Sunday, October 10, 2010

On Taking A Bath


When I was a little girl and we would go visit my Granny in Winter Haven, sometimes she would take my brother and I to the lake by her house to wash our hair. We would go down to the lake, swim, sing songs about little fish, and shampoo. I remember the feel of her hands in my hair, on my scalp, and the soap swirling in the tea colored water while my toes scrunched the silty lake floor and the world all open around me. To rinse you swam again, and came out clean. So simple to swim and come out clean.
I have been taking baths lately and a bath is not like a shower. I love showers. I had a boyfriend once who was jealous of the shower for the noises it made me make. Step in and I would moan, a moan, a sigh, an oooooh and mmmmmm, he told me that I did not make these noises with him. I was not aware of the sounds I was making, and that's the point isn't it? A shower can be more intimate than sex and just as primal a pleasure. That shocking hot, your jumping goosebumped flesh, and then the release of tight and tired muscles as the heat sinks in. A shower can feel like a curtain from the world, the noise of it so loud in your ears and with eyes closed you just accept it and you are in it and there is nothing else you can be doing at that time and so it is a time out from life. You can cry or sneeze and not have to cover your face. A shower is forgiving.
A bath is exposing. I don't like to get in until the bath is full because I am cold and I don't like to be cold, and so when I get in the faucets are closed and it is so so quiet. I always get in and go straight to my knees and put my hands flat on the floor and close my eyes and breathe, as if I am in supplication, as if I have to be active in my letting go. My mind ticks quiet and then goes to the lake, or to the fantasies of my childhood. I am a mermaid, I am a sylph, I am an Indian Maid. The water is filled with flowers, the water holds tiny fish, I sling my mind from sharks, I try not to think of my thighs and knees.
I am so much bigger than I was as a child: I remember when I could sit under the faucet to rinse my hair. Now I take up all the space and have to rearrange all my body to wash. And my body is so close up, it is not that I do not like my body but that these are different views of it than I am used to so it is alarming all the same. I am so nearsighted that when I am standing in the shower I don't really see myself at all, just fuzzy bits that bloom slick and soft with soap, a realization for only my hands. In the bath I see myself kneeling naked, I see my bends and folds, I see the curve of my calves and my hip with my hair all down it. I have to look in a bath, to see the soap wash away. Clean is not a given in a bathtub, a bath does not do the work for you. You cannot stand submissive and be washed clean, you cannot swim the soap away.
When I was married I loved to take a bath. Once a week I would fill the bathtub, light candles, drip in oils of lavender, eucalyptus, and mint, or sandalwood and rose. I would shut the door and windows, I would shut out the world and lean back and close my eyes and that was my time in my head, a place I could be alone. My husband was a busy man and I needed that place away from his energy and his needs. Sometimes I would read a book, and then I would have to put the book in the oven to dry it out because I had dropped it in the water. I would stay until the water was cool, and my mind was quiet.
Now I live alone and I do not need a bath to shut out the world. Now I feel more alone in a bath than is necessary. I take note of the traffic outside, of my neighbors' TV, of the movements of my cat. I pull my legs in close and set my chin on my knees and contemplate the tile. It always needs to be cleaned. That doesn't bother me, everything always needs to be cleaned. I like to imagine other people in their baths, not them naked exactly but how they are when they are exposed only to themselves. Do they look away? Do they sit stiff and fidget? Do they lie still and sigh? Who uses bubbles? Who reads? Who smokes and sips wine? Who locks the door? It's an exercise similar to when I worked at the mall and I would try to picture all the ladies I saw with Victoria's Secret bags in lingerie. I always thought they looked great.
Soon I will call my landlady and invite the men who fix things into my apartment so I can shower again. I will have to shut my cat in a room and make small talk while a stranger is crouched in my bathtub. I will offer him coffee which he will not take and ice water which he might. A long time ago I gave a plumber a beer and discovered that his true passion was NASCAR. He did not like plumbing, but his daddy did it, and his granddaddy before him. Everyone has a story.
Until then I am learning myself away from a mirror, away from intention, at the age of 32. I find that my feet are beautiful. I find my scars and my stretchmarks and my blue highway veins. I find that I am ripe as a peach. I find that the voice in my mind is hummy and has timbre. And it echoes against the tile, and it comes back clear.

19 comments:

honeyluna said...

Dang. I love your writing so very much. Not as much as I love you, but a damn sure lot. You create the most amazing of pictures in my head, and they're pictures that I care about and would like to see more of. Thanks for sharing yourself with us.

Ms. Moon said...

On the level of the vision you give us from inside your world, your heart, your bathtub, I adore this.
On the level of the writing- I am in awe of it.
May.
May.
Oh, May.
I love you so.

michelle said...

I love this, May. Perfect

xoxoxo

juancho said...

I remember washing in a central Florida lake too.

Mary said...

Good morning, May, and thank you for this amazing piece of art!

There is SO MUCH here and it's very revealing and gentle and absolutely truthful and sweet.

I am like you - depending on the way I am washing the end result is much more than just sluicing away dirt. If I'm having a shower at home after working in the garden or sanding a wall prior to painting (as I'll be doing once I finish my coffee) then it's just a Get the Dirt Off and move on.

Most days of the week Nancy and I go to the Y and swim then shower in the "plus" locker room. AHHHhhhh the Plus Locker Room. We each have a personal locked tote box that when we're there fits onto the top shelf of a clothes locker. The tote holds a water bottle, comb, Q-tips, swimsuit, goggles, nail clippers... And the Y (for the Plus Fee) provides shampoo, soap, towels, lotion, baby powder, deodorant and hairspray for those who are so inclined, hair dryers, newspapers, big mirrors everywhere, a scale, a TV (gawd no... but others have it on especially Monday-Friday mornings...).

