So glad you asked.
Larry yells from his office, “Cheryl, come check this out.”
I yell back from my room, “Kinda busy.”
The thing is I made the piss poor decision, for better or for worse, to clean out my closet right smack in the middle of all the Christmas hubbub. I still have shopping, wrapping, decorating, and meal planning to do but let’s pile on another impossible task and see what happens.
Because I’m insane.
And staying distracted during the holidays takes a lot more effort than one would think. The minute I slow down, I miss my parents, my dog, my youth, the emotions flood in, and it’s as if I’m drowning (no wonder I dream about water when I’m overwhelmed).
I don’t know what happened, a few months ago I was totally (relatively) normal, and suddenly I have no tolerance for disorder.
No, I did not bump my head or use too much cannabis oil.
It’s like MLK says, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” same with disorder.
Speaking of disorders, my recent visit to the skin doctor sent me off on a wild goose chase for yet another ointment, this one retails for $1,200, but with a coupon and insurance, you can purchase it for less than $100. What the hell? Is it made of liquid gold?
So I stand in line at the pharmacy with my flimsy prescription in hand, waiting for almost an hour while they fuss around with coupons and insurance. Finally, I’m told to go home, it’s all rather complicated, and they’ll call me when they’ve secured my pot of gold.
Perfect, I’m now reliant on a healing balm from Monica Biery (for which she refuses payment), a plant-based diet (loosely defined), and my cannabis oil, but I’m starting to smell like a dispensary.
My illusion of control is just that, an illusion (quote by Daniel Burns).
Standing before the most chaotic scene you can imagine, my closet, I pretend to be my daughter Kelley. She’s a millennial visualizer.
You know what I’m talking about?
My Dad was under the same illusion, he used to say, “what you think about will come about. So watch what you think about.”
I would not be exaggerating if I said I’ve heard that statement a thousand times. It must be embedded in my DNA because Kelley came out of the womb with the same delusion.
The problem remains, the longer I stand in front of this mess visualizing neatly stacked sweaters, aligned purses, color-coordinated shirts, the longer the job remains a reverie instead of a reality.
I don’t hate organizing, I hate letting things go, and I’ll do just about anything to avoid such tasks including scrubbing toilets and moldy grout lines in the shower.
Giving my stuff away is emotionally draining, it stretches me, and it’s painful, not unlike childbirth.
I don’t claim to understand the psychology of it all, but evaluating the efficacy of one’s possessions is excruciating business, not unlike evaluating who to hold close in life, and who to put a little distance between.
I wonder if anyone else feels the same when confronted with such challenges?
Tapping into dormant skills I never knew I had, I try to visualize an organized, clean, uncluttered, practically austere cubicle. I’m not sure how long I’m supposed to stand here holding my vision? After like two minutes I’m sweating, my anxiety is on the rise, and my mouth feels dry.
A martini would be good right about now.
The thought of what it’s going to take to accomplish this objective is daunting enough, I find myself turning to my phone, and my beloved solitaire app, making fatuous promises, after one more game I’ll get down to business.
I have absolutely no idea where to begin.
Marie Kondo would get on the floor and pray, thanking each item for their use, deciding what to bring into the future, what sparks joy, and letting the rest go.
Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin would label all my drawers, everything else would go in a basket, and my shoes would be arranged by color as if a rainbow.
Ashley Murphy and Molly Graves would put me on The Neat Method so I won’t impregnate my closet with future clutter.
I try to channel all of them and fail.
The only way to start is to completely empty my wardrobe, diligently stacking every piece of clothing I own on the bed, all I can say is thank God for a king-sized bed.
I yell to Larry in the office, “Honey, we might need to sleep in the guest room tonight.”
He says, “should I ask why?”
“I’m cleaning out my closet and it’s not going well.”
“Tough times don’t last….”
“Oh my God, stop, it’s a closet, not a pandemic. And by the way, yours is next.”
“I have a job.”
I mumble under my breath, “some people will use any excuse.”
