The upstairs bathroom on Carlisle Avenue was at the top of the red carpeted stairs, middle of the hall. This kid’s bathroom came standard equipped with a bathtub, showering capabilities and a toilet on one wall and on the opposite wall a beige Formica counter ran the length of the bathroom. The muddy blue double sink holes, one for Timmy and one for me, broke up the long flat surface. And then there was the window, double hung, with a plastic marble coating to diffuse an outsider’s view – and an insider’s. The window usually remained open, just a crack, allowing a sliver of the outside to slide through the narrow opening. This was my condensed vision of life outside as I grew into life’s benchmarks inside. I experienced life’s growth in the bathroom.
A full disclosure was made when I was a pre-teen. Mom hauled the tape player out of the upstairs closet where it was cocooned for years. Showing, well, listening, was more effective than telling. She carefully laced the skinny brown tape from the plastic wheel though the track and picked up the end by a slot in another plastic wheel snapped into place on the opposite side. She pressed a small lever and the wheels started moving. A tiny voice sang and talked while apparently bathing in the tub. The words and lyrics were mostly incomprehensible. I was in my own world then, content and safe in the confines of a bathtub.
Perhaps at that age, or maybe a year or two older, I was able to sit on the counter in the middle of the two sinks while Ann, my older half-sister, would cut the bangs of my short pixie-haircut. I felt insecure while seated underneath the slippery Formica which added to my nervousness as she came at me with a pair of long scissors.
Commensurate with my growing years, I moved to the other side of the bathroom. I situated my little body just so in the middle of the counter so my head would hang over “my” sink, the one closest to the window so Mom could wash my hair with Johnson’s baby shampoo. The counter was hard and unforgiving, but not as much as the cold curve of the porcelain under my neck. I strained to keep my head from falling too far back, giving my neck an ache and a crick. I let the noise of the outside travel with the wind through the open window to distract my discomfort. After I was towel dried and combed out, I hopped on my green Schwinn and let the breeze take my honey colored waves with it, turning my head from side to side, to smell the cleanliness of shampoo tickle my nose, engaging in freedom with my 3-speed.
A pair of gold braided oval mirrors hung on the red, white and light blue flowered wall above our sinks and reflected our images that changed through the years. First images were of my wide mouth, pried open with tarnished silver braces as I struggled to paste tiny squares of white wax on the sharp points of the teeth straighteners. Growing to maturity, I propped a leg up on the sink curve when shaving my legs for the first time, lightly stroking the razor up my shin, creating a racing stripe of silken flesh in the thick white foam. The newly tender skin on my legs made me stand no longer as a girl but as a teenager.
But I wasn’t quite there, though. I wasn’t going to have the leg shaving requirement change what I was doing above the shoulders. I was still hanging on to some girlish practice. When I looked in the mirror to adjust my opposing gathered handfuls of hair, I struggled with uneven placement of pigtails to be as evenly situated at the sides of my head as possible. I hoped the mirror would fix the crookedness of them. I steadied my head, tilting it to correct the imperfection.
I relied on the privacy of my bathroom, my sink by the window and my own oval mirror to witness my first experience with facial artistry. Applications of make-up, the silent smoothing of blush on my already warmed pink cheeks and the delicate strokes of black mascara, transformed a cute girl to a pretty lady. But then I was back to the hair where maybe pigtails weren’t the thing to do anymore so I thought to enhance what I already had by spraying “Sunlight” in my wet hair to bring “natural” highlights to my honey-colored, already sun-bleached hair. I never let the spritz stay on long enough to see the effects because I was afraid my hair would turn orange.
I always wanted to stay plugged in to the outside where the world kept moving at a pace I tried to keep up with. I certainly didn’t want to miss anything as the outside provided benchmarks measureable to my own growth. The bathroom witnessed my identity take form through the beginning years of my life – a private place where it was just me, the mirror and the outside.