Seven o’clock on a Thursday night. Early. A seemingly random time to take a shower, but I had drawn out dinner as long as I could with endless cups of coffee, and I wasn’t ready for the evening – meaning either gathering folks to head to the bar, or possibly studying something. It was mid-winter, and the icy gray relentlessness had dug its claws deep into me. I took showers at all kinds of haphazard times, when I needed to feel the profound warmth that only full immersion can bring. Growing up, I relied on baths. But there were no such things as bathtubs at college. Nor were there children. Nor dogs. There were all kinds of things that you never saw; they simply disappeared from one’s landscape for years.
I had worked up a bountiful cloud of steam. The shower’s intense heat within the cold of the marble bathroom cause the column of steam to shoot toward the ceiling in a swirling frenzy. I closed my eyes and luxuriated in the feeling of my fingertips massaging the shampoo all through my scalp while the water fell on my abdomen and cascaded down my legs. With my eyes still closed, I turned around, threw my head back and rinsed the shampoo from my hair, feeling the rivers of suds tumble down my back and pool around my feet.
When my hair was fully rinsed, I opened my eyes. A pair of dark brown eyes stared straight at me, framed by the fingertips of two hands. The top of his head, encased in a ratty dark blue stocking cap, poked up from the back wall of the shower stall. The eyes. All I could see were the eyes. I couldn’t figure out what in the world he was standing on, that he would be able to look over the top of the shower wall. I couldn’t figure out what the hell he was doing, meaning, what, exactly, was his plan?
The silence was deadly.
I whipped around to face the other direction. Part of his body was raised over the opposite shower wall. He seemed to be hoisting himself. He seemed to be trying to crawl over the top of the shower wall to get inside the stall with me. It didn’t seem like a good idea to scream. I knew there was no one else around. I figured he was probably carrying – if not a gun, then certainly a knife. From what I could see, he seemed huge. Six feet three, maybe six-four. It just didn’t seem like a good idea to scream.
In the few seconds I took to weigh my options, I saw him out of the corner of my eye. That eye again. One eye this time. Looking at me. Looking through the slight space between the shower door and the door frame. The bulk of his body was directly behind the shower door. I put the full force of my weight into it and pushed the shower door right into his face. Right into his fucking face. Fast thinker, he turned out to be. He shoved the door back toward me, and he ran like hell out of the bathroom and down the five flights of stairs and out the freshman quadrangle gate and into the night.
I stood in the bathroom, with the shower still running, shivering head to toe. My teeth chattered. My body, bright pink from the scorching water, felt like it had no blood in it at all, as if the terror had leached it right out of my skin. At some point I turned off the water but felt swallowed by the silence, terrified by the absence of the sound. I turned the shower back on, focused hard on the sound of the stream so I could hold it inside of me, then turned the handle off again.
I wrapped myself in my towel and looked at my reflection in the mirror above the perfectly polished sinks. I needed to see myself. I needed to make sure that I was still there, still me. Though I had seen the man with the huge, bloodshot brown eyes bolting down the stairs after he tore out of the bathroom, I couldn’t trust what I had seen. I stayed in the bathroom for a long time, then tentatively, slowly, cracked the bathroom door open a bare sliver and looked around for any sign that he may still be close.
Nothing. The polished marble of the common area on the fourth-floor landing, the old staircase, four closed doors. Wait, not all of the doors were closed. The door to my dorm room was ajar.