My book club seems to come here in March. I only host once a year and there is no set schedule, but somehow books I suggest that get voted onto our list seem to fall in March and I wind up volunteering to host, despite having literally not enough seats if everyone shows up. Last year my hosting date fell only a month after Tom died, but I wanted them all to come. I needed my living room to morph back from hospice ward into a room where wine is served and laughter rings out and big ideas are discussed. So I asked them to please come and discuss the book and eat and drink but NOT to ask me how I was, because I was fine as long as no one asked me but the second they did I stopped being fine on a dime.
This year March was a jam packed month and I was regretting having offered to host. My discussion preparation was a little lax since I’d read the book a year earlier and couldn’t really remember the finer points—like who some of the characters were! But my cleaning was thorough. My cleaning was, by my extremely low standards, spectacular. I got out Tom’s Rainbow vac and went to town. I dusted with the lemon Pledge, I floor-washed with the Murphy’s, I took the duster to its full extension and went for every molding and corner cobweb. For refreshments I went as high as $9.99 on a couple of bottles of wine at Trader Joe’s! I drove to the French bakery and bought a ficelle (baby-sized baguette) to cut up and serve with stinky cheese since the book was set in France. (Franny and I were once at a birthday celebration for a dear friend in France where the cheese platter smelled like a cross between a locker room and the city dump. We could barely breathe, much less EAT!)
I wanted to dust or wipe down every surface in sight so I took all the pictures off the mantle, removed the shrine to Tom on the window sill and took down all the taped up quotes of comfort and inspiration that covered my bathroom cabinets. Alyssa said, “Oh, you took down your quotes” in a disappointed voice, but I knew it was time. Even in cultures where they wear black and have a formal mourning protocol 12 months is enough. I do not love nor miss him any less because the daily reminders are gone. As cheesy as it sounds he actually does live in my heart and always will. I don’t need to be reminded every time I turn my head nor remind everyone who comes here that I am sad, that I have suffered a horrible loss, that a wonderful man died far too soon. Alyssa commented on how much bigger our house looked when clean. I had literally created space by removing clutter and it felt good. I’m not sure what I will do with all that extra space. Time will tell. Right now just having it seems enough.
A book written by a friend from church choir who hails from Kenya speaks about treating your house as if God lived there. When Tom was alive I kind of did—at least I made a far greater effort to curb my life-long messiness. I wanted there to be enough space for Tom. I wanted him to feel comfortable and cared for. All those good intentions vanished when he died and my decades-long habit of sloth won out. But I like thinking that God lives here. If I can’t get motivated to keep a tidy house for myself or my daughter maybe I can do it for God! But he’s not getting a shrine either. There’s enough of that at church. He’ll have to settle for some flat surfaces that aren’t covered in books, bills and projects. That would be victory enough.
My piano is freshly tuned AND dusted and is graced with a vase of lovely pink tulips. Spring, we are all cleaned up and awaiting your arrival. The forsythia is minutes from bursting out into yellow splendor and from then on Michigan only gets better and better. I’m already taking lunch outside, huddled between the garage door and the Buick in a perfect patch of sun. I can do ANYTHING with a little help from the sun’s warmth and my divine new tenant. Maybe even slay the messy demon. Maybe even start to fill the unfillable hole.