TW: Self-harm, Suicidal thoughts, Assault
[FICTION] A Cold Bath
As I stepped into the water, the first thing I felt was the cold. Before my foot had even touched the bottom of the porcelain bathtub, I could feel the shivers rise all the way through my body. Goosebumps had already formed on my arm, and I hadn’t even taken my left foot off the sickly yellow linoleum that my mother insisted we use for the bathroom. “It will help to make the room look bigger.” Instead, all it did was make the recently painted white walls look old and stained with its reflection. I always thought that it looked more at home in an old spinster’s kitchen, instead of the family bathroom. Every time I looked at that floor I could feel my stomach start to churn. Then again, my stomach has been doing that a lot lately.
I was about to place my other foot in the tub when a soft twinkle on my right hand caught my eye. The golden band around my finger stood out harshly against my pale skin, and the diamond imposter that stood at the top was another cruel reminder of the promise Danny had broken to me. “I will love you forever, and one day I will marry you,” that’s what he had said when he gave me this promise ring. Three days ago, he changed his mind with a, “I’m sorry, I’m just not ready for that yet.” What does he think I am? I yanked the ring off my finger and tossed it onto the vanity, unable to deny my inner fear that it might fall down the drain, then thankful when it landed safely on the counter with a soft, dull chime.
I placed my other foot in the water, and the shock of the temperature was almost nonexistent compared to the one I had felt only moments before. With a soft sigh, I began to lower myself, gasping as I felt the cold water touch my bare behind. I squeezed the edges of the tub with my hands as I retracted slightly, but soon got more comfortable and continued to enter the small pool. The water might have been freezing to the skin, but it warmed and calmed my soul. I again paused as I felt the icy water reach the peak of my breast. They had grown so sensitive as of late, and the coldness of the water sent tingles through my body. As I finally felt my skin hit the bottom of the tub, and as the water rose to the top of my breasts, I released the breath that I wasn’t aware I was holding.
Apparently taking cold showers and baths was good for the body. I remember my friend Casey telling me, “It helps to clean out your pores, and helps regulate your breathing.” She also said something about how it helped with headaches and stomach issues, which is why I first started taking cold baths. Nowadays, it was because of a different reason.
I raised my right hand out of the water and brought it to my forearm. Slowly, I placed my fingers in the crook of my elbow and started going towards my palm.
“One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven,” I said, counting the small lines on my skin as I crossed them. Just two months ago, that arm was smooth.
Now look at it, a voice in the back of my mind said. It’s disgusting. You’re disgusting.
“Shut up,” I said, not even realizing I had said it aloud until I heard a knock at the door.
“Aecho, are you alright in there?”
“I’m fine, Mom.”
“Are you sure, Hun’? You’ve been acting kind of strange lately. I mean, this is your third bath this week!”
“Is there something wrong with taking baths?”
“Aecho, you hadn’t taken a bath since you were seven, and then two months ago you start randomly taking multiple ones a week. Can’t you see why I am a little worried?”
“It’s just a bath, Mom. Seriously, can’t you leave me alone for five minutes?”
I heard her mumble something, but it was too quiet to carry into the room. As I heard her footsteps travel down the hallway and descend the stairs, I grabbed a small ponytail and pulled my long hair out of the water and up on my head in a loose bun.
When I was sure she was gone, I reached over and grabbed the razor that I had left on the edge of the bath. The metal felt smooth and solid between my fingers, and I held it firm as if shaking the hand of an old friend. I raised it to my arm and touched the tip to my skin, the pointed edge digging into me softly, not yet breaking the surface.
Do it, the voice said, there’s no point trying to hide it anymore.
With one swift motion, I slid the blade across my arm. For a moment, there was no sign that I had even broken the skin. Nothing was there but the faintest of white lines. Soon, though, I saw the red line starting to form, and the surface of my skin began to flood with the streams of my crimson tide. The eleven levees I had constructed before did nothing to stop the red river, and I watched as the blood traveled all the way down to my elbow. The pain was there, but it never lasted long. As soon as it was gone there was only relief, and that was the fix I was craving.
Yes, let it flow. It will all be over soon.
I let my arm sink into the cold water that surrounded me. The once strong and dark ocean that had once covered my arm, turned wispy and transparent as it mixed with the bathwater. The cold intruder pulled red streamers from my arm and let it flow and surround me. I wasn’t afraid of the blood.
“Twelve,” I said, as I felt the immense pressure that was once pushing against my chest disappear. That moment of pain was all I needed to feel at ease again, though I wish it didn’t come with so much blood. The more I laid there, the more peaceful I became.
But the peace didn’t last for long.
