Monday, June 29, 2009

Childhood Memories: The Bath

My childhood bathroom hasn’t gone anywhere. Strangers use it now, and for all I know they may be the umpteenth strangers who’ve claimed that it’s theirs. But uh uh. It will always be mine.

It’s small, right at the top of the stairs, my parents’ room to the left, mine to the right. I’m in the tub at this moment, all warm in the steam from the hot water. I’m wrinkling more by the minute, and the magazine story I’m racing to finish dampens further every time I put it down for a sec on the tub’s rim, or turn a page with a dripping hand. Somewhere up ahead, after college, I’m going to meet Angelo, and in the letters he’s going to send me from prison, he will attempt to expand my education about criminal justice in the USA. In one of those letters, he’s going to suggest that people transform their bathrooms into solitary confinement cells to find out what that feels like. Among other tips, he’s going to suggest

~ Take any ornamental cover off the ceiling light and leave a bare bulb.
~ Keep the heat down so it becomes clear what a gift it is to be allowed to wear your underwear, because it can keep you that welcome bit warmer.

I’m 10 and in the tub, but at the same time, I’m an adult remembering back, and so I know that Angelo, whom I will not meet for 16 years, is 13 as I relax in the warmth. At 13, he has already endured years of punishments from his father, although he has seldom understood what he did wrong. The punishments have included sitting in bath tubs like the one I’m in. But Angelo’s have been filled with ice cubes. The punishments have also included ropes. Any connection with ropes between me and my parents is this: On days when none of my friends are around, my father is generally willing to hold one end of a rope, my mother the other, so I can jump.

If Angelo is 13, that means he’s about to be kicked out of his family’s apartment by his dad. His mother will not intervene. He is going to have to live on the streets and, as he will some day tell me, fight the neighborhood dogs for food from garbage cans. By 17, he will be under arrest for a serious crime. There will be front page coverage for days in the Spanish language newspapers. By the age of 18, he will be in prison.

I know this even years before I meet him. I am 10 and in the tub, and although I'm determined to finish this dripping story, I know that it will end as they all do, with mystery solved, family feud or friendship mended, Angelo’s fury at the world faded, and his programs in the prison to teach inmates machine repair or art well underway when, against all logic, we meet.