By Maria Capezio Crookes
I- The Chair
Last Saturday, an ordinary one, I was in the living room, sitting on my favorite chair facing the window, letting the silence of the snow falling accompany me, with a blanket on my lap, my book, and my coffee. Taking a deep breath, I looked around and saw that the stack of Christmas cards we received was still sitting on the shelf where I left them in January. I shrugged, and thought, “I might as well do it, otherwise it’s not getting done.” I grabbed the cards and couldn’t help looking through them. Pictures of babies and dogs, letters of aunties with detailed lists of the past year’s events, and the ever-present glitter-all-over cards that the church ladies send every year. After enjoying the pictures, I put them away in the box with all the cards from the past 15 years.
Back to my spot, my now cold cup of coffee waited for me, so instead of sitting down, I re-filled the cup and microwaved it. While waiting for the beeep beeep beeep (that acts also as a countdown for when I could return to my chair), I saw that dust had accumulated on The Nightmare Before Christmas figures that are set up year-round. “It’s only a few seconds, and I am here. I might as well do it, otherwise it’s not getting done.” With the duster in hand, I emptied the entire shelf, dusted the surface, and then each figurine with a cloth (there are a lot of them: Jack and Sally, some shrunken heads, presents, a black cat, Sandy Claw’s gifts bag, plus stands for all of them). When everything was back to showing their original colors, I decided to rearrange them, and painstakingly reorganized the shelf.
Ah! The coffee is cold again. Another 1:30 minutes, but this time I stared at the digital numbers counting down to 00:00, I figured this way I wouldn’t get distracted again. Beeep beeep beeep. The coffee and I returned to my chair, sat down, and made a mental note to not get up again until I read a few chapters. I held my mug with both hands, letting the warmth of the cup burn my hands a little bit, while smelling the coffee with my eyes closed. This quiet moment of coffee-smelling-anticipation before opening the book again, while the house is empty, was a true moment of peace, rare and worth it. When I opened my eyes again, I put my legs up, grabbed the book, and started looking out the window. The snow was heavier now; it looked like another foot of snow was an accurate prediction. But that was a problem for Sunday me. My eyes then rested on a spot, at the bottom right of the window. Was that a spot on the blind? With my foot, I lifted the blind and see that, what used to be window gel-clings, were now a splat of shapeless goo, dripping down the window, with some bugs attached.
I did the math in my head, “if I spray the goo with Goo-Gone®, and let it sit for 15 minutes, then I can read a chapter before I clean that. I might as well do it.” I ran to the closet, grabbed the Goo-Gone®, but noticed that there is a load of laundry that needs to be moved to the dryer. I took the dried laundry, tossed it in the couch, put most of the wet clothes in the dryer—hanging the wool socks, a couple of thermals, and a dress. “It’ll take me a few minutes to re-load the laundry. I’m here. I might as well do it.” I loaded the next batch of laundry, grabbed the Goo-Gone®, and went back to the window, my coffee (cold, again), and my book.
As I walked, I see the load of laundry that I took out of the dryer… Sigh.” Setting the Goo-Gone® on the side table, I started folding the laundry, making piles for each person, adding some socks to the basket of lonely socks (I will never empty this basket, I assume at one point I’ll just use all these socks as stuffing for some craft). At this point, I changed my mind and decide to make mates. They stay hot longer, anyways.
Back in the kitchen, I set the water for mates and remembered that the cup of coffee still sits by my chair, with my book and my blanket. But, I couldn’t become distracted. I needed to finish the mates, and then finish the chapter of the book before the family came back. No more excuses!
Water was ready, gourd ¾ full, I quickly grabbed the coffee cup, rinsed, and left it in the sink. “I’ll just rinse it and leave in the sink; I WANT TO READ,” I said to myself. But my brain decided to do what it does, and I opened the dishwasher that sat there, with a full load of clean dishes from the night before. I started putting the dishes away, quickly (it’s amazing how much faster I can do this alone, than the kids can working together), drinking a mate in between plates, glasses, and mugs.
Now that I was done, the dishwasher stared at me, empty, teasing me: “You might as well do it…” And so, I rinsed the dishes from the sink, organized them with the best Tetris® skills that I never had when playing the game, and moved on. “That is it! I need to sit down and leave all these things for tomorrow.” I snatched the thermos from the countertop, grabbed the gourd, and slowly walked towards my chair, reminding myself that it was my choice to stay home to read, and it was my choice to have Saturday off, and it was my choice (also) to get up and work. “This ends now, I have about one hour left before the family comes back. I need to make it to chapter 15, at least.”
Back in my comfort zone, wrapped in my blanket, book open to page 87, I poured another mate. Riiing. The doorbell. Because of course it’s the doorbell. I peeked through the window to see the mailman walking away from the house, back to his overcrowded tiny vehicle. Without taking my blanket off, I put some slippers on and walked out to get the mail. I found a box by the door addressed to me. “Well, this is not work…” I said, bringing the box by my chair, and reaching into the bottomless pit that is my purse, to find my pocketknife. The return address is from Hackensack, NJ. I started to wonder if I was supposed to get a package from the National Offices, and if I just forgot about it, which raises another question: “Is this work, or not?” I freed the blade of my knife, carefully cutting through the paper tape that is holding the box together, my curiosity stronger than my will to not work.
On top of the contents of the box, I found a note (and no, it wasn’t even signed, but I knew where it came from): “Here are the artifacts we talked about! Let me know if you need more information. Do your thing!”
More questions now: What artifacts? Did I miss a meeting or an email? What was I supposed to do with all these things? I didn’t even empty the box, I put the note back and close it. And then I saw it, the text message from my supervisor: “Did you get the box?” Which I knew it was a question that already had an answer, she knew I received the box. “I am not working today! I don’t have to answer!” I thought to myself, while texting, “Yes! Super excited to see what’s inside!”
