when i was a kid, i collected soaps. it all started with a nice beatrix potter soap that i was given as a present. my sister had jemima puddle duck, i was given peter rabbit. then, soon after, i became that age where distant relatives didn’t really know what to buy me and i was a girl, so they started buying me generic bath products. i was probably only around eight or so & still didn’t have the inclination to run my own bath, so the products piled up: hand lotions, shower creme (we didn’t have a shower), foot ointments, little bottles of fruity shampoos & perfume testers. and soaps, lots of soaps. they were shaped like animals and characters from children’s books and exotic fruits. i had them lined up on the dresser across from the bath & i’d count them gleefully week after week, even if none had been added or taken away, just for the sake of counting them, just to stake claim to the collection, just to know they were all still there in their places, though there was no real pattern or order.
when my friends visited our house for the first time, they always made a comment about our bathroom. it was one of the biggest rooms in the house & it had the least in it. i used to feel annoyed that it was bigger than my bedroom & on more than one occasion, i would beg my parents to let me swap rooms, not really understanding the complexities of plumbing. we used to run around on bath nights, hyper, taking it in turns to jump in, be scrubbed reluctantly, with my mum holding out towels for us to hop out into. in age order, usually: my sister, me, then my little brother. (my older brother was too old to partake in bath night by that time.) occasionally, on busy nights, my mum would just plonk us all in the tub together to sort ourselves, which usually resulted in us playing in the bubbles or taking it in turns to pretend to swim, with two scrunched up at one end to allow the other to spread out the length of the tub and splash arms & legs.
every pre-bathtime was the same routine. the hot tap on, matey bubble bath in, then switch to the cold tap to even out the temperature. so, one day, i’m in the bathroom, the hot tap is running, my mum tells me to add the matey & leaves the room to get my siblings. i’m counting my soap collection. and all of a sudden, i just have this blind panic moment… i can’t even quite describe it. i’m counting the soaps, all the way into the thirties and i’m looking at these 30+ soaps and i get a sense of dread, despair, like i suddenly realise how infinitely useless my time is being spent collecting soaps, that the longer my life goes on, the more soaps i have to count, the longer it takes me to count, the more soaps my mother has to dust around, the more useless the top of the dresser becomes, the more useless and more precious this soap collection becomes. that suddenly it serves me no purpose except to waste my time thinking about them, locked in the indecision about whether i should use them or not or how they should be arranged or worrying that a guest might pick one up & use it, not knowing they were mine. so without another thought, i dump all the soaps in the bath firmly, one by one, in the pure hot water, thinking that it will melt them before my mum comes back, that i will be rid of the bind of counting these soaps every bath night.
all the soaps sink to the bottom, the surface of each soap softening until they’re almost unrecognisable, but they don’t disappear. the water gets less & less see-through, so i turn on the cold tap so i can stand to put my hands in the water, and I begin pounding & kneading each soap trying to get them to disappear. i just want them not to exist anymore. i just want them to go away. i don’t want to think about them anymore. i climb in and begin stomping up and down on them thinking that my body weight will crush them.
i remember my mum coming in and pulling me out, angry, confused, scooping out all the chunks of different coloured soaps kaleidoscoped between my toes and chucking them back in the bath, & pulling the plug out. after a while, we were left just watching in silence as the water level went down and little peaks of disfigured unrecognisable soaps peeked out from the surface of the water. i couldn’t and didn’t want to explain myself, i was adamant that i was trying to make soap soup. and she wasn’t really mad by that point, i think she was just anxious that she was going to have to deal with me when i regretted what i’d done & she left me to scoop out all the soapy remains into the bin. (i vividly recall the transfer of peter rabbit from the beatrix potter soap getting stuck to the back of my hand in some sort of poetic gesture from the universe.)
and i don’t really understand what made me think about this today. though i do, but i don’t know how to explain it. my occasional desire to get rid of things that absorb me. when i notice myself getting pulled into something - a computer game i’ve begun playing non-stop, a piece of writing i can’t stop editing, a tv programme where i’m always craving the next episode - i remove it in a way that i can’t get back. i delete all the save points on the game or delete the piece of writing or accidentally on purpose skip the next episode of the tv programme that i’m on the edge of my seat waiting for. and yesterday, i purposefully gave myself a terrible hair cut, because i was sick of thinking about whether i should book an appointment at the hairdressers. i always cut my own hair, but i had started to wonder whether i should get someone else to do something better, more stylish, more eye-catching. so, i just slowly haphazardly chopped at my hair instead. and i kind of knew at the time i wasn’t being serious & it was kind of fun not trying to do my best. and afterwards, it felt good knowing that the indecision had been taken away as i knew i’d never have the guts to go to a professional hairdresser with my butchered locks, so the decision had been made. and i don’t know why this time it has stuck in my head, how stupid this all is, how (for a better metaphor) its better for me to have control, to shoot myself in the foot when i’m ready and hobble around, than stay awake at night wondering when and if i’ll get shot by someone else. i don’t even know if that’s the full story, but it’s part of it, i guess. and i’m not upset, hair is hair & it’ll grow back. i just find it strange and interesting and weird how sometimes i notice myself in these tiny patterns that repeat throughout my life, and i don’t quite understand why i do these things yet.