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Again and Again and Again

by Talia Nicole 9 days ago in Short Story
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Sometimes we do things we know are wrong

Again and Again and Again
Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

My eyebrows knit together as I stare at my bare toes. The ceramic feel of the bathroom—the toilet seat—it’s so regular, beautifully mundane. You have a mechanical body response in bathrooms, you move through the motions, not many mistakes to be made. It’s a rather boring process actually, leaving dangerous room for rumination.

My eyes are still stinging from my creaky transition from his dark hallway to his bathroom. I let my eyes wander past my big toes to the ground by the wall where a little clump of dirt, mud really, sits. It lingers in a useless heap on the tiles, drawing my eyes like an unfortunate magnet. Later, I won’t remember the color of the shower curtain, the walls, or even the ground, in the crappy little bathroom, but I sure as hell will remember that menacing clump of earth. Grass poking out of it like little limbs. The first time I noticed it, I thought it was a bug and had a large shock of emotion that surprised even me. I then realized it was only leftovers from a girl’s muddy shoe at a fraternity party.

I stick my tongue out at the clump, and flush the toilet, standing. Perched on tiptoes for no reason, I turn on the faucet. Batting some cold water on my face, I avoid the disappointed look awaiting me in the mirror. Unable to avoid myself completely, I stare straight ahead, focusing on the white dirty mirror dots speckling my face. Using my fingertips to pull the skin on my face taut, I drag my cheeks to my temples, exasperated at how unsurprising and predictable I can be. I toss my hair up, tying it back, and then creep back to his bed. I find myself holding my insides firm, gluing my bellybutton to my spine, and clenching my hands into fists that dig nails into my palms—as if that would make my footfalls quieter.

As a kid, the CD of religious music they played while we waited our turn, the borderline hippie Jesus feel it emanated, was my favorite part of confession. I knelt, my maroon knee socks, plaid jumper, and black Mary Janes scratchy and restrictive, much like my k-12 catholic education. The pews had the least sexy smell, the remnants of incense sitting on your chest, its unsettling weight somewhere between calming and suffocating. It produced a warm, deliciously milky slowness to my thoughts and vision. I spent most of my time looking through the holy haze, staring at the blonde buzz cut on the back of my kick-ball-winning crush’s head.

They had these neon green paper printouts outlining the motions we were to run through with the priest in the confessional. Eight years old, my wide eyes stumbled over the ten commandments. The first time I had picked out my sins, I plucked them off the page with a sense of stoic responsibility. By third or fourth grade, I noticed how consistently and predictably I disobeyed. Without fail, I had taken the Lord’s name in vain, avoided keeping the Sabbath day holy, disrespected my parents, bore all kinds of false witness, and of course I coveted my neighbors’ goods. The little laundry list would fall quickly out of my thin lips in a stack, right through my crooked mouth. Every time, Father Bill would say, “Now it’s your parent’s job to get you to church, but for everything else you shall say penance.” I lived directly next to the church, I walked there and to school, a task I could do alone if I felt so motivated. I decided what Father didn’t know wouldn’t kill him. Bowing my head like the good little catholic girl I was, I murmured a few Hail Mary’s so I could go home and fight with my mom, lie, and resent my friends. I knew I would repeat my sins again before I could say “Amen” through the partition. Laughter bubbles in my chest thinking about what I could say to poor, parochial Father now.

I treat relationships with Toxic Male Presences (TMP plural) with a fine veil of stupidity that is almost unmatchable. Call me Echo, Éponine, or Rosaline, but imagine a person who hasn’t yet realized that a light only turns on in the refrigerator when you open the door. As far as I’m concerned, the light is there 24/7, shining loyally on the Chinese food leftovers, pickles, and stale carton of milk in my college student fridge. In reality, every scrappy little stubborn feeling I’ve had has been attached to a man who frankly, my dear, does not give a damn. As stupid as I behave, I am really quite aware, and I know the smile and soft mouthed kisses happen often when I’m not there. I choose to ignore it until other people start to notice.

The second to last time it became socially unacceptable to continue pursuing a TMP I sat outside, bare legs uncomfortably rubbing pavement. I stationed myself in the middle of the sidewalk outside my building. I had my phone sitting in front of me and played obviously depressing music like it was a ceremony of the utmost importance I perform before carrying myself along. I played the type of songs to which I listened to the words, concentrating, until finally a bitter tear could slip out. Then, more would follow until I was standing on the tip of a cliff, looking down at a pit of hysteria. That time before last, I listened intently with a sloppy face and smoked two cigarettes, long and seductively sleek looking under the inky navy sky. The smell was foul, and I was almost delighted as people walked around me. I smirked at the pain I could cause myself that would be so tangible and ugly that it forced people to look away. It was hard for me to cry at first, because I didn’t feel bad for myself, it was totally my move every time. I knew exactly how it would end. I huffed out a tendril of smoke.

