I have come to develop an irrational fear of toilets. It all started when I was at home in my new apartment in Arizona. It was to be my first night watching my six-month-old daughter, Celia, alone while my wife, Maria-Renee, was out of town attending a wedding. Nighttime has typically been when Celia most yearns for her mama, having endured her absence during the day while we are at our respective workplaces. My sweet little girl loves me, but her love for her mother is a fixated obsession that compels her to thrust herself forward—arms spread wide—in an attempt to land in Maria-Renee’s arms. Needless to say, I was nervous to be alone for the nighttime routine. I felt I had a lot to prove; I felt that Celia needed to know papa was up to snuff.
The night began with several successes. She ate her dinner on time, we played for a while to tucker her out, she laughed and giggled all throughout the pajama application process. I prepared her bottle, and she voraciously gobbled it down, falling asleep nearly instantly after her final gulps. I laid her down almost exactly at her normal bedtime of 8:00 p.m. I was riding high.
“Man, I am absolutely nailing this,” I thought. I began formulating my acceptance speech for the Dad of the Year Awards. A palpable sense of pride fell on me, and I returned to bed feeling I could conquer the world.
And at that moment, God laughed.
At 2:30 a.m., toiletgeddon began. I awoke to the sound of a roaring, whooshing sound coming from the bathroom in the main bedroom. At first, I thought it was the air conditioner undergoing a huge system recycle—or whatever it is these fancy systems do. But why would it be coming from the bathroom? I opened the door and was immediately drenched by a powerful stream of water bursting wildly from the hose that was supposed to be connected to the base of the toilet. I wasn’t fully convinced that I wasn’t caught up in some sopping, wet nightmare until my mind reminded me that excessive exposure to water is precisely how everyone is wrenched awake. (In the movies, at least.) I rushed over to the toilet and knelt down, feeling that a significant amount of liquid had already accumulated on the drainless floor. Before long, it would seep into the carpet of the closet and the bedroom. I located the shutoff valve on the piping and gave it a twist.
And it snapped clean off.
I felt a piece of my soul die.
(You may be wondering, how is the six-month-old child doing through all this? Great question. Because I have been inexplicably blessed with the sweetest angel of a daughter, she didn’t make a peep.)
In my frenzied state, I began to envision how this would all turn out. All our possessions would be soaked. I wouldn’t be able to stop the water until it had reached the living room, when I could finally open the patio door so that the water could gush out into the wild where it belonged.
I called my in-laws, who thankfully live just down the road. Then I frantically called the first emergency plumber number I could find, and they told me they couldn’t service the area. I screamed internally. I began to think about absconding with Celia in the car and tossing a white flag into the pond that was our apartment when I heard her begin to stir and cry. It was now about 3:00 a.m., which is one of her typical wakeup times. The poor little lady was hungry, and she had no clue what a mess everything was.
At this point, I was completely and thoroughly soaked. I wrapped myself in a towel and ran into Celia’s bedroom. The moment she saw me, she flashed a little grin, and my eyes began cascading tears. My breaths became short, sharp, and rapid. I picked her up, held her close, and sputtered, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Seeing that she was calm, I was suddenly struck by a compulsion to try shutting of the broken valve with a wrench. I put Celia back in her crib and ran to try my new strategy, only to be confronted with failure once again. My only option was to aim the hose at the shower until my in-laws arrived.
Eventually, my father-in-law showed up, assessed the situation, and—after some searching—shut off the water to the building. He located the maintenance number and informed the on-call worker of the problem. My mother-in-law attended to Celia, comforting her and giving her a bottle. With the water off and the maintenance guy on his way, my in-laws took Celia home, and I squatted down in the water, defeated.
At 4:00 a.m. the maintenance guy arrived. At 4:45 a.m., the water extraction guy showed up. They patched up the pipe and sucked out as much of the water as they could. By the time they left, it was about 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Despite the fact that it was a freak accident, I couldn’t help but feel culpable. But then a thought occupied my mind—an image. It was of Celia, being held by my father-in-law just after finishing her bottle and just after the water stopped. She was half smiling, looking at me, my mother-in-law, and my father-in-law, her face a bemused mix of confusion and excitement. Her routine had been thrown off—my worst fear going into the night—but she responded to the change with love and curiosity instead of anger or desperation. To her, she got a little early morning bonus family time.
As I sat, sopping wet, reflecting on that sweet look of love, I realized I had to use the bathroom, and decided I could probably hold it.
Matt Coldagelli (’14) majored in English writing and psychology at Calvin. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis on children and adolescents. He watches an absurd amount of TV and is a certified craft beer snob. His emotional wellbeing is overly dependent on Wisconsin sports, and thus he finds himself often in a state of disappointment. Matt lives with his lovely wife and daughter in Phoenix, AZ.