She lay in the shower, warm water lapping around her half-reclined body, engrossed in a book whose characters resonated. The strong silent one who had lost nothing yet was afraid of losing everything, the ones who had lost, and instead of retreating into shells they expanded and lived with a passion and vengence unsurpassed, and the one who had so much anger and hurt bottled up inside, all she could do was throw rocks at windows and run. Lost love, lost innocence, loss of lives – and tears slowly trickle down her face. She finishes the book, and sits up straighter, reaching for the razor blade to sheer the hair off her legs. She laughs at her silliness, laughs at her ability to empathize with and cry for fictional characters.
And the laugh catches in her throat, and as the pulls the razor up her legs it morphs into a loud, wracking sob. Before she realizes it, she’s crying with fury and rage, sliding the razor vigorously up and down her legs, determined to shave away all the layers of hurt, of touch, of pain. She shaves higher and higher, over the sensitive and swollen knees and up the thighs, tears running faster and harder. She shaves over the deep wounds given to her by the cat that was a parting gift, the cat that she’d been allowed to rescue, to adopt, because he knew he was leaving and he simply didn’t care about living with another feline for a few more months, because he had that out, that leaving. She shaves with vigor over the incision that removed a toxic bone growth from her body, that had incapacitated her, to his disgust and frustration. She shaved over the curves he loved, that she always kept so soft for his touch, and prayed the razor would catch and rip and make bloody, but it didn’t. And she cried.
Oh, how she cried. The parting-gift cat came and mewled at her in concern, leaving over the bathtub and sniffing at her lips, licking at her tears. A black shadow of a cat slid into the bathroom, perched on the sink and simply stared while she continued to sob. She touched her forehead to the cat licking her tears and whispered. She whispered about long nights in buses, with conversations that didn’t have the oh-so-stereotypical rah-rah of “you can do it” but instead the inquisitive “why aren’t you doing it?” His simple bafflement at meeting someone who had dreams and was poised to step but hadn’t. No encouragement, but curiousity. And of all the times he never felt encouragement was necessary, because of course she could do it, but that questions were, because questions teased out the details and laid out the path. Of the simple, strong faith, never doubting and always so sure. And how one day it was just yanked away, with no explanation, no questions, nothing. Just gone, as if somehow she was no longer worthy of that simple, strong faith. She had done something wrong, but she didn’t know what, and now she was adrift in a sea of well-meaning without any land in sight.
She slipped back in the tub so she could reach under her arms, to shave away the scent that was so strong an aphrodesiac, to make herself bare again so that she could emerge from the water, clean and new. And her tears shifted from pain and regret and confusion to loss, bitter loss. She realized that death was easier, because when someone dies there’s a reason they’ve been ripped so physically from your life, and you can work with it, integrate it. You didn’t do anything wrong.
She feels herself, smooth as silk, and realizes how different that is from her internal self of jagged sharp harshness. That physical ripping of husband and best friend has left edges that haven’t worn down, gaping red and raw wounds that have barely begun to heal. With a start, the tears turn back to laughter, hard and mocking, because she knows that if he saw her now, he would simply shake his head in disbelief and say he “didn’t understand why it was such a big deal, it never was to him, so how could it be to her?” Experience let her hear the words echo in her head.
Laughter gives way to hiccups, and with an abrupt jerk she yanks the stopper from the tub. The water swirls away gradually, and she alternates tears with hiccups until both subside and she’s sitting there, cold and damp, with two sets of cat eyes clouded with concern and confusion. She realizes slowly that she would never be a Jane Austen heroine like this, that she was embodying only the weak and negative traits of the girls of the sisterhood, and ever more slowly realized that traits are value neutral, and it’s all in how you use them.
She turns on the shower quickly, decisively, washing the final tears and red eyes away under a rain of water, meditating on how water has become so symbolically linked to rebirth.
As she dries herself off, resolve firming in her mind, she wonders why it is, whenever she talks about how she feels, she talks in third person.