by Heather Lohmann
Hot water has been pouring out of the faucet for hours now, and the surface of the mirror is all wet, shrouded and without reflection because of the steam, steam that floats to the ceiling where it turns back to water, falls down into my hair, over my face, onto my thighs which I’ve covered with notes to myself written in Sharpie, although they’re mostly illegible now. Some I’ve scribbled over, but most are dripping down the insides of my legs in thick dribbling streams of black. I was clutching it, this Sharpie, for what must have been hours before I realized it was even in my hand, and I was about to drop it and my nail marks were embedded into my palm, marks so deep I thought they should be bleeding, and when they weren’t bleeding I thought maybe I was dreaming so I’ve been writing on myself to remember these things when I wake up. I write my name on the mirror with my finger and stare at myself through the holes left by the letters, but they’re quickly swallowed back up by the steam.
The diamond on the ring flashes, taunting me, catching the bright fluorescent lights from where I dropped it at the edge of the sink, and I wonder if he’s bought a diamond ring for her, too, a better ring, or maybe strings of gold and silver necklaces, pearls, or plane tickets, weekends in Cabo San Lucas, in San Diego, night after night after night after night, in first-class hotel suites, with first-class room service, strawberries, pancakes, champagne and orange juice, whatever she wants. But then, I think, these are all just things, and things don’t really matter, right? Or at least that’s what I’ve been taught since I was a little girl, since Sunday school classes and shopping trips with parents struggling to make rent, or a husband trying to save his money for the kids. But really, these things do matter, don’t they? I think of all the business trips he’s taken, think that he must have been with her, think: why hasn’t he ever gone with me? Her: his assistant, his secretary, his mistress. “Mistress.” I say it out loud because it still hasn’t really sunk in yet and maybe this will help. I run the word over the edges of my teeth, roll it down the length of my tongue like a piece of sour candy.
The bathroom door is locked, and now he’s knocking on it, pounding, really, pleading with me to come outside. The tears that won’t come weigh heavy in the corners of my eyes, and my mind is clouded from the two joints I’ve smoked since I locked myself in here after breakfast. I’ve stopped responding to his pleas. I think that if he hasn’t yet called my parents, despite his threats, he’s probably not going to, because he knows he’d have to tell them what he’s done. I know what they’d say to me, though, if he did, they’d say: think of the children, this kind of thing happens, boys will be boys, don’t you know that? Can’t you deal with that, and isn’t this all your fault, anyway, when you really stop to think about it? Be a grownup, they’d say, you have to be a grownup, and grownups don’t act this way. My father would tell me that locking myself in the bathroom is not the way to deal with this, and my mother wouldn’t say anything but she would stand beside him and nod, and I wouldn’t see any of it because I would still be refusing to unlock the door.
Maybe if we hadn’t had kids, maybe things would be different. I think of how much easier it would be without the kids, and then I think of the kids, and then I feel badly for thinking how it would be easier if we hadn’t had them. And then I think again of how easy it might be. I let my mind linger on the thought and draw another line, this one across the damp skin of my forearm. A drop of water falls, and the ink on my skin drips down onto the tiled floor.
I think about being 18 and in college and then about being 19 and pregnant and no longer in college, about being a college dropout, and about what it means to be a college dropout. I wonder if maybe things would’ve turned out differently if I hadn’t been a college dropout. I think about our wedding after Jacob was born, and the cake sitting there on that table covered with my grandmother’s navy blue tablecloth, one of its sides hanging down lower than the other. I think of the chocolate frosting, how good it tasted when I licked it from his fingertips, and of the little plastic bride and groom sitting on top with smiles painted on their little plastic faces.
He’s still out there, yelling, demanding that I come out, I’m sure, but I can’t really hear what he’s saying because his words are muffled by the sound of running water and the thickness of the door. He might be saying something about the kids, or maybe something about marriage, something about something that I don’t want to think about, so I think about something else.
I try to remember the last time it felt like I had a friend, before this morning, I mean, when I bought those joints from that high school kid who lives down the street and he smiled at me in that way that made me feel like he knew exactly how I felt, even though he probably didn’t, because how could he? I can’t remember, so I try harder, and the tears still won’t come, and now it feels like they’re sticking, as if bottles of glue have been posing as eye drops, even though I haven’t used the eye drops in the medicine cabinet since I locked myself in here, have I?
I try to take a step back and look at things clearly for a moment through the fogged up mirror, think of how crazy this is, how crazy he’s making me feel, like what-the-hell-is-going-on crazy, or out-of-my-fucking-mind crazy, because there are just so many questions, building and building, like: What if? And: What now? Because everything seemed perfectly fine when I went to sleep last night, and this morning started as mornings are supposed to start, but now all these thoughts, or whatever they are, keep burrowing and taking over, like weeds, tumble weeds, rolling through this otherwise empty space. I have to focus, so I draw another line across my collarbone and watch the ink run down my chest. I realize I’m naked, and I don’t remember when or where it was that I took off my clothes, and I see they’re not here in the bathroom, but I don’t seem to mind this, really.
There’s a small bottle of rum that I’ve perched on the soap dish in the bathtub and I reach for it, unscrew the cap slowly, think of the word ‘unscrew’ and then the word ‘screw’ and then the word ‘fuck’ and then I think of all the different ways I’ve been fucked. By him. By boys in high school. I think of all the times I’ve fantasized about being fucked by our neighbors, his co-workers, my children’s pre-school teachers. I take a sip, let the harsh flavor of it sit in my mouth for a few seconds before I swallow, and then I begin to chug from the bottle and it makes me feel slightly ill but I don’t mind it, really, because by now I’ve become used to feeling ill. Pregnancy. Stress. Boredom. Loneliness. The list is extensive but I stop myself here and keep chugging from the bottle. I think of how much better I’ll feel when I’m good and drunk.
But I don’t start to feel better, I start to feel worse, and I start thinking about how he might behave differently when he’s with her, or how he sounds, or how his eyes might grow softer when they look at her, more so than when they look at me. I think about meeting her at his office’s Christmas party, her pretty green eyes, I remember noticing them, and I remember thinking how nice she was, and how her pale pink-lipped smile was made up of those kind of perfect straight white teeth you see in toothpaste commercials, and they’d reminded me of how I’d had my braces taken off too soon in junior high school, and how if I hadn’t I might have had teeth like hers.
I think about throwing the empty bottle of rum into the bathtub, listening to it shatter into tiny shards of glass against the porcelain. I wonder if he would hear it, if he can hear anything over the sound of running water. I laugh, because it’s kind of funny, really, like that time before, after I had Josie, when I couldn’t stop crying for days and I wouldn’t let him or the baby come near me and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong or how to fix it and he’d called my parents because he hadn’t known what to do with me and they’d made me stay at their cabin out in Big Bear for a few weeks, and I remember them keeping constant watch, and I remember my mother crying and my father whispering into the phone, but I don’t remember much else.
I climb into the bathtub and imagine the pain of glass slicing into my feet, into the backs of my legs as I sit, into the palms of my hands and the tips of my fingers. I imagine blood sliding from beneath my body, down the length of the tub’s white surface, watch it swirl around the drain, and I think of how both of these things, the blood and the drain, are metallic. I think of the prince in Disney fairy tales, because they’re all the same prince, I think, and I think and think but these aren’t really thoughts. The tears still don’t come, despite the pain, because now I’m starting to feel numb, and I wonder how or why he hasn’t yet ripped the bathroom door from its hinges and stolen me away from this.