Dear Cousin Amanda

Dear Cousin Amanda,

Thanks for giving me a place to crash for the weekend- I had a lot of fun staying with you in Birmingham. You and your roommates are the best. Say hi to Christi and Sarah for me. And mumble something to that other shy, awkward one who wouldn't come out of her room the whole time I was there. I forget what you said her name was.

Sarah's boyfriend might be the coolest guy I've ever met. I've never seen a guy play capture the flag like that before. I had to junk those clothes, by the way. It was impossible to wash all the margarine out. And I hope Jesse's hair grows back.

I'm not complaining or anything, but I did find one part of my visit kind of odd; and maybe this is the way it is in a house full of girls, but when I was taking showers at your place, I noticed that there wasn't really anything... to wash with. I mean, material-wise there was- lufas, natural sponges, an entire drawer full of washcloths. I have no complaint there.

I'm not a cabin-dwelling he-man. I'm not grunting and demanding a cold, hard bar of Dial. God knows I use a lufa and bodywash at home, but your shower had nothing. No bars, no bodywash, not even bubble bath in liquid form. There were some beads. And that's what I did in the end- I smashed a handful of beads against the tile like an otter trying to break open a clam, and then scooped the goopy insides off the wall.

I had high hopes when I first got into that shower. It's not like the shower was empty- this was no barren, tiled wasteland, with a lonely tumbleweed blowing towards the drain. There were bottles everywhere. It was like looking down the personal care aisle at Target. I threw open the curtain and thought, "Man, this is going to be great. I'm going to go through all these bright, colorful bottles and pick out something really exotic, something really expensive, like only a girl would care enough to buy."

And I started turning bottles. The big green ones with the wavy caps called out to me from the get-go. They sat there front and center in the middle of the over-flowing shower caddy like they just wanted me to pick them. Shampoo. Conditioner. Sure, it was a disappointment, but I shrugged it off and went for the thin red bottle with the yellow writing on it. Pore cleanser.

I frowned, but the back corner shelves looked really promising. Nestled among some microderm abrasives and two Proactive sets was a handsome glass number with a simple brass wrapper and a viscous, oatmeal-colored liquid inside. Facial scrub. I tried a blue bottle below it. Shampoo. I grimaced, as the bitter sting of failure echoed through my bosom.

I turned to the front corner shelves. They were a little less impressive, but a bottle filled with hazy pink gel caught my eye. Color enhancer. The one below it was shampoo (For color-treated hair). The one above it was conditioner (For hard-to-manage hair). I chose another. Toner.

My heart started to beat quicker. I selected another bottle- it was the same facial scrub I had picked up earlier.

I turned slowly, and my eyes flew around the shower, bouncing from bottle to bottle. The walls turned into a colorful swirl. The water was rushing down from above, forcing my hair into my eyes. I could hear my heartbeat thumping in my ears. I grabbed another bottle. Conditioner. And another. Straightener.

I know Matrix only makes high-end shampoos and conditioners, but I tried anyway. Failure. My teeth gritted together.

I picked up a thing of Sea Breeze astringent and then I panicked. I dropped the astringent onto the cold steel floor and shoved both hands into the shower caddy. I came out with a bottle of shampoo and orange-mint mouthwash. I took a step back and my mouth was agape. I let out a lone moan, and lost my footing on the slick bottom of the tub. The water was pouring into my eyes and mouth as I groped along the shower floor on my knees, reaching out for something, anything. Through the rushing water and the steam, past the anguish and confusion, I could make out... a shape. It was cylindrical and pale green, and sitting on the side of the tub. I grabbed at it like a drowning man lunging for a life preserver, and I don't know how, but I managed to knock it down into the bottom of the tub with me.

Soaked to the bone, with water streaming into my eyes, I reached down and picked it up with trembling hands. I had to bring it close to my face so I could read it through the water and the tears. It said TRESemmé.

I came to half an hour later. That's when I smashed the aroma therapy beads against the wall.

I love staying with you, but I'm going to bring my own body wash next time.

Sebastian Braff


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