The boy waited for her to leave. He knew that she meant well. He knew that she wasn’t going to hurt him in any way. But he waited for her to leave the bathroom before he removed his clothes.
He averted his gaze as he undressed. He didn’t look at the bruises on his arms or at his reflection in the mirror. Fortunately, that avoidance behavior was a familiar habit with him. Mirrors were not kind to him. They were blunt and cruel. He couldn’t pretend away what they impassively revealed.
But if he didn’t look at it, if he didn’t see the dark purples and yellowing-greens on his skin, he wouldn’t be reminded of where they came from. He wouldn’t remember the fear. He wouldn’t remember the panic, the certainty that he was going to die this time.
But this woman…This woman who’d just let him into her bathroom…She had promised him that she would never hurt him like that. No matter what he said or did, she would never add to his collection of bruises and scars. It was a frightening promise for her to make. Because he knew there was always the chance that she would break it.
Others had broken it.
He wanted to trust her, wanted to believe her. But that was a frightening thing for him too. Trust and belief were shadowy things that were hard for him to hold onto. He always wound up letting them go, because of too much hurt. Too much betrayal.
Too little to trust or believe in.
But this woman was different. Or so she seemed. She seemed to care about him. To really care about him. He did wonder about her agreeing to leave him unsupervised in a bathroom. If he wanted to hurt himself, he could easily do so. If he wanted to drown himself, would she be able to save him in time?
But he had been the one to insist on being alone. She had honored his wishes and she had left him alone.
As he approached the bathtub, he wondered what he would have done if she had insisted on staying with him. Would he have been able to undress in front of her? How would her insistence make him feel? Safe? Or trapped? Exposed?
One of the scariest words ever created. It was all of the scariest feelings constricted and choked into a single ten-letter word. It was huddling in the corner with nowhere left to run and no defense. It was the inability to fight. It was the maddening desire to run away and not know where to run to. It was not knowing who to trust.
He was glad she had left him alone.
The boy turned on the faucet and fidgeted with it until the temperature was just right. He stood by the tub and waited for it to fill.
He glanced back at the door, just to make sure that it was safe.
The door was closed. No one was yelling on the other side. No one was bashing at the door. No one was fiercely twisting the door knob.
He shut off the water and stepped into the tub.
He sat in the water. Closed his eyes. Leaned his head back. Breathed.
Tears fell down his face as he realized that he could finally breathe deep, relaxed breaths. When was the last time he truly felt free and safe enough to do so? He didn’t know. He couldn’t remember.
His tears fell into the warm water.
The warm water soothed his aching bones.