Just passing through

From Joanie

My family doesn’t understand personal space.

In fact, we have a phrase that makes giving anyone personal space impossible. That phrase is “just passing through.”

We use this phrase for walking through the bathroom.

Now, no snap judgements.

In our first house, there was one bathroom. When we were little, it was not really a problem—five people sharing one bathroom is not such a big deal when three of the people are very tiny. But as we grew older and bigger, we outgrew that house and moved to a new one with two bathrooms.

My sisters and I shared the upstairs bathroom, while the downstairs one was for our parents.

This didn’t mean we couldn’t use either bathroom if you needed to go and it was closer.

However, the downstairs bathroom had an unusual feature. The house, which had been built in the 1930s, had little pantry space and a small kitchen, which is quite normal for that era of construction. So at some point before we bought it, previous owners decided to build a storage closet/pantry off the side of the house.

The addition was not well planned for two reasons:
1. It was built over the basement stairs that lead outside, which meant that access to the basement was closed off. We have a door that opens to a set of stairs going to nowhere in our house. We use this “closet” (stairwell) with “shelves” (stairs) for important storage of things like tequila and guns.

2. It was off the side of the bathroom, which meant that to access the winter coats or an extra bag of Tostitos or canned tomatoes, you had to walk through the bathroom.

You see where this is going.

You’d be sitting, reading Life’s Little Instruction Book, or completing a crossword, and suddenly the bathroom door would fling open, and another family member would storm through the bathroom to the other door, yelling “just passing through—have to get a jar of sauce!”

Why not lock the door? You might be asking yourself. Tried that. And then someone would go to the kitchen, get a butter knife, and twist the lock open, because it was very important that they be able to get Monopoly from the cabinet in the side room.

That is how many butter knives ended up left on the side of the tub or in the pantry on a shelf.

As it became more and more common to be “just passing through,” it started to happen even in the upstairs bathroom, which had no closet.

I’d be in the shower, lathering up my hair, and one of my sisters would walk in, saying “just passing through” and then spend 20 minutes applying makeup.

I’m not saying I never did this to them—quite the contrary—I’d brush my teeth while one of them was sitting on the toilet. It’s absurd, I know, but at the time, it seemed a better alternative to waiting my turn for the bathroom and being late for school.

It was quite common for someone to come in and gently (or not) push you aside to brush their teeth with you. Or wash their face at the same time, and fight over who got to rinse the soap off first.

This sharing bathroom space prepared me for college in many, many ways. It also prepared me for marriage, where I’ve had to share a bathroom, not with two sisters, but with a stinky, hairy man (I love you, honey).

Michael was taken aback at “just passing through” and had no idea what to do the first time I did it. His family respects privacy and gives each other “alone time.”

It’s completely foreign to me.

So Michael has had to adjust to my ways. Because let’s face it, after years of the bathroom being Grand Central Station, it’s impossible for me to change.

“Just passing through” was the instigator of most of our fights in the first year of our marriage, by the way. Michael once went to the kitchen to finish brushing his teeth because I came into the bathroom and sat down for a spell—hey, I was just passing through.

My sisters find it hilarious when I tell them about this, and at holidays with the family, we revert to our ways of bursting into the bathroom—we’re just more careful so we don’t walk in on a brother-in-law, because that would be weird. On the other hand, I really do need to get that unopened container of sage from the pantry, and well, I’m just passing through.