I have always been a bit of a master at not peeing.
The origins of my particular talent lie, I think, within my high school days, a bildungsroman of ureic fortitude. My high school – feculent, dilapidated, filled with drug dealers and vagabonds and scores of teenagers so devoid of vigour and care that we could have doubled as a coma ward. Ceiling tiles regularly leaked litres of aged rainwater onto the floors; whole window panes would be thrown into the courtyard and replaced with wedges of cardboard for months at a time. Of the various school apparatus that had fallen into disrepair, the bathrooms were always the worst.
The bathrooms: acrid, fetid pustules with such dense bioform growth and new bacteria that they could technically be classified as wetlands. Whenever I walked by a bathroom the ambient stench was so powerful that my eyes began to water and my teeth developed cavities. The pages on my books fused together, students’ hair turned white, and car tires would deflate. There were no stall doors and every urinal was constantly caked in feces. When they weren’t designated hot boxes for impromptu circles of red-eyed wastoids, they were assumed to be full of various other illegal activities, from prostitution to thievery to orphan smuggling to the exchange of blood diamonds. People entered the bathrooms and just never returned, sucked into sewagey hell dimensions beyond our mortal comprehension.
I remember standing upon the threshold one day as a freshman and deciding, quite simply, that I would hold it. And held it I did. For 4 years.
If you time your beverage intake right, naturally have a bashful bladder, and live relatively close to your high school, this never peeing is not an unreasonable task. One can easily last 7 to 8 hours without using the toilet if the will is strong enough and if the relative stench of the only outlets for your waste-fluids smells like the underside of a wyvern’s butthole. After a few years of simply bearing the minor discomfort, my bladder apparently grew to understand the situation and expanded unnaturally, to the point that I sometimes imagine it ballooning up to fill most of my thorax and large amounts of real estate in my legs.
The talent served me well as a college-student and beer-seeker, as hours of classes and hours of drinking would never faze me. The notion of “breaking the seal” was utterly foreign to me, as the first time you go to the bathroom should almost certainly be just before you left the bar for good so that the bus-ride home wouldn’t be uncomfortable.
My teaching-life would further be aided by my biological inclinations. Herding around cadres of little people with constant need for supervision lest they bash each other around the face with tables and chairs means that bathroom time is fleeting and rare. Intake of fluid and caffeine must be carefully regulated and monitored lest you invite tragedy upon yourself and need to pee during one of your classes. I always tell parents of young children to send an extra pair of pants to school in case accidents happen, and if not for my iron bladder I might start to follow that same advice.
I thought for certain that I had met all the challenges the world could through at such a stalwart pee-withholder. The gamut had been thrown and the world had lost—I stood victorious atop pee mountain, knees tightly braced together while I did a little dance, but still the champion, the winner. The undefeated.
Travel, as it turned out, would be the only thing to ever stand in my way.
As world-stomping became my major hobby, so too did incredibly long journeys wedged into buses and trains and planes and automobiles. The number of hours I have spent with my knees braced to my chest while slowly trundling along a highway in Vietnam or Germany or India are uncountable. That I am just-this-side of an insomniac has meant a lot of long stretches of time staring into the middle distance of the globe around me, people on all sides, contemplating just how awake I am and how awake I will continue being.
A long-haul journey means more particular and delicate planning of fluid-exchange and body position. Laid out on a sleeper train or a decent bus seat I can essentially go on without peeing basically forever: I’m like an Arakeen Fremen with a stillsuit built into my very skin; I’m an ouroboros of fluid-recycling supremacy. But forced to sit up and remain awake means that even I will eventually reach my urine thresholds if I am not careful.
On a plane I can burrow myself into a window-seat and not emerge for a full trans-Pacific flight, so long as I sustain myself mostly on saltine crackers and regular intravenous applications of moderately-recent Hollywood films. Without the danger of other passengers needily crawling over my half-conscious form to desperately claw at the two working bathrooms, I am never even reminded that I have a functioning circulatory system. A window seat allows me to slip into my cocoon of sleepless, over-stimulated agitation, feeding and drinking mostly for boredom, and never needing to use a toilet until I’m past the customs line.
The only time I use a bathroom on a plane is to allow myself the serene joy of standing up. I haven’t slept a wink and don’t need to use the toilet – I often enter the bathroom and stand around idly, considering the length of my fingernails or how many digits I can remember for pi. Others stand outside pounding their feet against the cheap carpet, the sour airplane wine slipping through their systems with furious speed. I exit and drift down the aisle, eternally awake and constantly dry, the ghost of Iron Bladder, the sleep-deprived pirate who took to the skies because the ocean reminded him of needing to use the bathroom.