After a long, almost orgasmic, soak in the bathtub this evening, I donned my favorite t-shirt from Kroger and grey plaid flannel pajama pants from Goodwill – my normal sleeping attire when I choose to wear anything at all. Lips chapped and throbbing from working in the cool December wind, I frantically searched for my Chapstick and a reprieve from the drumbeat on my face. I likely threw it out when downsizing my bathroom, so I grabbed my go-to Burt’s Bees rhubarb (the color) lip balm from my makeup box. Ah. It was a salve for tender lips and just shy of my favorite Burt’s Bees moments – smacking it on while drinking my morning coffee. The combo tastes just like Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies. Don’t ask me why. It just does. So as I looked at myself in the mirror, with a naked face and rosy lips, I recognized those old ladies I used to see in the grocery checkout lines, with their bright red lipstick creeping up into fine lines around their lips, like little crimson sea urchins who were not amused. It made me question myself. Perhaps they weren’t trying to look younger. Maybe they, too, had worked all day in a cold wind. It’s like that, growing older and seeing yourself in the stupid judgments of your youth.
It was Saturday and we had started the garage clean out. “Clean out” makes me think of enemas and colonoscopies and the metaphor seems appropriate for this experience. Over the past month, we’ve been ridding ourselves of many of our worldly possessions and moving those “I-don’t-knows” to the garage. Unfortunately, before we could get everything out of the house, the garage clogged up. “No more room at the inn,” as they say in the Bible. So we set out to bail the proverbial hay from the barn to make room for shit from the house. We removed virtually everything from the garage and parked it on the damp brown lawn. We tried to categorize as we went, but the best we could manage was to throw our camping gear in a corner, quite unrepresentative of its value in our free-form life. The remainder became a massive tumor on a tarp, seemingly growing without restraint. It was ugly. However, the inside of the garage started to glisten. I’ll save you from the enema analogy here. Suffice it to say, stage 1, the enema, was over.
I have to laugh at the phrase that echoed in my mind, but usually coming from Don’s mouth. “Oh my gosh! I wondered where this was!” Over and over, again. Laughable. How can we own so much stuff we forget the stuff we own? And let me tell you, we are not materialists or hoarders. We live in a 937 square foot house. We call it “boat living.” We have one rule. If anything comes into the house, something has to go out. Yet, here we are, growing a tumor in our yard.
Here‘s the pathological hiccup in our plan. We cleaned out the garage; we’re sorting out the stuff to throw/gift/sell/keep, and deciding what to put in the attic. But… the attic is constipated, as well. Our treatment, or proverbial laxative, was to erect a gazebo – a bad-ass 90-second octagonal tent to serve as a sort of waylay lunar station. Things from the garage went to the tumor and to our lunar station to be sorted to go to 1) the garage or 2) the attic. Let’s just say that by the end of Sunday, our lunar station was pretty packed. Don sat there in his camping chair surrounded by boxes and drawers of 40-something year-old memories in physical form, deciding the final fate of each. In the meantime, I tackled the tumor of garage overflow, assigning it to the lunar station, the dump, or our front yard.
Did I mention the front yard? Yes, our house sits on a delightful corner lot surrounded by a picket fence that “Youtube built,” as we put it. Constructed by our own hands with the guidance of Youtube amateurs and pros alike, we dug those freakin’ holes, sunk our poles, and hammered that wood, with only one call to Code Control by a neighbor. So, my front yard became our give/sell pile. In lieu of a formal garage sale (aka torture device), we decided to do it in the sharing-economy manner in which we are planning the rest of our days. We launched an “honor-system yard sale.” Posts on multiple Facebook groups and signs on our Youtube picket fence informed our guests they may pay what they can or take it for free. Envelopes were provided, into which self-selected buyers could put a large or small wad of money and throw it over the fence to the backyard, where would gather and pocketed the booty. We had a few takers, earning $49 for not managing a yard sale. It paid for our Domino’s pizza, plus some.
To say I was unenthusiastic about the day’s agenda was quite the understatement. Perhaps it wasn’t only the hot sauce I topped on last night’s midnight snack of peanut butter & jelly crackers which made my belly feel like heaving itself through my then crispy lips. I dreaded walking into the garage to face the remaining pile of orphaned belongings removed from the house Saturday. “One bite at a time,” I told myself. And so I ate it until the garage floor once again made a glorious appearance. I was too tired to applaud, but somewhere deep I felt a little joy seeing our home-based office of 18 years pared down to only three small shelves.
What then remained was a sundry of items, mostly keepsakes, residing in the nylon lunar station parked next to our Casita in the backyard. Our poor backyard. Lawn space had disappeared leaving what looked like one of those places you drive by on a country road – a house with a sideyard stuffed with old rusting cars someone couldn’t bear to see die in a crush yard. But, of course, ours is much cuter and does have a real function. An Airbnb glamper, the Casita fiberglass trailer where Don and I are hanging out while our kids are home for Christmas, and then our pop-up gazebo storing life memories waiting for their turn in the attic. Attic evacuation promises to be just as torturous as the garage, mostly because it involves ladders.
Although victorious over the garage, it was hard to feel barely chipper. Life got a little richer when I visited the front yard, strewn with belongings we no longer needed. There I met JoAnn, about my age but with a dark weathered face, gaunt cheeks, and fried peroxide hair. And bright blue eyes. Her face looked guilty, probably because she was choosing the “free” option at the yard sale. But I smiled and she started talking, sharing. She was homeless, living in her van. She wanted a fishing pole and the sleeping bag. As I gave her a tour of our camping equipment, I taught her about propane heat and cooking, filling a box with supplies she could use. I heard her story, one of extreme hardship, of being beaten and raped, trying to recover, losing her home because she was in the hospital, and not catching a break since. I get it. I’ve lost everything before, too, but certainly not in such a violent manner. We toted the survival gear to her van which reeked of smoke. I noticed a soiled mattress marked by gaping holes. This is the part of the story where others love to insert themselves. “She was a druggie. She brought this on herself. She could have tried harder. She should stop smoking and buy a house with what she saves on cigarettes.” And quietly to themselves, “She deserves this.” Her history didn’t matter to me, and I didn’t care how she spent what money she scrounged. She needed a freaking fishing pole so she could catch dinner, for God’s sake! She was cold. As my brother says, “She’s someone’s daughter.”