It was late afternoon and a soft light strayed in through the window...the boy was taking a bath.
Being a typical six year old, the boy usually didn't want to take a bath, but once he was in the warm water with his bath toys he always had fun. No matter how cold the air felt, the warmth of the water was comforting. When the temperature of the water started to drop, it was time to get out. His mother would come in, take a large beach towel and hold it up for the boy to climb into as he exited the tub. Shivering, he would hold the towel around his shoulders and squat on the floor as he dried off. Some warm jammies, the kind with feet and a zipper, would offer comfort and security--it was almost time for dinner, a story, and then bedtime.
This was the routine he had become accustomed to. Tonight was different, though. The boy didn't know it but his reality was about to change in a radical way...
As he sat playing with his toys in the tub, he heard the doorbell ring. The bathroom door was half ajar and he could hear several voices as his mother and sister greeted their visitors at the door. The visitors were welcomed...four men...they had brought grass and wine. The boy could hear them talking as they moved into the kitchen. The women were happy to receive the visitors...the boy's father had moved away three years earlier after an unpleasant break-up with his mother. He had never wanted to be a father in the first place.
The boy's sister was only sixteen but she enjoyed the freedom that teenagers often did in California during the late sixties and early seventies. She and her little brother had different fathers; her own father had left their mother a few years before the boy was born. She hated her little brother and hated his father too. She resented that she didn't get as much attention from her mother as she had before her brother was born. She didn't know where her own father was and suffered from a deep pain which she didn't understand. For her, every day was a war for love...a battle for the affection of her remaining parent. she would have been happy if her brother had never been born. She sometimes fantasized about leaving him somewhere...secretly hoped that he would drown in the bathtub or fall out of the tangerine tree in the backyard and crack his skull. She was excited to have the visitors--she liked the attention she got from the older men.
It was winter in Southern California and, although it never froze, temperatures could be uncomfortably cool in the evening. The temperature of the water in the tub was beginning to drop. Through the open bathroom door the boy could hear the party in the kitchen warming up. The elders were laughing and talking as they drank the wine and smoked the grass the visitors had brought. The mother was having fun and enjoying her visitors; she had completely forgotten about the small child in the bathtub. The boy waited as the temperature of the water continued to drop, but his mother wasn't coming for him. He called out to her.
"Mama, I am ready to get out now."
Then waited patiently for what seemed to him like several minutes although it was probably only about 30 seconds. His mother did not appear.
Out in the kitchen the grown-ups were starting to have fun. The wine and grass were taking effect and the men were talking animatedly. The boy's mother hadn't heard her child calling. His sister had, but she didn't say anything to her mother about it. The boy was starting to get cold and, sensing that he was being neglected, called out again, this time a little louder. "Mom! I am ready to get out now...."
This time his mother heard her child.
"Excuse me," she said, "I'll be right back."
She started to get up to get her boy out of the tub. But, the teenage girl put her hand on her mother's shoulder...
"don't spoil him, Mom, he can get out on his own."
A little reluctantly, his mother sat back down. She was enjoying her company and she really didn't want to get up. She called back to the boy.
"Well, get on out then!"
Everyone in the kitchen laughed loudly.
The boy was hurt, embarrassed, and angry at his sister for her interference with his bath routine. He sat in the now lukewarm water, and considered his situation. The air in the bathroom was cold. He could see the towel hanging on the wall, but could't reach it from the bath-tub. He would have to leave to the remaining warmth of the water to get out of the tub and reach the towel. He began to shiver. Even though his pride was bruised, he decided to call out again.
"Mom!" I can't reach the towel and it is cold in here. Can you come get me out?"
Another burst of laughter came from the kitchen. His mother wanted to come and get him but everyone in the kitchen said she shouldn't.
"Mom, if you go in there now he will be spoiled for life."
The boys heart broke and his temples began to throb with pain as he tried to hold back the tears. He had a terrible headache. He felt alienated, abandoned and alone. He was angry at his mother for ignoring him; his sister for her meddling; and at the visitors for laughing at him. The air continued to get colder, and the water in the tub cooler. He was now visibly shivering. He called out to his mother over and over until his voice started to get hoarse, but the only response from the kitchen was laughter from the slightly intoxicated adults. This had turned into a war of will-power, but the boy had a distinct disadvantage...he was starting to freeze.
"Mom! I'm starting to freeze in here and my voice is getting hoarse! Please, come get me! I'm ready to get out of the tub now!"
No one was coming for him and he cried as he sat in the cold water. He had lost this battle along with his dignity. He got out of the tub, shivering violently, pulled the towel down form it's hook, wrapped it around himself, squatted on the floor and shook. When he finally went out into the kitchen everyone laughed at him again.
He would carry this memory with him for the rest of his life because they wouldn't allow him to forget it. For years afterward, his mother and sister would bring up this incident to shame him. Whenever he was unhappy about something they would bring it up, laughing and mocking his miserable voice. Mercilessly, both mother and sister would tease him, exaggerating his enunciation.
"Mommy! Come get me out of the tub!", they would mock.
His mother would never hold the towel for him again after bath-time and he would never ask her to. Something had changed and he knew it. Part of the bond was gone. It was girls against the boy--the war of the sexes. He was both outnumbered and the youngest...he would have to learn to put up with it until he was old enough to leave home. It would be years before he would understand the selfishness that drove his mother and sister to behave the way they did...years before he understood the nature of the emotional abuse he had endured that night. And yes, he regarded it as abuse because, after all, what is wrong with comforting a child during bath-time?