- February 20th, 2014
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I prefer to clean house by myself. So when my wife decided she had had enough of the desert and left with my seven year old daughter a few weeks ago, I headed home from the airport and started cleaning. First on the list was the living room, still cluttered with toys, crayons and piles of unread mail, magazines, coupons and visible dust. With the afternoon light streaming through the window, the visible sign of dirtiness hung in the air and gleamed from the glass table tops. I shut the curtains to block it out and started picking up. It didn’t long to clear the clutter.
I went room by room, collecting papers, cosmetics, jewelry, pens & pencils and other debris into piles and moved them to my room for sorting. My wife aspires to organization, by which I mean she compulsively collects boxes, baskets, expandable file folders and paper trays within which are deposited unopened mail, piles of unfinished homework, bills, photographs and occasionally, something worth preserving. These piles were reduced, like reducing a sauce on the stove, to a tiny fraction of their original size. Once sorted, what remained was carefully preserved in a small filing box leaving half a dozen empty sorting trays and various plastic containers and boxes empty.
Outside in the yard, with each smoke break, I picked up bits of broken toys and removed them to the garbage. There was the plastic bow and arrow that my daughter had bought with her own money. Little broken arrows were strewn around, their pink plastic plungers drying out in the sun. I collected them, the plastic quiver and plastic bow and tossed them in the trash. For a moment I worried that this would be the first thing she asked me to send her. But it would be easy to dodge. The arrows were broken. I thought of her running from the security line sobbing to the window that separated us; my older daughter and I also in tears, making a spectacle of ourselves in the terminal. We turned around and walked into the sunshine hurrying back to the car. The long ride home was mostly quiet, and the tears dissipated quickly.
Our sadness was mixed with relief. Life had become unbearable. The wounds of years of mutual demoralization between my wife and me were re-opened on a near daily basis. Our strategies for tamping them down had long ceased to be effective. A mutual affection for alcohol sometimes brought relief, but just as often we would take turns raging at each other, each blaming the other for the sorry state of our lives.
There is no lack of love among us. Just a lot of messes to clean up, and 1,500 miles of separation.