Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

02 July 2010

On Cleaning

I'm basically just posting this to kill time because I've devoted today to putting "certain" elements of the apartment in order, including the bedroom.

I have a secret jealousy of people whose things all have a dedicated place, even the telephone and internet cords. Everything is neat and perfect, and there is never even any dust. I keep thinking that someday I'll morph into that person if only I can find a "dedicated space" for this pile of business cards I recently accumulated, for example.

But it's complicated. I'm staring at the business cards now, that great grand pile of "things that are potentially important," and there doesn't seem to be an immediate solution. The probability is high I will never look at that pile again. But what if one day I need a name in there? I'll hate that I cast it aside like so much junk mail.

I can extend the time frame of how long I can contemplate this quagmire by taking little pieces of paper to the trashcan, one scrap at a time, which is technically still productive.

(Also, I am Spotlighting things on my computer to stick in the bin. I love emptying the Mac bin.)

On days like this there's a vague memory that replays in my mind. It is so resonant that it's managed to survive in my recollectable archives, but so old that I realised today I can think about it without knowing I'm thinking about it. It has lived with me too long, like a dull ache you forget to be unhappy about.

I was 7 or 8, and my dad confined me to my bedroom to clean it. I had two big Mickey Mouse toy boxes, cardboard held together with wooden red frames and plastic yellow joints. Blue music notes danced across the white expanse, circling a parading Mickey; the imagery was faded and I had also scribbled on them.

The contents of these toy boxes were all over the floor, playthings interspersed with discarded socks, plastic Tinkerbell perfume bottles and pretend hair brushes. I knew my dad was swinging from his last nerve, because he'd tried to walk into my room earlier that day and stepped on something hard and pointy (probably a small caboose). It was not the first time, but this time he yelled instead of kicking the offending item away apathetically.

His words were "You can't leave until I can see the floor!" And then he slammed the door.

I contemplated the mess, the way I am this one now. If my baby head was anything like my current head, I must have considered that I can either organise things in long-term piles, then put them away methodically without wasting time; or I could just not deal with that right now and put things away one single item at a time.

It's the only thought process that can explain the paralysis that followed. I sat in the middle of bare brown carpet, an island in a world of plastic and linty cotton, with an Alf puppet in my hands, uncertain what to do next. Where does an Alf puppet belong? On the bed with the other plush items? It is not soft and it is also wearing a shirt. My bed stuffed animals were not generally clothed.

It was then that my dad threw open the door. "What are you doing?" he shouted. His red face, coupled with his size (he is nearly 6 feet tall), made the yelling truly formidable. "Do you think this is hard?!"

I didn't answer. Probably there was no way I could have explained what I was thinking right then, and anyway, I was scared shitless.

He entered and shut the door, which scared me even more. The room was bathed in a tentative, itchy pre-storm silence. Outside the sun was going down, giving everything an obscure gold and sinister glow.

"Let me show you how this works," he said dangerously. "You're going to watch me very closely, so you never forget."

And to my terror, he picked up a gigantic pile of stuff willy-nilly, without any regard for what they were, and dumped them inside the nearest toy chest. And then he picked up another pile and did it again.

"You SEE?" he shouted, turning triumphantly to me. "IS THIS HARD?"

The fear went away then and I was paralysed for another reason. One question repeated itself in my head, which was hot from energy expended in terror and the stress of this whole situation: how can he do that?

How ... can ... he ... DO ... that?

The room was clean in a matter of seconds, leaving the unmade bed, which he told me to make before he left again. As I distractedly set myself to the task of folding the sheets, I felt the fear come back: it's easy. He made it look so easy.

I don't think I can do that.

It's probably that last thought that gives this memory the ability to haunt me nearly 20 years later: the general idea of "cleaning," of organising one's life, isn't really like doing the dishes or folding the laundry. Those things you can learn, and they are basically always the same.

I never figured out how to just take a pile of stuff and shove them somewhere, definitively. But I could never figure out what to do with it all otherwise. So here I am, still staring at those goddamn business cards, and the bed, yeah, is still unmade.

1 comment:

Bertrand said...

Where is your dad when you need him??