The Naked Truth
A Story by Hayley Turner
Me and my twin sister lived in a world that consisted mostly of each other, especially in our first four years of life before starting school. Our bond was strong and loving. We were each other’s best companion, playmate, security and support. We did everything together. We had our own games and shared a synchronized imagination, like folding over the skin on our knees to form mouths that talked to each other, calling bruises “mooses”, and placing Band-Aids on all our freckles. Each stage of life was accompanied by a partner, so things didn’t seem as scary as long as we were together.
We were four years old and it was Saturday, which meant bath day for us since we had church the next morning. Knowing this, my sister and I made sure to get extra dirty to make it more worth our while. We rolled around on sidewalk chalk, bounced on our trampoline, and rode topless through puddles in the alley on our tricycles. To get us to come in, our mom bribed us with one of the iconic snacks of our childhood. She had a few staple treats she liked to prepare for us. Cherry Kool-Aid was apparent throughout our early years with the evidence of red ringed mustaches painted around our mouths visible in almost every photo of us. She also liked to bake these cookies made from cake mix and oatmeal. Strawberry was the selection that day, our favorite. My sister and I made sure to openly show each other the process of our chewing while giggling and scarfing down each bite. When we were done with our snack, we raced each other to the tub where we began our next event of bath time fun.
We partook in our usual shenanigans of bubble beards, washcloth headpieces, feeding bar soap to our Lion King toys (which forever left a sudsy chunk in Simba’s mouth), complete with roaring laughter and splashing. The moment our mom stepped out was when we knew to break out the serious material. We decided to take turns seeing who could pretend to drink the most bathwater by filling up the rinse cup, opening our mouths wide and tilting our heads back while discreetly pouring it to the side. When it was my sister’s turn, being only four years old and still learning the art of trickery, she closed her eyes as she tilted her head back and poured the water directly in her mouth, swallowing a big gulp of it. She immediately coughed it out and continued coughing until she was gagging, which resulted in her throwing up the entire contents of the snack we just ate into the bathwater between me and her. She screamed and cried and our mom quickly came in, scooped her out, and consoled her. I, however, remained in the tub, stiff and silent in a frozen panic, not knowing what to do as I watched the swirling pink vomit drift towards me. The horror grew as it approached closer and closer. This monster had the whole tub to explore but it instead gravitated to me. I continued to stare down at this repulsive sight coming for me and was painfully aware of the fact that there was absolutely no protective barrier between me and this monstrosity intruding my presence. My skin tightened, my fists clenched, I could feel the deafening pound of my heart in my ears. My whole body shivered in the hot contaminated water. The fun memories I just had with my sister were gathered in front of me with disgust. The bubbles were now broken up with pink chunks, the washcloths had been consumed by the vomit which was now coming for me. The once sweet smell of fresh baked cookies now left a stale sourness in the air. Those damned cookies turned their backs on me! I felt betrayed. Just at the moment the vomit closed in on me and surrounded my bare and fragile body to graze my skin, I was pulled out to safety.
Those damned cookies turned their backs on me!
I don’t remember much of what happened after that. I mean, I for sure don’t remember if I was even comforted at all after being left in a tub of vomit, but what I do remember is from that day forward, I kept record of all the times my sister threw up. If I sensed she was about to get sick or even if I heard her coughing for an extended period of time, my heart would start racing and I would prepare myself to bolt. I was so hyper aware of her physical state that it would consume my thoughts most of the time.
The bond between my sister and I was now compromised. Fear placed this barrier between us because I viewed my sister as a source of fear. I no longer felt as safe and secure with her because I was afraid of her throwing up again. I had this element of vulnerability added to my world that I hadn’t experienced before. A new life experience that wasn’t shared with my sister. While we still had a close relationship, an element of discord seemed to linger after the bathtub incident that remained throughout our years together.
There were times I would have to be around her even when I was too afraid to be. Like riding in the car next to one another and sharing a room with bunk beds. There were some nights I would lie wide awake on the bottom bunk worrying if vomit was going to trickle down from my sister’s bed above me while I was sleeping. As I grew up, my fear increased in intensity. The list of incidents where I saw my sister get sick expanded and they would play on repeat in my mind over and over again. I hated what it did to my relationship with my sister.
For the entirety of my childhood through adulthood, I carried this fear of vomiting with me. It progressed into panicked anxiety and then ultimately a phobia. I would physically run away when someone threw up, recoiling, screaming and crying like a hostile animal when I was in close quarters with the ill-afflicted and couldn’t retreat. I wouldn’t let anyone touch me and I wouldn’t eat because I was afraid of getting sick myself. No one knew what to do with this strange behavior so it was brushed off and overlooked, hoping it was something I would just grow out of. I learned to hide my fear and isolate myself whenever someone was sick or I felt sick myself. I would remedy with instinctive behaviors that no one would see, like excessive hand washing, extended periods of starvation, and sleep deprivation.
Now, don’t ask me how I managed to pull this off, but this fear instilled such a strong determination in me to not get sick, that I haven’t thrown up in over twenty years. It simply wasn’t an option. Anytime I felt queasy my fight response would kick in and I would battle out the sensation until it passed. I made it my goal to avoid any scenario and thing that could potentially lead to sickness. This severely affected my relationships, daily interactions, and general state of mental and physical well-being.
As my sister and I got older, the distance and tension between us continued to grow and neither of us seemed to be able to pinpoint why. It wasn’t until adulthood that I started to approach this fear, vulnerability, and relationship dilemma with curiosity and a willingness to work through it.
These fears and concerns have subsided tremendously and I now live each day without the debilitating anxiety that used to be so present. Because of this, the bond between my sister and I has strengthened on a new level. It’s like we’ve been reunited with the first carefree years of our lives together. While I still have yet to vomit, I now look back on the bathtub incident with fondness at the moment it all started.