I went to turn the basement light on, but I ended up accidentally pulling the fire alarm. I wanted the big florescent tube to flicker yellow, but instead, everybody thought there was a fire. I believed it, too. And now, quite some time later, people ask me what I was doing in the basement of that church in the first place. While it's a long answer, it's not a hard one.
You see, ever since I was quite young, I've expected to find my mother dead in a bathtub. Every time I have to pee or shower or wash my hands, I close my eyes as I turn the doorknob and hesitate to open them once I step inside. Even when I'm socializing in the living room with my entire family, and I tell my mom, who's sitting right next to me, that I'm going to the bathroom, I still know in my heart that she'll be lying there – dead as a doornail, tongue sticking out, eyes rolled back, the whole deal. For awhile it was just my own ancient, footed bathtub that haunted me, but then I started going over to my girlfriends' houses for sleepovers and such, and I realized that I expect to find my mother dead in all of the bathtubs. There's not one that bypasses this standard.
Paranoia it is. But I do not know what from. Nor do I know exactly when it started. I don't care, and I'm not worried about repressed memories. I don't wonder about its origin. And it's become normal to me.
Sometimes I tell people that – the beginning to their long answer – and they say things such as, "I don't wanna hear any horror stories." And hypothetically, they walk away, and I don't stop them. I wish I did, but I don't. So hypothetically, the story should end there for most. But it doesn't, and someone ought to know.
My metaphor for life became, "pulling the curtain back." When I was worried that my mother was dead, I just pulled the shower curtain back. When I felt uncertain about anything – tests, field trips, family reunions - I just "pulled the curtain back," and stopped worrying.
Our shower curtain has stripes. Blue and gray. Simple enough. But my friend's step-mom's shower curtain has bubbles and waves draped all over it. It is a continuing pattern, like the stripes, but hers is exact and precise and real-life. So, the image of the curtain, covering the bathtub that does not have feet, makes bodies of water seem really moribund to me. For awhile, it wasn't too much of a problem. The water inside the bathtub didn't bother me. It was contained. And when I was invited down to the lake with friends or relatives, I'd just dip my foot in and then jump in with whomever, questioning my decision, but always coming out of the water safe. But now it always looks too deep or too dark or too loud to dip my foot into. And I cannot shut the curtain on that. Because it will always be that step-mom's. Cold and blue and suffocating. With no way to know where the bottom is. And I'll be fine if I never see a lake or an ocean again, especially after that person said to me, "The only way you'll even know if there is a bottom, is if you go look for it." That's probably when it got worse. And escalated to the point I'm at now.
And then there was the guy that did heroin and the guy that threw the rocks and the surfer dude. I found them all in California. But one led me back north, to Wisconsin. My family flew to Los Angles to see a pregnant family friend and attend a baby shower. We flew out right after I became wary of the darkness, and wouldn't touch un-contained water. I stayed for a week and a half, but didn't see the Pacific until we rented the car and drove up north. I guess I was intentionally avoiding everything. But the family friend had a cousin. And her cousin had a friend. And that friend lived in an apartment with a roommate. And his roommate happened to do heroin. But he didn't deal it, if that's any consolation. In California, when I hung out with her cousin, who was the same age as me, I had no interest in doing drugs. So for the few days I knew the guy who did heroin, he never offered, and I never asked.
But we made love. Her cousin and his friend didn't know it, but we did. Her cousin had really blue eyes that were always warning me. And he had all older friends. And he had plush leather jewelry cases where he kept all his drawings. And he was the one who suggested to my parents that we drive to northern California. So it was because of him that I left the boy who did heroin, and never saw him again.
I tried to stay in the car when my parents insisted on photographing the ocean, but it was inevitable. It was because of the heroin boy that I had managed to avoid everything, and it was because of the surfer dude that everything got worse.
The surfer dude also happened to be a poet, but he called himself a singer-songwriter. It was because of his uncanny talent with words and the human mind that he ended up telling me, "The only way you'll ever know if there is a bottom, is if you go look for it." And he pushed me in.
When I resurfaced, he didn't seem stressed, and the only thing I could say was, "In the bathtub, I know where the bottom is."
I had gone down, head-first, into the darkness, the precise bubbles from the step-mom's curtain forming around my mouth. I don't know why he decided to help me float, but after I said what I said, I began constantly thinking about how all the disgusting occurrences in my life traced back to my mother. My dead mother.
The surfer dude didn't understand anything about me. He brought me to a record release party a few days before I left. I just wanted to bury him in the sand because I couldn't fall in love with a human so connected with water. I just couldn't.
The guy with the rocks threw them at our rental car. It was parked in a scenic overlook lot, and I was inside. The tall trees surrounded us and there was no one else there. When he started, he was laughing, and he didn't know I was inside. I imagine my parents took the rental car back shortly after I left with the boy.
He had gotten inside the car after his uncontrollable act, and confided in me that he was in love. He wanted me to meet her. I thought it all kind of disgusting, but nevertheless, I took the bus to Wisconsin with him.
He and his lover lived in an abandoned auditorium which I had never seen before. They would put on performances atop an old stage and pretend they had an audience. Sometimes roses were thrown at them. Their abandoned bathroom didn't have a door, so I was walking around the whole place blind.
One particular time, I acted like I had my eyes shut tight, but they were open just the slightest bit. My heart was thumping faster than it ever has before as I walked onto the cold tile slowly. My fingers twitching, I reached out for the shower curtain. It was still moist from the boy's bath. I got a grip on it, so as not to drop it. I swallowed hard and then, unexpectedly, the tears started to silently stream down my face. I knew what I would find in there. The clips started to knock into each other like dominoes, and I closed my eyes to squeeze out the water.
I could sense something, but I refused to open my eyes. Instead, I put one leg over the edge and climbed right in. I pried my lids apart just so I could begin my carving into the painted, porcelain bathtub. It was a note. A sort of suicide note, but it wasn't mine. I kept it short, I knew I had to. I simply didn't have time. Because it was Sunday. And that was relevant because the two lovers that lived in that abandoned building went to church.