"Always Discreet: Coming Clean At The Botanical Gardens"

So, there’s this commercial for something called Always Discreet Boutique … Maximum Protection … Made Beautiful. You may have seen it. They’re special panties for women who “leak.”

As my husband and I were muting it, I asked him, “Is this a thing? I mean, these women look my age! Am I now supposed to worry about leaking on top of every other weird aging thing that’s happening?”

“I don’t know, sweetie,” he responded.

It was a mere week later when I realized that, yes, this could be a thing.

Having driven down to Carlsbad for a visit with my husband’s aunt and cousins, I had just sucked back my iced venti soy chai. It was a lovely day: clear, warm, perfect for a walk through the San Diego Botanic Gardens. A time to catch up with family and stroll through thirty-seven acres of four-thousand different plant species. But I really had to pee. I hadn’t felt that type of pressure on my bladder since I stood in line waiting for the single bathroom at a frat house in college. I wasn’t too worried though. I mean, we’ll walk, we’ll hit a restroom, it’s fine.

Five minutes into the Bamboo Garden, I felt a drip. Wait, what? No. Oh no! I desperately looked for a place to sit down, you know, to possibly stop the pee in its tracks, but the only thing available was a bamboo bench that was for display purposes only. And then there was another drip. I did that whole crossing your legs thing, but then it was happening. Oh my God. This is not happening. Is this happening? Fuck!

“Does anyone know where the bathroom is?” I blurted out, interrupting my husband’s family admiring a gigantic leaf. With the shaking of heads, I clenched my “area” and took off. There was a feeling of utter terror and humiliation as I could feel the urethra damn bursting. It was in the Mexican Garden when it happened. Hot pee cascaded down my legs. Fuck! Really!? Where the fuck is the bathroom?

Just a quick tip, if you think you’re going to pee your pants, don’t wear denim.

As I sprinted past the gazebo, my breath was rapid and shallow…and I was hyper-alert. As if I had just smoked meth, I was shaking, sweating, and intensely focused. I unzipped my beige puffy jacket and threw it around my waist, a fashion statement I hadn’t done since the ’90s grunge fad. Oh! A gift shop! There’s a gift shop! And a bathroom! Thank you, God. With two stalls open, I locked myself in, fighting back tears and pulling hundreds of pieces of toilet paper from the dispenser. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew it had to be quick. With my jeans completed soaked, I had to figure out what to do. All sense of time and space dissipated as I entered what felt like a really bad acid trip. Don’t cry. Just…just get a grip. Figure it out, Hali. You have no choice. I unbuttoned my jeans and peeled them down my legs, like a piece of masking tape stuck to the wall. Oh God. Everything is wet. Now what? Think! Think, you idiot! I pushed them with my feet onto the concrete ground and sat on the toilet, slipping on the bowl with my wet legs and ass. I removed my underwear and dropped them into the metal sanitary box. I really liked that underwear too! My entire body was shaking but it wasn’t the usual convulsing that I was used to with panic attacks. I was accustomed to years of trembling, sobbing, with the grand finale of throwing up. Okay, calm down. You need to figure this out. What can you do? Just think, you stupid bitch! Why? Why did this happen? It doesn’t matter, Hali! It happened. Deal with it. What can you do right now to get out of this fucking bathroom? Grabbing more toilet paper, I rapidly scrubbed my lower body. Oh God, this is so gross! I needed soap to mask the scent of fresh urine. But with the sink outside the stall, I had to put my pants back on, run out to the soap dispenser, pump a shitload onto a paper towel, and jump back into the stall. Okay, you can do this. Just pull them down and rub the soap all around. I prayed that the gift shop would have sweatpants or a skirt, anything to temporarily erase these pants. I tugged them back on and wrapped my jacket back around my waist. Here we go. This is it. We’re walking out. Just go. Don’t think. Walk. Grabbing the knob for the bookstore, it didn’t open. It was closed. Fuck! Turning back around, I was face-to-face with my husband.

“There you are! I didn’t know what happened. You were gone for so long.”

And this was the moment. Do I tell my husband, risking him never being attracted to me again, or do I walk around in my pee pants for the next four hours? Keeping in mind that this was a man who had seen me at my ultimate worst; crawling on the floor while dry-heaving during a bout of acute pancreatitis, watching my face being sewn back up after puncturing it with god knows what after I fainted, experiencing the chemically imbalanced me during the brief time I decided to go off Zoloft (huge mistake), and, my true favorite, hearing me rip the loudest fart of my life during my IBS phase. This is my best friend who I tell everything to. So I made the decision.

