I call Utah home, but my 19th and 20th years were spent in Southern California. I was raised in a devout Mormon family, and when young men in the LDS Church reach adulthood, they’re expected to put their lives on hold for twenty-four months, leave the religious bubble of their youth, and peddle their Mormonism to the Gentiles. Going on a mission, in my experience, is a rite of passage somewhat comparable to sticking one’s hand in a glove full of bullet ants—nobody really wants to do it, but if you don’t, none of the girls in the tribe will ever, ever bang you. A lifetime of cultural ostracism did not appeal to me, so after my freshman year of college, I put on my shirt and tie and traded my beautiful mountain home for the beaches of Babylon.
Of course, I wasn’t actually allowed to visit those beaches. LDS missionaries are forced to live by a set of rules so restrictive that even North Korea would raise a collective eyebrow. You can’t swim, you can’t watch movies, you can’t read books, and you have to go everywhere except the bathroom with a fellow missionary—a companion—who’s assigned to you. I had 12 companions while laboring under this Orwellian regime; some were bright, some apathetic, others downright dull. Indeed, I say with as little humor as possible that I was paired with a staggering variety of white Mormon guys. Perhaps the only constant among them was their title—for in the topsy-turvy world of the mission, every snot-nosed kid fresh out of high school is an “Elder.”
Before I continue, I feel obligated to include a disclaimer: this is not a recounting of a life-changing event. This is not a tale of courage or justice or moral fortitude. Within these words, you will find no wisdom, no epiphanies, no grand righteous message. What follows is nothing more and nothing less than the story of a time I really, really needed to take a shit.
November, 2012. I was five long months into my missionary service, and I had just been paired with my new companion, Elder Blake. Elder Blake was from Iowa, and at the time of his arrival in Southern California he had never in his life eaten an orange, nor had he ever even heard of guacamole. (Seriously, he thought I was making the word up.) But all things considered, Blake was a cool guy.
Perhaps my favorite thing about him was that he could ride a bicycle as fast as I could. Many missionaries are forced to bike to all their appointments—which, in a suit and tie, is about as miserable as it sounds—and until Elder Blake, all my companions had been painfully slow riders. But to Blake and I, riding fast was something of a game, so on a brisk Wednesday evening, we pulled up to our 6:00 appointment sweaty and out of breath. In fact, I was a little more winded than usual, and I didn’t feel very good. Perhaps I’d been too eager during our lunch at Taqueria de Anda, the alarmingly cheap Mexican joint across the street from our apartment.
Our 6:00 appointment was with the Garcia family. Brother Garcia was the local Church member in charge of the missionary work in his area, and he and his wife had invited us to dinner. We were on a strict budget as missionaries, but thankfully, most Church members in Southern California received a regular guilt trip from their ecclesiastical leaders about feeding us, so our “dinner calendar” was usually full. (Guilt-tripping a Mormon is sort of like Rick-Rolling: it’s stupid and it happens all the time and it shouldn’t ever work, but it usually does.) Almost without exception, these appointments with the members would go thusly: we’d show up, eat every scrap of food in their house, then move into the front room, where my companion and I would lay upon them yet another guilt trip, this one about how they need to share the good news of the gospel more. Then we’d ask them if they had any friends for us to teach (spoiler alert: they didn’t) and go on our merry way.
This was our experience with the Garcia family on that balmy November evening, with one exception: I wasn’t feeling very hungry. In fact, I felt downright ill. I thought I had food poisoning. Trying not to panic or vomit, I ate a polite amount of meat loaf and green beans, and then sat quietly. Elder Blake shot me a look—sitting quietly was not in my repertoire.
“You give the message,” I mouthed to him. He, a fresh young missionary eager to prove himself, nodded in agreement.
When I stood up at the end of the meal, I felt a metric ton of fecal matter rush down to the rim of my rectum. I squeezed my ass-cheeks shut. Just. In. Time. The crisis had been averted, but there was still a hot load of shit pounding on my anal door, frothing angrily. I moseyed into the living room with my legs close together, a “nothing-to-see-here” expression plastered on my face.
There were a few brief moments of pause before Elder Blake began to give the spiritual message. In a parallel universe, one in which I was wiser, perhaps I took advantage of these moments to say something like, “Excuse me, Sister Garcia. May I use your restroom?” And perhaps, in this parallel universe, the story ended there, never to be written down or immortalized in any form. But I was still a relatively new missionary myself, and the Garcias were wealthy, proper and intimidating people. I didn’t want to befoul their facilities with my middle-class discharge.
Besides, our 7:00 appointment was just a block and a half away, at the home of Nick Fonua. Nick was a 17-year-old Samoan kid we visited regularly, and he was cool. I could have dropped the world’s smelliest shit at his house and he wouldn’t have given it a second thought. In my mind I went back and forth, back and forth: do I relieve myself, shamefacedly, on the Garcia’s porcelain, or do I grit my teeth and sweat it out, anticipating a glorious feculence in a friendlier environment? But Elder Blake, sensing that I was in agony of some sort, jumped hurriedly into the message. My choice had been taken from me. I had no option but to clench. I would do everything in my power to stop nature from running its course.
