Despite stepping optimistically into the shower, Karen was immediately disappointed. She’d been focussed on the decorating aspect of the missing shower curtain, and had entirely forgotten that it also served to keep water inside the shower area and, more importantly, off the bathroom floor. There would be no head-soaking, water-massaging shower such as she had anticipated. Relegated to hostel-style, one-handed bathing while holding the shower head and maneovering it with her other hand, Karen was in the midst of resigning herself into conformity when it occurred to her that the whole thing felt weird. She felt weird, the shower felt weird. The house felt strange, as did the light, the time of day, and even her body seemed just different enough to make it feel as though she may have become someone else. Karen sprayed water on her face and thought about this. What if all that she was doing, all the plans she had made and was continuing to make, the careful selection of house wares and wares for the soul, what if it was all not suitable for her? What if what she was doing was pretending to be someone else, taking someone’s name, hair color, accent, and then filling in the rest with what she thought this other person would want? If she pretended to be someone named, say, Bernadette, how would that be different from what she was trying to do now? Karen turned off the water and energetically shampooed her hair, scrubbing as if she were trying to shake her ideas to the surface.
Wasn’t a person just the way she was and that was it? Maybe what changed was nothing more than her circumstances. A person only seemed to change because of the way she reflected back her new circumstances. Maybe all the changes a person claimed as her own were merely adjustments made to fit those changed circumstances? Joe used to say that people didn’t change, they just became more intently themselves. If that was true, and Karen was trying to be less intently herself and more like someone she didn’t even know yet, wasn’t that just an elegant form of dress-up, a game of let’s pretend, like Hannah had played with her little friends in Karen’s old room, raiding her closet the way Karen and her friends had done with her own mother’s things?
Karen rinsed off the hair that, yes, she had dyed far enough off her natural color as to make her not quite herself. Was that too only another attempt to hide, just another pretence? That couldn’t be! she railed. I am not pretending! She was so incensed she said it out loud, under cover of running water: “I’m not pretending!” That felt good, so she took a breath, ran the water over her face and said it just a little bit louder: “I am not pretending!” And of course that horrid voice that always piped in when she overstepped her childhood boundaries of propriety and good breeding began its litany. ‘methinks the lady doth protest overmuch’ and –in an appalling change in register- ‘she who smelt it dealt it’ –which, since it sounded so completely inappropriate, she covered over with the classic “if the shoe fits, wear it”, only to end up, as she always did, with Joe intoning (although other times it was Joe laughing) “We don’t change. We just become more annoying versions of ourselves”.
Karen turned the water off again to soap up the body that was undeniably still hers, only more so. She chuckled to think that she hardly remembered what she used to look like when she was young and lithe. Good ole Tommy, her high school boyfriend, probably remembered what her breasts used to look like better than she did. Her body and whether or not it lived up to expectations was never a matter for much concern, other than while she was reciting the oh-so-repetitive prayer of adolescence ‘god I hope they grow, god I hope they grow’ and during the stultifying onset of her period. Otherwise, Karen was hard-pressed to understand cosmetic surgery –forget about scalpels- but maybe that just meant she was as normal looking as they come.
Karen ran the water one last time and all thought halted as she concentrated on rinsing her body off without flooding the bathroom in the process. Not by nature a multi-tasker, she leaned more toward the ‘walk first, then chew gum’ school of thought. She marvelled at people like Adele who seemed to effortlessly juggle all the pieces of her life, pulling off each endeavour with flair and no small amount of pleasure. It might be nice to be able to do all that, thought Karen, although it seemed to entail an insurmountably greater amount of energy than she was prepared to exert in order to do so. She much preferred being the appreciative beneficiary of the fruits of Adele’s ineradicable energy.
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