Summer and autumn waned without my completely addressing the deep-set dirt in the crevices of my house. I had a thorough cleaning in March but since then, dust has accumulated and clutter has reclaimed the surfaces that I cannot reach.
As fall bore down, I began to realize that my lungs filled with smog each night as I slept. I found myself awakening in the darkened bedroom gasping and gagging, eerily reminiscent of twenty years ago long before my asthma diagnosis and treatment. I noticed the swirls of dust on the floor; the murky mirrors; the grey pallor of my china angels. My home lies trapped under the heavy neglect of my distracted existence.
When construction commenced on the rehab of my attic and upstairs halfbath, the need for cleaning surpassed critical. I started the process this weekend. I filled a trash bag with bank records to be shredded and the recycle box with useless material that contained nothing personal or sensitive — old computer manuals, book lists, hand-outs from long-forgotten workshops.
From the first round of sorting, I saved a small collection: a handful of my son’s early school work, a fistful of letters, and a smattering of photographs. In the midst of my Saturday, I found a letter from my deceased brother, a picture of our first dog, and a photograph of myself with a pager clipped to my high-waisted jeans.
I sank into a chair holding my brother’s letter, feeling the tears gathering in my eyes. With one finger, I traced his closing signature: Love always, Your baby bro, Steve. I read and re-read the paragraphs about our father; about Steve’s drug use; about the bridges burned and the hopelessness felt. I checked the date: 1986, eleven years before his suicide. Oh Stevie Pat, why could I not have seen? I carefully re-folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope.
A little deeper into the box, I found a card made for my son’s 7th birthday by our friends, the Taggarts; a picture of two Tucans; an Easter card from my mother; and a couple of pictures of my son. These disparate items come from different decades. I don’t recall storing them together. I think they must have been collected during some previous purge, treasured items culled from different strata of my life’s debris.
Today I will tackle the grime. I’ll move the living room furniture and sweep away the accumulated dog hair missed from the cursory passes with a lazy broom wielded by my tired hands over these last few months. I’ll spray the furniture and wipe away the dust on the shelves where my angels stand. I know more dust will accumulate as the upstairs project moves forward and the carpenter shapes the walls of my new closet and shower. But I need the clean air now; I need to breathe; I need to fill my lungs with purity and light.
Time to tie up my hair and put on old sweat-pants. Winter-cleaning commences. No time for recriminations and regret. I’ve done my best by the past and by those who cross my path each day. To any whom I have failed, I can only offer my sweetest smile, and a place at my table when its surface has been cleared, the tea is poured and the cakes are served.