At the Y

By ANNITA SAWYER

May 1966
The lav itself was tiny; its air felt warm and full. The walls of pale green tiles seemed to bend under a heavy film of water exhaled from my hot bath. Wet hair stuck to my face, which dripped with sweat. My cheeks burned. My eyelashes spilled water droplets so large I couldn’t see. I was sunk up to my neck in hot, sudsy bath water, soaking in my elixir of independence. I was taking my first bath on the first evening of my first day in my new home – the Y. My first day on my own. Ever.

This might be the most delicious event in my life so far. 

I hadn’t had to ask anyone for permission to take this bath. I had only to see if a lav with a tub was available. I’d unbuttoned my skirt and my blouse and slipped into my bathrobe. I’d gathered my towel and my soap and some clean underwear from my room. I’d carried them into the bathroom and locked the door. I’d locked the door! No one could come in if I didn’t let them. No one knew I was there. I hadn’t had to tell anyone.

My flushed face had swelled like a balloon. The skin on my fingers had wrinkled and was turning white. Time to go. With a great whoosh, the water fell away from my body and rocked around the tub as I staggered to a stand. Unsteady in the slippery heat, I gripped tight the bathtub’s edge and stepped over its high side to reach the floor. I was set. Quickly drying myself off, I rushed out of the now-oppressive humidity and returned to my room.

If I had spread my arms wide, then doubled myself, I would have been able to reach from one side of my room to the other. A window over the radiator let me see all the way down to Eighth Avenue. There was enough space for a straight chair, a small bed, and a bureau, where I put the record player my Aunt Genny had given to me when she’d replaced hers a few years before. My parents had brought it and my records with them when they’d moved me from the psych hospital that morning.

Although my father had written the check, the lady at the Y had handed me the key, along with my room number and a book of rules. One elevator trip was all it took to transport my things. Four years of living in an institution had taught me that I didn’t need much stuff.

After my parents left, I’d eaten my first dinner in the dining room. With serving stations near the wall, out of the way, attractive food, and lots of tables, this arrangement far outclassed the hospital’s for comfort and congeniality. I’d selected breaded chicken cutlet with peas and mashed potatoes. I could have chosen meat loaf or green beans if I’d preferred. Nobody noticed me. I could have eaten whatever I wanted.

And now, fresh from my bath, I planned to listen to my records until it was time to take my medication and go to sleep. As I settled into bed, arias from the first act of La Boheme filled my room.  I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate my first day of freedom, I thought before I drifted off.

At the Y

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