Bleach Bath
KYLE NOLLA

Editor’s Note: TW: this pieces discusses online harassment, cyberstalking, sexual assault, and dysfunctional family dynamics.

I climb dripping from the bath tonight and smell like bleach

Yesterday with a ninety-degree elbow
I shoved a brush to a drill to cut the layers of soap scum and bath bomb
clingingly stubbornly to the sides of the tub
Now my skin is tight, tingly
and that chemical knife bleach smell cuts through my brain’s cotton fog to say:
                  just because something hurts doesn’t mean it’s good for you

I’d drawn the bath to distract myself
after a harasser of mine
                  (with the affection of “open wound”)
found me again
The hot water would submerge my body in the present
instead of floating somewhere dark and scared
But I’d forgotten about the bleach

The smell floating off my skin was sharp like his words
get raped bitch
sharp bleach smell in his insults going back through months of my internet history
sharp bleach smell in the long screed of a burner account
sharp bleach smell in the demanding emails to my work

Worse yet, as my eyes burned,
that smell spread further in the room
The whispers and outrage in far-secret places, growing
spitting from more mouths

You do it for clout
You don’t belong, SJW faker
until I could not breathe at all

I gestured to my body
with my last bit of breath saying
Here, between my ribs,
see the flesh of my heart beat against the air
Could my truth make them see, make them stop?
They recoiled at the blood and meat of it
then laughed at the shape of my heart

To sit at a table with them
to cut myself open
and feel their saliva slide down my cheek:
those things hurt
raw red like hurts I’ve known before:

Before, I couldn’t breathe because heavy heats weighted my chest
the sex men took, they said was owed, being paid without my heart or head
Before, I’d smelled bleach pulling myself from a sticky cocoon
strung between the barbed hissing finger-lies of my parents,
I smelled it as I remained there, filling the space between them for my siblings to cross crawling
Before, my skin burned when I turned away from my brother
as his mouth foamed and brain floated someplace higher
as the string that would hold him here slipped away

The pain, it has a reason, I coped to myself then,
as I toweled off and saw my skin red
I will be cleaner, I thought
each time unyielding hands settled me back into the tub again
like a toddler with unrinsed shampoo

But now faced with their spitting mouths and sharp bleach smell
I see that to draw a bleach bath
and to lower myself into it
whether cotton-brained unwittingly
or purposely, as I meet their eyes unflinching
does not clean me

Now, in my bathroom,
my skin does not shed and peel because
I am bursting forth from it
but because
bleach is caustic.

Bleach Bath (Source: Kyle Nolla)

Author’s Note:

This poem was inspired by real events. After dealing with malicious online harassment, I drew a bath for myself, forgetting that I had recently scrubbed the tub with bleach. I berated myself as I climbed out and it struck me: why had I not “climbed out” from the bleach-y bath that was harassment? Up until that point, I had just accepted and coped with the cyberstalkers and online attacks and did it well because I’d had to cope with worse things in life. In the end, though, dealing with online harassment does me about as much good as taking a bleach bath. That is, none.


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