This is something I'm working on right now, a piece of the long process of a longer short story. This is called "The Public Restroom Heaviness."
The panic crept up and surprised her even when she expected it. June’s moods were unbearable. Pink tidal waves of feeling rose up from her diaphragm, into her chest and throat.
It always happened in public, where it’s never easy finding a restroom. Restaurants, among the easiest venues, still aren’t guaranteed to grant sanctuary. You find yourself walking around the back of a restaurant, servers passing you without making eye contact, you’re craning your neck for a hallway, confused. What else would a person wandering around the back of a restaurant be looking for? June didn’t ask for help. It was better to hold in the question, she thought, to just keep walking and looking for hallways.
In these moments of panic, before her heart started knocking against the walls of her chest, when it was still a small ball of heat inside her belly, she would retreat to the bathroom. It seemed the safest place, something about the warm water and the cold tiles served some positive purpose. She tried to take care of herself.
So this was the third time this week, the third bathroom stall panic attack, only this time she was at a rock climbing gym. Ray’s gym. Ray drove them in his green station wagon. He bought June a bagel and coffee on the way and called it a date. Ray slung his equipment bag over his shoulder and walked into the gym first, June followed.
She stood idly by the door while Ray checked them in at the front desk. June couldn’t keep her hands still or decide which way to stand. Ray rented her a large child-sized harness but was off by a half-size with the shoes. June stuffed her dirty sneakers into an open cubby and followed Ray onto the big blue mats.
June could already feel the heaviness. Butts of people hung over her head and muscled spiders scaled the walls way too easily. June half-gripped a knobby neon handhold and thought she wasn’t the right type of child for this. You got this, voices echoed. She kept losing track of Ray in the mix of all the earth-toned-synthetic fabric. Ray knew everybody; sometimes his smile would flash at her through the crowd. June stood quietly and kept moving out of the way.
Then something happened. June was locked behind a stainless-steel stall door. With her yoga pants pooled at her ankles she sat on the toilet and rocked her upper body forwards and backwards. June heard women talking, changing their clothes, washing their hands, and snapping their hair into ponytails. June cried with her mouth closed.
She kept a hand pressed against her chest in these moments. While her heart and lungs were pumping out of control she pressed down on that weight to keep it all inside, to keep herself from spilling out. In for three, hold for three, exhale for three.
Her sweaty socks left footprints on the cold concrete floor. Her toes began to feel cold. She’d ripped off those rental shoes in a hurry.