“I…well…I peed my pants,” I said under my breath. I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t want to see his reaction. I mean, how do you respond to this? How would I respond to this if it were reversed? I broke the silence.

“It’s fine. Let’s keep going.”

So we continued to walk with no mention of anything. We walked through the New Zealand Garden, the Palm Canyon, and the Canary Islands. A toddler wearing a T-shirt and diapers walked by us and, just as I was on the cusp of asking the mother if she had an extra pair of Huggies, my husband’s aunt said, “It looks like someone had an accident” and chuckled. I wanted to say, “He’s not the only one.”

It was a very surreal feeling – stopping to look at beautiful mosaic sculptures, touching the many herbs growing around us, all the while navigating my way through a discomfort that was unfamiliar. Walking around without underwear with wet denim rubbing against my skin, I was now grasping the concept of diaper rash. I tried to forget. It didn’t work.

Walking next to my husband, I spoke the first words.

“I…I can’t do this. I think I need some pants…or something. I just…I don’t know.”

He didn’t really respond. I mean, what do you say? It was a rare moment of our nineteen years of being together when I felt like we were on two totally different levels of understanding each other. And it’s not his fault. We were trapped in some weird episode of The Twilight Zone where he was standing in normal life while I was standing in a freak show.

We regrouped outside the now open gift shop, where they didn’t have any bottoms. Making eye contact with his female cousin, I opened my mouth.

“So I peed my pants. I…I don’t know what happened. I think I may need to buy something somewhere.” I felt terrible and embarrassed and just…well, horrified.

“Oh, we can stop somewhere. There’s a Target. Yeah. We’ll stop there.” She said, so kind and sympathetic.

I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. I couldn’t wrap my head around what had happened. How do you make sense of this?

We piled back into the car, and I prayed that the floral foam soap would do its job with three of us jammed in the backseat. I saw the sweet cousin lean over to her husband and whisper something, and I knew it was about me. Within five minutes, we were in the Target parking lot. As I jumped out, thanking the carpool profusely, my husband joined me, and I was secretly grateful. It was a nice and unexpected gesture on his part. I had spent the day being in my own world, and it was nice to have my friend there. The car pulled away and I wondered what their conversation would be like. Can you believe Hali peed her pants? Whatever. There was no time to dwell. My mission was clear and I knew that this would be the fastest trip to Target ever.

See, I know Target. I know it very well. A Target trip for me lasts roughly two and a half to three hours. It is one of the things I look forward to most during vacations from work. It is, indeed, my happy place where I can stroll the aisles at my leisure. Today’s visit would not be leisurely, as I sprinted through the store as if a remote control had fast-forwarded my life.

“Okay, I need to find the women’s section. Sweats. I’m looking for sweats. And underwear!” I said to my husband, not knowing if he was even behind me.

I see sweats. They’re navy blue and have a Wonder Woman logo on them. Fine. Done. I don’t even care. I whip through the underwear section and find a beige thong. Fine. Done. We paid; I grabbed the plastic Target bag and beelined it for the bathroom. I exited the bathroom in my Wonder Woman sweats and my now crunchy jeans shoved in the plastic bag. Total time: seven minutes.

Looking back, I don’t know if I did the right things. I don’t know if I should’ve asked to get new pants with family members we were visiting and who weren’t my own. I don’t know if I should’ve told my husband that I peed my pants. I still fear he’s looking at me differently. Honestly, I just don’t know how to feel. I have nothing to compare this to. What I do know is that, after suffering endless and gruesome panic attacks since I was a child, I seem to have entered a new realm of panic – a more mature and sophisticated panic. An adult panic. Even though what happened to me is what happens to a child, I couldn’t handle it like a child. I had to be my own adult and figure it out.

A couple of days ago, I saw the commercial again for the “leak” panties. I no longer judge them. I just hope I never need to purchase them.

About the author

Hali Morell is an actress, writer, and teacher. With a bachelor’s degree in Acting and a minor in Creative Writing, she has written and performed two semi-autobiographical plays as well as a one-woman show. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Forge Journal, The Paragon Journal, The Penmen Review, and Tower Journal. Hali has attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and studied with Karin Gutman, Monona Wali, Mark Travis, Terri Silverman, and Frank Megna. Alongside her writing partner, she helps run memoir writing/talking council workshops called The Missing Peace. When not writing about navigating the world’s anxieties with humor, she teaches and facilitates two to three twelfth-grade Rites of Passage trips per year.

Hali Morell