I was eight and in the bathtub splashing around with my floating toys. I was a child and an adult. I was tall but always too short. I had separated myself from those younger than me but still couldn’t see age as a process. I thought – I have aged. I have become. I am done. I am ready. And I splashed.
My parents would shout from the bedroom across the hall. To make sure I was alive. To make sure I was breathing. To make sure I hadn’t drowned, had a stroke, I don’t know. A baby stroke. A little kid bonking her head and bleeding out, bubbles going red and sticky. Always responding with a sullen yeah.
The bathtub was freedom. Quiet. A room to oneself. The bathtub was power. Cleanliness warmth. The bath was fun. It was an empty canvas for my imaginative scribbles. Barbies on the swim team. Catching the biggest fish. The plastic repair man plugging the small drain holes that my toes still deeply feared.
Our bathroom floor used to be linoleum I think. Whatever happened before the age of eight, whatever my life was back then, the state of our bathroom floor has not been retained. I do remember the living room carpet. A forest green, a mossy green, short a stout, kind of prickly, and patchy in places. The coffee table covering up the coffee stains, a trick I’ve stolen more than a decade later.
One day a man came in to the house. Put his toolbox down by the door on that green carpet. Walked to the bathroom. Going to install some new tile. They ripped up the laminate and knocked out the floor. Water damage, probably.
There it was. A light coming up from down below. The basement. The crawl space. The part of our house I’d never seen before but I was convinced so surely held all the secrets of homeowners before us. There must be dolls down there. Toys of some kind. I bet there is even a jungle gym. My parents probably wondered why I thought there might be toys buried beneath the soils of our crawl space and thinking of it now, I understand. Let’s hope no kids ever had been found down there.
I tip toed around the empty holes before he patched them up, fearing I’d fall in and never be recovered. The space under the house wasn’t a dreamscape now any more than the attic had been once I saw it filled with dust. It had shown itself to me for what it was. A place for different kinds of fantasies. Darker ones, dreary ones, ones I had no interested in at eight. I walked back into my room and shrugged onto the carpet and into a pile of myself.
My parents came into the room and told me I couldn’t play mermaid anymore. I rolled my eyes or sighed or held myself up a little higher and said I didn’t do that anymore. Why did they have to say that in front of the repair man. Now he would think I was a little kid. I didn’t play mermaid anymore. I just liked to splash the water. Splash it back, and forth, a slow swaying motion. So small back then. My feet didn’t even reach the end of the tub. The water would lift me up if it swayed me just right and it would rock me to sleep.
“Still alive in there?”
Toes rubbing up against the ceramic. A splash of water on the new tile that I cover with the mat. One lone bubble that shifts down my leg as I dry myself off.