Obviously, shitting your pants is gross.
Sure, babies and old people do it all the time. Kids, too—especially in the case of illness, behavioural problems, or something called "encopresis" (do a quick Google search of "kids shitting their pants" and trust me, it's the best you'll ever feel about not being a parent). But as an adult, it's hard to think of anything that could be more embarrassing. Barring age and certain medical conditions, it's not something that I assumed many of us have to deal with—much less talk about (unless you're that dude from Trainspotting).
Yet when I started trawling for leads, this theme generated the largest volume of responses I've ever received for a single story in six years of journalism. People were selling out their spouses. Sending the names and numbers of their closest friends. One person offered to talk—but only over the phone, and on condition of complete anonymity (she asked to be referred to as "Rodman"). I got enough material for a six-part series—all of them from (and about) adults.
In stories of pants-shitting we see a little bit of ourselves; our frailties and all-too-human failures. Also, we're all vile, disgusting creatures, and we want to share that information. So in what will no doubt be viewed as my high watermark of online journalism for years to come, I've culled through those responses to bring you a sampling of some dark moments in human digestion.
PLAYING IT COOL
There was a time that somebody literally scared the shit out of me. I was 19, maybe 20, and I took this girl who was possibly my friend, and possibly not, to the movies, to try and figure out our relationship. It was about the third time we'd been out in public together. We enjoyed the flick. Held hands. I had positive vibes. She was pretty enraptured in the flick, but the hands seemed positive, and we were going back to mine (and my dad's) to "grab a drink," and then she was going to "figure out her bus route home" later. So we're walking back to my dad's, and I must've bought the large fucking pop or somesuch because I had to piss like a racehorse.
So I said to her, rather quickly, "You stay here a sec. I'm gonna run behind those bushes and be right back."
And I ran behind the bush, unzipped, and started pissing almost immediately. Realistically, I wasn't far enough away from her, but there was no time. And I start pissing and it's the greatest piss of all time. And I hear a voice behind me that goes: "What's?... Oh." I had no idea anyone was behind me, so of course, I freaked out. I screamed and jumped about a foot in the air. And I'm loud when I yell. Aaaaand a little bit of wet poop slips out. And by this point, we're only halfway up the hill to my dad's place. So, I have no choice but to continue walking up the hill, ignoring the grossest sensation I've felt in a long time, playing it cool, trying desperately to pretend that I didn't shit myself. We finally got back to my dad's, and I make up some bullshit excuse about being "too sweaty" from the walk, and bolt up the stairs and start disrobing and wiping and turning on the shower and hopping in immediately. Changed, wiped the underwear best I could, and then threw them away, and then immediately took out the trash.
Shortly thereafter she grabbed a bus home... "It was late." I have no idea if she knew. But I like to believe I sold it.
I've always hated public washrooms. They're impersonal, smelly, dirty, poorly-maintained, and, well, public. After many uncomfortable and awkward moments in public washrooms, I decided I was done with them. Forever. It took some practice and fine-tuning but I felt confident that I could always wait until I got home. And the plan worked relatively smoothly for quite some time. Until it didn't.
I was nearing the end of my day, and I knew that it was almost time to make things happen, but my moratorium on public washrooms still held strong. Plus, I was only a ten-minute walk from home, so it seemed doable. Unfortunately, a few minutes in, I realized it might not have been the best plan. I started getting the sweats. I knew I needed to speed up. But every time I tried to walk faster, that seemed to speed up the urgency of other things. It became this weird, awkward dance: speed up, slow down, speed up, waddle a few feet. I'd hate to think what I looked like to anybody who happened to be watching.
I'm not sure how exactly, but I made it home. I shoved through the front door and got to the bathroom with what felt like seconds to spare. I reached down to unbutton my jeans, and realized that there was a safety-pin holding them closed. I'd popped a button earlier in the day, and used the pin to get through the day. Unfortunately, those extra few seconds were more time than I had. As I stood there struggling with this pin, looking at the toilet, I filled my seat completely—front to back. There's something extra horrible about shitting your pants when there's a toilet right in front of you. Luckily this all happened in the safety of my own bathroom, but still, it happened and that moment will haunt me forever.
