Falling in the Shower
November 15, 2009
Hair dye is a marvelous thing. It changes your appearance, keeping age at bay and fostering the delusion of eternal youth; if you toss caution to the wind, it can put you on the edge of fashion or create a fashion that’s uniquely your own. It’s also very slick, a discovery I made while washing out an application of Revlon’s Black-Brown #20.
I was under the spray of hot water one moment, feeling wonderful and reveling in a sense of renewed beauty. The next moment, I felt my feet go out from under me, pedaling in vain against the unsympathetic fiberglass of the shower/tub combination. I frantically grabbed for something to break my fall. I ended up with the shower curtain in my hand.
It all happened in slow motion. I felt the shower pole give way; it hit me in the cheek. The shower curtain became a foreign membrane, the clammy wings of some misshapen alien wrapping around me as I fell. I glanced down and saw my dog lying on the bathroom rug . He always stood guard when I bathed, as if he was certain the shower had a backdoor I could escape from if he didn’t keep an eye on me. He looked up at me as I fell; he looked surprised. I’m sure I looked surprised, too.
“I told you to get a bath mat,” my mom said.
I looked around the bathroom as I fell in slow-mo. “Mama?” She’d been dead for four years.
She was perched on the vanity, tapping cigarette ashes into my sink. “Do you know how many people die in shower falls every year in this country?” She took a long drag and exhaled smoke like a dragon.
I couldn’t help myself. I had to respond, “Do you know how many people die of smoking-related diseases?”
Mama shrugged. “Well, there was me. Other than that, I don’t really care.” With her cigarette trapped between two fingers, she pointed at the rug. “Good thing your dog moved. You’ve put on so much weight, you’d crush the poor guy. Break his ribs or something; maybe his back.” She sighed. “I told you not to eat so many sweets.”
“It was the booze, Mama.”
She shrugged again. “If you say so. I drank a lot more than you, and I still had a twenty-six inch waist when I died.”
I saw the edge of the tub coming up toward my face and whipped my head around. Revlon Black-Brown #20 sprayed across the bathroom like blood splatter evidence at a crime scene.
Mama wiped at the drops of dye that hit her face. “Brown? Seriously? What’s wrong with a nice shade of red? Your sister dyes her hair red. You should, too. It’ll give you some life. Lord knows you’re already mediocre enough.”
The old, familiar pique gripped at my stomach. “Don’t you ever have anything nice to say to me? Would just one word of encouragement be too much to ask?”
She tapped her ashes into my sink again. I could see the imprint of her red lipstick on the cigarette filter. “Your dad has something to tell you,” she offered. “He says, remember how to fall. All those damned riding lessons he gave you, and you don’t even remember how to fall.”
I remembered. I threw my hands and forearms up to block my face. Never try to block your fall with your hands, my dad used to tell me. A big girl like you, you’ll snap your wrists like kindling.
My right shoulder impacted first, hitting the rug with a concussion I heard rather than felt. My right hip hit next, then my ankles banged together and suddenly there was pain.
I lay there for a minute. I could hear the water running steadily in the shower behind me and I could feel my ankles throb. I took that as a good sign. If I could hear the water and wince at the burn in my ankles, then apparently I wasn’t dead. I waited for various islands of excruciating pain to well up in other parts of my body, but they didn’t come. Eventually, I raised myself up on one arm and looked around.
My dog was standing in the doorway, staring at me in disbelief. Dude, his expression said, what the hell?
“I’m okay,” I panted. I struggled onto my hands and knees, then slowly got to my feet. I looked at my dog again. “That was so messed up.”
He seemed to agree. He remained in the doorway, poised for a hasty retreat in case I decided to start randomly falling again.
I leaned both hands against the vanity with my eyes squeezed shut. My heart was racing a million beats per minute and my legs felt rubbery. What a close call, I told myself. I could have totally died, and who would know? Who was there to miss me until two days from now when I failed to show up for work? By that time, no doubt man’s best friend would have been reduced to eating my buttocks and other fatty tissues.
I don’t know how long I stood there. The water on my body turned cold and I started to shiver. Finally, I opened my eyes and looked into the mirror. Dark brown streaks of dye ran down my face and body like aboriginal tattoos.
I reached to turn on the faucet. And I froze. There was a cigarette butt in the sink with a smear of red lipstick around the filter.
The next day I called a salon and made an appointment to get my hair dyed red.