Continuing to empty the contents of my closet into our room I end up with a mountain of purses stockpiled on one of the chairs, shoes assembled (that’s a misleading word, they’re more like thrown) by the fireplace, scarfs lounging in the other chair and I haven’t even touched my pajama drawer, jewelry, or junk cupboard.
To say I am overwhelmed is an understatement. It’s more like being deluged by a category five storm but unlike Tom Hanks, I don’t even have my dog.
Delores Huerta says, every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world. #GoalsAF
Once the closet is emptied I set about removing all the dust and debris that has gathered on the surfaces for like two decades. My reward? A severe allergic reaction. I can’t breathe, my nose is as if a leaky faucet and all I want to do is call Bay Area Biohazard and Hoarding Cleanup.
With undue fortitude, I resist.
Larry says, “Can you take a break and come look at this?”
“WHAT? I’m in the middle of a full-blown panic attack, can’t it wait?”
“It’ll only take a second.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
He’s giving me the look, but if I can’t see it, did it really happen? A small jolt of satisfaction passes through me.
What am I thinking?
A distraction is just what I need, I say, “I’ll be right there.”
When I enter his office I notice a tandem bicycle is taking up his entire computer screen, he says, “what do you think?”
“How many bikes do you need?” He currently has five!
“One bike less before your wife asks for a divorce.”
“Then you better sell one.”
“Think about it. We’ll need one for the Euro cruise if we get called up from the waitlist. Bikes are really expensive right now and tandem ones are hard to find. This one is used, the guy lives in San Jose, and I’ve been haggling with him over the price. I think we’ve come to an agreement.”
“It’s a fair price.”
“You said we were not spending any more money until hell freezes over.”
He ignores my quip, “Hey, you want to take a ride and go see it at noon?”
“I have a gnarly project in the works.”
“Well get going, you have two hours.”
Starting with the easy things first, something I don’t have a lot of, shoes. I decide to keep two pairs of tennis shoes, three sandals, two pumps, two boots, three loafers, and one pair of slippers, the rest are thrown out. Returning the survivors to the shelves, I line them up as if tin soldiers, and stand there glowing with pride.
This is when the phone rings, it’s the pharmacy, they want me to call the coupon company, so I can argue my claim for this liquid gold, they don’t have time.
Isn’t that their job?
Whatever, taking down the number, I promise to call with the results, and instead of listening to charming Christmas carols while sorting, I’m listening to muzak for the better part of an hour. When a real person finally pops on the line, I’m not only flustered but aggressively turned down, because as it turns out we’re dealing with the
Soup Salve Nazi.
“No liquid gold for Cheryl.”
I call the pharmacy back, she says, “I’ll work on it and call you later.”
I’m not feeling hopeful.
The next endeavor is to tackle the plethora of purses, emptying the contents of each into a grocery bag to organize later, I honor each by holding the worn and loyal bags in my hand, remembering not only the era but the experience of each receptacle. It’s an emotional journey, decidedly lost on one’s husband, I return the keepers to the cupboard and the rest to Goodwill.
Staggering to the kitchen, I refresh my coffee.
Scarves, baseball hats, bathing suits, and shorts were simple in comparison to the purses.
There are two boxes from my Mother’s estate that I’ve been avoiding for like three years. I stare them down but they don’t budge.
Grousing at the piles of pants, dresses, sweaters, blouses, shirts, coats, undergarments, and activewear still languishing on the bed I throw myself on top of the pile and groan.
By the time I finish going through my Mom’s boxes I’m a basket case. There was the entire Johnson lineage neatly outlined in a blue folder, old checkbooks with years of entries, six ornaments she bought for the grandkids, little boxes of jewelry, embroidered handkerchiefs, her wedding album, pictures, perfumes, notes with her favorite sayings, and more. After organizing it all, separating what I will keep from the things I’m ready to part with, it’s noon.
Larry yells, “let’s go.”
“I have to find some shoes, meet you in the car.”
Before we get out of the neighborhood, he says, “did you figure out your medication yet?”
