At 5:30 pm, I am in the bath. Winters I spend immersed in bath. Tonight, it is chamomile and yarrow oil and a sprinkle of angelica root. I have been having some superstitious tendencies again so I add my Nana’s rosary to the windowsill next to me, a hunk of tourmaline on the shelf that holds my razor and shampoo, and a rose quartz at the bottom of the tub. This will make it worse. I snap my head towards the blow of air beside me but I settle. There’s nothing there. Baths soothe my gnawing winter madness. Some call it depression or “seasonal affective disorder.” You’re sad, Cat. I don’t know what to really call it but nothing could be worse than this.
“Did you take your prozac? he asks from the kitchen.
I dug my nails into the sofa. My hair was combed. My lips were not chapped.
“Yes,” I responded immediately. “Everything should be all right now.”
Resentful, I sat on the edge of the couch prepared to jump up at any moment and leave if I ever could grow the guts. It was the mostly mocking tone I had grown so accustomed to hearing that triggered my bottled rage. The medicine created a tense space between us and left me feeling like a new baby well of sorrow was building somewhere deep inside of me, but I couldn’t empty it. Mechanisms related to crying had disappeared or been stifled somewhere in the bottom of a trunk I had no access to; had lost the key or motor skills to turn the lock so I just let it fill without my knowledge. It sat fat in its vicious growth, plump with previous insult, previous assault or terror, ready to spill over if I had the wherewithal to sharpen my nails and eviscerate my body; suffocate him with the bile that spilled out, or the precious bottle of antidote, or the pillow I keep between us and grip daily for comfort. I’m a tepid lunatic that never grows to boil. Devoid of feeling, but going through the motions, I was sitting eerily still waiting for dinner. I was wearing a pink and purple striped sundress that tied in the back. I was wearing lip gloss to match. My purse was already on my arm and I had pinned a stray hair back with a blue and green caterpillar clip a girlfriend had given me to remind who I was, and mostly, I was trying not to check the time as I waited for the years to pass by.
My bottom lip is under water before I realize I am sinking in the midst of another flashback. I shoot up with fake alarm. I will never drown like this, but I am stoned, I remind myself. Better to be careful than feed your ghost regret. What is this? I look around my delusive tomb in horror. Lit with more than a dozen votives: all white and tall and leaving flecks of wax all over everything, the room smells faintly of fresh linen but it is a manufactured smell; plastic, not the way most fresh linen smells. My sheets smell blank. There was more than that too: lavender incense wafting from the dresser in the bedroom, the ylang-ylang that permanently coats the sides of the tub, and the faint remnant of vinegar from where I tried to scrub the spots off the mirror with my homemade glass solution. I am over stimulated. Wildly stoned and always coming back to myself in the middle of the same thought: maybe that’s where these hallucinations start, I feel uncomfortable. The voice from my bowels is starting again. Goosebumps dot my shoulder and I regret not making a fresh Earl Gray before I got in. Loscil is playing in the background from my bed and I want it louder. I want someone there to help with these things and I can’t tell you how long I sit upright in a fetal position contemplating that thought. I keep no clock in the bathroom. I desperately need the respite.
Sinking back to let my head rest on the peeling ceramic, I sigh loudly in a way that tells the world, Nevermind, I am alone and I’m ok today. I’m going to make it. There is a way out, and I inhale deeply the green grass dotted by gray ash from the glass bowl I placed next to my nana’s rosary and I say to no one:
“I need help.”
This is fine. There is something about water that is so soothing to me. My whole life has been spent in water. As a child, my summers were spent outside with the Dyson sisters at the community pool; getting tan and bracing the high dive, guessing which lifeguards liked each other, giggling, showing the boys the banana Now-n–Laters stuck to our teeth. If it wasn’t the pool, it was at the beach chasing ghost crabs, learning how to body surf with Alex, being pulled under everytime and miraculously standing to survive, the top of my bathing suit always twisted to expose one nipple before I realized. I was always keeping an eye on Alex from some distance. Even at the pool, in my accidental glow and popularity, he in his awkward pallid skin, we sometimes were distant but never separate. I always kept an eye on him. Some days my legs were beat by jellyfish, my toes were sore from broken shells, cut and pinched my crabs, but I always went back in. During storms, I scoured the block in the pouring rain looking for bugs or just letting the water baptize me. Even as a child, I showered whenever I was upset and the thundering tantrum couldn’t cut it, I needed a warm cleanse. In adolescence, baths replaced those as I needed more time to mourn the interminable unrequited love that I continually faced as my hormones grew into teeny monsters to match the teeny breasts that baited them closer. I hit that budding menses stage and sobbed into the pink drain at my bad luck; a woman?!?! Everyone hates women.
