Micah remembers what happened the first time he picked the door on the left.
He tried not to go during school usually, but this had been an emergency. As he approached, he saw there was a line, and panicked. He decided to do another loop of the hallway instead. When he made it back, there was no one around. He walked towards the door on the right out of habit, then paused. He was already late to class; another minute to think wouldn’t hurt. His eyes flipped from door to door. Maybe he could just hold it. No, he needed to go now. Trying not to think, he reached out and grabbed the handle of the door on the left and opened it up and almost fell inside, leaning against the door to close it behind him.
Micah froze. There was another boy already inside, a senior. The two stared at each other, the older boy toweling off his hands while Micah tried in vain to look confident, like he belonged. He could feel the older boy taking in his long hair, his wide hips, his height (5’3 when Micah stood up straight, which he never did).
“You’re in the wrong bathroom.”
Micah fled wordlessly.
“I want to cut my hair short,” said Micah, not even bothering to say hello to his mother. He’d asked her this just one other time, when he was thirteen and had just started to grow breasts. The look his mother had given him-like she was staring straight through him and into his soul, seeing things about him that even he didn’t know about himself- scared him so badly that he had not brought up the subject again until now, three years later. He knew more now.
It had been several hours since his encounter with the boy in the men’s room, but he still felt shaken. He couldn’t get the boy’s expression out of his head; the way his lip had curled. Micah wondered if the boy had laughed at him after he’d left.
Micah had prepared for this question. “I got cast in the school play, and the director wants me to play a boy’s part. Since not enough boys auditioned.” Micah picked at the lint on his sweater. “So she asked if I could cut my hair short. For the show.”
Micah’s mom gave him a crumpled $10 to spend at Supercuts without asking any follow-up questions. Maybe a better mom would’ve asked when Micah’s play was, so they could come see it. Or maybe they would, as Micah’s mom had, recognize that their child only fidgeted when they were lying.
After that first incident in the men’s room, Micah developed something of a phobia of public toilets. When he absolutely had to use the restroom at school, he’d pick the door on the right, avoiding eye contact with anyone inside. Finally, his senior year, he was saved somewhat- over the summer, an old utility closet on the west side of the school was transformed into a single-stall bathroom. Now, instead of choosing between the door on the right or the left, there was a third option- albeit one that was all the way across campus, in the freshman wing, where there was frequently a line to use it. Nevertheless, it was worth it to not be looked at. Micah sometimes felt that all his problems would be solved if everyone would just stop looking at him.
In college, Micah got a job doing administrative work at a local theater. In the theater, no one stared at him or questioned why a girl would have short hair. He still used the women's restroom, but many of the people inside looked like he did. His co-worker, Shay, was a transgender woman who pointed him in the direction of a specialist who she thought might be able to help him. He used his paychecks from the theater to pay for treatments, and soon his voice began to drop and his skin began to feel rougher. Finally, one day, while he was in the bathroom washing his hands before class, a girl timidly approached him and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, sir? I think you may be in the wrong bathroom.”
Micah remembers what happened the second time he picked the door on the left, too. There was a one-stall bathroom in each of the buildings on campus, but the one in the building he was in was out of order. It was winter, and he was bracing himself for the snowy ten-minute walk to the next nearest building, when his eyes fell on the door to the men’s room. It was just a door, he knew. He placed a hand on the doorknob. It was a bit cold. No current of electricity coursed through the stainless steel to throw him back. That would be somewhat of a relief, he thought. If he was unable to enter. But the doorknob turned for him in just the way it was designed to turn. He slipped through. Empty; there was no one inside. He hurried over to the stalls and did his business quickly, then almost sprinted over to the sinks. This had been a mistake. He was in the wrong bathroom. He scrubbed his hands and dried them on his shirt as he ran for the door, almost colliding with the boy who had just entered behind him.
“Hey man, watch where you’re going next time,” Micah heard him say as the door clicked closed behind him.
Micah remembers what happened the third time he picked the door on the left (bowling alley, at a friend’s birthday party; two of the stalls had been occupied and the knobs on the sink had been hard to turn) and the fourth (backstage dressing room before he stepped on stage for real for the first time, playing the role of Mercutio in his university’s production of Romeo and Juliet; his mother sat in the seventh row). He doesn’t remember the fifth or the sixth. He doesn’t know that this right now is time number 849. He doesn’t stop to think about anything at all before turning the handle of the door on the left and stepping inside.