It’s somewhere between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m. Time has lost all meaning except for the overwhelming feeling that there isn’t enough of it to finish whatever it is you’re supposed to do before the sun rises. The final chords of “Jesus of Suburbia” drone in your ears as you mentally rearrange your thesis, trying to mash together the words “colonialism,” “juxtaposition,” and “hegemony” in a way that doesn’t seem overly forced. You realize you’ve been sitting like this on the toilet for 20 minutes. You don’t even have to pee anymore. Wait... did you already pee? Have you been in here so long that you forgot whether or not you even had to pee to begin with? Intellectually overwhelmed, nic sick, and sleep deprived—you put your head between your knees and stare at the floor until the grimy black-and-white checkered tiles blend together. The smell motivates you to pull up your pants, wipe your tears, and go back to your seat.
Sound a little too familiar? There is perhaps no experience more integral to Columbia culture than the Butler bathroom breakdown. And I am no stranger to this procrastinating phenomenon. Who can blame a girl for wanting a brief respite from the academic onslaught? Catch me chugging obscene amounts of water just to give myself an excuse to Juul in the bathroom every 17 minutes. It’s almost like the second I decide to close my computer and go pee, all my deadlines evaporate and my serotonin levels return to normal. I’m strutting down the entirety of Butler 208-209 like it’s New York Fashion Week and athleisure groutfits are in. Unfortunately, this high never lasts, and my briefly suppressed dread comes bubbling back up in full force, resulting in the inevitable bathroom existential spiral.
I refuse to believe that I am the only person who regards the Butler bathrooms as holy places on this campus: They are emotional oases hidden away within the apathetic stress desert of Butler Library. This isn’t to say that the Butler bathrooms aren’t nasty—they’re high-key nasty. The atrocities committed there are borderline unspeakable. I never knew there were so many unacceptable ways to dispose of a used tampon.
But, despite their obvious grossness, the Butler bathroom stalls remain a unique space where the illusion of privacy is protected and you can poop and cry at the same time without being judged.
Campus discourse perennially centers on the lack of communal spaces, but for some reason we don’t often talk about a lack of private spaces. Considering the fact that many students have roommates and you can’t leave your room without possibly running into the professor of the class that you skipped that morning as well as every person that you have ever matched with on Tinder, ever—you’re never truly alone. I think this panopticon makes us feel like we always have to seem like way less of a mess than we really are. Nowhere is this overwhelming social pressure to seem like you have it all together more prevalent than in Butler.
As the semester intensifies, we sequester our stress-filled selves in the library. We lie to ourselves, believing that our “Butler self” is our most productive self. In reality, we are merely sitting among our peers, performing the role of the ideal Columbia student and pretending we have our shit together. But no matter how perfect and machine-like we attempt to make ourselves, we still have to pee. In these moments of privacy, the false persona of the über-productive Columbia student vanishes. We are reminded of our real self, our non-performing self. A person who gets rightfully stressed out about the stressful things they have to do. And who also ate Chipotle six hours ago. And who has to Juul.
Anna Lokey is a senior in Columbia College studying philosophy. Her pee always smells like coffee even when she doesn’t drink coffee. Should she be worried? She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments, or concerns. A Girl and Her Juul runs alternate Fridays.
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