I’ve never had to pee so badly in my life, but I have an older woman and child to compete with for use of the bathroom, so I martyr myself, and let them go first. The pain I know I am about to feel makes it easier to wait. I know it will not be a sweet relief, but a stinging one.
I have a urinary tract infection. It came on yesterday afternoon, while I was at work, but I had no time to go to the doctor. And now I’m here at my sister’s apartment, in Queens, bladder aflame, about to leave for Long Island, for her baby shower.
A friend once told me that my spirit animal was a poodle. I think she was joking, but every time I pee and the pain starts, I close my eyes, and that’s what I see: circus poodles jumping through flaming hula hoops.
When it started yesterday–the constant urge to pee, and the accompanying burning– I told a co-worker, and she went down the list of shameful, potential causes:
- Sex. I haven’t had sex since the summer, and it’s February.
- Soap. I just opened the bar of Lemon Verbena that I got in my stocking on Christmas, but come on, does anyone besides a two year old in a bathtub get a urinary tract infection that way? I’ve known how to keep my vagina sparkling, and Ph balanced, for decades.
- SHIT. I got my own shit up inside myself. I am resistant to accepting this scenario, but it seems the most likely. While I don’t have a bidet at home, the bathtub is very close to the toilet, and I use it as such. Maybe I goofed.
3a. E.coli. This was a surprise, as I always thought you got E.coli from cutting boards, and undercooked foods.
So I loaded up on Uricalm, and hit the highway for New York City, with my mother and child. When it’s finally my turn to use the bathroom, my very pregnant sister pops in.
“Eww!” she says, as I’m pulling my stockings up. “What’s wrong with you?”
I turn and see that although I’ve flushed, the water in the toilet is still tinged that tell-tale fluorescent rust color from the Uricalm. New York City has notoriously low water pressure.
“I have a UTI,” I say.
“Poop,” she says. “You got it from poop.”
I think about all the times over the course of my life that my sister has said those same words to me: “Eww! What’s wrong with you?”
This might be the first time I have a concise, concrete answer to give to her.
The baby shower is at a bar slash restaurant, and I proceed to get shit-faced, and tell family members who I haven’t seen in years about my condition. It’s idiotic to drink so much, because it just makes me have to pee. A fringe family member who I haven’t seen since I was about four commiserates with me, and tells me that during one of her pregnancies, she had so many UTIs, she had to wear a diaper. I nod, and give her empathetic eyes. A man, who looks like the ghost of my father in middle age, comes over and joins our conversation, then takes it over, bemoaning the effects of the hors’d oeuvres on his heartburn. “A urinary tract infection is like heartburn of the vagina,” I say. “Wow,” he says with a laugh, then blinks hard. “I’ve never had one. You’ve really humanized the experience for me.”
I mostly hang out in the bathroom, peeing and taking selfies. We only have the space for a few hours, then the restaurant opens up to the public, and essentially kicks us out.
My sister’s boyfriend has been doing runs back and forth to their apartment with all their gifts, and he’s gone when what’s left of our party gets the heave-ho from the staff. It’s me, my mom, my child, my sister, her friend, and what’s left of my sister’s presents all waiting outside on a bench for him to get us.
My sister’s friend is very drunk, and has to pee, but doesn’t want to go back inside the restaurant because it’s been overtaken by bros, and we’re all mad at the staff. Of course, I have to go, too, but tell myself I am going to wait.
“Come around back with me,” she says. “I’m going to pee in their parking lot because of the way they treated us.”
I tell myself I’m just going to escort her and make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble, but when we get to the back, there’s a spot behind a dumpster, on the side of a snowbank, that’s so isolated, I decide I’m going to pee, too.
As I finish, I turn around and look at my handiwork. I’ve left my mark, like a spot of blood on the back of a woman’s pants, to anyone in the know, it should be obvious what’s gone on here: The person who peed on this snowbank had a UTI. My pee is so bright orange, you could see it from outer space. It’s like it’s communicating something to the night sky. Something about what’s wrong with me. Something about what’s right.
Fiona Helmsley is a writer of creative non-fiction and poetry. Her writing can be found in various anthologies like Ladyland and The Best Sex Writing of the Year and online at websites like The Weeklings, PANK and The Rumpus. Her book of essays and stories, My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers was just released by Paragraph Line Books.