The Shower

When an unsuspecting traveler gets assigned the penthouse suite, her shower becomes an experience.

Well, I’ve been to “the shower.”

Its sheer size prompted me to measure it, which with a 6’4” husband who wears a size 13 shoe makes it easy to be prepped with a quasi-ruler at any given time. It’s about 4×12. It has two doors, two carved-out spaces for toiletries, two stools, and three shower heads. I could see this beast from the bed, with the vanity perched solidly between the access points, and the walk over felt like it would be more of an approach than a stroll. I delayed showering until the last minute since I suspected it was supposed to be “an experience,” more than a daily ritual, and I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to have it. What kind of experience would it be?

I knew soon enough. Right off the bat, I was cold. It took me a couple minutes to get the water situation right. There were two knobs: One for the angled head and another for the rain simulators. The temperature was to be adjusted somewhere between the two. Standing there for too long with cold mist spraying on me just made me damp, which then made me angry, since anyone who knows me well knows I hate that feeling. I either want to be wet or dry. On the scale of normal and reasonable tortures, having someone flick water at me or touch my neck with a wet finger while doing the dishes (as my kids like to do), sends me from 0-60 in an authentically irrational way that makes no sense to anyone but me.

So there I was messing with the mist attempting to race the knob to the ideal temperature when the water pattern needed adjusting. Did I want a steady spray or an intermittent tap? I just want to take a shower, I thought, getting grumpier by the second. In the end, I chose the angled shower with a steady spray, which gave me time to consider my next move.

I surveyed the area and it became glaringly obvious that this was intended to be a two-person experience. I spent a minute or so feeling lonely before beginning to wonder just how many people really shower on a regular basis with another person? I remembered that I had a boyfriend in college once who loved to shower at night; he said it helped him sleep better, and after some coercing, I put my shy side aside and accepted his invitation to join him for his nightly ritual. I began to look forward to those evenings when we would chat away about the day (really!), being glad the room was dark and the space was small, because there was something very, very sweet about it–until he would pee. That was my cue to dash out never to enter that space again and my first lesson in how you could still love someone despite a grotesque personal habit. That lesson also came in handy for the years I had male roommates and later when I became the mother of a son. I admit now that I get why men love to do that, but I still don’t need to be present for it.

As my mind came back from college to the design of the shower, I thought that while I was there I should try and appreciate all its features. I walked around a bit, thought about sitting down to take time to shave, but after considering the fluorescent lights, realized that sitting down to shiver in a cold corner while naked under the soul-crushing honesty of fluorescent bulbs is not an experience that most women desire, so I tossed my leg up against the wall like every other woman I know.

After that I thought I should try out the rain head. I had tried one before and not really understood what all the fuss was about, but what else did I have to do?

Not my thing. I don’t have much hair, but as I stood there under the simulated summer storm, what hair I did have just covered my eyes, and I wondered if I was doing it right. Magazines always pitch this as so amazing, but if I wanted to stand still under rain with my hair in my eyes, I could just go outside when it was actually raining.

I’m in marketing, so my mind traveled to sales. Who is the demographic for this shower I began to wonder? Perhaps this would be helpful if I were in a wheelchair. No. The doors were too narrow and there was a step to get in. I could easily give my dog a bath if I had this in my home, which would also make my life easier, but really, who would shower with their dog? That’s just a level I don’t need to get to in life. I settled on the fact that I would love this if I lived near the beach and had a mess of toddlers who needed cleaning. That would make my day much easier and be fun if we tossed in songs and dances. My good friend is in that demographic, and I remember one weekend years ago when we were in the exhausted slog of the toddler years and many of us stayed with her for a girls weekend. She had just installed “the shower” and we all took turns going on vacation in it while the others watched our kids. Her shower was much like this one except she had the good sense to make it dark and mysterious, like a cave you would find on a deserted peaceful island where no screaming toddlers could find you. I remember thinking at the time that she was brilliant to install that shower and generous to let us all relish in it when we were on the verge of daily nervous breakdowns. I also remember all the shower heads tipped in, so you didn’t have to hop from one stream to the other. It’s all in the details, and if I ever have a job reviewing hotel showers, I will mention this on my survey.

