That woman in the mirror

     I dream of swimming with the goldfish in mango sweetened waters, citrus blasting in marmalade cascades out of a pumpkiny spout. My present bathroom is arctic white; an igloo sized five foot by six foot room, with polar bears lurking under the sink and penguins nesting in the shower.   I’ve tried to warm it up; a curtain blooming with peonies sprouts from the shower rod, and a carefully placed piece of stained glass cuts the light shining into the bathtub into a summertime fruit salad, but the pristine porcelain still avalanches out into the hall.  Currently, my bathroom bleats like an Easter lamb.  I want it to roar like a tiger. I want to paint it tangerine orange. Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.  All these emotions fit neatly into my bathroom, folded next to the clean linens, crumpled up with the dirty socks after a long day waiting tables, floating peacefully around me during my sacred Sunday night baths. 
    My first bathroom was a long narrow room with the toilet at the far end, a little green curtain on the frosted glass window, and a lock on the door; a haven of privacy.  I was the first of 8 girls, shared a bedroom with 2 sisters, and my hairbrush with no one.  My multitude of siblings and I were used to having community possessions; all my clothes were handed down to my younger sisters, we shared books, friends, classes, bikes, and even boys we liked.  But we did not have to share toiletries.   There was a staircase of drawers in that bathroom, one for each sister, cascading with headbands, hair ties, nail polish, Teen Spirit, combs, brushes, acne cream. I had the top drawer; a privilege granted to me being the eldest, and I was the first to tuck a little box of tampons and a razor in the back, afraid of being caught in the act of growing up.  It took me a month to work up the courage to shave those first curly armpit hairs.  It was in this bathroom that my mom gave a tutorial on how to change a sanitary pad to three blushing girls, but she kept the industrial sized box in her bathroom, a large double-sinked wonder with a huge tub.  I remember well the walk of shame down the long hallway toward that box of hygienic paper product; the fact that there was only one time of the month a Harris girl used that bathroom became a running joke in the family.  And I continued to seek solitude in my bathroom, learning how to cut my bangs much too short, plucking those stubborn hairs between my eyebrows that just wouldn’t stay away, obsessively brushing and flossing my brace-laden teeth.  The lock on that door got a lot of use in the 5 years that I was a teenager, and those soft blue walls comforted me during the butchering my legs with that cheap razor that I lifted from my mom’s bathroom.   
    Off I went to college where shared a dormitory bathroom with 20 girls who were not my sisters.  The floor was concrete, the shower curtains offered no privacy and a little mildew, and the sinks were often full of rainbows of hair.  In this dungeon I learned to sleep curled around a toilet, writhing with too much boxed wine, and I realized that lots of women had small breasts and knobby knees. I grew comfortable walking around with only my hair wrapped in a towel.  I never got better at shaving my legs, and grew to love the way the now soft, long hairs blew in the air of the old radiators that lined the walls, strung with damp bras and drying t-shirts.   Those brick walls and beige bathroom stalls were hung with posters that taught me about chlamydia, and student government, and vegetarians.
     I found myself in Chicago, living in a studio with Lauren, and we barbequed out of the bathtub one evening, for lack of a backyard, and the once white walls were stained with smoke.  Lauren was still writing Bible verses on little slips of paper and tucking them into that vanity mirror for me to read while applying lipstick in the morning.  John 3:16, Evening Plum, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Hot Tahiti, resist the Devil, and he will flee from thee, RazzleDazzler, Psalms 27:1.   A year later, when I was moving out with my first real boyfriend, we painted over those swirls of soot and talked about everything I had got away and Lauren had put up with in that apartment; the cat, boys coming and leaving, dance parties, and the indoor smoking.  
     And then the basement bathroom happened.  I tried to make it pretty, but the sheetrock walls and the dented washer and dryer were as hard to overlook as the holes that the man I was in love with had punched out during our frequent fights. Every month brought a pregnancy test, I was sure that this man I was terrified of had gotten me pregnant. Finally, I patched the walls, and packed my bags. 
     Now I am living with this bathroom that should be orange but is white.   Orange is the color of joy, sunshine, and warmth.  It is the color of a cool bath and Eva Cassidy on a hot summer day, it is the color of my boyfriend’s hair, it is the color of my coppery dog, it is the color of happiness with who I am and where I am. 
     And so I stand in front of my toothpaste speckled mirror, surrounded by a halo of bleached fluorescence.  I tuck a paint sample under the cracked corner of that glass that has seen squeezed zits, experimental electric blue eyeshadow, the first smile lines, awful hairstyle choices, various men brushing their teeth, that perfect shade of matte lipstick. Orange Burst.  Tahitan Sunset. Dreamsicle. 


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