The question used more as a joke, we know it well, “Why do women go to the bathroom in groups?”
I don’t recall that I am concerned with such a habit. I would go so far as to say, I don’t do this, actively seek out opportunities to go to the bathroom in groups. Not to critique, nor share makeup, and mostly because it seems inconvenient. If I go to the bathroom with my friends, then who stays behind at the table to watch our things?
The day before my bathroom remodel starts, I stared at the full length mirror on the closet door. I had rarely used this mirror, because its placement was in such an inconvenient spot. Should I ask the workers to save the mirror? I glanced over the rusted screws and remember that my dad couldn’t get the old kitchen hardware detached from cupboards. Even if saving the mirror wouldn’t be impossible, was it necessary? I had my great grandmother’s framed mirror placed upstairs on an angle that exposed most of me. So, no. I didn’t need it. I didn’t mark it.
“Where is the closet door?” Dad asked the next day.
“That was a good piece of plywood. Could have kept it.”
All of a sudden, I ached with guilt, for the mirror and the door that I knew had hung on its hinges since my great grandmother’s time. I failed to save the door. No, to save her place in this house.
“And the spinning toothbrush holder. You going to save that?” my aunt asked.
“I’ll put it in vinegar.”
“Okay. If you want.” I shrugged.
“It’ll be perfect in your grandfather’s old bathroom”
I sighed. I lashed out.
“Are we painting this?” Dad pointed to the paneling.
“Yes. It’s dirty. I mean why would you pick that texture?”
“Well, that’s something you can ask your mom when you see her in Heaven.”
“It was her idea. She thought it made it look country.”
Yes, country. That was what I was trying to do, create a country bathroom, but was I failing these women? Country is a style. It’s rustic or shabby chic, but what about the un-sanded, had to be ignored struggle that left cracks and peeled edges. What about farm women? The ones who had to take only what was given, who only got what they got, who struggled equally and then were forgotten or knew they were never going anywhere or came back to something that was supposed to feed them. By choice or by romance, those women were the women in my bathroom.
So what about the plywood door? Was it something my great grandmother wanted? Or, chose? That door was nothing but grief. On a humid summer day or after two showers in a row there was no tugging it open without threat of gashing the back of my hand on the bottom of the upper closet door. I decided my great grandmother would want it gone. I wasn’t preserving her by keeping that door. I was preserving what she endured. Things that were not quite right or kept around just to keep around without valuing them or finding their true place. I bet she didn’t want that door. It was her usually ignored in silence.
And the tarnished toothbrush holder? It was always impractical. Farm life, farm women, that supposed tool was a romanticized version. If anyone should keep romance alive, it wasn’t those who were living it. It had to be someone else who came alongside. Someone who could shine the memory up just a little and endure its shortcomings because she was only visiting them after all. She’d moved out, moved on.
And the paneling meant to look like something adopted? My mother moved into a house, a life in which she would never truly fit. She left that foundation without having the time to tell me anything about how it got there or the materials it’s made of. The entire house was like that. Her antique dresser bought for her new life and beloved table from her apartment carried over. More than that, all the individual pieces my father built for her at her request. They would find their place when I found their purpose. Still, the paneling was lovely with a fresh coat of paint.
“You know,” Dad looked around the finished bathroom. “My grandma wouldn’t have cared you got rid of that stuff. In fact, I think she would have cheered you on.”
I smiled. So many women, these women so many times, in my bathroom. I’ll never be alone.
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