Soap


I was in second grade when I first learned about the subconscious mind. I had stopped taking baths at night and instead, right before leaving the house to walk to school, I would grab a bar of soap and rub it all over my face and in my hair. It remember it was Irish Spring soap because the bar was swamp-green and it instantly dried out my skin on contact. I'd arrive to class red-faced, bubbles behind my ears, my scalp drying and falling out onto the desk and floor. The beginning of my long struggle with dandruff.

Most kids were dirty, and I was too because I didn't take baths. But I also reeked of this awful soap. Kids would make fun of me, call me soap kid. Say I ate the soap or that I lived at the soap factory. Say I said cuss words like puss or shithead and had to have my mouth washed out. My mom finally noticed one morning when she saw me with my arms and legs crusted over with dirt and my hair covered in sudsy green slime. I looked like a newly hatched elf-prince of the woods. She asked if I was just rubbing soap in my hair instead of washing myself and I said yeah but I got places to be, mom. Time is money. I was always saying stuff I heard on sitcoms because I wasn't socialized properly.

My mom looked at me the way she always looked at me and said You know what I bet it is. And she told me a story about how when I was a baby I would scream in the bathtub and point at the drain and say that the Witch Hand was going to come. She said for months they couldn't get me in the tub, and once even stood me naked in the back yard and sprayed me down with the hose like a dog.

I didn't remember this at all. How can something effect you if you don't remember it? It smelled like a lie, a convenient tale to explain my current weird behavior. It was just like the lie that we were poor, that old stand-by mom would trot out whenever I asked for a toy. In any case I wasn't avoid baths because of the Witch Hand. I actually didn't know why I was avoiding them. There was a blank spot in my head and my mom filled it with a story that was the right shape but seemed all wrong.

What's a Witch Hand? Did I make it up? Did I dream it? Why did I stop being afraid of it the first time? Why couldn't I remember something so apparently traumatic? Why did the shadow of this repressed memory re-emerge as weird behavior later on? Was that what was happening? Or were the two spells of non-bathing entirely unrelated? Is there any reason behind anything?

In a move I would later repeat many times in therapy, I casually discarded this unearthed nugget of self-knowledge and chose instead to use spite as a motivator for change. I started bathing again. But only to prove to myself that mom's story was complete nonsense. If it were true I would still be afraid, but I wasn't. If it were true I would have remembered it, but I didn't. I make my truth. I bathed defiantly, to show that everything was decided by will alone, and that I was not a slave to the unseen spectres which lurk in the primordial soup of the Self.

I didn't say all of that exactly, but that's what was going on.

Here's a story about my drandruff from later on. In middle school this girl I liked sat across from me at lunch and I got nervous and started itching my head. I was trying to think of something to say. She was looking at my pizza and I looked down and it was covered in dandruff. It looked sort of like parmesan cheese, on the pizza. It was pretty gross so as a joke I said Hey do you want my pizza? And she said no and didn't laugh. She didn't get the joke.