My mom called me a little water bug and those didn’t bother me either. I played tidal wave with the beetles that flew into our kiddie pool. I ducked dragonflies, watched them skim the tops of the water in the ditch when we played house in my backyard. I spent hours in the rain plucking worms from their hiding places; under bricks in neighbors’ gardens, my legs caked in mud as I walked back with a handful to feed to Michaelangelo, our alligator snapping turtle. I never avoided puddles, I jumped right into them. Water was my sanctuary.
“You’re filthy, Catarina!” my mother would scream as I traipsed the wilderness all over our kitchen floor on the way to the tank, letting twigs drop from my knees.
“Look, Alex!” I would ignore her to drop a handful of worms near Mike’s head so he saw them instantly.
The two of us would stand over him in awe as he quickly, with uncanny precision, devoured each one right after the other, little particles of flesh floating to the top. I pressed my palms together to stay grounded in the excitement.
“Get in the shower when you’re done!” my mom shrieked pointing at me.
“Mom, look,” Alex pointed as I rolled my eyes.
“Cool,” Alex would say and I nodded.
I splash the top of the water for my own enjoyment, letting the daydreams take back over, another Cheshire Cat smile spreading wide across my face. The weed was devouring every synapse. One summer, I had a sprained ankle. Who knows where I got it; probably doing gymnastics in the backyard, showing off, proving I was the best at something I was clearly a novice at, but I tumbled. My mom wrapped it carefully in an ace bandage for me. Some hot day, we went to a party near a lake with their friends and their friends’ kids. No one packed a bathing suit for me because I wasn’t supposed to swim with my impairment but once everyone jumped into the water, I was immediately forlorn.. My parents really couldn’t take my tantrums for more than a few seconds and I knew this was no place for screaming, that would lead to too much embarrassment. I had to beg.
Consumed by jealousy, I began,“Please please please please please please please please pleeeeease, please pleeeeeaase.” I repeated like that to my mom and began to hop on one foot. “I am fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine. Loooook, fiiine. Fine fine fine.”
My mother frowned.
“I’ll watch her Linn,” my dad, fun drunk hero, interrupted before she could remind me of the agreement and I began to quickly hobble and quickened the hobble to a half run, still in red sundress, still with barrettes in hair to the edge of the lake. I started wading to catch up to my new friends on the back of their dad’s raft before my mom could even consider an outfit for me to put on instead of the dress.
“Look, mom,” I shouted already caught up to the others. “I’m fine! I am using my right leg! I won’t drown!” I splashed for effect to show her I was the best swimmer out there.
My mom waved. I waved back. It was that perfect time of day in summer. Everyone had the day off. Everyone had eaten and drank their fill of wine coolers. The kids had plenty of soda and time to run around the house. We were settling but still excited; had worked some of that nervous energy out. The sun was beginning it’s journey to set casting a yellow glow over the entire surface of the water and everyone was happy. I was in the water and everyone was happy. I was not alone.
I shoot up again with that thought. You’re stoned. I am stoned and sinking into the water again. I run my hands over my wet head and curl back into my upright fetal position to watch the nearest flame wink.
“It’s so hard to stay present,” I say to the empty apartment.
Tapping my fingers on top of the water to watch the ripples, I pretend the noises it makes are from someone else. Someone else’s hand on top of the water. Someone else’s eyes doused in flame reflecting back to me,“Have you ever tried telling anyone about your fear of drowning?”
Fuck. The imaginary man handing me the hot Earl Gray is right. I am lonely.