The sound of water and soft voices in the green marble room made me
wish for sleep. In the center of the room stood a fountain, the statue
of a woman, tall and graceful, head and hands upturned toward the sky.
With the light shining up from below, reflecting against her water skin,
she glowed like an emerald.
The water flowed from her up-reached palms and down the cold rounded
surface of her body, between the shapely breasts and into the sculpted
dimple that whispered navel. The water never stopped abruptly dripping
off an elbow or hardened nipple, but kept moving, over her bent knee,
down her slender legs. Covering her in loving warmth until it ran off the
of her toe and onto the green marble base that worshipped quietly
underneath her feet. Then the water slipped off the marble into the warm
It was difficult to take my eyes off her, this green marble woman
standing like a daydream in the center of the wet marble room.
not to love her. So I stood staring until I heard the whispering
me falter and disappear. I noticed the women around me, filling the room
with life and sound. They sat in the pools. In the warm pool at the
of the fountain and in a cold pool that lay open in a corner of the room.
They hung back against the walls, openly staring. They came in through
the glass doors that separated us from the outside world and walked
through the steam. They watched me, not even stopping as they bathed.
They took stock of our differences. Compared my body to theirs. Sized up
thickness of my American frame. Used it as a reference point for what
American women looked like. Saw it against the contrast of their own
bodies. I felt a flush moving down my freckled white skin as I watched
colored women staring back at me. I fumbled with the bottles in my hand
and moved over to squat next to one of the showers that lined the wall
about three feet from the floor.
I felt relief as the hot water hit me. As I washed, I began to
forget the women around me. Instead I saw the clean water moving down
the surface of my body abruptly dripping off a bent knee, muddied from
the dirt that had by then become my second skin. As the dirty water
flowed down the drain I felt myself slowly thawing, coming to life
again. I sighed at the thought of going back to the weapon and the cammo,
the heaviness of the kevlar on my head and especially the Korean night,
filled with the smell of manure, the sight of cardboard box homes, and a
coldness that froze my very soul.
I imagined a soft touch along my shoulder, then another. Reacting
with the reflexes of a soldier I jerked around to find a woman squatting
behind me with a wash-rag dangling from her right hand. "I do," was all
she said--all she could remember probably of a strange language she had
once learned in school. I closed my eyes as she washed my back, softly
removing the dirt and the weariness. Removing the ice. She took my
hands and held them in her own, washing them, as if she worshipped me.
She was small and thin, flat-chested like the other women in the room.
Brown eyes and black hair that I knew would dry to look like well spun
silk. But here she was washing me with her own hands. I felt tears
falling down my face, mixing with the warm water that beat away the
frowning creases of my mouth. It
was such a relief to be touched by someone. To know the comfort of a
on my shoulder as this strangely graceful woman washed my back. I opened
eyes and noticed for the first time how most of the women squatted in
washing each other's bodies and conversing, communing with one another.
In this room with these women I felt my self-consciousness being washed
away like so much mud and dirt. I briefly forgot the respective
definitions of the words 'Korean' and 'American.' For an uninhibited
moment, I knew the meaning of ultimate bliss.
When she finished I smiled at her. " Kam sa hab ni da (thank
was all I could manage in my 'standard issue' Korean. She smiled and
bowed her head, returning into the steam. Standing up slowly, I took one
last look at the room, at the curious women. At the green marble statue
watched over all of us. I turned and stepped out of the soft green
bathroom and into the blinding light of a yellow tiled locker room. I
put on clean
underclothes and BDU's over my still damp skin. I pulled on my boots,
lacing them up begrudgingly, wishing for five more minutes in the
presence of women. But it was time to get back to my squad. Time to
return to our war games and weapons. I took one last look at the steamed
doors that lead straight into heaven. Placing the heavy Kevlar over my
wet hair, I walked into the icy Korean night.
Bethanie Johnson lives in Seattle, WA with her husband and daughter. She is currently working on her first novel and has recently been published on a PBS site called American Love Stories. That site location is www.pbs.org/weblab/lovestories/stories/Extended_Family/stoy73.shtml. If you would like to comment on her story, she can be reached at email@example.com