Emma, Abby, Emma's dog Carter and I decided to go for a hike.
I figured it would do me good. Still not quite feeling like myself after weeks of handling an illness in my family, and the financial and emotional ripples following, spending an afternoon with nature, a dog, friends, and some good ol' physical exertion sounded like a chance to refresh myself.
I wasn't wrong. It just wasn't the day I quite envisioned. But then again, when is anything I do?
Abby (not her name, because she is an important person who manages people and I'm not sure she'd want her employees reading about her adventures with her "sobbing pee friend") and I met up with Emma at the train station near her house. I've been friends with Abby since we were teenagers skipping school to go to Taco Cabana (we were rebellious, but also hungry), and though our lives seem very different on paper now, the core of her is still The Person Who Will Always Save You, Then Laugh With You About It... Over Chips and Queso. Abby is visiting me from the US, and she's like a living scrapbook of my life.
My Lizard Brain says to trust Abby, even if my Louise Brain sometimes stays guarded.
Emma (also not her real name) is my newest Hong Kong friend. I knew we would be friends when we were lining up for whiskey at the Margaret Cho show last month, and she completed my sentence:
"I'm kind of a homebody —"
"— because I don't really like talking to humans."
I fell deeper in friend-love with Emma when I learned that we both much prefer talking to animals, both had spooky dried fish snacks in our elementary school lunch boxes, and both consider our "galactic cat leggings" a pair of our "special occasion pants."
Add in Emma's Akita-Shepherd mix, Mr. Carter the Dog, and I was in glorious company.
But I couldn't shake the feeling of being a little outside of myself, even a little stand-offish. There were times I'd laugh at a something Abby or Emma did or said, and I wasn't entirely sure if I was laughing because it was funny, or I was laughing because that was the APPROPRIATE HUMAN REACTION.
In retrospect, I was just protecting myself from feeling all the sad feelings.
Abby, Carter, Emma and I set off toward our mountain hike. To get to the trail head, we walked through Chinese villages dotted with gardens, shrines, the occasional grave, and Hong Kong village houses like little boxes on the hillside. I don't think rural life is for me, but experiencing the tranquility of life outside the city made happy goosebumps rise up on my sweaty skin.
Sometimes it's nice not to have to battle outside stimulus for peace in my head. I begged my brain to take mental snapshots of those moments.
As we started our gradual ascent on the mountain trail — we were headed to a man-made lake/reservoir a good ways up the mountain — I could feel my grasp on my FEELINGS loosening.
Or was it my bladder loosening? It might have been a little of both.
Whether it was the big cup of coffee I'd drank earlier, or just mental unclenching, I started to feel a knot form in the back of my throat as we chatted and hiked. Maybe the air was too clean? Does city smog drug FEELINGS into submission?
Part of the way up, we stopped outside what appeared to be an organic farm (so said the sign) to water ourselves and Carter. Other hikers passed us along the trail, and just past the fence of the farm, a group of children learned about plants.
I don't know how our conversation took this turn, but I suddenly found myself talking about the past few weeks. It may have started with an, "Are you OK?" or a "How are you and Mr. Louise doing?" and before I could stop my mouth, I was spiraling down the weepy path of:
"My cat died, and I miss her, and then we had to cremate her, and the cremation place played Sarah McLachlan and I hate them for that, but they were so kind to us, and I love them, and I'm so sad, and I'm still dealing with vet bills, and I'm worried about money, and I'm worried about Mr. Louise, and everything is anxiety, and I don't feel like a human, but it feels very nice being human with you two today, and I'm sorry, but... but... but... thank you for being so nice to me. Carter you're such a good boy."
And hikers walked by us, and watched the Chinese woman gnarly-cry and babble in English. They shook their heads and muttered things in different languages, but my little forcefield of two woman and a dog felt impenetrable to judgement.
Hikers stared and held their children close as they cautiously gave our little group a wide berth, but the humiliation I kept waiting to come rolling over me never came. Standing with my dear old friend, my dear new friend, and Mr. Carter, I felt so safe, so supported.
You know how at the end of exorcism movies the person who is possessed throws up black stuff and then he or she is exorcised of the demon? Well that's how I felt, but with loud, honking, trail-crying.
After my eyes dried, and hikers ventured closer to us, I felt lighter than I had in weeks. For the first time, I didn't feel like I had to be solitary in my worries, I could actually lean on my friends without worry of being a burden.
THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR, LOUISE. No matter how many times I learn this lesson, I need constant reminders.
So with a new spring in my step, and the knowledge that I'd probably be mentioned by a few folks over drinks that night, Emma, Abby, Carter and I continued on our hike.
But while my feelings felt purged, my bladder was not.
Hiking along, we finally came to a little public bathroom. Scurrying in, I was faced with a row of squatting toilets — the toilets that are basically a hole in the ground over which you, well, squat.
While I'm totally fine with using squatting toilets, it always takes me just a little longer to get properly situated in the squat position, over the hole, with my clothes out of the way.
This time didn't go so well. Rushing to squat rarely ends well for me.
With my bladder threatening to pour forth from the moment I entered the stall, I hurriedly yanked at my leggings — glued to me by sweat and humidity — while simultaneously trying to position myself into the best peeing position. I think I sprained my finger.
Yakety Sax should have been playing.
Finally, I couldn't hold it any longer so I just dove for the squat, hoping I could just muscle my pants out of the way. Three things happened:
1. I peed in the hole in the ground.
2. I peed on my pants.
3. I lost my balance and toppled over while in the squatting position, landing like a pantsless gargoyle in a foul smelling puddle next to the squat toilet.
On the floor, wedged against the side of the stall, still clutching the crotch of my pants, all I could do was laugh. The situation was so absurd, so DISGUSTING, and I must have looked so pathetic — I couldn't help but wish I could take a picture (I did not). I sincerely hope someone walked into the bathroom while I was cackling away. That would have been a fun story to tell your friends.
Eventually I heaved myself up and out of my puddle, pulled up my pants and prayed the bathroom had soap or paper towels. It did not. So doing my best with water and the two (2) tissues I had in my bag, I held my head high and finished my hike partially covered in pee and ???
To my friends' credit, they either did not notice, or they did not say anything. Or their noses are merely decorative. All I know is that I caught a whiff of myself a couple times and was HORRIFIED.
But despite baking in my own urine for a few hours and losing my shit in front of an organic farm as hikers clicked their tongues at me, I couldn't help but feel like the luckiest gal in the world — pee-soaked or otherwise.
The day that had started essentially all mucked up with fear and tension, and frankly taking myself entirely too seriously, had ended beautifully. Two instances — crying and peeing on oneself — that are generally thought of as "bad" things, may have been exactly what I needed.
I got out of my head. For an anxious mind, that that's a pretty great gift.
Since that day I've cried a little and I've definitely had my dark moments, but I feel like a corner has been turned. I'm headed back to myself, back to the resilient person I know I am.
Even my husband has noticed a difference in me and has asked what's different. I can't help but smirk. Because the truth is, while I have my friends to thank for this step in healing, this renewed feeling of not being an island, I also have a toilet in the middle of rural Hong Kong to thank too.