“Excuse me, can you tell me where the restrooms are?” I ask the man at the counter.
“Oh, they’re on the third floor in the Children’s Department,” he replies with a smile.
“The third floor?” I repeat in dismay, jaw dropping. Oh, dear. I should NOT have waited so long. I had met a colleague in the coffee shop on the ground floor of the LL Bean store to plan a PD session. I’d ignored my need to use the bathroom until we finished working. Considering I’d spent the morning consuming vast quantities of coffee, this wasn’t a grand plan. I had just assumed there’d be a bathroom nearby. Did you ever drink a giant soda at the movie theater and then ignore your need to pee because the movie is so good and you don’t want to miss any of it and when the lights finally come up, you stand up and realize you really can’t stand straight and you’re in pain and you might not make it all the way to the bathroom and there’s a crowd between you and the bathroom anyway and if there’s a line in there–which there will be because you’re a woman and there’s always a line–you are in serious trouble? Well, this is a moment like that, but now I have to throw in three flights of stairs. Oh, dear.
My colleague and I walk up the first flight of stairs together to the main lobby. I’m leading at a brisk pace. She says goodbye and I barely acknowledge her departure, intent on getting upstairs– fast! I generally take the stairs but my heart leaps when I spy an elevator nearby. Yes! I dash to the door, raise my finger to push the button and only then notice the prominent sign: “This elevator only goes to the ground floor.” What!? I glance around but there is no other elevator in sight and there’s no time to hunt for one now.
Girding my loins, I quickly walk through the store toward the stairs, weaving through the crowds of dawdling tourists and shoppers. If you’ve ever been in LL Bean’s flagship store in Maine you know that it’s very large and that stairways are scattered through the store. You can’t just zoom up three flights of stairs. (Not that I was sure I could zoom anywhere at this point!) You move from one side of a floor to the other to access the next flight of stairs. I imagine this is rooted in marketing–move the crowds through the merchandise to tempt them to make purchases. Right now it is undiluted torture. I speed up, trying to think dry thoughts.
Finally, after great focus and effort and a couple of near collisions with lollygagging shoppers, I climb the last dreaded flight of stairs and step onto the floor of the children’s section. Where are those bathrooms? Looking around frantically, I see the signs tucked in a nearby corner. Hallelujah! Never has anyone been so happy to see those two icons! With no one between me and my goal, I zoom into the bathroom and into the first open stall, shutting the door and locking it in one quick, desperate move. I drop my tote bag on the floor with one hand and reach for my belt with the other.
Then it hits me. I freeze. I look down at my tote. Just.my.tote.bag. I check my shoulder hopefully. No. I do not have my purse. Oh. No. I look again, disbelievingly. One tote bag. No purse. With a sinking heart I realize that my purse is three floors below me in the coffee shop. Or hopefully it still is. In my rush to get to the bathroom, I left it at the table. Was it hanging on the chair or on the floor? I can’t even remember. My mind says “Quick! Get back down there NOW! The longer you’re gone, the more chance your purse will be too!” My bladder says, “No way! There is absolutely no way I can make it down three flights of stairs and back up again.” I stand frozen for a moment, my hand still at my belt. What should I do? Talk about pressure!
Really in the end, I have no choice. I yield to my bladder’s demands and hurry up the operation as much as I can, frantic the whole time, then dash my hands under water, skipping the soap. Daring right? As I rinse my hands, part of me is thinking–Why are you even taking the time to do this!?! You are so conditioned! Simultaneously, another part (that conditioned part) reassures me —Don’t worry about the soap, you have hand sanitizer in your purse. That is if I still have a purse! I race out the door and back down the first flight of stairs and then across to another and descend again. My thoughts race along with me. Besides hand sanitizer, what’s in my purse anyway? How hard would it be to replace? Oh no–my new iPhone’s in there. Not much cash though. That’s good.
I know the general direction I need to head in the store, but one flight up from my destination, I find myself turned around in the camping gear section–Tents everywhere and no sign of the coffee shop. Where is that last da&* staircase!?! Feeling increasingly panicked, I approach a sales clerk who is heading my way. The words fly out of my mouth. “Can you please tell me how to get back down to the coffee store? I left my purse there when I went to the bathroom and I can’t find my way back.”
The man takes in my desperation with one appraising look and jumps into action. “Right this way,” he says, turning back the way he came and leading me through the sea of tents and other paraphernalia, around a corner and then voila! The staircase! Throwing thank yous over my shoulder, I rush downstairs into the coffee shop, my eyes fixed on the table across the room where we’d been sitting. Would my bag still be there? Would someone have turned it in? I rush across the room. There’s a man sitting at our table. Did he find my purse? And then I see it–On the floor by the empty chair across from the coffee-drinking stranger, tucked securely against the wall, is my purse. Untouched. I may be imagining it, but I think it has a bit of a glow about it and I may hear a faint chorus of angel song. I take a breath and it feels like the first one I’ve taken in ages.
“Excuse me, ” I say, rushing over, “I left my purse here.” I grab it and pull it to my chest. “I’m so relieved it’s still here.” He smiles. I smile. I leave the store, hugging my purse, feeling exhausted but doubly relieved.