Smoking is a disgusting habit, I recall being small and making a PowerPoint outlining the myriad of dangers for my grandmother who annihilates two packs daily. Yet from time to time, I now romanticize the act of hanging the dark mustard yellow, orangey bit on my lower lip, and moving away my two fingers whimsically as I inhale. I tap it twice to discard the used-up ash. I let my lips linger, slightly parted as I exhale. The smoke leaks from my mouth and nose and billows up before it fades, temporarily suspended, in the air. The whole practice is very enigmatic in sentiment, really. Temporary, though, like the splitting particles and fuzziness in my chest and teeth and head that makes my skin feel alive. I suppose it could kill you, I squish it under the toe of my sneaker.

I am, like most people, occasionally very attracted to dangerous activities. It’s not necessarily testing the limits if you know exactly how unfortunately something will play out. It’s stubborn, devious almost, behaving willingly like the teenage girl in horror films you grow frustrated with and in whose direction, you relinquish a shout. A shout that bounces off the screen as she opens the closet door to the unpleasant evil. Gratifying.

So was the case at a fraternity formal in another cramped bathroom, absolutely wreaking of rum, tequila, and saltwater. I was wearing a black dress, hair disheveled, with a date who was not present, but whose birthday it indeed was. I was with a different boy, tie long discarded, the first few buttons of a dress shirt undone. He was a messy sketch of person really. Whatever he was saying was definitely not very impressive, but I ached to press my lips on his in that fussy, marvelous way. I tilted my had back and his hot breath was welcome on my neck. In the end I walked out before anything too incriminating happened, goosebumps lingering on my forearms. I was called a few names for the whole situation, probably deservingly. I relish the terrible taste it left in my mouth still.

In the morning now, I look down at the dirt, right past my big toes, as I hover above his toilet. Why doesn’t he just sweep it up? He must notice it, it’s the only thing I notice even throughout my spells of drunkenness at early hours in the morning. I stare at it through hooded eyes, veering towards obsession. He is pretty clean and organized! His housemates leave clothes strewn about crumpled, miscellaneous socks over the side of the tub, and soap uncapped. Not him—I use his carefully maintained toothpaste, cap always on, end rolled up to push the paste to the front. I squeeze some onto a fingertip now and let it melt into my tongue. A ritual I complete every time I wake up there. Yet there the dirt sits, stubborn and persistent, he hasn’t had a party there in months.

The boy with the dirt in the bathroom—he was a spotty two years of my life. I went to one, single party his friends had thrown in the past six months. I don’t customarily go simply because we both know I know to find him there. I have behaved unkindly with him, and I try not to encourage his infatuation, rendering myself spineless unfailingly. When I saw him leaning against the wall that one time I went, we were very drawn to each other, and I couldn’t help but smile. It was one of those things that made you grin stupidly. He pressed his lips to mine, and I shook my thoughts loose. He was probably the only boy who actually ever cared, and I treated him, to put it plainly, like shit.

I really hate that joke in Home Alone where each person that pulls into Kevin’s driveway hits the little statue with their car. Why don’t Kevin’s parents just move it over, like, a foot? It could save a lot of trouble, and that’s deeply aggravating to me. I suppose it’s similar to the stubbornness that prevents me from actually learning how to spell restarant, wensday, recieve, or neccessary. Also, very similar to the universal inability to hang the toilet paper roll on the dispenser for at least two days. Or the way my roommate, who has a mild nut allergy, eats peanut butter almost daily anyway, and lives with a persistent scratch writhing at the back of her throat. Why obviate inconvenience?

There is this thing called cognitive dissonance, and when studying it through a political lens, it explains how people become wildly and irreversibly entrenched in radical political parties. My mother, for example, who puts news on strictly to manically laugh and jeer at republican politicians, could, hypothetically, read a conservative leaning article. However, she would get so fired up, even if the facts were true, that she would only build more mental arguments to defend the liberal side of things. Cognitive Dissonance simply fuels polarity, and defies utterly all forms of logic.

Sometimes, losing all jurisdiction of my convictions, I have a burning animal desire for destruction. Usually when several broken hearts, days, and months and what seems like years have separated me from one of the aforementioned Toxic Male Presences, one of them goes and calls me. I will, without a doubt, pick up. It’s a side effect of inurement, really.

Maybe I should just sweep it up for him? I stand over the dirt, before walking out of this bathroom, and his front door. I always have that itching thought, how glorifying it would be to pick it up with my bare fingers and flush it. I can never bring myself to do it, though. I have become reverent of the dirt.

I think an unhealthy amount about the reason why the boy with the dirt lets the dirt thrive on his otherwise clean bathroom tiles. The reason why, again and again, I will show up there, morally unjustified, staring at the remnants of pitiful petrichor on his floor. I believe he knows he should simply rid himself of the clump of mud, however his flaw is his inability to wipe away things that make his life a little extra painful and dirty.

Short Story

About the author

Talia Nicole

Freelance writer and JD candidate in early twenties.

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