When I was seven, a small plastic monkey by the name of Chico entered my life. Chico spent his days suspended in a bottle of clear soap, wrapped snuggly around the little straw thing attached to the pump, so I cannot in good conscience say that we were particularly close. While I had many a friend who lacked blood and breath, Chico’s encapsulation in his tiny plastic prison complicated things and eventually proved to be a deal-breaker. That said, I grew fond of him in the early days, smiling at him as I dashed in and out of the bathroom, where he made his home on a stretch of slightly dull porcelain sink.
He was the sort of acquaintance that one nods at politely and exchanges pleasantries with. What a lovely banana. My, your soap smells hygienic. You certainly are fond of that little straw thing. However, on the rare occasions which we were in one another’s company for more than the length of the average bathroom visit, the awkward silence would set in. Not the comfortable quiet shared by two old friends, but the kind of crushing, consuming, paralyzing silence that sneaks in when you’re not looking, and announces itself, usually in the form of an uncomfortable chuckle. In hindsight, this probably should have been a sign.
As I aged, Chico did not. He maintained his youthful appearance and deathly grip, levitating in the syrupy soft-soap. Then, around age twelve, I had a startling restroom revelation regarding the little plastic-pal. How come, I thought aloud, the freaking soap has not run out? That’s when it all came rushing back to me ala A Christmas Carol. The years of mentally nodding hello and then proceeding directly to the door flew by like Christmases past, but with more flushing and toilet paper. The number of times I had actually partaken of Chico’s sudsy offering could be tallied on my two, apparently unsanitary, hands.
Somehow, in my hormonally corroded preteen brain, Chico was instantly taken from bizarre childhood novelty item to vicious and perverse symbol of all that was wrong with me. From that moment on, the plastic trinket came to mind with every set-back, every difficulty, particularly the personal ones. No matter what the problem, whether or not I was to blame, I somehow related the guilt and inadequacy back to that taunting plastic bastard. Chico spent most of the year dancing a jig across my subconscious at every rejection. His voice, which strangely resembled that of Tim Curry, chanted little sing-song cruelties in my mind. I was disgusting. I was pathetic. I did not live up to even the most basic hygienic standards set by society. Still, I refused to touch his gooey liquid environment. While hand-washing developed into a full-blown compulsion, Chico’s soap was sacred. His soap was too good for me. His soap represented my every shortcoming. And so I left it in its place, free to mock my pathetic attempts at normalcy.
It occurred to me that I could be rid of the damn thing in any number of ways, ranging from the mundane to the graphically ritualistic. I fantasized about slowly cutting away the plastic bottle, in the way one might peel an apple. I saw myself easing the monkey from its cage, gently, almost lovingly. I would take my time, running my fingers over his painted fur, memorizing the texture I had so long looked upon. Then, when the time was right, I would hold him over an open flame, twirling him on the skewer which he came conveniently attached to. First his paint would be burned up, then he would slowly dissolve, taking with him my shame and self-doubt, until nothing remained but the scent of Dial and freedom.
In hindsight, it’s probably good that I never attempted my brutal killing, as it would have undoubtedly led to several uncomfortable questions- Where did the soap go? What’s that odd smell? Why is there melted monkey on your sink? - Questions which I would have been forced to bullshit my way through - It must have gotten knocked into the trash. I think there’s something caught in the air vent. Are you sure it’s monkey? Because it looks more like a chimp to me… While I doubt my parents would have ever pieced together exactly what fate befell the friendly bathroom-pet, I’m fairly certain that suspicions would have been aroused. On the other hand, in my house, on any given day, the remains of a charred plastic primate being scraped from the bathroom sink might only have ranked third on the list of the day’s oddities.
I would love to say that these potential consequences were what kept me from offing the plastic whore, but alas, his survival rested not on my rationality, but rather on my irrationality. No matter how much I wanted to, I could never bring myself to touch the soap of shame. Instead I chose to wallow- nay, bask in the disgrace it exuded, like a beached whale catching a tan, doomed but content. Each time I espied it, sitting ever so coolly atop the counter, I was given an excuse to revel in self-loathing. I came to relish these moments of unabashed self-pity and pathos. At its peak, I began finding excuses to indulge in my little obsession. Unfortunately, my parents mistook my frequent bathroom trips for first an intestinal problem and then a hardcore drug habit, so typically I refrained from excessive visits to the alter of My Monkey god.
Eventually, my obsession with Chico no longer revolved around The Monkey himself, but rather the essence of him. Like a cult transitioning to a full-blown religion, the idol was replaced by the idea. Chico became the comical specter that danced ape-like in the corners of every room. Whenever my mind had a moment to fill, Chico was the placeholder. The crutch upon which I mentally leaned was fashioned in the shape of a small soapy monkey. Some people have drugs, some alcohol, I had Chico. He was my comfort, and in a strange way, my protector. I never needed to question my shortcomings when Chico was around, for he knew my flaws and lowliness, and in him I could fall no further. A sick sense of comfort radiated from him, and I was no longer alone.
With this transition, I became physically free of my tormentor, my god, which left me free to see other bathrooms, other soap-submerged animals. There was, briefly, a parrot who perched awkwardly and nonsensically on a tree-like soap pump; however, the parrot, Lola I called her, was but a cheap imitation and in the words of every unfaithful spouse, meant nothing to me. As time went by though, Chico shifted from looming apparition to white noise. His influence and the emotional turmoil he wrought began to resemble the musak in of my mind.
Then one day, quite suddenly, I realized that I had, unknowingly, squirted the sacred soap into the palm of my dampened hand where it oozed outward like a horror movie monster. I starred blankly into my cupped hand, as though I had just poured a slow poison into my skin. It didn’t burn or sting or smart, but it hurt none the less.
First came the panic. Crapcrapcrapcrap. Next the shame. Oh god, I can’t believe I just did that. Then creeping doubt. Wait, why is this not ok? Finally, a wave of inexplicable serenity. It’s just soap. It’s just soap. It’s just soap.
This wise voice was not my own, but rather that of The Monkey. The same voice that alternately tormented me and sung the refrain from Sweet Transvestite now soothingly offered those three words. Again and again the phrase echoed through my buzzing mind. With each repetition my pulse slowed, my hands steadied, my breathing became regular. As I looked down upon the tiny monkey that had so long been the bane and purpose for my existence, Chico, ever the cool one, seemed to smile up at me, as if to say we’re done here.
And we were done there. Done with the haunting presence, done with the reverence. Just as suddenly as he became a threat, Chico reverted to a simple oddity. Why would one suspend a monkey in a bottle of soap? They aren’t exactly known for being all that sanitary.
As days passed, I adjusted to life without my abuser, and eventually, Chico was relocated, first to a shelf above my toilet, and upon my leaving for college, to my parents’ bathroom cabinet. Explaining to my mother why a half-used eleven-year-old bottle of soap warranted a position of honor in her perfectly modern home was an adventure in and of itself, but every time I come home to find him still in tact, still preserved, it’s a bit like seeing a former lover. Chico sits to this day in solemn antiquity between a tube of toothpaste and an almost-as-old box of dental floss; however, the fear, compulsion, anxiety and guilt he once evoked have evaporated, and he now arouses pride and accomplishment, like a battle-scar or a purple heart from a war known but to us.