She set the jug of water on top of the toilet.
It was a plastic milk carton being re-purposed for a lesson.
She said something like, “This is all the water you can use today. You can’t run the water. You’ll have to use what’s in the jug.”
There was no convincing her to do otherwise.
And I thought I was going to die.
I was about 13 at the time, which would make it 1976. We were living in the country, in the house my parents built after they sold most of our farm and the farmhouse.
I understand now where my mother’s anger came from. I ran water long and fast, washing and rewashing my hands, trying to get them clean.
I usually used the bathroom just off her and my father’s bathroom, instead of the larger one in the hallway, because it seemed more private and less contaminated. So they could hear the amount of water I was running.
“You’re going to run the well dry,” she warned me.
My parents had told me to stop running “so much water.” But I had disobeyed, something that wasn’t done lightly in my home.
I didn’t understand why I felt compelled to wet my hands, soap them up, rub them together for a certain time, then rinse, and then do it all over again, again and again. All while running the water.
My hands and wrists were red and raw looking. But I thought I was just doing what everyone should be doing, washing my hands thoroughly.
I hadn’t heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I don’t think my parents had either.
With the jug of water, I had to pour water out, just enough to wet my hands, then lather up with soap, then pour water on my hands again.
I hated getting soap on the jug when I lifted it to pour out the rinse water.
I worried about so many things: was I getting all of the soap residue off? If not, and I touched a plate or something that someone else might touch and then eat from, then that person could get diarrhea, because I had learned from my mother that eating from dishes not properly rinsed could give people diarrhea.
What if my hands didn’t get clean from the cold water? What if I had germs on them and spread them to others and made them sick?
What if I used all the water in the jug and there was none left, and I still had to wash my hands?
Oh, I hated the jug.
My mother made me use the jug for a few days, but gradually, I started running the water again, warm water, hot water, to get my hands cleaned well and rinsed well.
And the jug went away. But nothing else did.