Going Under, Coming Up
Before the Bath, I light eight candles and place them around the tub. Tall fingerwhite
tapers sticking out of Mom’s good brass candlesticks. I kneel next to the tub as it fills, swirling my fingers round the font, o come thou . I spent last New Years in the bath, anointed the water with lavender oil and silver glitter and chanted my intentions into the steam. It’s full now. I loos’d the chain, and down I lay into water not too hot just right.
Black hair against white tub, black eyes against white skin, it all glows golden in the candlelight. I turn my face side to side, my eyelashes throw yellow light to the mirror and back. I am Thetis’s daughter, virgin in a white tub. Tirra lirra, tirra lirra.
I dry my hands on a pink washcloth and pick up The Brothers Karamazov . Last week I
bathed with C.S. Lewis, tonight I share my bath with Dostoyevsky. If God does not exist, then
everything is permissible. Alyosha kisses Ivan’s face. My wet hand wrinkles the page, words
flow together. Twenty pages, enough for the night. Put the book back on the counter. Time to wash my hair. I see the waterflower bloom and sink beneath the surface.
I come up sputtering. Hair tangled in sloppy clumps sticking to my wet back. I forgot to
take off my mascara so now it seeps in soggy circles around my eyes. Water is getting
cold, candles are burning out so I turn on the overhead light. I can see tiny armies of mildew
growing on the tile next to the tub.
In the beginning Spirit hovered over the waters. Jesus tiptoed on feet featherlight. Noah
built a boat to sail. Jonah sank into the deep. Or In the beginning hyperthermophilic archaea
wandered up from deep-sea hydrothermal vents. They kept bumping into each other and things have been bumping ever since. When I tore all the skin off my knee and it was yellow and wet and I asked why is it so wet it’s not bleeding just wet Dad said we escaped from the sea but we can’t ever really leave it. Our cells are like balloons, we have to take the water with us. The difference between floating and sinking is the amount of water on top of you. I
almost drowned when I was three years old, in a crowded pool at a church luau. My parents
handed me off to 14-year-old Anna Chernok who got distracted by the giant ham or the hula
dancing or maybe the 300-pound pastor in a grass skirt and didn’t notice when I slipped from the safety of the pink boogie board into the cold blue depths of the Deep End. I remember the sinking from above, see myself in pink and yellow spotted suit slowly devoured by the vast reaches of uncharted space. Dad was watching and jumped in to pull me out.
What if you could drown from the inside out? I dreamed last week that there was a
strange cat sitting on the kitchen table. It wasn’t a normal cat, it was a caricature of a cat. It was entirely orange. As I got closer, I saw that it didn’t have fur, its body was covered with large pouches of orange, gelatinous liquid. Its eyes were soggy pouches with black slits down the middle. Its pouches began to rupture, spraying orange liquid all over the kitchen table. Mom rushed in with a broom, screaming. I woke up.
Lake Tahoe is a freshwater lake in California’s Sierra Nevadas. Its water is a stunning
blue-green, so clear that you can see straight down for twenty, thirty feet. Early one morning last summer, rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself into the lake. I waded to the end of the channel of round, gray rocks that bordered the cove on either side and lay on my back, floating at the perimeter of gated harbor and open bay. Then I swam back.
The bath is cold. I pull the plug on the drain and stand up. Dizzy. I wrap myself in a pink
towel and put my wet feet on the dry floor.
1. Dostoievski, Fedor Mikhailovich. The Brothers Karamazov.
2. Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time.
3. Joyce, James. Ulysses.
4. Whitman, W. When I Heard the Learned Astronomer.