I could feel the toxic waste bubbling inside me. This would be no solid log, of that I was sure. My heart thrummed in my throat, but it skipped a beat as I came to a sudden, horrifying realization: I was sitting on a white couch. There was no room for error; a slip would not go unnoticed. Small beads of sweat began to form at my hairline as I silently begged God for mercy. He, perhaps knowing this would be a very funny story someday, did not oblige.
For five long minutes, I endured the pains of a damned soul. Elder Blake shared a Church-approved video meant to encourage members to share their beliefs with their acquaintances. The video depicted a beautiful family of white people talking to their beautiful white friends about the Church and having a rather unrealistic amount of success. I always kind of liked that video, but I couldn’t enjoy it that night. As we watched, Sister Garcia squirmed with guilt over her failings as a “member-missionary,” and I squirmed with fear that I would leave a skid mark on her couch.
Finally, the video ended, and it came time for Elder Blake to speak on the importance of missionary work. When he was done, I was expected to say, “I testify that what my companion said is true,” and add my own thoughts on the matter. But by this point, Sister Garcia was already hanging her head in shame over what a stingy asshole she was with her religion, and I felt ready to explode from every orifice—so when it came my turn to speak, all I could squeak out was, “Yeah, what he said.”
“What he said?” Elder Blake asked in amused disbelief as we walked out into the Garcia’s driveway. I was usually quite eager to wring every precious ounce of self-reproach from these people—people died for this Church, and you can’t even tell your friends about it, you dick?—but not on this day. Without a word, I flipped up the kickstand on my bike and tried to swing my leg over its frame. BAD IDEA. Once again, I squeezed my anus shut with all my might, but I was pretty sure a drop or two had still escaped. That alone would have been a disaster back home, but as a missionary, I was forbidden to even hug a girl, much less permit one to see my underwear—so really, a couple of pellets tumbling around back there wasn’t the end of the world.
I wheeled my bike down the road at a careful trot. No false moves here. I walked as briskly as I could while keeping my thighs glued together. Elder Blake, putting the pieces together, started to laugh from behind me. In retrospect, I suppose my walk must have looked rather humorous, but at the time I was in no laughing mood. I turned my head towards him and gave what I thought was the angriest of glares, but I’m pretty sure my face just said “MUST POO NOW PLEASE” because the bastard started laughing even harder.
When we reached Nick’s house, I discarded my bicycle ungracefully on his front lawn and waddled up to the doorbell. I pressed it with eagerness, now beginning to whimper. I heard his dogs go absolutely berserk on the other side of the door, as they always did, but this was not followed by the “shut the hell up!” that usually came from some member of Nick’s family. Where are they? I pounded frantically, but no help would come. I even tried, in my utter desperation, to just open their front door, which, of course, was locked. I was, if you’ll pardon the bad pun, shit out of luck.
“Son of a BITCH!” I wailed, banging my head against the door. Elder Blake’s eyes went wide—such language was uncommon among servants of the Lord.
“Dude, you ok?” he asked, an uncertain expression on his face.
“No,” I said helplessly. “I have to go poo.”
Well, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone laugh harder in my entire life. Elder Blake simply couldn’t breathe. His quakes of laughter actually felled him—and as I watched him, gasping on his hands and knees, I started to chuckle too. But it wasn’t an “oh, this situation sure is silly” chuckle. It was the sound a man makes right before he completely loses his mind and kills everyone in sight. The pressure had simply become too great. I had snapped.
But my laughter caused another rumble from within, and this one was different. The others were nauseating and deeply uncomfortable, but this one actually caused extreme pain—some of the worst I’ve ever felt in my life, in fact. I had a brief yet vivid vision of my colon exploding inside me, sending poisonous sewage throughout my bloodstream. Had anyone ever died from holding their shit too long? I didn’t know, and I didn’t intend to find out. I groaned loudly and clutched my stomach with one hand; with the other, I pulled out my cell phone.
Nick picked up on the second ring. “Hey man, where are you?” I asked, trying and failing to sound casual.
“Oh, sorry, guys,” he replied, without a care in the goddamn world. “I’m at dinner with my family. I’ll be there in like fifteen minutes, though.”
The phone fell from my hands and clattered on the concrete. I absolutely could not wait fifteen minutes. I had two choices: try and make it back to the Garcia’s, or drop my pants and take a dump right here, on Nick’s front lawn. It was actually a hard decision. If Elder Blake hadn’t been there, I honestly might have picked the lawn. But my dignity was not quite low enough to excrete in front of another man, so I slid my backpack off of my shoulders, let it fall behind me, and began my sprint-waddle of shame back from whence I had come.
With every step, I thought the game was over. There was an actual monster inside me, made of fecal matter, and he had somehow fashioned a battering ram, also made of fecal matter. It was only a matter of time before the gate simply couldn’t hold. I heard Elder Blake’s footsteps behind me, then next to me. I was moving as fast as I could, which wasn’t very fast. He soon passed me, carrying my backpack along with his, a look of complete and utter glee plastered on his stupid face.
