I start by turning on the water, sliding the handle until it points at 2 o’clock. The water gets hot fast considering the size of the home and the distance the water needs to travel from the heater to the faucet. But your tolerance for heat is less than mine, so I need to find the right temperature balance before the tub fills too much. Otherwise you won’t get in. You’re a purest when it comes to tubs; no bubbles, no salts, no oils – nothing to distract or distort the contact between you and warm surrender.
By the time you’ve washed and rinsed your face, the tub is as full as it’ll allow and you slide the handle back down to 6 o’clock and the water stops. I turn the fan off – nothing to distract or distort the sound between my lips and your ears, your lips and my ears. The talk is light and lazy and neither of us is concerned about any topic or response or specific consequence. We just talk, eye to eye.
You take out your air tubes, drape them around the faucet and slowly adjust yourself backward until you’re on your back and your head goes under the water, seeping into your hair and pores. I’ll admit, it’s unnerving seeing you without your oxygen, even in this context. You keep your eyes closed, as if to now exist in another place, another circumstance. Depending on the day and how comfortable you are to be away from your tubes, you’ll take a second or even a third dunk. Down, pause, up. Down, pause, up. When you’re done dipping your head under, I help you sit up in the tub and will usually squeeze the excess water from the ends of your hair until I swing my legs into the water, setting myself on the tub’s white, porcelain edge.
I’ve learned how much shampoo your hair needs to work up a healthy lather; about two quarter-sized dollops. The suds come easy, working up and out until the shampoo has stiffened its way between every strand. And then my favorite part. I use the movie theater cup – the one I got when I saw Batman vs. Superman while you were at women’s conference – to rinse out the shampoo. The water falls in thick ribbons from the cup and onto your head, sending the white foam down your back, into the clear water. It only takes a few cup-fulls. The conditioner, on the other hand. That’s a six or seven cup job – your hair almost getting darker with each rinse, the water getting milkier. Fill the cup, rinse. Fill the cup, rinse. Fill the cup, rinse.
You have the rest of your routine to follow while I sit and hand you your air at all the learned points. There isn’t much by way of talking at this point. You’re without oxygen most of this time and it’s all you can do to keep your head up. So I wait. And when you’re ready, I’m on standby with the towel which I first hand to you so you can dry your eyes and nose and ears and then plant your oxygen back on your face in preparation for the task of standing and stepping out of the tub. We’ve learned to wrap two towels around you and then have me hug you with both arms and a leg until most of the water is blotted from your skin. I grip the ends of your hair with the towel and draw what loose water lingers, leaving you clean and dry and warm.
And there she is. There’s the woman who had me from the start; who smiles from her toes every time we do this, who stops and, no matter how long it takes, sinks her head into my chest and thanks me until she knows I hear and feel her sincerity. The warm water washes away the tube lines on your cheeks, the crimp left in your hair from the humidifier mask you wear at night, the hours you spend researching housing prices and treatment costs and gluten-free recipes and transplant survival statistics even though we promised we’d stop doing that. It washes away the torture silence can sometimes be.
And here we are. In this wet dance of give and share and pour and smooth, we’re washed and renewed – the lines between our differences melting, our reasons for fighting sinking to the tub floor. The way I drove home in silence when I was too embarrassed by the things I said to look you in the eye; the things I said I’d do but didn’t, the things I said I’d never do but did, the way I didn’t care enough or apologize enough or whatever else enough. The tempered ambition. The dreams on hold. The fear of not knowing. The reality of limited control. The weight of a thousand yesterdays and the complication they bring. The weight of the next thousand tomorrows and the mystery they bring.
The names, the dates, the facts, the anger, the triumph – it’s all there and, at the same time, it’s all washed away. And there’s just us.
Me, keeping you safe. You, keeping me wild.