Most stories are about some big moment or event in life. The things of consequence that bring us to our knees. We memorialize them in black and white letters to never forget their importance. Today I want to write about something very small. Today I ran out of soap.
It’s been a big week. A new president is on a rampage and it’s surprising to me that with so much chaos in the world I find myself caught up in this very small thing. Something I knew was going to happen. The soap I use to wash my face is gone. Not like, I-need-to-buy-some-more-gone, but, truly-forever-company-discontinued-the-product-gone.
It’s the same brand of soap I’ve used since I was twenty-one. I remember picking it out, standing with my mom at the cosmetic counter while a lady in a clean white lab coat talked about skin types and complementary products. I knew it was important that I pick my own soap. Stewart and I talked a lot about it. I told him my skin had never been so bad and he asked about my morning routine. He wanted to know if there were steps I used to take to keep my skin clean and healthy.
I felt like there must have been, but I couldn’t remember and I quickly grew tired of trying to think what that routine might have been. I had fog in my brain and it made thinking about things hard. I skipped school a lot. Sometimes, I’d get caught up by the smallest things, drawn in by the shadows on a sidewalk. I would sit and watch the shapes left by the light as they changed with the passage of the sun through the sky. Stripes of shade — such a small thing.
No one else even noticed. They would walk right past, feet trampling over the markings that I was tangled up in. Sometimes I would get stuck like that and it would seem to me like the sun had just raced past. The shadow would stretch and twist and disappear all in an instant and I would wonder what had happened to my day.
That skewed perception of time, that blurred focus, is what brought me to Stewart in the first place. I showed up to see him even though I wasn’t sure what I could possibly have to talk about.
I told him, “I guess I’m having trouble concentrating.”
I didn’t tell him that first day about how much I was sleeping. When he asked if I ever had thoughts of harming myself I said no, and it was true. I didn’t want to be harmed, I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to close my eyes and stay that way. I wanted to know I never again had to get up and deal with life.
“I’m not sure why I’m here,” I said during that first visit. Then I cried for a long time and somehow at the end of that hour I had a plan for ‘self-care’. A first step. I would find a routine to take care of my skin.
I picked this particular soap because it seemed simple and direct. No micro beads, no sonic scrubbers or pore cleansing foaming action. It was a bar; pale cream. It smelled clean not perfumed. Twice a day I was to lather it on my face, rinse, and pat dry. I could do that. That was simple.
I used it every morning and every night. Lather, rinse, pat dry. Some days washing my face was the only thing I accomplished in a whole twenty-four-hour stretch.
I washed my face and I met with Stewart. He asked me to attend a grief counseling group. I told him girls didn’t go to grief counseling because of childhood trauma or an abortion they couldn’t get past. I told him it undermined the real grief that people in mourning were feeling. He told me I seemed to be grieving a whole lot of things; things I chose; things were done to me; things I refused to believe were still affecting me after so long.
He said he had never seen anyone so obviously in mourning.
My skin improved. Twice a day; lather, rinse, pat dry. I didn’t miss so many classes anymore. I started swimming again. I started sleeping normal hours and waking up rested.
Sometimes Stewart made me laugh but mostly he made me mad. He let me be mad. He didn’t try to talk me out of my anger or remind me that others were more deserving of it.
He used big, dramatic phrases like, ‘robbed of your childhood,’ ‘hurt by the person who should have loved you most,’ ‘let down by the world that should have protected you.’ It felt good to have someone tell me I could be mad about my life, but I knew I wasn’t the only person with cause for anger. I knew others had much better reasons.
“That’s you just denying yourself again,” he said. “Your reasons have nothing to do with theirs.”
When he told me we were done working together, I was confused.
“I’m not ready,” I said. “I’m still so angry.”
“Your depression was rage turned inwards,” he said. “I’m not afraid of your anger. You’re taking care of yourself now.”
And so I kept at it. Twice daily; lather, rinse, pat dry. When my world sailed smoothly, and when it crumbled to bits and pieces. When I celebrated and fell in love, and when I spent days caught up in shadows. Lather, rinse, pat dry.
For ten years I kept buying that same soap. Sometimes my skin was perfection and other times it seemed blemished and scarred. Sometimes I was angry, but mostly I grew strong. Every time I peeled the wrapper off a new bar of soap I thought about that first bar, I thought about that angry girl with bad skin and I felt pride at how far I had come.
I found out the soap had been discontinued months ago and I told myself it didn’t matter. I want it not to matter. But, as that last sudsy sliver slipped down the drain, I started to cry. I know I’ll find another soap, I know it won’t mean my face will break out in adolescent pimples. I know a shadow is just a shadow and not the mark of a far-distant celestial body that holds our whole existence in its power. I know it’s just a small thing, but sometimes the small things can feel very big.