February 24, 2020:
I grew up in an apartment without towels. We had towels, but they were cheap, and small, and we kept them long after they were full of holes.
I don't know why this was. We were not rich by any stretch but we could afford towels. I assume that in her inwardness my parental unit simply did not find them worth thinking about.
In high school I was once amazed by the towels at someone's pool party. They were enormous, and thick, and comfortable, and they got you dry, and they were built to last. In reality they were ordinary bath sheets, but I'd never seen a bath sheet, and I was drop-dead impressed.
I went out of my way to mention this to my mother. I suppose it was an odd conversation: enthusing excitedly about bath sheets. But, I did, and, I told her that for my upcoming birthday I wanted one.
She seemed to love the idea. I was so happy! Usually we communicated so poorly. She was trapped in her self-isolation, it was difficult for her to hear what I said to her. I understand better now how that happened but as a teen I only knew it was true: I had to struggle for her to hear me. So that I was thrilled not only by the promise of a happening bath sheet but also by the seeming success of our conversation.
She asked me, "What color do you want?" I told her I didn't care. She pressed again and again: "Tell me three colors you want." In the end I randomly chose blue, green, and purple. But I didn't care about color. I just wanted a big, thick, quality bath sheet that wouldn't fall apart, and I was dead chuffed she'd agreed to get me one.
Of course, that's not what happened. I'm sure you saw this coming. But I didn't. On my birthday when I unwrapped the box it contained three of the identical cheap, flimsy, falls-apart-in-six-months shitty Sears tiny-towels we'd always had. One blue, one green, one purple.
I was so amazingly hurt. Devastated. That was the exact moment I realized unequivocally that my mother and I would never be close. That for the rest of our lives no matter how hard I struggled to communicate she was not going to hear, would never know the person I'd become. Which is what happened. To the end of her life, in her eyes I was five years old. The little boy whose picture she wore on a locket around her neck.
Two decades later, on a special occasion, treating myself to presents, I at last bought bath sheets for my home. Two towel sets for my use with a spare for guests. Swankass: excellent quality, very thick, very big. As you may imagine, they had an emotional significance to me beyond their high rate of absorption.
These towels turn out to be central to a heartbreak of a different kind.
With my considerable help, my alcoholic-but-eight-months-sober ex-fiancée is getting married. Her husband-to-be is arriving for his first visit. We go on a mad spree of cleaning and cooking and straightening and doing everything we can to make the house welcoming.
I walk into the bathroom to find her using the guest towels to remove mold from the ceiling. She's wrapped the bath sheet around the end of a sponge mop, soaked it in bleach, and is scrubbing away. She's destroyed the entire guest set with bleach and abuse.
I'm very, very hurt.
Not for the first time. It's who she is. She's previously destroyed the down guest pillows by sitting on them in tall weeds without pillowslips. These objects have no emotional significance for her, and, although she recognizes their significance for me, she doesn't care. I'm an ATM and a chauffeur and apart from that I'm invisible, me and my guest towels laden with life's burdens of failure and emotion.
I have since frequently wondered if this disregard is characteristic of addiction per se — perhaps one outcome of the distorted neurochemistry engendered by substance abuse. Or if to the contrary people who are taught entitlement in childhood are more susceptible than others to addiction. Whatever the explanation, she isn't the only addict I've known who shares this flippantly entitled property-sense. My next relationship, equally disastrous, is with a former addict who mirrors this behavior down to detail. They're Part One and Part Two of the same broken experience.