I used to think that being in the bathtub during a thunderstorm was the worst possible life situation out there. I was morbidly afraid of natural disasters due to my sixth-grade science class lectures that varied from the different categories of clouds all the way to “here is a horrendous wave of water that will entirely obliterate most objects and life forms.” I, much like the weather, have never been too keen on grey areas.
I stare at my naked body now, my hips resting on the porcelain whose top portion is coated with a thick mask of hairspray residue that displays stray hairs like paintings in an art gallery. I’ve never liked looking at my own body. Whether that’s internalized trauma from when Daniel C. told me that my leg hair looked like his father’s chest or simply the implied insecurity that comes with teenhood, I’m not sure. It felt like one day I became overly aware of what all that it could build and destruct, and I shied away from ever displaying myself as the force that I was. I am uncomfortable with being seen because I cannot control what others see in me.
The water looks murky now, distastefully so. Lone islands of slowly deflating bubbles scatter the slightly grey surface of the bathwater that has devoured me for three hours now. I like baths. I like dissolving into another earthly element, secluded in my home, and taming the water to suit me. The same element that easily wipes out civilization is now simply caressing every exposed rib, every ingrown hair, and even that small spot right above where the insides of my thighs meet and there is a simple gap before skin starts up again. I am in control of an element that could easily kill me in the right place at the right time. Could be a hurricane. Could be a lightning strike. Could be holding my breath for a few seconds too long.
Here, I run the show. I know which albums to play that so beautifully radiate off of the confines of the tub and gently make the water ripple. I always light the same sage candle that reminds me of my grandmother’s closet filled with nightgowns in every color under the sun. I have a set of books that I am okay with watching the paper melt at the touch of the water or cringe in reaction to the steam. I know this terrain. This steamy, personal terrain that makes my body feel alive.
By nature, I am what some people would call a “loner.” I think “introvert” is the appropriate term nowadays, but I’ll just call it like it is. I’m lonely, and yet I prefer to be alone if given the option to stay home and watch Gilmore Girls for the third time or go out with people.
Loneliness hits me like the small waves that melt around me every time I shift under the tub’s water. I am okay until I shift my leg. Then, my waters are disrupted and I am met with ripples that seem to signal that there is more movement to life than I am allowing myself to experience. Sometimes I create these ripples intentionally, sending a risky text message to a friend or downloading a dating application just to be reminded that the sweaty mass of flesh that I am inside is desirable. But after a while, the movement of the water quiets itself and I am alone again. Other times, though, I’ll drop my book in the tub, or I will realize that my phone, expertly perched on top of the countertop has it’s uncovered front camera staring directly at me. In a frenzy, I will spin my hips and try to pat the dampened pages dry or flip my phone over without completely exiting the tub. And when I look around then, my water will be splashed on the carpet, my towel will be too wet to use later, and my phone will have water droplets near the speaker. Those movements, although they ultimately are mine, are uncontrolled and unintentional. That is what I fear the most in life.
I never learned how to be with people. Interview them, write about them, sell them coffee, listen to their problems, talk about my writing, sure. But to simply be, no strings attached, is a skill I’ve never mastered.
There are two people I can think of in my life where I feel like I do when I am in the bathtub, calm and controlled. Their presence is as tepid as the water that surrounds me and they seem to ride out the ripples alongside me. For everyone else, I feel like I am either trying to stir up the waters to perform like some weird, silky aquatic animal or I am trying to smooth my surface so that it is deceivingly calm. I have an instinct when I meet people to push them away or lure them in.
My trap sometimes works and my bath becomes this communal pool for a bit. I feel momentarily comforted by others’ presence in my sacred area. I welcome the ripples as this novel experience, unique to my limbs, and I have this realization that life is not a private bathtub with a perfectly calculated temperature. It is the weather that I am so afraid of.
With people, you have to allow yourself to be swept up in their waters and enjoy the ride, even if the water is flooding your nostrils and choking you. You have to welcome others into your bathroom and not gawk at their toes when they’re in your water and touching your skin. You have to learn that everyone is just as much of a storm as you are, and by hiding your force, you are missing out on truly knowing anyone or allowing yourself to be known.
I was around someone I used to be relatively close with a few days ago for the first time in roughly two years. It was a fine, cool night with rain speckling the concrete around us like paint splatters on a grand, worldly canvas. As I sat on the same wooden stair that I had spent many summer nights on previously, I was surprised to find that the rain was warm. My top was small, leaving my shoulders, chest, and upper back exposed to the July air.
I felt him staring at me. Every time I met his eyes, I felt like I did the summer when I was sixteen: so sad, so confused, and so infatuated with someone like a hummingbird drunk on sugar water. He was a storm I could always revisit. The same, warm rain coming in waves every few hours but never staying for long.
It was that night I realized that loving people always feels like forever but never is. Just like the weather, our connections with others and with ourselves change on the daily. The pressure, precipitation, and the predictions for the week are often faulty, misleading, and flat out inconvenient for our plans. Sometimes the soap gets in our eyes and our towel gets wet. But that’s the point.
As we grow older, we no longer drown in every thunderstorm and sunburn during every ninety-degree week streak. We learn to manage our internal bath temperatures and prepare for the outdoor clouds. We begin to understand why others carry the forces that they do, and we make the decision as to whether or not we allow ourselves to get caught up in them. If we are really lucky, similar storms will grace us again and we will no longer drown in their waters, but rejoice in their warmth.
I feel very caught up in my own storm. I’m stuck in my bathtub and the waters aren’t settling. The door to my bathroom is shut, the speaker is off, and all of my books are water-damaged. I’m not sure what to do, but I know that I miss people’s storms, even when I am engulfed by them.
The first step is to get out of the tub, I guess. After all, I’ve heard it is the most dangerous place to be in a thunderstorm.