She turned on the water.
It was a bathtub she hadn’t used before, in a bathroom she was still getting accustomed to. It’s bigger than her old one. It’s bigger, in fact, than any bathroom she’d had since she was sharing a dorm bathroom with ten other girls. It was colder than she was used to. She’d never had a bathroom with a window before.
Things were different.
She poured bubble bath into the running water. Her third attempt to plug the tub was successful. Another part of the new house was now mastered. The scent of the soap reached her face. Lemon. Not her favorite, but all she could find. She thought maybe she had given away all of her other bubble baths. She got rid of lots of things before she left. She tried to get unattached to things. Now she was missing more than she was prepared for. She missed things she hadn’t counted on missing. She felt silly for being misty over soap.
She was mostly feeling strange.
She went to her new bedroom and found her bathrobe. It was on the floor next to the bed. She remembered taking it off two nights before in the middle of the darkness. She had gotten up because she had heard something– a rumble or a crash. She was concerned someone had broken in, or something had fallen, or someone was hurting. The house ended up being empty. She was jumpier now than she used to be. Sounds, sirens, shouts– they made her head flip up, her back tighten. She wanted more distance between her and the outside. She heard horns in the middle of the night, the sounds of anger and danger and tension. They’d keep her up and remind her that she’s the newest one there.
She stepped into the tub, the water still running. The water was hot, too hot. She liked it that way. The heat licked at her shins as she lowered herself deeper into the water. She liked it too hot because the bath could last longer that way. She winced a bit as the water hit her stomach. She hadn’t been feeling well lately. She was tired. Food sounded unappealing. Once she was hungry she wasn’t interested in eating once the food arrived. She felt hollow. Her boyfriend thought it was all of the coffee she had been drinking lately. She had a feeling it was something else.
She turned the water off and lowered herself back. She put her head in the water until it just covered her ears. The sound of the house had been blocked off. A muffled quiet filled her head. She was conscious of her breath, her heartbeat. Just her. It was soothing. She closed her eyes and tried to melt the day away. It had been an anxious one. Her day had started with her cat wiping its lower half across her face. “Assed!” she had shouted out in the room. She was louder than she should have been, but she didn’t care. The party sleeping in the living room had kept her up until the morning hours. She had very little sleep and was grumpier from the cat bottom that had kissed her cheek early that morning. Then the other things piled on before she had caught her breath. There was the call telling her that the audition she had been stressing for in January was actually going to be tomorrow. There was the frantic phone call, the scheduling, the planning, and the sudden realization that she’s about to get on stage and audition for something she hasn’t done in a while. There was the cell phone bill from the new company. She hadn’t ever used the phone for a full month before. This one was her lifeline during her apartment search, her move, her weeks of travel and lack of phone service. The bill was for 325 dollars. This wasn’t budgeted. There was the moment when she realized she probably needs to find another job very soon. The hours spent searching through job sites. The time taken away from the work that was piling up to have work set up when that work is finished. She tried to get some of her other work done. She forgot to make the phone calls she needed to make. There were several stomachaches throughout the day that she tried to get through. There’s the earache she can’t shake. There’s the conversation at breakfast she didn’t want but knew would happen. The tightening of her stomach. The sense of no control. The smell in her apartment she can’t get rid of. She kept working, wondering where she’ll get the money to afford Christmas. She worked until she couldn’t keep her mind on anything and she had to dump herself into the hot water, into the place where she can’t work, where she can’t talk, where she can’t keep herself asking, “How?”
She was suddenly lonely and called her boyfriend in from the other room. She had him wash her hair. It always felt better when he did it. It was easier to let the thoughts leave her head. She leaned into his strong hands and felt his fingers keep a rhythm on her head. She found herself smiling. Her ears were clogged with water and the sound of his voice was muffled, distant. He washed her back, and her eyelids were a bit heavier. It was starting to work.
He left to make a phone call and she began to shave her legs, to wash her body. She looked down at herself. Her chest looked different. The skin changed. Her face was tighter, drier. There was a small rash on the top of her thigh. She raised her leg higher to wash her toes and she noticed again the weight she had lost over the year. She looked at her arms. They were tanner. She put mud mask on her face. It hadn’t adjusted to the drier weather yet. But she was changing. Her body was changing. It was trying to adapt, like her mind was trying to adapt. Like she was changing her goals, her routine, her friends. She looked at her hair floating in the water. It mingled with the remains of the bubbles. She saw how the ends were blonder. Her hair was changing. Her body was changing.
She grabbed the washcloth off the shower bar. She looked at the word printed on one side. “Slut.” It had made her roommate chuckle. She knew it would. She dipped the washcloth into the water and started wiping the mask off her face. The water turned greener with the sea mud. She closed her eyes and let the warmth of the water drip from the cloth onto her face. She inhaled the warm smells and felt cleaner. She looked down and noticed that the washcloth had turned green. She began scrubbing the cloth against itself in the water. She had a flashback. A time when she was younger. A punishment she’d get for not cleaning right. Having to scrub clothing in the bathtub, during her bath. The smell of Ivory and Coast still have that feeling of being ashamed.
And her thoughts turned again. To the place she was in then. It’s the same place she’s in now. The state she moved to. A state she left in a bad place. She’s trying to start over with this place. To make it hers. To beat the bad thoughts. To come out stronger. To leave behind the sad little girl and come out a happy woman. To rise up and fight and never look back again. She smiles a small smile when she realizes that she came here with new problems. She’d like to call them adult problems this time, but she knows that some of them are so childish in comparison to the things she was dealing with here back when she was small. They don’t deserve to be called problems when you stack them up next to each other. The ones when she was little– those were real. Some of her problems now– they’re just petty. She wishes she could just be strong right now. Not have this sick feeling. This dread. This feeling of something bad about to happen. She knows that she doesn’t usually just feel these things for nothing. Something usually happens. She’s too tired to try and figure out what it will be right now.
She puts the washcloth back on the bar. It’s still a bit green. She flips it to the other side. The side that says “Virgin.” She smiled. She was cleaner. She didn’t have to get the green out tonight. The washcloth will be dealt with later.
She dips her head back into the water. It’s cooler, now. She doesn’t want to stay in there and read anymore. She wants to get out of the bath, to leave the thoughts and pressure and dark feelings swirling in with the last of the clinging bubbles. They linger around the small yellow ducks that bob in the wake her knees made. She stands up and grabs her towel. It’s cold. She’s cold. Her head is swimmy with the steam and the thoughts that are dripping away as she tucks her hair into the towel and steps out of the tub.
She wraps her body in her robe. She breathes. She is calmer. Nothing is gone. Nothing has changed. But the swirl in her stomach is lighter. The pressure on the back of her head is fainter. The conspiring voices in her head seem farther away.
She stares at herself in the mirror. She can just see her face through the steam, through the moisture that’s collected on the glass. Her face is different in the reflection. It’s not quite hers. She knows it’s her, but the face is different. Softer. Muted. The woman staring back in the mirror knows what’s going to happen.
But she isn’t talking.