"Those were hard things for me to come by, and I offer them to you for what they may be worth." - Toby Wolff



Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bed, Bath and Beyond




I loved the bathroom. At thirteen it was a haven of sorts. I would close the toilet seat and perch there, imagining how I could turn the single room into a home, with all sorts of special contraptions that would turn a tub into a bed, and a sink into a stove. Yes, the bathroom was on the big side of small, but my dreams were larger and I needed a cocoon. There was only one drawback to this particular bathroom....the door did not lock. It did not bother me too terribly much, until a particular incident, an incident so sharp in my mind as to continue it's cut, even now.

I am a taker of baths, and this particular evening was like every other. Water hot...make your skin pink kind of hot...too hot for wimpier teens, never quite hot enough for me. I soaped and scrubbed with a washcloth as if to remove the breasts which formed earlier than any of my friends, forcing me into a bra far sooner than I was ready. The sparse new tufts of pubic hair scared me and the body that had not yet begun to gorge itself into hiding. But after tonight....hide I would.

A knock on the bathroom door. "Occupied" I called, covering up what I could with my small washcloth. A couple more knocks. "Ann-marie I want to come in" said my mother. "I'm taking a bath" I replied. "I will be out in a minute."

My alcoholic and emotionally unstable mother and I had a one sided relationship...hers. I was completely under thumb at that point, allowed no outpouring of emotion other than complacent acceptance of life as she presented it to me. I was not allowed to be angry, to talk back, to be ill or weak in anyway. She drank every evening, just the touch of wine to lips bringing at automatic change in personality and behavior. It was well past the checkered flag signaling race for drunk this night. When she drank she was no longer a mother, losing all semblance of boundaries and propriety. Mother would tuck me in every night, and if I locked my door, she would scratch at it like a cat until I opened the door for her then scrambled back into bed, pulling tight the covers. She touched me in ways I thought a lover would, slow, languid strokes down my back, legs and arms beneath my heavy flannel pajamas. And I hated it. Hated the moon shining through her thin nightgown that hid nothing. Everything about her disgusted me. But I did not think she would ever come in the bathroom without her pathetic puppet getting up to open the door. But she did.

She walked into the bathroom as I willed the washcloth grow, stretch, thicken. She stared down at me with the droopy lids of the inebriated. "I want to see you" she said. My heart was pounding in my chest and, as so often was the almost unbearable state of my being, I was in complete fight or flight mode, but having the capacity to do neither. "Ann-marie" she said again becoming impatient, and whoa to you..whoa to you if impatience was allowed to gain purchase. "I want to see how you are progressing. Remove the washcloth."

In relating this story to my husband (after the first and last time he came into the bathroom without knocking) he said, "I would have told her to get the FUCK OUT" and he didn't say 'fuck' back then, so it was a strong statement, and I loved him for it. So what was wrong with me, that I just removed the washcloth and swam in the most intense embarrassment and humiliation I have every felt. As if her scrutiny wasn't enough, there was commentary...."I see you have some pubic hair", "Your breasts are getting larger". It was unbearable, mortifying. I cannot relay the depth of my hatred, and even that seems too tame a word.

This scar will never heal...a lump that must be swallowed every time Husband says he wants the light ON, every time I go the the doctor, or the massage therapist. The feeling of embarrassment and critique from which nothing seems to afford relief. I wonder again that I couldn't have been that spit in your face kind of child...that "I ain't takin' no shit" kind of child. Why did I choose compliance over and over again? Why didn't I fight for me in an outward display of contempt?

One moment. One lifetime. Doesn't seem fair. Just sayin'.