Shower Thoughts

Design by Alina Susani

Note: All names have been changed.

Evan is always in the bathroom. It’s where we met, and then introduced ourselves again the next day when we realized we had forgotten each other’s names. When I get in the shower, he’s often peeing. When I leave, he’s brushing his hair with dry hands. 

I’ve always shared a bathroom—at home, it was with my three older siblings. I’m used to long, wet hair strewn across the walls, or coarse, unidentified curls lingering near the drain. I’m not used to strangers or these showers. The water gets too hot too fast here. I tried calling Yale Facilities, but they didn’t send anyone; apparently, it’s not an issue. Back home, I would stand outside the shower, looking in the mirror. I would watch the mirror’s face, scanning for pimples. I would watch as we lost eye contact, as he faded into something only reminiscent of skin and hair. I would watch him disappear, replaced by colored beads of water—steam from a shower that would take fifteen minutes to heat up. 

I would do more than stand there. Sometimes, I would sit. I sat on my towel with my knees pulled up to my chest and thought about my day. Who did I talk to? What did they tell me? When’s the last time I called Grandma? I would think until my butt went numb. Only once I felt the hug of the shower, heat escaping from its curtain enclosure, did I stand. My legs would cramp and I would cry out. My mom would ask if I was okay. My sister would ask if she could come in to grab her hairbrush. I would yell back, angry that I was being rushed, and stand naked in the bathroom in defiance. 

I’m never naked here, though. Evan might come in. 

I’m not the cleanest person. I take an average number of showers, normally at night. To me, going to bed dirty is an abhorrence. I’ve showered drunk at 3 a.m., back from a high school house party and damp with sweat, both mine and others’. I smelled a lot that night—of grimy teenagers and cheap weed, yes, but mainly of him. His $60 designer cologne, likely bought at Willowbrook mall, caked my skin and flooded my sinuses. The Fireball he drank was sticky, glazing my tongue and upper lip. His teeth had left marks, evidence of his desire and my submission. I had said yes, and I meant it. But when we were done, I headed straight for the door, making my way through the dancing bodies, and ran three blocks before I stopped to call an Uber, nervous he might care enough to follow me. He didn’t, so I ran two more blocks, nervous I might care enough to want him to. 

At home, I raced to the bathroom. I turned the shower on, and as I waited for it to heat up, I stood and cried. In the shower, I scrubbed hard. I used a washcloth, and when that didn’t satisfy me, my nails. I opened my mouth and drank straight from the shower head, praying it had some magical property that could erase tastes and memories. I went to wash my hair and then decided against it; he told me he loved my hair. Once my skin had pruned, I lay on the ground and hugged myself. I was too tired to dry my body with a towel, so I let the air do it. If I’d had any more energy, I would probably have cared that the air around me still smelled like Tom Ford, but instead I fell asleep. 

Yale Facilities doesn’t care that their design doesn’t allow for standing and crying. Instead, I have to get in the immediately-hot shower and guess if my face is wet with tears or water. All I know is that the toilet flushed, the door closed quickly, and the faucet never turned on. 

The weeks after the party consisted of calculus homework and coughing. My nighttime routine shifted. I inspected my white tongue in the mirror. As I waited for the shower to heat up, I ran my fingers across my body, pushing and prodding at the lymph nodes that had swollen by my pelvis. My sore throat matched my COVID-infected friend’s, so I figured that I, too, had succumbed to the pandemic. Both my rapid and PCR tests came back negative. Anxious, I googled my symptoms, and links for HIV testing filled my screen. At that moment, I felt like the boy I saw each night in the bathroom mirror: temporarily human, but soon to be gone. I turned on the shower, and began to cry. 

I had to wait three months to ensure the accuracy of the HIV test. During that time, I did Mock Trial and went to parties, where I avoided Fireball and men with artificial scents. I watched reality TV with my mom and hoped she had poor intuition. But I was allowed to be naked in my home’s shared bathroom. I could be upset or angry, both at him and at myself. I could laugh at the situation, convince myself it was all in my head. I could sit with my knees pulled up to my chest and interrogate myself. What if I have it? What if I don’t? Will Grandma find out? I got tested at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. I drove myself to Planned Parenthood and wished I could have been listening to music to calm me down. Instead, my phone was on Zoom. I was in Spanish class. 

Even though I tested negative, I sat in my shower for weeks, paralyzed. I can’t sit in the Yale shower. In it, I wear plastic, American-flag-emblazoned slides that I got at TJ Maxx for 40% off. Someone––probably Evan––leaves their products in the shower. There’s always a line to get in on Thursdays at 9 p.m. Julian from across the hall tried to have a conversation with me about his philosophy reading as I conditioned my hair. No one ever cries in there. They just introduce themselves, and nod, and complain––and never about bad sex at parties, or its possible consequences. I just want to cry in the mirror, and actually see my tears. I want to know that I’m experiencing things and feeling things and not just having them happen. Here, everything just happens. The water just gets hot. 

Isabella goes to Latines in STEM workshops on Old Campus before coming back to our suite and cranking p-sets. She schedules a fifteen minute break in her Google Calendar to be homesick and then goes back to work. I want to encourage her to shower. I want to assure her that I’ll stand outside the bathroom door and keep everyone out. I want her to take as long as she needs; pretend the water is still heating up so she can stand naked and stare blankly at herself, thinking back on her day. Really, I want her to say she’ll do the same for me.

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