The memory of relaxing in her shower got me thinking about the gleaming white tile in this one. If this were built for two people to shower together, why make it so bright? Surely anyone over 40 who has had kids would appreciate a dimmer switch. Maybe the stools would be better with a nice candle on them to create some atmosphere if the lights were out. Yet, as I considered the fact that I was in the shower because my husband runs a fire and emergency management company with staff who were at that moment downstairs discussing how to protect babies in hospitals from flames, I thought it best not to be the one to set off a fire alarm with an open flame.

But really, it’s an enormous space for one person, and it must take a long time to clean. I vowed right then and there to leave the space as clean as possible to send good karma out into the world.

At that point, after I had tested out the various heads, gone through stages of guilt and planning, I thought maybe I would take the time to let the conditioner sit a while to allow whatever experience I was supposed to be having to unfold. I don’t typically think a shower is supposed to be an experience, but it could be, I supposed. After all, there were occasions when it had been in the past.

When I was 20, I spent a summer living on the Vineyard in a woodshed tossed behind the house of incredible people who needed a nanny for their 12-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter. When I heard their ages, I knew immediately that that translated into driving them to their activities, which was the perfect gig for someone who also had a night job and was saving to get back to college and just needed free rent. It also helped that I adored that age group and knew it would be far more fun than cleaning houses, which my friends were doing, or running after toddlers, which I’ve never loved.

On move-in day, my boss, a fisherman who grew up in San Francisco hanging out with Jerry Garcia, explained that I was to sleep in the shack and shower in the backyard. No one used the shower in the house outside the months of January and February.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?” Terror ran through my veins as he explained that the shower was in the back of the house, which I quickly noticed was L-shaped, with the shower head sitting just below the kitchen window.

“Where’s the box?” I asked.

“No box.”

“No box?”

“But…” my voice trailed off as I spotted the 12-year-old watching me from the huge picture window facing the garden.

“Don’t worry. Ross is used to it and nobody thinks anything of nudity around here.”

“Yeah right,” I thought, as the boy’s face pressed ever harder against the window.

After one necessary daytime shower forced between racing around the woods with the boy and my night job, when I spent the entire 20-second shower screaming at him to keep talking to me as he sat with his back to the kitchen sink so I would be certain that he was not peeking, I took to showering at night for the rest of the summer.

Now THAT was an experience. Every night, after my cross-island commute from Edgartown to Menemsha, I would return to the shack on Tea Lane, put my things down, walk through the dark yard and turn on the shower. Wild raspberries grew on the left side, lavender on the right. I would stand there for as long as the well would last gazing up at the night sky while eating raspberries.

That was the life. A life I then recreated as an adult at the age of 32.

“Where’s the box?” people would ask when they came to visit our country home.”

“No box,” I would reply as I watched them take in the setting and consider if they would brave the experience.

“No one can see you, and our kids are used to it, so they won’t peek,” I would say as I giggled to myself thinking of Ross and the summer I spent living life through the lens of a 12-year-old boy.

If our guests visited in the spring, summer, or fall I would encourage them to eat the raspberries we planted while they showered. To this day, that is my favorite shower experience, and one I wish I could recreate in our new suburban home. But since we live on an exposed corner, I’m not seeing it as a viable option. My neighbors like us, but they don’t like us THAT much.

As I turned off the water and made my journey to my towel, I dried off thinking about “the experience.” It actually was an experience. I had revisited some of the best times of my life, collected toiletries from the “other side of the shower” to bring to the Chrysalis center after we returned home, had a nice shave, conditioned my hair properly, and remembered to be grateful for the fact that I had time to take a shower that long on a day off.

But because I probably wasted more water than any person should, I know my next shower experience will be less of one. But then again, you never know what the day will bring. Maybe there would be more experiences to be had in that theater behind the vanity.

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