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.