It was always cold in the house I grew up in. I didn’t realize it for years. I wore heavy hooded sweatshirts and socks, always socks, up until it warmed up in May. The water used take forever to get warm, and I’d do anything to avoid washing my hands with a plank of bar soap under the cold water.
The house was too big to heat well. A two-story wall of windows faced out into the backyard, and the winter seemed to creep in through the glass. The family room’s old, scratched leather couch felt like ice. The fireplace was rarely lit, except for special occasions or when my father came home early from work. The draft came down the chimney next to the couch, so I would curl up on one end with a too-small knit blanket and watch hours of tv until my mom sent me upstairs my for bath.
I remember watching an old Bugs Bunny short when he gets into a cauldron of hot water and dips one toe slowly in, and then gently eases the rest of himself into the boiling pot. I sat on the toilet waiting for the water to get so hot I’d burn my toes. Then I’d fold myself into the bath like Bugs Bunny and let the water creep up to my chin. After half an hour, my mom would climb up the stairs and pound on the door, saying I’d run the well dry. I didn’t care. I didn’t really understand what a well was, and even if I did I would have stayed there, my ankles turning pink under the faucet, the room steaming up so the wall paper curled at the edges. Then I dropped a bar of soap in and let the bath turn translucent. I dipped my head under and the water whooshed into my ears, drowning all the sounds but the churn of water flooding in and out of the tub.
After, I wrapped myself in three towels. Always three — one wrapped around my body and tucked under my arms, one spread over my shoulders, and the third swept up so my hair didn’t drip. And then the door would open, and the cold air rushed into the bathroom, and the steam poured out. I’d stay warm for just a few more moments longer until the cold house enveloped me again.