And we shower together in the open, and we flip the shower curtains up and away in the communal shower area - we're far from Madison Avenue Perfect bodies but everyone else is too, and the curtains get so slimy and icky and I cannot stand to have the hems of them touch my clean legs...

After a swim it feels so great to get the chlorine mostly scrubbed out of my hair, and get clean and ready for work. And then we sit in the hot tub for a bit and let the jets massage our aching muscles. Really the hot tub is a blessing for our bodies.

And I'm so nearsighted too, no matter where I am I can't see myself too well or anybody else. At home especially I navigate by memory to find the soap and shampoo as it's hard to see.

And again thank you for sharing your story - you inspire me with your creative energies.

Happy Day!
Mary

Elizabeth said...

I've always wanted to like baths and all the potions that go into them, but I don't. I just don't like baths. I feel ungainly and hate the bits of me that lie exposed. Not because I hate the bits but because I want everything, everything to be submerged. I love showers -- and the way you've described them is perfect. I have cried a lot in showers, my forehead pressed to the cool tile.

Petit fleur said...

That sounds like one heck of a good tubby time~!

I enjoyed it very much.
xo

downtown guy said...

I love a good bath, but these days I am all about short naps in the shower. I try not to do that around overnight guests because they seem to think I will drown. I don't think I physically could drown while sleeping in the shower. If they ever said I did, it was murder.

May said...

HoneyLuna- Sweetie! I am so glad you like the pictures I put in your head! I will try to not use my powers for evil... heh heh... I love you more than words can say.

Mama- And you too I love more than words can say! Thank you, Mama. I didn't think this was very good writing, but I wanted to write about it anyway. Lately I've been a little intimidated by you, your writing is getting better and better. Are we each other's biggest fans? I think we are. I love you so.

Michelle- Thank you so much. xoxoxo to you.

Juancho- Perhaps that is where we got our parasites from. HA HA! Isn't it wonderful to bathe in the open air? Now I sound like I'm trying to be a poetess. Too much Forster...

Mary- Thank you for your comments on my post and your share! Now I want the Plus locker room in the Y! It sounds like heaven. And I do know what you mean about showering after swimming and how good that feels. So good. Happy Day to you!

Elizabeth- Yes, yes, and yes. The bits that are exposed! I too want to be completely submerged. And the forehead on the cool tile... It's so soothing. Thank you.

Petit Fleur- Thank you, Ladylove! Does Harley like bathtime? Does he pretend in the bath? He is such a good pretender, I bet he comes up with great stories in there. Kisses to all y'all!

DTG- You could drown in the shower! Your comment made me laugh out loud. Short naps indeed. Although I promise, because I love you, that if you do ever die in the shower I will start an investigation. I will stir the murderous cur from his roost! I WILL get my bloody vengeance!

Sarcastic Bastard said...

This is so beautifully written.

I rarely take a bath, but when I do, it's usually in the evening, before bed, with a glass of red wine and an occasional cigarette.

I love you, and I hope you are happy and well.

SB

Sarcastic Bastard said...

And also, Hank's comment made me laugh.

Jo said...

I love you in your bath, May, what lovely thoughts. I dream of complete submersion, in a wooden bath with walls nearly as high as my head. But I have cracked avocado plastic and a shitty ineffective immersion heater :/

Django said...

Regarding bath vs shower, I'm a shower guy. But baths have the advantage of more eating possibilities.

ACCEPTABLE THINGS TO EAT IN A SHOWER
Apple, orange, hard candy, some meats.

UNACCEPTABLE THINGS TO EAT IN A SHOWER
Sandwiches, coffee (you eat coffee, FYI, not drink it), bananas, tacos, some meats.

ACCEPTABLE THINGS TO EAT IN A BATH
Almost anything, as long as you keep your hands dry.

I like to see all this new writing lately, May. Please don't stop.

Steph(anie) said...

Django - I think if you eat the banana quickly, it will be just fine in the shower.

Django said...

Hmmmm. I feel like the only thing worse than eating a banana in the shower would be eating a banana quickly in the shower.

But maybe I'll try it just for kicks.

May said...

SB- There is something wonderful about a glass of wine in the bath. When I used to drink sometimes I would set up a little table (okay, a milk crate) with wine, ashtray, hand towel, and book next to the tub. Aaaaaaaaah. So nice.
And yes, Hank is fucking hilarious. He really does take naps in the shower. In the summer he takes cool ones.
And I love you. Tremendously.

Jo- Oh Jo! Cracked plastic and a shitty immersion heater? I am so sorry. Come visit and you can take a bath at my house. I'll even set up the milk crate table with the wine and everything. You can take as long as you want.

Django- Thank you so much for setting me straight about what I can and cannot eat in the shower/bath. No wonder Taco-Shower Time isn't catching on! I was trying to promote it with the slogans "Taco- A Friend You Can Eat In The Shower" and "Tacos- Not Just For Baths!" I can see now where I went wrong.

Steph- Django has banana issues. Obviously you can eat a banana in the shower. As long as you don't drop the peel.

Jo said...

Gah, shower bananas even worse than ordinary bananas. Slimey. All the best people have banana issues.

Cracked AVOCADO plastic, May, that's the worst bit! Thank you for your offer :)

Steph(anie) said...

My only banana issue is that I LOOOVE them and must have them ALL THE TIME.

And my kids are very *passive* about getting "clean" in the bath.

Mwa said...

Amazing post. I wish I could write so beautifully.

I'm a shower girl myself as well, but I love the thought of a bath forcing you to contemplate yourself.