Damn sure right! I moved it all, everything I own into 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” in drought-ravaged California. I moved almost everything out myself on a Thursday night, used a hand truck and force of will. Got help with mattresses, couch 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 according to my watch. 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 in the back garden 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 have no gauge to precisely measure dismay and no one but myself to blame, I remained calm and went out on the back patio to survey the wreck of my earthly goods – 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.
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, a sense of the senseless. Since I did this to myself, I questioned my sanity, watched senility quietly stalking me, smirking through the hedges at my unsuspecting naiveté. I saw that mocking look hovering over the paltry trappings of my life, my household wreckage and quavered near tears. My heart spoke, pointed out my husband was dead, my children don’t love me and my life doesn’t amount to much. My heart has always tended toward the melodramatic. My gut said: “Get over it.”
But truly chastened and humbled, I went back to work, joked about my stupidity with coworkers, explained why I couldn’t call the carpet guy to come earlier, that I’d bought an online discount coupon for the cleaning and the company 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, but there it was, everything I own sitting outside.
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 got ground into the carpet, popcorn kernels, spilled soda, grease and mud tracked in from east and west, cats that have spewed feline fluids, spiders that crept in and set up housekeeping, dust raised along the Western frontier.
There 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 boisterously and joyously in a little cottage by the river.
Bringing all the worn and tattered things I’ve accumulated and lugged around my whole life back inside, only to move them out again in a few days, 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. I thought about where I am, where I want to go, what I want to touch and see. What is me and what do I want to do about it?
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?”
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 began releasing 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 rising valley heat.
Went to work, studied the garage mess before I closed the overhead door for the day. I questioned everything before the week was through, questioned each object to see if it was sturdy enough or pretty enough or held enough memories to fit my emerging plan for what I’ll do with my one wild and precious life. If I hadn’t decided to get my carpets cleaned, I would not have thought about it.
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 loose-bladder cockapoo. I don’t own one, but, I told him the truth: I do not love the carpets, don’t worry about stains, explained I didn’t want the powder blue plush raised from the dead.
Today I’m moving the things I want or need back in. Summer is blowing away on fall winds, winter is kicking at the door. Leaves are streaming onto the clean carpet as I lift the objects I want back inside the house. On the newly polished dining room table are bicycle wheels, tires, inner tubes, a tire pump, spray on battery cleaner, a huge pipe wrench, hammers and a small stuffed panda. I ask myself again and wonder about you — what will you do with your one wild and precious life?