We’ve all heard it, we’ve all said it.
“My computer shit the bed.”
“I have to stay late, our server just shit the bed.”
“I’ll be late, my alternator belt just shit the bed.”
“Can’t go out tonight, our computer shit the bed and I have to re-do the entire presentation.”
The phrase “shit the bed” reminds me of a term from my analyst days working on loan work outs and receivership: “deemed non-recoverable.” This essentially meant, “Sorry, bank, you are officially fucked on this asset. Ain’t nothin’ we or anyone else can do. Please wire our massive fee promptly. Good day to you.”
“Shit the bed” is a descriptor reserved for and only for when something has even past the state of FUBAR. There is no going back from shitting the bed. And I can literally tell you why. (Literally in the literal writer sense, not literally in the shrieking “I LITERALLY CANNOT WITH THIS PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE WHILE ITS STILL CROP TOP WEATHER” sense.)
Let’s take it back three years, before the phrase “I LITERALLY CANNOT” was literally not a thing. (Don’t we all literally feel more relaxed already?) Ahhh. It was years ago,middle of the night. I was asleep in my then-boyfriend’s bed. Grant jumps up, throws his arm across me and yells “DON’T MOVE.” Since he was a combat veteran, I implicitly trusted his reflexes and reaction in dangerous situations. Some scary shit must have been going down.
See, back then, parts of Washington D.C. were still on the fringe of gentrification. Grant’s neighborhood was definitely one of the yuppie pioneers. Crime rates were still comparatively very high to more traditionally residential parts of the city. His neighbor’s house had been broken into just the week prior. With a questionable level of mid-sleep rationality, I assumed we were amid a burglary. Having had family friends be the victims of a tragic home invasion a few years earlier, the idea cemented itself as my worst fear. I immediately froze in panic and waited for the worst. Grant yelled again not to move and he athletically jumped up out of the bed… assumingly to go bravely kick some ass, (even if he was naked). He then made his way to the foot of the bed, and began to violently start to pull the covers off.
“Are we going to hide from the robbers in a blanket fort?” I wondered to myself. Again, implicitly trusting Grant to handle high-risk situations properly.
My fear began to subside into confusion and my brain began to be able to process more than immediate terror. My senses began to open up. I smelled something. Bad. I looked next to me. Oh, shitty situation indeed. It was poop. A lot.
I can see why Grant was adamant I “don’t move.” I leapt out of bed, in the opposite direction of the fecal fiesta. Grant, having removed the covers, was now clawing at the sheets. The fitted sheet ripped from his force, right in the center of poop. The smeared mass was now on the mattress pad too. Relieved that we weren’t in physical danger, I kind of laughed. Then I laughed more. I thought my worst nightmare was coming true, but in reality, Grant had just shit the bed.
Once there is a “shit the bed” incident, there is a moment of disbelief. Could someone/something have REALLY fucked up THIS much? I needed my space to process what I had just seen (and smelled). I also wanted to laugh more without hurting Grant’s feelings.
I went downstairs to go lie on the couch and left Grant to also meditate on his experience and contemplate the future of his bed linens. I heard the washing machine start (seriously? You want to salvage the sheets that bad?) and figured the coast was clear. I then went up the stairs and into Grant’s room. I found him placing fresh sheets on the bed. I relentlessly make jokes in attempt to disarm tense situations, and asked Grant “How is everything up here on the poop deck?” Having served in the military, I thought Grant would appreciate the jaunty naval reference.
He then asked if he could have the sweatpants of his I was wearing. I guess he was reversing his decision on sleeping naked for the foreseeable future. I stepped out of the sweatpants/potential future diaper and handed them over.
We awoke the next morning. We had been together a long time. I did love Grant. I was concerned. He said he must not have been feeling well. Something he ate. Odd, we spent the entire day together and ate the same things. Though we had been together for close to a year and a half, Grant felt like a stranger to me this morning. He was the same man he’d always been but there was now a drafting disconnect. I was eager to leave and I think he felt the same.
I drove home back to Kalorama, dove into my English basement apartment and called my brother and his girlfriend. I had to tell someone. I could not cope with this in isolation.
“I have to tell you something.” I said without saying hello.
“What is it?” Kathleen asked
“I literally cannot even tell you over the phone.” I said pre-ironically.
After confirming I was not hurt, in danger, or bereaved, my brother Jim and Kathleen rushed over. I didn’t know where to start. How does one even broach this? It had actually happened. In real life. I got the story out to my brother and Kathleen, along with my accompanying feelings. I was stunned, humored, confused, embarrassed, disgusted, and also worried about Grant. Things had been rocky with him recently. As weird as I felt to say it, this incident made it worse. Most importantly, I was not sure how to go in our relationship from this. How does a couple deal with this brown elephant in the room?
My brother, wise beyond the 23 years he had at the time, stated it simply and powerfully, “There is a reason the term ‘shit the bed’ literally means the worst thing that could happen. There is nothing worse than shitting the bed. You do not go down from there.”
And the truth is, you don’t. I didn’t spend the night at Grant’s that Saturday night for the first time in months. We didn’t have a date that night. (Grant was really working the “ate something bad last night” angle). From there, our relationship fizzled. The force and sound of it slowly dying, much like the high-pitched fart that likely announced the arrival of the fatal shit.
So yes, I can tell you as a primary source that the origin of our beloved idiom “shit the bed” truly does mean a state of fucked-upness that is beyond repair, or recovery and leaves all involved absolutely stunned.
Have a great work week, guys. And I hope no one shits the bed (literally or figuratively).