Walking into the community bathroom to salvage what’s left of my nightly routine, I notice in the mirror a blue poster on the door behind me. Thinking it reads something like, “ALL-HALL MANDATORY MEETING TONIGHT AT 8,” I walk over to the door to investigate. Instead of the expected “mandatory” meeting announcement or “PLEASE CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF WHEN YOU PUKE” – something at least mildly entertaining – I am greeted by a none-too-subtle proclamation: “SOME RESIDENTS HAVE LICE. PLEASE TAKE THE NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS.” My scalp starts to itch immediately.
As I attempt to ward off all the tiny imaginary insects, I wonder what on Earth the “necessary precautions” are. Forgoing shampoo? Quarantine? Chopping off all offenders’ heads and discarding them in the Pacific? People casually enter and exit the bathroom as I entertain the thought of plucking out my eyelashes for fear of being infested. Oh yes, I remember those grimy little lice-carriers from elementary school. Lice was basically Voldemort back then. No one dared speak (or admit to associating with) the name, but everyone always knew when it was about to strike. The tell-tale sign of an oncoming lice epidemic was always a pink half-sheet of paper with tiny writing (to this day, I have no idea what the fliers actually said). Sure enough, within the week, the lice shampoo would rear its overly chemical aroma.
My mind snaps back to the present in the communal bathroom of my freshman dorm. I look around, a little grossed out, at all the strangers with whom I share this extremely personal space and wonder which of them has the lice. Which of these chatty young women, with their unfamiliar smells and weird bathroom habits, had to poison the little animals living on her scalp and scrape off their corpses with a sharp, metal comb? I try to be grateful for indoor plumbing as I silently reflect on the fact that the only restroom available to me is a public one.
What am I doing here again?