Monday, October 13, 2008

Lost Things

I have been settling in in stages. And most of the stages have felt exactly like the stage before-- total chaos and confusion. Mostly this is about moving in, but it's also been true of my job. I'll have these moments of clarity when I'll see that something I've been pushing up against, struggling to understand, suddenly becomes clear. And then I can move forward, move into it. Since basically every single thing in my life was upended in July 2008, there have been a lot of these moments. It's been easiest to see, however, in the adjustment to living in this house and this marriage. And since I've just hit a new stage, I thought I'd try to delineate them so far.
  1. Putting things away. It consisted of cleaning out all the cabinets and shelves, taking off what was on them and had been on them for up to twenty years, and then figuring out what went back on the shelf, or went elsewhere, and what went away, and how my things joined the other things in that space. The effect was always to have the same uncluttered surfaces and usable cabinets, closets, and drawers, when things were done. And not to have two of everything. Among the things I took off the shelves were: birthday hats from a child's birthday party; canned goods, vitamins, juice boxes and cereal with expiration dates going back to 2003; lots and lots of dried up children's art supplies; very old sheets, pillowcases, towels, and blankets. What I moved in were new and improved pots and pans; a large and small food processor; supplies for Thai stir fries and noodle dishes; nice mixing bowls; a bunch of vintage china I got at Savers. I also didn't really hang any new pictures for a long time. I took down a few and replaced them with my own, but I didn't impose on the spaces. The house was already decorated. And it all looked like it was supposed to look. Which is to say at least in part, not like me.

  2. Looking for my own space. Once all my things were put away, I entered the most difficult phase. I kind of wandered around miserably trying to figure out what my space was. I was fit into the spaces here, but I felt vulnerable. The problem was, it turned out, that my office was really Catherine's Room, his oldest daughter's room. She is 25, and had done an excellent job of clearing out a bunch of her stuff so I could put my things there. But I knew she'd be coming back to claim the space, at Christmas, and so my stuff felt totally unsafe. Would she read my old diaries from the shelf? Would she judge me based on my books, the few prints I'd risked hanging alongside her artwork? (It took me 6 weeks to hang anything up there at all.) Also, I shared the bathroom downstairs-- the best bathroom, really my choice-- with the girls. So there are Martha's products, and I got this irrational fear she was going to start stealing Tampons from me or Ibuprofin or my jewelry. No way would she ever even want to wear my jewelry. I just felt like I was in unsafe, other people's space. People who don't even really live here anymore. About this time I also had a huge bout of insomnia (part of it was Steve's snoring and shifting in his sleep, and part of it was me getting off a medication, and part of it was this big transition). So at night I'd be downstairs, roaming, and end up in Catherine's bed in Catherine's room, feeling a little like I was being punished or exiled. Feeling a lot like I didn't belong here.

  3. Finding my own space. Then, suddenly, everything changed. Steve gave me the bedroom, which despite our efforts I thought of until that day as his bedroom. Of course! Before I'd moved in we'd renovated the master bedroom. We'd replaced the carpet and I'd painted it a color I had left from my house back in Cold Spring, a peach color I really liked. Steve refinished the desktop for me and even cleared out the bookcase over the desk. When Steve gave me the bedroom he even started sleeping in Catherine's room, so I could roam around upstairs with my computer in my room if I couldn't sleep. I moved my stuff up from Catherine's room and suddenly it all made sense. Everything fit. In fact, the walls were the sizes and color I needed to hang the artwork I'd brought over. There was a place for my lamp by my reading chair. It was obvious where my dresser should go. And within three days I was sleeping perfectly again. (We're going back and forth-- he sleeps with me awhile, then moves downstairs.) When the girls come to visit, I can go up there and shut the door and no one will come in. No one will go in my closet and get out my embarrassing childhood diaries. So it was that in late September, as if for the first time, I moved into my space. I started for the first time feeling like I live here. And like I and my things were safe.

  4. Figuring out the groceries and chores. We're still in this phase. At least now I know what it is. With my room all figured out, I still raged downstairs. I'd been cooking-- cooking BIG-- since I arrived, as a way that I felt connected to who I was and what I liked to do. As a way of controlling my environment. But I am not on top of things. We run out of eggs. We run out of butter. I went to bake cookies three times in one week and each time we were out of a different thing. Then we ran out of garlic even though it was on the grocery list. I've been grocery shopping every week. I've been filling my basket. I've been filling the refrigerator. I've been paying close attention to the new things I need to get that Steve eats regularly. So how could we run out of butter? How could we run out of eggs? I'd never run out of eggs in my house! This was so totally annoying-- and clearly Steve's fault because he never went grocery shopping. Which isn't true. Just a way of not facing what I felt, which is totally not on top of my environment. So out of control and so incompetent that suddenly I could not keep staples in my house. This was a disaster. Soon I am sure I'll be able to keep things stocked, because I am learning what we eat. We eat a lot of butter and eggs. It used to take me 6 months to go through a carton of eggs.
  5. As for chores, well, we're not on top of those either. Yesterday we had a huge argument about what chores are involved with making and cleaning up after dinner. In my house the person who cooks does not have to do any cleaning up afterward. In Steve's house, we clean up together. One person washes the dishes. The other person puts away food, cleans the countertops and stovetop, and sweeps the floor. Well, I like to put away the leftovers sometimes because I like to split them into proportions I can take with me for lunch. But I do not sweep floors. I don't. I won't. And if I have to, I'm not cooking. The idea of cooking, then having to clean up and sweep the floor afterward seems totally unjust to me. It was very difficult to come to an agreement on this. I'm not sure if we did.

  6. Realizing what is missing. Ever since I moved in, I've been looking for things. Things like the gift cards from the wedding, the thank-you cards, my financial records, the book I was reading, the recipe I put on the counter, my keys, my wallet, my shoes, the apple I just took out of the fridge to eat, the lavender seeds I dried and stripped off the plant for a sachet. Part of this is Steve's (annoying) habit of putting away things the second they catch his attention. Constantly clearing off the kitchen counter. Throwing things away that look like trash (the lavender). I couldn't get my bearings. I turn on a light, he comes behind me and turns it off and turns on a different one. I open a window, he comes in and closes it, and vice versa. But in every instance like that, I found what I'd lost. I remembered where I put it or asked Steve and he told me where he'd put it. Then tonight I realized I can't find my framed print by Mary Lum. I haven't seen it since I moved in. I have no idea where it is. Steve doesn't remember ever seeing it, even at my old house. And I've looked through stacks of things, through boxes, in the basement, everywhere. I can't find it. I have a place to hang it now, in my room, and it's just plain gone. There is nowhere it could be. Maybe it's in the barn with things going to the Goodwill. Maybe it's already at the Goodwill. Or it could be in a bin or box somewhere I haven't thought of looking yet. But the good thing is-- I can see its absence. I can see where it should be, and where it is not. I remember it, and I want it, and I know it is gone. I am ready to realize that other things are gone too. Lots of my furniture is gone. I might have given up too much, knowing that this space was already full of furniture and art. I tend to do that sometimes. But I'm starting to see my room more clearly, and what should go in it. And I the next stage will be hanging pictures on the wall.

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