But Blake did make up for it by buying me a few precious seconds, seconds which I sorely needed. He had rang the doorbell before I even turned into the driveway. Sister Garcia opened the door just as I tottered up the steps of her porch.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I said desperately as I crested the final step.
“You’re as white as a ghost,” she said, eyeing me with bemused interest. She stepped out of the way and gestured me into her home, and I didn’t even slow down. It’s a good thing she moved, because decorum be damned, I would have bowled her over. I knew there was a toilet in that house, and with it almost in my grasp, I wouldn’t have stopped for God himself. At that moment, that toilet was unequivocally the most important thing to me in the entire world.
“Down the hall, second door on your left!” she called to me. But I was already there; in fact, I had undone my belt while I was still in the hallway. I slammed the door behind me, and had just enough wherewithal to look for the fan switch. But I saw none. I could feel that it was going to be loud, see, and I wanted to try and mask the sound if I could. To this day, I’m convinced the Garcias have the only fan-less bathroom in Orange County. But beggars can’t be choosers, and I turned toward that toilet with lust in my eyes. The lid was up and the rim was down—just the way I dreamed it would be.
In one swift motion, I dropped my pants to my ankles and slammed my cheeks to the seat. I was right—it was loud. It sounded like a fucking jet engine. Elder, this is Taqueria de Anda, you are cleared for takeoff. The soiled toilet water splashed up and drenched the whole of my backside, and I couldn’t have cared any less. I let out a moan of pure relief, then caught myself, hoping that my exclamation hadn’t been audible from outside the bathroom.
It had been—and as it turned out, so had the explosion which preceded it. Later, when we were a safe distance from the Garcia’s home, Elder Blake told me what had happened on the outside. I could barely stand to listen.
“Have a seat,” Sister Garcia told Elder Blake, a slight smirk on her face. He sat on the couch, the same white one I had come angstroms away from sullying. She joined him on the couch, and her husband was buried in an armchair across the room, perusing a magazine. Blake had barely sat down when my eruption resonated throughout the house, causing Brother Garcia to actually jump in surprise. Sister Garcia, a nurse, was more used to bodily functions, but still smirked as she raised an eyebrow at my companion over her glasses. By the time I had let out my ill-advised groan of pleasure, Blake had dissolved into sobs of laughter.
Meanwhile, I was faced with the impossible task of removing myself from the home with dignity. The first step was to dispose of my waste in an efficient manner. The last thing I wanted to do was clog the toilet, and I feared I was already reaching maximum capacity—so I flushed without wiping, thinking I would be lucky if the plumbing could handle the sheer volume of my expulsion. Thankfully, it could. I breathed a sigh of relief and began the meticulous five-minute process of cleansing my ass. I was as economical as I could be with the toilet paper, but once again found myself concerned about the potential for a clog. Flush #2 also traversed the pipes successfully, though, and I was beginning to regain my confidence.
However, when I stood up, I realized that a couple glaring problems remained. First, even after my two flushes, the inside of the toilet bowl was completely speckled in shit. I was faced with an impossible dilemma. What would ultimately be more embarrassing: leaving the remnants of my evacuation fully visible, or an unthinkable third flush, one which might not even work? I opted to leave the mess, realizing that I would be long gone before Brother or Sister Garcia ever dared to venture into their bathroom.
The second problem was the smell. Now, while telling this story, I’ve used some big words; the best words—but here, my vocabulary simply fails me. Nothing in the English language could do justice to the rank fumes which had emerged from my bowels. Frantically, I searched the bathroom for spray, a matchbox, anything—but it was in vain. There was nothing to mask the smell, no fan to stir the air, no window to open. Accepting defeat, I washed my hands and stepped out to face the music.
I was greeted into the living room by Elder Blake’s delighted grin. He was nothing short of euphoric. He walked briskly to my side and thanked Sister Garcia for the use of her facilities. “Of course,” she said simply, and for a brief and beautiful moment I thought I was going to escape without having to face the malodorous elephant in the room. But then—“Do you feel better, Elder?” I forced a humiliated smile, nodded politely, and got the hell out of her house, my eyes never once leaving my feet.
We finally got to Nick’s, and Elder Blake told him my story. The next day, we ran into some other missionaries we worked with, and Elder Blake told them my story, too. Over the next few weeks, my gleeful companion regaled seemingly anyone who would listen with the tale—but his mirth didn’t last forever. One night a few weeks later, he got sick. Really sick. He clutched his stomach in agony, shitting his pants and barfing all over the place simultaneously. It quickly progressed to the point where I took him to the emergency room, fearing his appendix had ruptured. They actually gave him morphine and kept him for a few hours, though he was eventually discharged with the fearsome diagnosis of “bad gas.” But though I would have been justified, I never laughed—for poetic justice had been adequately served. To gloat would have been unbecoming.
As for Elder Blake? He never told my story, to anyone, ever again.