Life, death, and carpet cleaning
Damn sure right. I moved it all. Piled everything I own in the backyard about two weeks ago. OK, not the china cabinet with my grandmother’s Bavarian china and my wedding Lenox and the odd crystal tid-bit pieces handed down through generations or the turkey platter that came over on the Mayflower, I kid you not, it came on the boat wrapped in a petticoat trimmed with tatted lace.
And, I didn’t pack all the books and put the boxes out on the scruff we now call in that gentile Tidewater way “the back lawn,” not in drought-ravaged California where brown is the new green. But, I moved out the 1960s Encyclopedia Britannica. I moved almost everything out myself on a Thursday night, used a hand truck and force of will. Got grudging help with mattresses and recliners the next morning, expecting the carpet-cleaning guy to appear between noon and 2 p.m.
At 10 minutes after 12, the carpet guy was late. I checked my calendar to find, actually, knees weakened by the realization, my appointment was actually the following Friday, as in a week away. When the blood rushed back to my head and I started breathing again, I looked around my empty house for someone to blame. When I recounted this situation – everything I own outside in a jumble – friends asked how mad I was, like I’ve got some kind of internal dial reading: annoyed, upset, steamed, hotter than a dropped penny on a summer sidewalk, Mount St. Helens flipping her lid.
Since I had no gauge to measure my dismay and no one but myself to blame, I went out on the back patio and surveyed the wreck of my belongings – dusty lamps, ancient quilts, particle board end tables, a coiled and tied bulldogging rope, rocking horse, 5-foot tall candlestick holder, cassette tapes for a player I no longer own, assorted bent and warped plastic.
I rummaged around for a folding chair, sat down. I was mad, yes, but there was more in the gush of emotions, there was fear and disgust, embarrassment, loss of dignity, a sense of the senseless. Who the hell needs this silly crap? Since I did this to myself, I also questioned my sanity, watched senility quietly stalking me, smirking through the fences at my unsuspecting naiveté. I saw that mocking look hovering over the paltry trappings of my life, my tattered household, broken dreams, and quavered near tears. My heart spoke, pointed out my husband was dead, my brother died two months ago, my children don’t love me and my life doesn’t amount to much.
Chastened, I went back to work, joked about my stupidity with coworkers, explained I couldn’t call the carpet guy to come earlier, that I’d bought an online discount coupon for the cleaning and they’d said they were very busy, but agreed to work me in. What I didn’t tell them is that it had probably been five years since the carpets were cleaned, that addressing the grim of my life seemed pointless at this point.
Perhaps this will make sense: I have grown sons who for this reason and that have moved in and out with bikes parked in the dining room and cherry and plum residue on their shoes that they’ve ground into the carpet, popcorn kernels, spilled soda, grease and mud tracked in, spewed feline fluids, spiders that crept in and set up housekeeping, dust raised along the Western frontier, gritty life.
There also are cake crumbs in corners, rubber bits from popped balloons, curled scotch tape used to fix streamers to the chandeliers, scraps of shopping lists, toenail clippers slipped under the coach. In short, a full life lived happily and boisterously in a little cottage by the river.
Bringing all the worn and tattered things I’ve accumulated and carried with me my whole life back inside, only to move them out again seemed like a waste. I got a foam camping pad from the garage, made a pallet on the floor in my suddenly cavernous bedroom, bunched my favorite feather pillow around my neck and thought about my life, the things I carry — what to save, what to throw away. Where I am, where do I want to go, what do I want to touch, see, smell. What is me?
I thought about Mary Oliver’s poem “Summer Day”: “Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I began to think and I began to clean — baseboards, sooty air registers, bricks around the fireplace, chandeliers, light covers, switch plates, furniture legs, tables and chairs. I hauled the recycle bin from the side yard and released things, then more things. I vacuumed nightly, with abandon, scrubbed the kitchen, cleaned the oven, washed bedding, hunted cobwebs, dusted window blinds. I fell exhausted each night on my pallet, got up in the dark, cleaned more in the valley heat.
Went to work, studied the garage mess before I closed the overhead door. I questioned everything before the week was through, questioned each object to see if it was sturdy enough or pretty enough to fit my emerging plan for what I want to do. Examined my every intention. If I hadn’t decided to strip down and get my carpets cleaned, I would not have thought very deeply about my one wild and precious life.
Eric arrived to clean the carpets at the appointed time on the proper day, took one look around and said he’d seen carpets worse than mine, which I’m sure he tells every old lady with a cockapoo. But, I told him the truth: I did not love the carpets, not to worry about stains, that I didn’t want the powder blue plush raised from the dead. I urged him to do his best and let it go, told him life is too short to slave over 25-year-old carpets.
Today I’m moving the things I want or need back in. Summer is blowing away in fall winds kicking at the door. Leaves are coming onto the clean carpet as I lift the things I want back into the house. Eric actually did a great job on the carpets. But, on the newly polished dining room table are bicycle wheels, tires, inner tubes, a pump, spray-on battery cleaner, a huge pipe wrench, hammers and a small stuffed panda. I’ve learned my lesson, making plans, but wonder about you: what will you do with your one wild and precious life?