I awoke in someone else’s bathtub. After dozing off in a mountain of jasmine infused soap bubbles mixed with coconut oil, I startled awake with the most acute case of disorientation reserved only for the truly lost. My short term memory had been switched off. I could just touch the hazy border of what had happened. I took my Sunday bath. I indulged a bit too much in chardonnay and marijuana. Then, a ragged edge gave way to nothing. It felt like someone had ripped out pages from the middle of my script. It was amnesia with my mind inferring grim possibilities from the paranoia of a serial blackout.
The immediate and instinctive questions would not be satisfied with the answer that I had once again gotten fucked up and passed out in the bathtub. I was well-acquainted with these gaps. Usually, my wife jarred me awake with concern on her face and chastised me about drowning as if I did not barely fit in the tiny inset tub. To even submerge my chest below the gray water, I had to brace my feet on either side of the spigot. Even then, I was safe above the water line with my chest bent at an awkward angle. Her shaking me awake and escorting me to bed was almost part of the ritual.
I had even turned these episodes into a well-practiced meditative exercise that turned them into an earnest appraisal of my life. After a bath, I’d lie awake in bed and ponder what the hell I was doing with my life. What decisions had I made to turn getting clean into something so dirty. Yet, something was different. Something instinctual and reptilian screamed out and confused the jumble with pointed terror. The uncomfortable dysphoria told me I was somewhere I did not belong.
I steeped in the tepid water and swirled the remnants of the flat, lifeless bath. This looked like my bathroom, but I knew it was not. My mirror did not have the chip above the frame. The whorls in the high gloss paint reflected the led bulbs ringing the vanity had too much blue in them. There was an unknown hair trapped in the screw cap bolting the toilet to the tile floor.
As I looked around in suspicion, I noticed the faces in the bathroom tile. Detailed, rough hewn faces rendered three dimensional by skilled, judicious and hands. They were not very nice illustrations. They each depicted a different aspect of being judged and having been found wanting. Those faces resembled the sinister and sneering visages fused into my long-term memory. Each one took on the life of someone I had known. My parents glared at me from different stages and in different ways. A few disproving teachers and girlfriends rounded out the tableau of disapproval.
I shared in the collective experience of those who studied the gestalt of the clouds and discerned a displeased deity. I saw a jury of scorn in mold and soap scum, in something that should not be on the tile. I should know. I am fastidious to an annoying degree and I would never let those faces grow. Just like that hair curling up like a viper around the toilet, there was plenty of evidence that this was not my bathroom with its biweekly cleanings and grout free of specks of black mold.
If this was my house, there would have been an emergency bottle of bleach cleaner under the sink cabinet that I pried open with a dripping, pruney toe. Instead, I found only toilet paper with an unrecognized blue and white wrapper.
So that’s how I knew I was some place else. I picked at the fuzzy pieces of my memory and tried to reconstruct the events leading up to the bath. It was Sunday. An empty bottle of chardonnay and a wine glass sat on the toilet next to an ashtray full of three spent spliffs. Apparently, I had gotten so high during my bath that I had slipped into an alternate dimension like Philip K Dick watching television. I had stumbled upon a cipher by accident by tuning into that bleak side of science fiction where the drugs take you.
Picking up a roach, I pondered the extinct cherry crusted with hardened resin and ash. You can’t begin to really appreciate good gritty jamais vu until something makes you question your sanity by stripping your known world of any context. Drugs, accidents, spontaneous brain aneurysms, accidental teleportation, abduction - you must get displaced by some abstract force turned luridly magical and sinister by its outline sketched in the unknown. You had to invent a new myth to inspire a sudden desire to change while telling us what that metamorphism will cost us in the tragedy at hand.
Then, you had to ponder what drugs you had to take to offset those costs. What new shamanistic journeys did I need to justify my existence and come to terms with my new perspective? What series of abuses and mistreatment could I find in the new shadows? In those cracks, I had to find a way out of this place. If I could get here, to this unknown bathtub, in a life that looked a lot like mine. If I could fall through the fringes, it only follows that someone can have led me here. If someone could lead me, they could have taken me. They could have brought me here unconsciously. I could have found myself smuggled across dimensional boundaries by whoever was pulling the ol’ switcheroo.
I found myself a stranger in a strange Kohler. That’s where I was. So, I snuck out before whatever malevolent forces returned to finish the transformation. I lifted myself out of the bath as quietly as I could, but the displaced water sloshed to fill the void regardless of how slowly I moved.
Everything outside the bath was exactly the same but like it had all been replaced with decent facsimiles. Everything had a sense of being approximate substitution. There were medicines in the closet that no one bothered to close in either dimension. I noticed a toothbrush of a different color but when did I actively pay attention to the color of my dental tools. I tried to imagine the size and shape.
Dripping and creeping out into the hall, I saw the people in the pictures looked like inaccurate police sketches. In the dim glow of the night light, I could just make out their features. When I tried to vet the man in the photo, the person who was supposed to be me in this timeline, I felt the details slip away like I suffered from face blindness - a prosopagnosia that left me reeling.
Having to look elsewhere, I glared at the potted plant at the top of the stairs. It was clearly an imposter. I did not have the courage to examine the faintly snoring lump balled up in the blankets. It looked like the outline of my partner, but I could already tell the pitch was just a little too sharp. I walked down the hall filled with unfamiliar familiars.
Then, I saw the cat. Rather she saw me like she was Minos at the gates of hell. She judged me worse than the bathroom faces.Parents, teachers, cats have all been disappointed with something we did and this one embodies that disappointment so much that she hated me. She had the look of a mountain lion with all the capability bred out of it. She was a cute joke of unconstrained inbreeding that loathed me.
With impotent resentment in her gold eyes, she hissed when I walked out of the front door naked. I was certainly not about to put on another man’s clothes. Come on, our washing machines aren’t autoclave sterilizers. Aside from the germs trapped between the threads, how could I begin to adopt the literal vestments of another man’s life. I lingered by the hall closet and thumbed the fabric of an overcoat, I would never stew in another man’s juices for a second. I’d sooner take my chances naked in the dark.
But where did I go out of the strange house in a cookie cutter neighborhood that looked like mine but with a canopy of alien stars overhead? I did not know. I walked out into the night. Somewhere on the other side of that foreign starlight, somewhere in the shadowy crooks of this doppelgänger world, I could find way back to my own bathtub in my own reality and in my own life. I felt like if I remained naked and vulnerable, stripped bare and soaking in the whatever malignant forces had brought me here, I would return to a world where everything was clean and genuine.