From my limited understanding of humanity, it’s my general impression that children bathe and shower with the oversight of their parents until they can be trusted not to drown themselves. I have no doubts that I would do this with my children too, because how else could you appropriately ensure their safety while also ensuring that they don’t skimp out on properly washing and scrubbing everything that needs to be properly washed and scrubbed, or at least until they’re used to the incessant drip drop of a leaky shower head once they’re done? The parents just know better, and so they tell them to go, grabbing them by the arm if they have to, saying Get in the shower even if the kid doesn’t want to because dirty stains and smells only linger and accumulate and intensify until the children themselves are an infested mass of pungent putrescence decaying and crawling with the filth that their parents never helped clean from their bodies.
So they come into the shower and hear my drip drop drip drop until the steady stream of water is turned on and it begins. And it gets hot, invariably too hot at first, burning, scalding, like thorns being thrust over their head; but soon a bit cooler and a bit cooler while the parent says How do you like that? after each correction, and eventually the child is forced to say Okay okay because how many adjustments does it take before it’s too cold, freezing, numbing? And sooner or later starts the soaping and shampooing, and the sponging and scrubbing, and the washing and rinsing, for some longer and for some shorter, each for as long as needed until the parent thinks them sufficiently dirtless and thoroughly cleansed. Then off goes the flow of streaming water, and they dry themselves to the relentless pit-pattering of a cracked shower head going drip drop drip drop drip drop.
Though my deathless and rhythmical drip dripping was not always so, hadn’t existed at all let alone as a monotonous and interminable tale of the unspoken and unseen both steady and unending. It began how it always did, with a loud crash and a bang, screams, and the stomp stomp stomp of a feverish moving up stairs, a telling of the heavy rage which always lumbered and stumbled up the creaky wooden steps and eventually found its way to me either right then or later, whenever the nausea and perhaps self-hatred became too much and he finally couldn’t keep anything down anymore and had to drown everything away in a swirl with a flood of water. But he was not alone this time; this time his child was thrown through the bathroom door first, the father close behind and smelling of liquor and frenzied bitterness and maybe shameful deprecation bordering on madness, this not for any particular reason or another but just for the unrelenting dropping of a life lived but not lived, which didn’t even feel like living day by day but was more like dying day by day, hardening and dying, slipping and fading away from even questioning anymore. So him just accepting and so quitting, being sliced and marred pieces at a time and bleeding out with a dying drip drop drip drop of control gradually being wrenched from the hands of a madman disobeyed—all but old Priam, surrendering a defeated life bit by bit to the slow death which he watched find his wife and sons and city, to a slow death even if he had escaped the Greeks because it was just a concession of living to a lamenting despair, a powerlessness to correct that slithering mistake which was the opening of his gates to hell on earth disguised as an animal and a broken tree, a greenhorned oversight which never would have happened in the hands of a competent King, all because he didn’t have or couldn’t yet find a scapegoat to steal any of that lost life or redemption back from.
But now the boy’s dad had one, and he picked up his little scapegoat by the shirt and threw him over the side of the tub shouting Get in the shower and our heads collided with a crash and spatter of red, and the father terrible towering turned on my water turned all the way on and it was hot, too hot, burning, scalding. Steam rising the boy squirmed and held his head and curling up started screaming because the water was too hot burning scalding and the father saying Is that too hot? dropping a kick, another booted stomp this time into the little boy’s side and again again again one two three like hammering into crosses on a hill. That was when I stopped seeing, maybe because of the steam expanding and thickening or maybe because I was trying to shut out what I was watching what was happening but even then I couldn’t escape the hearing the stomp stomp stomp once twice three times Is that too hot? and the boy’s screaming and wailing and burning, crying Yes yes please no please until my water turned cold, freezing, numbing and I could taste the alcohol and sweat and hear the manful heavy breaths and laughter alongside the repeated stomp stomp How do you like that? once twice now next to the boy’s chattering and shivering like the crowing of a faith and trust betrayed. And I could almost feel the father’s dominating drunken smile and his knowing that this is love.
Then the bathroom door slammed and I opened my eyes because I no longer heard the stomping or conquering, only the soft broken whimpering and the tears going drip drop drip drop onto the tub’s vermillion stained porcelain, the boy curled up, arms wrapped around his blue sides in a defeated bundle of flowing crimson. Slowly, slowly and painfully he crawled up the tub and turned off the water, still trembling in shivers from the pain and the cold, moaning as he reached up with his blood stained hands as if to say Dad why, why have you and used me as a crutch to pull himself up, excruciatingly up out of the tub and onto the bathroom floor. There on the dirty tile he collapsed, broken arms wide, unable to stop his dropping, falling in a ceaseless mess of purpled bruises and bloodied water and splintered bones, mouth open and head cocked to the side staring that blank stare, that lifeless stare of no longer knowing or comprehending Why have you, that never went away again because he was nailed to a heap of his father’s shame and deprecation and hatred for the world and didn’t understand why it was him, why he had to be so sufficiently dirtless and thoroughly cleansed. And the boy’s lingering blood slipped from my head and into the tub, whirling down the drain in swirls and streaks of red mixed with the same water in which I might as well have dipped my hands, a steady sound of a memory eternal, unvanquished, and sufficient, drip drop drip drop drip drop.
There were no other times, no worse times—that was the first and last of them, that one was all that was needed. That’s why water trickles through this cracked head and into the bath with a drip drop of no redemption, like a brokenness caused not fixed by this top-down rip in the middle, one soon to be replaced and then forgotten and then left behind: without any promises of rescue, without the time or faith which brought Simeon to his knees to wait and then to beg, without any salvation whatsoever.
Just left, with memories stronger than any water or soap can wash away, still here with the boy, who now showers by himself but who can’t do so without sitting scrunched in the corner staring up with that same dead, empty stare, confused and not understanding why, holding his knees and his sides and then his head, shaking shivering in the ice cold water, whispering trembling sobbing forsaken me forsaken me.