The Memories of Cleaning

I am standing in the silence that begins the quieter part of my half life with the two of you. The car has pulled away, you are traveling to your other home, and my focus comes back to our house. It is so quiet in here I become aware of my tinnitus again.

My first inclination after I shut and lock the door is to begin cleaning up. You may think “inclination” is putting it mildly because, from your perspective, my aversion to clutter borders on pathological. There is another aspect of this specific moment that drives me to straighten up after your dual hurricanes of energy have gone.

Cleaning up makes me feel like we are together just a little while longer.

When I walk though the house I can’t help but review everything that happened over the past couple of days. Bits of that time are scattered all around and each piece of furniture has its own pile of recent memories.

The little desk never seems to have any homework on it yet it does have a whole lot of crumbs, candy wrappers, and half-filled glasses of juice. You, dear daughter, bought that candy at the Asian market with your own money and ate nearly all of it right before dinner. The not-so-carefully hidden pile of wrappers is directly connected to the refrigerator being filled with Tupperware containers. They contain the bits of the meal you refused to eat because you said you were full. In between the wrappers and Tupperware is a conversation we had about being responsible with our candy; how too much snacking makes you too full to enjoy Dad’s carefully curated meals. It hurts my pride that sour Warheads win out over my chicken soup.

The sock on the back of the couch reminds me of the two of you complaining that you can’t find any matching socks. Currently, there are more individual socks scattered throughout this house than there are in your dresser drawers. I have long since given up trying to pair any of them and I’m only half right when I try to determine which sock belongs to which kid. My inability to get that sorted out led to the two of you throwing socks back and forth until I had to wave my arms above my head like a referee to get you to stop. I know I have to pull the couch away from the wall now but I am afraid of what I will find.

There is that half-filled cup of milk sitting on the floor next to the TV. Son, I asked you to clean it up three separate times and yet you never did because playing football on the XBox consumed your attention. Then I am reminded of how proud I am that you went from being frustrated to tears at losing every game at the start, to doggedly learning how to win. Now you are an expert and have no problem running the score up on me while letting me know just how terrible I am at that game. Remembering that wretched game makes me laugh, even though the child still inside of me was seething and wanted to throw down the controller and stomp away.

I look down at the simple little thing, the cup of milk, and wonder why it was so difficult for you to pick it up and walk the thirty feet into the kitchen. Then I recall the kind of kid I was at 8, pick up the cup, and move on. Did I just hear my mother laughing?

Cleaning your bedroom is always the hardest for me. In the middle of the rug in your bedroom is a lone, clutter-free spot. That’s where I lay down during our talks and reading time. Many important words have been spoken and decisions made during those moments. I look at that spot and think about what we said just last night, wondering if I gave the right advice or listened long enough to what was on your mind. I am astonished at how well the two of you can articulate how you feel at such a young age.

I waver between wanting to clean up your room so you’ll have something nice to come home to, and letting you suffer in the mess you created with a vain hope that you may decide to clean it up on your own. I never learn that I am the one who truly suffers over this.

Days of memories scattered around the house and recollected in a few minutes of quiet. When I clean up after you I relive all of the recent moments of this half life together. I know it won’t take long for you to be back and turn this house into another giant, crazy mess again. Then once more I will pick up the stray socks and snack wrappers and juice cups and stuffed animals and drawings and cards and coins and shoes… and listen to our recent memories in my head just a little while longer.

May 11, 2020 at 10:00 am 1 comment

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