As I opened my eyes and looked at the water, I saw just how much blood had run out of me. I used cold water because it would slow the bleeding, but would still leave the pain. Unfortunately, slowing the bleeding didn’t stop it completely. Seeing it all made my stomach start to quiver and turn, and I rushed to grab the trash can next to the tub. Just as I was bringing it to my mouth, I felt a bubbling surge of liquid fill my throat and mouth, and I let it fall out into the trash can. I heaved again and again, every one bringing with it a new wave of that sour bile from my stomach. The trashcan quickly filled up with liquid that was almost the same color as the linoleum on the floor. The sad part was that I had become used to this lately, as sick as that may sound. Soon it had ended, and I was able to put the garbage can back on the floor.
It’s not going to get any better you know, the voice continued. It will only get worse and worse. The pain will never truly go away.
“Yes it will, it has too. It’s been two months already; I am sure it’s almost gone.” I grabbed a washcloth and started to gently rub the wound on my arm.
It doesn’t matter. No matter how many times you bathe or cut, you will never be able to wash away the disgusting thing that you did.
My grip on the washcloth grew tighter. “I didn’t do anything. It wasn’t my fault.”
Yes, it was.
“I was asleep.”
You seemed pretty awake to me.
“And I was drunk.”
That doesn’t mean you didn’t want it.
“I didn’t want it. I can’t even remember it.”
That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
I rubbed the washcloth across the rest of my body, not even paying attention to what I was doing.
“They used me.”
You wanted them to.
“No, I didn’t.”
You know that that’s why Danny left you.
“No!” I threw the washcloth across the room, making it hit the wall with a sickening splat, then falling to the floor like a lifeless corpse. I didn’t even realize how loud I screamed until I heard frantic footsteps coming up the stairs.
“Aecho, Aecho are you okay in there?” My mother said, as she started to knock on the door much louder than what was really necessary, while also turning the door knob in vain.
“I’m fine, Mom. I just fell asleep in the tub.”
“Honey, you know that isn’t safe. You could drown by doing that.”
Well, there’s an idea.
“I’m fine, Mom. I’m awake now. I shouldn’t be much longer.”
Or you can always do it with the razor. It’s already there next to you.
“Alright, Hun’. If you say so. When you get done I want to talk to you about your sister’s birthday party next week.”
You know what they say. Across the river to get attention, go down the river to die.
“Okay, Mom, I’ll be out soon.”
There was a slight pause before I heard mom say, “Aecho, are you sure you’re okay? I’m worried about you.”
“I promise, Mom, I’m fine. Seriously, I will be out in like, five minutes.”
“Okay, Honey, if you’re sure. I love you, Aecho.”
I took a deep breath, “I love you too, Mom.”
Her footsteps trailed off down the hallway and down the stairs, before finally turning into nothingness. I looked down at the razor next to me. Could I really do it?
Yes, you can. What else are you going to do about it? You’re pretty much screwed no matter what.
“Not necessarily,” I said, picking up the razor anyway, and placing it at the top of my wrist, “I could always—”
And have your family find out? You know that Cammie can’t keep a secret. The whole school would know by morning.
“She’s almost thirteen. She knows what is okay to tell and what isn’t.”
Were you any good at keeping secrets then?
I felt the razor start to dig into my skin. It felt like a small wasp had stung me right in the center of my wrist. The pain wasn’t bad, but the fear in me was.
Just one quick movement. You’ve done it before. Just one little cut and it will all be over. Just one more cut and you can be free.
I stared at that razor for a moment more. It could be so easy. It could be over before I even knew it. I wouldn’t have to deal with the shame. I could just let go…
I laid the razor down on the vanity counter, next to the last piece of metal that used to be the center of my life, and wondered if this was really the right choice to make. I then slowly forced myself to stand on my feet. Putting pressure on my injured arm was hell, but I knew if I stayed in there a minute longer, things would get worse. I grabbed the black towel hanging from the shower rod and dried myself off. Then went and grabbed some gauze to wrap up my arm.
After my arm was all wrapped up, I stood up and stared into the mirror. For the first time in months, who I saw back didn’t sicken me; didn’t make me want to scratch my eyes out. Didn’t make me feel ashamed. I reached up and grabbed the ponytail out of my hair, letting my hair fall to frame my face in synthetic red waves. When I looked a little closer I could see the blonde roots showing near my scalp. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like running out to buy hair dye. I could get used to the blonde. I knew that I could keep on going, I knew that I would keep on moving.
My eyes were brought back to the small ring that laid just inches from my hand. I brought my hand up to my stomach and held it there for a while, just staring at the ring, and wondering which one I would choose. I was surprised how quickly the decision came to me. Without even thinking, I removed my hand from my stomach and carefully grabbed the ring. I slipped the ring back on my hand and watched as it twinkled in the light; as glad to be in its rightful place as I was.
My gaze slid from the ring to the floor. The linoleum no longer brought thoughts of vomiting to my mind. Maybe it wasn’t that bad after all. In fact, I think I can finally see just what my mother loves about it. Then I wrapped myself in the towel and opened the door.
“Mom? Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Taylor Miller is an English student living in Sioux City, Iowa. He identifies as homosexual and has suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts for years, which he uses as inspiration for his work, as it helps him look into the darker places of his imagination.