“We’re not talking about that.”
“You have to be aggressive.”
I decide to waylay the conversation, I inquire, “we’re just looking, right? We aren’t obligated to buy this contraption.”
He says, “that’s right, we’re just checking it out. If it’s nice, I’ll buy it, if not, we’ll keep looking.”
Driving up to the person’s house I already know he’s going to purchase the bike. The house is in impeccable condition, the yard is beautifully landscaped and groomed, clearly, this guy takes really good care of his stuff. I bet his closet is in perfect order.
When the bike is brought around to the driveway Larry is practically salivating.
He says, “Can I take it for a spin?”
The guy says, “Sure, we’ll keep your wife as collateral.”
I say, “That might be a risk.”
By the time Larry returns he has an envelope of money in his hand, which he delivers to Mr. Perfect, after shaking hands, we load Larry’s sixth bike onto the rack hanging off the back of the truck.
I say, ‘Merry Christmas Larry.”
He gives me a little kiss, “Merry Christmas.”
“Wait, this is a joint gift?”
The problem is the bike is too heavy and too long for a regular bike rack, the story of my life. We have to drive in the right lane all the way home so cars won’t accidentally clip the bike, as it is we have to stop three times to adjust the shifting weight and straps that keep popping off.
Arriving home with an undamaged bike was miraculous in itself, Larry grabs our helmets out of the garage and says, “let’s take her for a ride.”
“I’m in flats and a sweater set, so not biking attire.”
“We’ll just go a few blocks, to my parents’ house.”
“I could make it a mile.”
We figured out how to get started, which takes a lot more coordination than you might think, especially when the guy out front is used to riding solo. We arrive unscathed at Larry’s parents, his Dad is the only one home, so we force him to come out front so he could watch us ride up and down the street.
He’s unduly impressed.
Next, we head for the par course which has a paved trail from Campbell to Los Gatos. I assume we’ll jump off when we get to our neighborhood, but no, we keep going. We end up at Vasona Park, a six-mile ride, we turn around at the lake, my butt is sore, and we have miles to go. I’m rethinking this whole tandem biking thing.
When we return home, I resume sorting, Larry to his job, until I heard, “Cheryl, I want to show you something.”
“OMG! What now?”
When I walk into his office there is a beautiful hotel room on the screen with a palm tree in the background and a gigantic pool, he says, “I signed us up for a tandem bike event in February, it’s in Palm Springs, we have to decide if we want to ride for twenty-five miles or fifty miles?
“Twenty-five sounds ambitious, is there a ten-mile ride?”
“We’ll barely break a sweat.”
“I’m sweating just thinking about it.”
“The reservations are all set, should be a great ride.”
“We’ll need matching bike shirts.”
“We do not.”
“Ho, ho, ho, they’ll be here before Christmas.”
My phone rings, it’s the pharmacy, they think they have it figured out! I can pick up my liquid gold tomorrow. Yes, Cheryl, there really is a Santa Claus.
I return to my dusty room, piles of clothes, and continue dancing with memories as if we’re lost in our own tango. I wonder if I’m really just cleaning out my closet or is this some sort of metaphor for life?
Maybe that’s why I procrastinate.
Because if life is as if an eight-track tape, I’m beginning to realize I can’t stall the future by rewinding the past, the only way forward is to be selective about the tracks I choose, the people, places, and things I want to accompany me into the future, to recognize the present moment as a compilation of all my previous decisions, and tomorrow is going to happen whether I push play or not.
I say, “turn up the volume baby, what’s coming next is better than we could ever imagine.”
I’m Living in the Gap, it’s dusty but austere.
“Rather than turning the page, it’s much easier to just throw the book away.” Anthony Liccione
“Reality smacked like a bucket of ice water.” Marilyn Dalla Valle
“Embrace the change. It will take you to the most phenomenal places you haven’t even dreamt about.” Hiral Nagda
“I am giving birth. I am midwife to myself. Now is a new life full of possibilities. I must be strong like a child.” Patricia Robin Woodruff