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The Girl in the Bathtub

Writing by Daisy Harland // art by Marz di Carlo 

she almost sounds like one of those

mass-produced thriller novels

with a black cover and

chunky neon writing

the girl in the bathtub 

but when i mention her

to my best friends, to my family

they know who i mean

(we never knew who she was)

she fairy-dust flickered into my soul one early morning

ten, maybe twelve years ago

i was somewhere between awake and asleep

she wasn’t a dream

she wasn’t fleeting enough for that

she felt like a vision

she was two and a half, maybe

long dark hair, slicked back with water

huge, huge big brown eyes


i know she sounds like she could have been me but she wasn’t

her hairline was different, her lips were different

her nose was straighter

her chin had the softest cleft

she was clear, confident

she stuck in my brain

in my actions

for days

i told people about her

and when years later my dad told us he was having another kid

my mom said

there she is! the girl in the bathtub

but Max came out a boy

so she has stayed a mystery

a future, maybe

i have never felt like i’d be a very good mother

i have never felt brave enough, strong enough to sign up for that

innate heartbreak

but i felt it when i looked at her that one early morning

that she was mine in some way

a vulnerability in her eyes

a special kind i recognized, remembered

from when i told my mom i got my period for the first time

from when i told my mom i didn’t get that starring role in the musical

from when i told my mom i won the essay competition

from when i told my mom i wanted to go to school in another country

from when i told my mom that i pierced my nose, that i got a tattoo

from when i told my mom i was assaulted


i don’t know what the girl in the bathtub was trying to tell me

i saw it in her eyes

that tentative love

that ‘please be who i need you to be in this moment’ love

that only exists alongside fear

(an infuriatingly necessary facet of love)

was i seeing her fear, her love

or was i seeing mine reflected?

i don’t know


i made a decision

seventy four days ago

without even making it

i didn’t decide anything i just knew what was right

knew i wasn’t ready

knew i am not okay enough a person

not yet

maybe not ever

but i knew too that it wasn’t as simple for you

knew that raising a child was something you wanted, something you’d thought through

knew that envisioning you as a dad was a very easy thing for me to do

knew that if a few key things had been different

maybe my decision would have been too

but they weren’t

they were what they were

we were who we were

we are who we are

and i’m grateful for the pain

for knowing that what i am is too much right now

that i wouldn’t be able to handle being any more

i’m grateful i got to choose to just be me

but it still hurts

it will always hurt i think

and i’ve dreamt of the girl in the bathtub

almost every night since

i’m grateful for the certainty

that i wouldn’t be able to live up to everything she needed

i wouldn’t deserve that way she was looking at me


sometimes i stare at you

your beautiful face

sometimes i just want to admire you

sometimes i look for answers in my love for you

sometimes i punish myself when i look at you

at your hairline, at your lips, at your nose, at your chin

and wonder if i can see her in you

and wonder whether she would have been ours

and wonder when wondering will feel less like grief

and more like relief


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