I seriously considered returning to bed after Julia left for school this morning. Comforting thoughts of warm, compassionate blankets offering to rewrap their forgiving arms around me, and laying my head on the shoulders of a sympathetic pillow in the shadows of last nights upset, was a tough temptation to turn down. But, I have things to do. I always have things to do.
Wouldn't it be nice to be a modern day "Mrs. Cleaver," standing in front of the kitchen sink with a half-painted smile, lightheartedly gazing at the neighbors clean-cut lawn through an open window on a warm, mid-summers day, mechanically washing dishes while sporting a white, spot-free apron permanently attached to her waist like a ball and chain? Sadly, my “job” as a wife and mother (the two things in my world I want most to excel at) is expected to be done, more often than not, without appreciation. And though the example of any Mrs. Cleaver personifies the ideal model for me, I am time and again reminded (either by myself or those in my life) of my pathetic shortcomings which, of course, bring my own expectations well beneath her level of expertise. I know my family members love me dearly, but they are in fact ignorant to the degree of my efforts and oblivious to the extent of my ambitions. Each one imagines they possess a perfect live-in attendant. Not an easy cake to bake in my make believe oven.
Last night, when my husband looked out at me from under the hood of our dead Volvo and said seriously, “I really, really love you!” not once but three times, I imagined I had accomplished my wifely duties and met his high standards for the day. He was happy with me. His verbal praise was my prize. However, although this unexpected adoration warmed my heart to its foundation, the cold December, New England weather chilled the very substance of my bones. My toes were cold, too. I had to go inside. A quick smooch left him with a warm smile on his face and a cell phone ringing in his pocket.
I’m not sure exactly what transformed him in the short time we were apart. It could have been the phone call he received as I left his side, or perhaps his thoughts returned to reality while his hands returned to resuscitate the car. There have been some major issues with one of his sisters lately which has proved problematic for him.
Deborah. She has become an inexcusable alcoholic who voluntarily lives with denial and debauchery. She has lost her car and her license, forfeited a beautiful Chalet home in the scenic hills of Back Street Massachusetts, and for two years allowed another man to repeatedly rob the bed of her husband (who has adored her since high school). She’s exchanged a life raising two strapping young boys in favor of living with a Mister Wily N. Abler who has a perpetual plastic cash flow, provides rides anytime to Wherever Land, and an unending supply of cigarettes, vodka and “it’s going to be alright dear” pats on the back. All she has to do is perform the Mrs. Cleaver act he approves of and he’ll let her hang around, but not move in. The heartache and turmoil this girl has caused outside the hole she won’t even try to climb out of is enough to morph anyone into a monster, especially her Italian brother.
So, fifteen minutes after I left his side, my husband burst into the house like flames raging through a bonfire of forgotten flaws. (Not the same man I left in the driveway with endearing thoughts and love in his eyes.) I could hear his voice bellow a colorful discourse from the bowels of the “dungeon,” dragging in all kinds of dirt from the past and digging up rusty things that hadn’t even surfaced yet! Everything spun in an upward spiral through the unfinished laundry chute and out into the kitchen where I felt the lifeless weight of my apron begin to unravel and quietly took the heat. I didn’t hear every word, but I heard enough. I just wanted to gather my ashes and fade away.
Besides God, who knows the nature of a person better than the person? You cannot scorch a stone heart, but you can smooth it, right? Perhaps, as I have for twenty-seven years, I’ll just kiss that twisted mouth again tomorrow and we’ll each return to our fantasies as though nothing happened. It is possible that his own ambitions are to mimic Mister Cleaver, and he did not anticipate his thoughts reminding him of his own limitations. Some people are just incapable of congealing their boiler when it’s at a melting point. They thrust dense stacks of shapeless steam high into the air until they are spent and silence clears and evaporates the fog. Then, they are okay with themselves…until the next fuse is ignited.
Still, here I sit long after Julia has returned home from school, shamefaced and still not knowing where my beginning is or where I left my behind. I’ve been watching my computer screen turn letters on a blank page into words which eventually became these paragraphs of my observations on and off all day. My unmade bed still beckons in the background while a pretty picture of me dancing with my dirty apron in the Dungeons of Laundry Land pass through my cluttered mind with a heavy sigh. Yes, I am defective in many ways, but am I really deserving of this rake over the coals…again?