I've changed my mind on public bathrooms since then. Because I know it could be a lot worse.
GRIDLOCK EVERYWHERE BUT IN MY PANTS
This happened when I was 33 years old. I'd just started seeing this girl, and I'd dropped her off for work in the morning, and before we went our separate ways, we stopped in to a local coffee shop and grabbed a beverage. For me, coffee on an empty stomach has never been the best idea, but she wanted one, so I bought one too, and we hung out and sipped our drinks and were generally being lovey and annoying. And after she left, I jumped in a Car2go to head home and shower, change, etc. It wasn't a long drive—maybe 15 minutes, tops. And I'd felt a bit uneasy in the stomach region before we'd left, but brushed it off—mainly because a month into seeing someone, I didn't want to jinx things by excusing myself for a lengthy bathroom break.
And as the drive continued, things started getting a bit more worrisome. It suddenly went from "pending" to "imminent." Still, I wasn't more than five minutes from home, so—while I was worried—I wasn't panicking.
And then I ran right smack into a traffic jam. It was gridlock. And at a weird time in the morning—like, 11:00 AM or something. And this was a section of street that didn't have much going on. There was an elementary school and a bunch of grungy single-family homes. No curbside parking on either side. No side-streets to turn onto. Not even a gas station. And as I sat there, I could feel the situation getting worse with every passing second. And I realized that unless the traffic eased up almost instantly, there was a very good chance I was going to shit myself right there. It was like I went through the seven stages of grief in about 30 seconds.
At first, I was furious. Swearing, honking the horn, yelling at other drivers. Then, I tried denial. No. That won't happen. You'll be fine. I tried reasoning with myself. Just hang on, buddy. Deep breaths.
Then, I just got depressed. And we still weren't moving. So eventually, the only option left was acceptance. I'd held off as long as possible, but by this point, it wasn't really up to me anymore. I turned off the radio and rolled down the windows. There was no need for music at a time like that. I tried to look as placid as possible from the waist up, and even at one point made eye-contact with the driver in the car beside me, which probably would have struck me as hysterical if I hadn't been so busy hating myself. Without getting into too many additional details, let me just say that it took another three or four minutes for traffic to get moving, and for me to get close enough to a side-street to get off that road. At which point I drove home as fast as I could, hosed my clothes down in the backyard, jumped in the shower, and spent at least 20 minutes cleaning the Car2go. For a month I was worried that the person who drove it after me would report something I'd missed, and Car2go would call asking me to explain myself.
IT HAPPENED AT THE MOST INAPPROPRIATE PLACE
I was in my early 20s when I shit my pants at Dachau Concentration Camp.
I'd been staying with family in Europe for a month, and this was one of the first daytrips I was taking on my own. So I took the train out there, and I spent a few hours looking around, looking through the library, and around the site. It was an intense day. After a few hours, I needed a bathroom break—as you do. I approached the first one I could find, and the lineup was pretty long. So I tried another one. Same problem. And another. Same again.
I definitely left it longer than I should have, but when you think of Dachau, bathroom lineups aren't exactly the first things that come to mind. But it gets mighty busy there in the summer. And as I kept searching, I got more and more desperate. I knew I wasn't going to be able to wait in one of those lineups. Not without something bad happening. And then I'd still have to wait in line. So I decided to make a run for it. And everyone is walking around very quiet and solemn, and I'm running—not walking, running. I ran out the front and back toward the train station. It was a combination of knowing that the lineups would be shorter there, and knowing I wouldn't be able to live with myself if that were to actually happen inside the camp.
I really thought I could make it. I didn't make it.
So I did pretty much the only thing I could do: cleaned myself up with soap, water, and TP, tossed the underwear in the bin, and endured a long, mortified train ride home. I made the mistake of telling some friends this story once, after a few beers, and one of them said: "If it ever comes up again, you should just tell everyone it was because you were so moved."
*Names in this story have been changed.
Jesse Donaldson is a Vancouver writer.