When you walk into my parents’ bathroom, in all honesty, there’s not much to look at. It’s simple and plain, from the completely white walls to the beige carpet and the birch cabinets. It looks like any other bathroom—a sink, a toilet, a walk-in shower. Like I said, nothing special. It’s even smaller than my bathroom.
We moved into my house when I was fairly young, only three or four at the time, and it was a major change for my entire family. My sister and I were just glad that we didn’t have to share a room anymore. My dad saw it as actual evidence that the almost twelve hour workdays were finally paying off. And to my mother, it was a place that she could finally make her own.She remodeled and decorated every inch of our house, from the flowers painted on my sister’s closet doors to the entire wall that was knocked down to connect the living and the dining room together.
One of the last rooms that she changed was the bathroom that connected to my parents’ bedroom. I remember her spending hours picking out every little detail, from the fact that the walls were painted maroon and sponged with gold to the perfect towel racks and ornate mirror. Almost everything in that bathroom was replaced or changed, and that small eight by four foot room seemed to be the epitome of her capability as a designer.However, it seemed as if my mother had only just finished fixing up the bathroom when she herself began to fall apart.Toothpaste, hair brushes and makeup that normally would’ve lined the bathroom counter began to disappear, quickly replaced by the see-through, orange plastic of prescription bottles filled with chemotherapy pills that came with a long list of complications. As a person going through everyday life, I hear the words ‘side-effects’ all the time.
I hear ‘fatigue’, ‘nausea’, ‘hair loss’. They don’t mean anything to me. Not until fatigue is my mother fainting in the shower because she exhausted herself. Not until nausea is the sound of retching coming through the closed door of my parents’ bathroom. Not until hair loss is the buzz cut that my dad has to give her because she can no longer stand seeing the chunks of hair that fall into the bathroom sink. These words don’t mean anything until they are applied to someone I love, until they are combined with the words skin cancer,melanoma, and eventually terminal illness.
Terminal illness, basically the equivalent of a human expiration date. It’s another one of those words that doesn’t mean anything, not until it flips your world upside down. When my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness, diagnosed to die, the doctors gave her around three months.She barely made it two weeks.My mother didn’t die in my parents’ bathroom, or even in my house. She died in a hospital in Chicago, and my father was with her to the bitter end while my sister and I were confined to the cramped spaces of the hospital waiting room.
Worse, though, we were quarantined to an intangible prison of our own nightmares and hopes as the seconds became minutes became hours of nothing but dread as we wondered if we would ever see our mother again. When my father finally came to my sister and I, the answer of “no” to our unasked question didn’t need to be spoken when he all but collapsed into a chair, unable to utter a single word as sobs racked his body.I never saw the last moments of my mother’s life, or heard the last words that she said. But I doubt that any of her thoughts were about the bathroom in our house, the one where she soon died her second death. When my father, now a single parent and a widow, decided that he could no longer deal with the memories and spent an entire weekend remodeling what was no longer their bathroom but now only his.But it doesn’t matter how many countertops my father replaces or how many mirrors he shatters against the concrete of the driveway.
The past is not a tangible thing, and it can not be broken nor destroyed. It can’t be covered up no matter how many coats of white paint he puts on a wall until the gold and maroon can no longer be seen. It is not something that can be ripped out like the nails pounded into the drywall to hold shelves.My parents’ bathroom taught me this: it’s taught me that ghosts exist, but rather it isn’t the spirits of the deceased that haunt us, but the memories that we have of them. And that there is no possible way to escape from this past, regardless of how much I try and forget that it ever happened.Even now, as I walk into my parents’ bathroom and see my dad’s girlfriend’s various hair products and makeup scattered across the countertop, I realize that maybe I can’t escape from the past, but I can move on from it.This I believe.