I have never been stuck in one of THOSE traffic jams. You know the kind. The "BREAKING NEWS!" traffic jams reported on the local news. The ones filmed from news helicopters. The ones where miles and miles of standstill traffic unfurls like a red neon snake slithering through the cement valleys below. The kind where I think, "GOD. What if you had to PEE?"

Well, there's a first for everything.

I was driving back from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The sight of which, never mind the frequenting of, will always be too soon. Turns out I have another virus—one that will not hurt the kidney—but one that is presenting as burning skin all over my body and deep levels of exhaustion I did not realize I could plummet to.

I was "bluettoothing" (it's a verb) it up with Husband currently working up in Canada. Requisite tears fell. Loving words were exchanged. And I noted to him, "Wow. It's taken me forever just to get to La Brea and Franklin. (Sorry, Non-Angelenos.) We demurred, "Ah, well, it's Friday in Los Angeles!" and thought nothing more of it.

Until I merged onto the 101.

Crawl, would be a more accurate verb. What is slower than crawl? Breathed? my way onto the freeway and looked around. Everywhere the eye could see—standstill traffic. "This does not look good", I thought. So I facetiously posted a picture on Twitter / Facebook (I was not driving!) At least I could get some social media love while I waited.

And then I got a private message.

"Lankershim is closed both ways. A man is threatening to jump off the bridge."

Suddenly, I had to pee. Suddenly, I saw I had less than 5% charge on my phone. And suddenly my car's dashboard trilled ominously. I was on the phone with Husband.

"What was that?" he asked.

"My car is overheating. It's telling me to pull over."

So there I sat. By the median on the side of the 101 freeway in the heart of Hollywood. My hazards clicking ominously. My bladder threatening to burst. And my phone fading to black. Barely breathing.

Ford Roadside Assistance was coming, but projecting it could take 5-6 hours for them to get through to me. Did I mention my bladder was bursting? Cars were whipping by on the other side, but our side was officially SHUT DOWN. So I did what had to be done—protect "The Kid" at all costs.

I unzipped my pants, slipped out of the front seat and squatted by the median on the 101 freeway. As a long, clear stream of healthy urine ran south down the freeway, I could not think about who might be watching. I could not think about what they might be thinking. I could only think, "Thank GODDD." When you gotta go, you gotta go.

As I continued to wait for the 101 North to clear up, I thought about how bizarre it was to be surrounded by so many cars and so many people, yet feel so disconnected because my phone was dead. It made me sad. That many, many people had turned around to stare at me, but not one person had asked if I needed help.

Until a woman in a Black Prius scrolled down her window, turned back to me and mouthed,

"Are you OK?"

I mouthed back, "Yes. Thank you." With a big ol' thumbs up.

Yes, I was OK. Suddenly, the freeway opened, as it always does, with a silent "WHOOSH!" and streams of cars began flowing. I thought, "Let me just see if I can get onto a side street." I turned the ignition. My car started. "Hallellujah!" I drove off the freeway and headed for home.

I was OK. But there is one man who is not. A man who is in so much pain, he felt the best solution would be to take his own life. And so I drove home grateful. Ever grateful.

Grateful for the reminder that I once felt such incomprehensible pain. Grateful to the Woman in the Black Prius. A single person who made me feel heard and not alone in a jam of confusion. And grateful that I know this virus will suck for a while, but it will not be the death of me.

Now I will eat this cookie. Because the little things in life tonight seem very, very big.

Brilliant words as always Henriette, and just remember . . . there were so many days when you could not pee so continue to celebrate it! —Lesley Traynor-Smith
A good reminder to everyone, even those who have never endured the pain you and that man have felt. Thank you for sharing. — Johanna Moorehead
Great story! — Darnell Davis