The beginning of Hand Wash Cold, because somewhere, for someone, the cycles are repeating:
By September everything was gone. Given away or sold, cheap. The entire living room to my sister, who hired movers to take it. Two garage sales to empty the shelves. My wedding crystal, still in plastic in the Lenox shipping box, for $35. The woman halfheartedly bargained, “Is this set complete?” before she laughed at her own question and handed over the bills. One Sunday night I invited the little guy from the rollerblading group inside and sold him the wine rack for $20. He’d wanted dinner and a date but he drove away with the rack standing up in the backseat of his MG convertible.
I kept what I needed and wanted. They’d become the same. The bed, desk, books and a chair, and about half of my clothes. I sublet one room, the smaller one, in a two-bedroom apartment from someone who seemed desperate for the company and the cash. Then I did what everyone else had already done from the big house on Avalon Drive. I left. And then it sold.
Hadn’t quite sold, but after two years in a falling market it was wanted, finally and fast, by a woman attorney new in town.
It was time to take care of the last bit of housekeeping. Just a day’s worth, a day in September.
There was stuff left in drawers and closets. The cabinets above and below the tiny wet bar between the kitchen and the living room with the blue-and-yellow tile counter. An understated spot that had made the house seem so authentic. This would make someone a lovely home, I often thought, realizing it wasn’t me. I surveyed the mismatched glassware and souvenir mugs, the army of half-empty liquor bottles my husband had brought home after doing beverage inventory at the hotel where he worked. We can’t use it there, he’d said. Never used it here either. I poured every bottle down the little sink and stuck the empties, like bones, into garbage bags. Dragged outside, the bags piled up behind the little white picket sanitation fence by the garage. Up and over the top, an embarrassing tower of unmade toasts.
Upstairs, I swept through the closets of empty hangers and leftover shoes, pausing over a stash of get well cards from the surgery five years ago, when the doctor said get pregnant now and, looking at my blank-faced husband, I knew I didn’t love him.
I pulled down the attic stairs and went up. In some ways, it was my favorite room. We’d bought the house from a surgeon, and that explained the precision of the place. No visible scars. The guy had actually done his own gardening and cleaned his own pool, installed his own sprinkler system and outdoor lights. Awash in aftershave, I imagined, with an aperitif in hand.
The attic was high-ceilinged and light. The span was clean and shadowless. The surgeon had put in a solid floor and neatly lain old doors and shutters across the rafters. In case someone could use them again. On one wall was a built-in shelf where I kept my small store of Christmas decorations. Not enough ornaments to cover a tree, but centerpieces and ceramics to set out in the years before I could no longer lift the sentiment.
I saw an unfamiliar bag and opened it. Inside, a jumble of clothes like a load of laundry. Or perhaps the contents of a closet floor. I couldn’t remember the clothes, but tipped in my head and named the scent. It was my someday, my glorious one day, the one that had never arrived. And here I sat, snorting a sudden gust of wistfulness from a sack of dirty socks and shirts.
Sometimes I’m asked how I came to Zen. It wasn’t the ending. It was the beginning.