This morning I had a breakthrough. I stood in my bathroom, staring down at the dirty, despicable bath water that remained the shower I took YESTERDAY MORNING. A full bottle of Drano has done nothing but create a cloudy yellow mess around where the drain used to be. Nothing but make me curse, especially since the stupid bottle had cost me $5 of my precious food money. That’s five boxes of pasta, I thought, scowling down at the drain. Five boxes of pasta is 20 dinners. I WANT MY 20 DINNERS BACK.
Such is the thought process of an unemployed person. Along with whimpering whenever someone mentions Christmas presents you cannot afford to buy and dreading going home for the holidays in the rental car your parents have to pay for, because it all means walking the streets of your hometown with a stench of failure trailing behind you.
I stood there over the tub, my hair greasy and unwashed, wondering if I should just take the shower I desperately needed in a pool of filth and one dead waterbug or finally swallow my pride and call my landlord, who hates me because I once accused him of breaking into my apartment and turning on one of my gas burners while I was away for the weekend. It was probably the gas fumes in my apartment or maybe the scorched tea pot on the stove or the lingering panic that I could’ve burned the whole building down that had me marching to the phone and barking accusations at a 70 year old man who told me I was insane but whatever it was, it meant I was on my own in the fix-it department and paying for a plumber was clearly not an option when my current economic situation means comparing the prices of two cans of beans.
Ultimately I decided to do neither. Instead, I went into the closet and grabbed a dreaded wire hanger, the ghost of Joan Crawford trailing behind me, rolling her eyes. I straightened it out as best I could and jabbed it into the drain, sinking my hands into the mixture of chemicals and water and dirt I’d desperately created an hour earlier. This did nothing, not the first time and not the fifth time I yanked the wire out. Finally I threw it on the floor, abandoning the hope that I’d pull out the hanger and a wild beast of hair would emerge from the drain, like the time my Russian handy man in LA had done it. He’d held it over his head like a trophy, booming, “I find problem- is a RAT.” Which it wasn’t, just a dreadlock courtesy of my roommate’s insane mop of shedding hair. Still, he enjoyed the look of horror on my face far too much.
I rocked back on my heels, wondering if it was time to give up and call the landlord. Or move. Or take a dishrag and clean myself in the sink like a baby. Instead, I went to the computer and said a little prayer to Google. Please tell me how to fix this, Google. Please, please, please. Two clicks, an article and a video on Wiki How To later, I went back into the bathroom and grabbed the plunger. The tub and I eyed each other like dueling cowboys. The stink of muddy water mocked me.
The video on Wiki How To makes it seem far too easy- first of all, it’s a kitchen sink drain that’s the problem in the video, not a shower of death and mildew. A couple of pumps with the plunger, a small mixture of baking soda and vinegar and voila! A clean drain AND female empowerment, which was the squeaky girl in the video’s take on the situation. I don’t really know what my uterus has to do with my inability to take a shower in a clean tub but she’s on the Internet so I guess I have to take her at her word.
It took about nineteen pumps with the plunger. And a lot more baking soda and vinegar than suggested. I do not care about any of this. I don’t care about almost passing out from the reek of vinegar, or the film on my hands, the pruniness of my fingers or the dirt I’d tracked in that was all around the tub. All I care about is the feeling in my stomach when I yanked the plunger away one last time and the water sucked down the drain with a slurp.
It took all of my doubt along with it. Just like that, all with a stupid drain, whoosh! went those feelings that I am powerless in my own life, a lifeless body knocked around by a strong wind in an empty room. Those little voices in my head, the nagging weight on my shoulders, they sucked down that dark hole and I stepped back, amazed at the rush that remained in its wake. In that empty room I had somehow found a way to push back against the wind and plant my feet on the floor.
If you’re someone whose life is on solid ground right now, you probably think I’m being overly dramatic but let me tell you something- the scariest thing about the times we live in now- being laid off and hearing about your friends being laid off, watching factories and banks and stores close around us, wincing at the sound of the stock market jumping up and down on a trampoline- the most frightening thing is the thought in the dark, the one that suddenly seizes you out of nowhere that there is nothing you can do about this, nothing you can do about anything at all, that this is how life will be and you are powerless to stop it, any of it. I can’t do anything.
So when you do something, even if it’s something small and stupid but something that proves “This is not true” you have to celebrate it. You have to hold on to it. You grip it with both hands and hold on tight with everything you have. Even if what you’re holding on to is, really, just a plunger.