For many years, I lived with a fear of public restrooms. It wasn't the crippling kind of fear that keeps you from entering a building, or even an overpowering fear such that I couldn't use them.
No, it was more of a paranoia, a worry that someone might peek over the stall and watch me go.
I know where the paranoia stemmed from, it happened once. It was the end of 5th grade. The party on the last day of school, or at least one of the last couple of days. We had it at the park behind my school. We were supposed to fly the kites we made out of straws, string, and tissue paper. I never finished mine.
Having to go, I headed to the restroom. I didn't pay attention to the classmates hanging out at the entrance, I was too busy thinking about how the some of my friends had invited me to play Dungeons and Dragons (I hadn't played before and I thought it was cool. We never got around to it) And how I was supposed to go to another friend's house after school. She had a pool.
So, I'm sitting on my hands, like my mom taught me, so I don't catch cooties from the seat, and a voice says, "Why are you leaning forward, are you constipated?" (you can't sit up while sitting on your hands! I mean, you can, but it's not comfortable. And who has proper posture on the toilet anyway?)
I realized someone was peeking. And from that day I always checked. Watched the stall above me to make sure there were no faces looking down. I don't think I said anything to those kids that day, I just pretended like nothing happened. They never teased me, and I never heard anything about it again. Thank goodness. I was lucky.
I had one other incident in the public restroom that told me that these places were not safe (we won't even get into the story of the little boy who's throat was slit in the restroom at the beach in Oceanside.) I was at the beach with a boyfriend. We had been walking around, he was visiting me while I was in the Americorps*NCCC.
Beach bathrooms, in in case you have never been in one, are notoriously dirty; don't ever walk in there barefoot. There's always an inch deep swamp of sand and water mixed with a bit of toilet paper (there's rarely toilet paper on the rolls where you need it) and God only knows what else. The stall doors are always missing, which doesn't really matter since you can see right over them. It's cold, damp, and smelly in there. It's not a place to rest. There aren't toilet seats. It's a place to hover, pee, and exit.
To ventilate these dank, cinderblock structures, there are windows at the top of the walls along the roof line. From the toilet, you can see out the hole. I saw a face briefly appear.
When I came out, I made my boyfriend go look for the peeper. It didn't occur to me until about a month ago that I may have been him peeking in on me that day. He was a bit of a strange bird.
Today I walked into the restroom at work and it suddenly hit me. I don't worry that someone is peeking anymore. I don't remember the last time I checked above the stall. I think it was recently. But I think I realized, finally, that no one wants to see my ass.