Eyes closed, I see myself standing alone in a glass cubicle. The water, a little hotter than necessary, is cascading over my head and down the natural curves of my body. The glass fogs up as the steam rises off my bare limbs, giving me complete privacy to find comfort in my own nakedness.
I start moving, twirling slowly under the spray, as if I’m dancing sensually to the rhythm of the water droplets. I can feel myself relaxing, enjoying the warmth and safety of this private cocoon.
While inhaling the sweet, aromatic scent of the handmade bath soap, I run my hands along the contour of my nudity, without any inhibition. I’m touching, massaging, caressing and feeling my body all over, valuing the freedom to explore myself physically and intimately, without judgement from anyone other than me. My skin, slightly reddened, is tingling all over.
Abruptly, the stream of water is cut off. I open my eyes and, through the haze, I see that I’m sitting, not standing. There is no glass cubicle, just a big, open shower. It all feels kind of cold and stark, really. I’m aware that I’m not alone. Instinctively, I want to cover up my body.
As my arm is lifted, I’m brought reeling back to reality.
Minutes earlier, I was wheeled into the bathroom on a commode by my personal care assistant for my daily shower.
As she positioned the commode, I caught a glimpse of myself, from the shoulders up, in the mirror. My hair looked as if I’d been dragged through the woods backwards, resembling a wild woman who’d had all night, carnal sex and whose body had been tamed by paralysis.
Instantly I felt self-conscious and wished that I could straighten my hair. I glared back at the pathetic image in the mirror, feeling a deep sense of shame.
My care assistant turned on the water behind me and adjusted it to the right temperature. She pointed the hand shower onto the back of my neck and awaited my approval. I instructed her to make it a little hotter.
I closed my eyes as she let the water wash over my head at full pressure and, for a few moments, I remembered what it felt like to shower, really shower, all by myself.
As she closes the tap, I long, with every fibre of my being, to be able to take one last shower on my own.
She continues, now, through the routine of washing me, methodically moving the soapy cloth in a gentle circular motion, working her way down my body. Neck. Shoulders. Right boob, lift, wash, drop. Left boob, lift, wash, drop. It all seems so mechanical, without any feeling.
I attempt conversation by asking her something. She mumbles an answer. She’s grumpy, and probably tired. So am I. I’d had a bad night. Feeling a tinge of guilt for waking her too many times through the night, I decide to quit the chat.
She’s not much of a morning person anyway, and it doesn’t help that I’m not either.
She gently spreads my legs apart at the knees. After all this time, I can still barely stand the thought of anyone washing my fanny, let alone watching her do it.
Embarrassed, I look away, focusing my attention on the music now, using it as a distraction.
Soon, I’m singing along to the tune, loudly, skipping a few words here and there. I don’t care much for her reaction to my poor singing ability. At this point, not even a scathing character assassination from American Idol judge, Simon Cowell could humiliate me more.
I’m vaguely aware as the water is turned on again and directed at my body to rinse away the soap.
Before I can even get to the end of the song, the hot water is gushing, gloriously, over my head again.
My care assistant stands there, waiting patiently, for me to indicate by nodding my head that I’ve had enough. I don’t want it to stop because in those few brief moments I find reprieve. With my eyes closed and the water streaming over my face, I can forget, just for a while, that I am paralysed from the neck down.
Eventually, reluctantly, I nod my head. She closes the tap.
The song is still playing. I come in at the chorus, singing even louder than before.
Mindfully, I thank my friend, Chris, for making it possible for me to have music in my bathroom and bedroom. And, of course, Sexy Legs, for climbing up into the hot roof to put the speakers in the ceiling.
With the water off, I quickly start feeling cold despite it being the middle of summer. Although I’m grateful for the warmth of the specialised, bathroom heater above my head, I want to wrap myself snugly in a fluffy, white towel as quickly as possible.
The next song is more upbeat. I have the urge to get up and dance. But I’m stuck, motionless, feeling frustrated. I begin nodding my head, fast, in tune to the beat for a half a minute or so.
Feeling a bit silly, and exposed, I glance sideways at my care assistant, wondering why she is so slow this morning. As she turns away to grab the bath towel, hanging on a rail against the wall, I roll my eyes in annoyance because by now I am really cold.
She dries my face and drapes the towel down the front of my body. As she pulls it firmly around my neck and shoulders, the soft texture of the towel brushing against my throat and face bring me instant comfort.
With renewed confidence, I’m feeling refreshed and less irritable.
There is almost something magical about the combination of an invigorating shower in a steamy-hot bathroom with good music and singing your lungs out in a private idols audition at the start of each day. It certainly is cleansing, body and soul.
The care assistant even seems to have a slight spring in her step as she releases the brake to wheel me out into my bedroom, almost in time to the music.
As if specifically planned, and on cue, Josh Groban’s, You Raise Me Up, fills the room, and my spirit is soaring as I sing as loudly as I can, challenging him to hit, and hold, those high notes.
He said himself: “There is no half singing in the shower. You’re either a rockstar or an opera diva.”
C’mon Joshie! Let’s go!
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains.
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas.
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders.
You raise me up… to be…
I concede, breathless, but smiling, and ready to face the day, to be more than I can be.