- JUST. WANT. TO. READ.
I took the box to the space we call an office and left it by the door. I was not going in that room, I didn’t want to get tempted. When I sat the box down, I notice that there is dirt between the bathroom and the office door. It’s just a little bit, it can wait.
Back to my chair, with my book (still on page 87), blanket, and mates. Another deep breath, eyes closed, quieting down my brain. I made it to page 203 before the family came back—more than I expected originally.
II- The box
Monday. It feels like a pajama day, to me. The box has been sitting by the door for two days now, there are no more excuses. I need to: find whatever communication I have about these artifacts. Why are they here? And what is “my thing,” exactly?
I grab my laptop and put it on top of the box to check my emails again. I type “Jamie + artifacts + box” on the search bar. One result comes back, without a subject line, sent three months ago:
We found a box full of old photographs, documents, and something that looks like cloth. We don’t know what to do with these things and figure that, since you don’t have much to do, you could take a look at them. Maybe itemize them? I don’t know what you all do there, but I figured you could do it.
When you are done, you can send the artifacts back to me.
Ah, those artifacts. I don’t think I had managed to sigh that loudly and deeply in quite a while. This job is going to drive me insane. Before closing the laptop, I type and save my two-weeks’ notice, without sending it:
I close the laptop, then my eyes, take another deep breath, and wait. I wait for any interruption, a phone call, the door, anything. Something to keep me from opening the box. After a few seconds (or minutes, I am honestly not sure) of nothing, I open my eyes. Resigned to the task ahead, I go fish my knife from my purse, but I can’t find it. I dump all the contents of my purse on the floor, searching for it. It is, after all, my favorite knife.
I dig through weeks’ worth of grocery store receipts, kids drawings, a couple of rocks (offerings from the kids), lip balm, hand sanitizer, wallet, about four face masks, three pencils, one pen, one color marker, gloves, hand warmers, and the Kindle. Nothing. Of course, I could go find a different knife, but I need MY knife. Where did I leave it?
First, I look around the chair, same spot that I was when I opened the box. I look between the fixed cushions of the chair, under it, under the foot stool, by the windowsill. Nothing. While I looked for the knife, I remembered that I didn’t finish cleaning the window on Saturday. “I might as well do it…”
I go back to the laundry room to find the Goo-Gone®. The clean and folded laundry was in the same spot where I left it on Saturday. Usually, I have the kids put it away themselves, but clearly they were not going to do it. The laundry sat there for two days. With the Goo-Gone® in my back pocket, I put the laundry away. While I was in each of their rooms, I collected more laundry. Again, they have their baskets, and are responsible for taking care of their laundry, but I was already there.
Back in the laundry room, I set the dryer to fluff the clothes that have been sitting in the dryer since Saturday, load up the clothes that I just collected from the kids’ rooms, and walk back to the window, with the Goo-Gone® still in my pocket.
I spray the orange liquid on the splat of former window-clings, covered in bugs. The strong smell of artificial orange, mixed with oil, and more chemicals that I can possibly think of invade the living room area. I take that as a sign to go back to the laundry room. “By the time I’m done with the laundry, the goop will be ready to be cleaned.” When I turn around, I see something that might be my knife peeking from behind a cushion, on the floor. I briefly stop and consider moving the cushion, but then the dryer makes that cursed sound that indicates that is done fluffing the laundry. Relieved, I run to the laundry, to embrace the warmth of the fresh fluffed clothes. Oh, it is 10:00am! I turn the TV on The Price is Right! To watch… just a few minutes… while I fold the laundry.
I fold all the clothes, making the piles for each kid, surprised to see that most of the socks have their pairs. When I’m done with the warm, fresh laundry, I look at the basket of lonely socks.
With new-found energy and glee that I usually reserve for more exciting things, I dump the months’ old pile of lonely socks on the couch, while I yell random prices at the TV —I would never win anything on this show, I am really bad at it. There is a set of designer shoes and bags on, and all participants guessed high prices, over $2,000. “$1” I guess out loud, thinking shoes can’t be that expensive. Drew Carey calls back “Actual retail price is [pause for effect] $2,710!” I am surprised to find several socks matches, that I add to the corresponding pile of clothes.
I realized it is 11:00am because The Young and the Restless starts. The opening theme wakes me up from the trance of the sea of lonely socks, enough for me to realize that I need to go back upstairs to clean that window. In the back of my mind, I know I had something else to do, but I can’t remember what it is.
Done cleaning the window, getting over the grossness of the goo and bugs mix, I decide to take the trash out. The smell is too strong, and it’s invading the entire house. I put my boots and jacket on, grab the trash, and walk outside. The brisk, cold air wakes my senses up, making my face tingle a little bit. The snow is still falling, but not as hard as over the weekend. There are a couple extra inches of snow on the driveway. I walk inside, get my gloves, and start shoveling. Slowly but steadily, I make my way from the garage door to the street, making sure to make a path for the mail carrier. No need to make them stomp through that much snow. I stop a few times to talk to my neighbors, pet some dogs (always stop to pet the dogs), and complain about the lack of sunny days.
Back inside, I make a fresh pot of coffee, make a couple of sandwiches to share with my husband, who walks in five minutes after. Sitting at the table, I tell him about my work this morning: I finished the laundry, cleaned the window, shoveled the snow, and worked for one hour on the basket of lonely socks. It felt like I accomplished a lot, when the moment was ruined by the reminder that the box was still sitting by the office door. After lunch, grumpy about the reminder of the box, I bring the dishes to the sink. “I can wash them,” he said. “I’m here, I might as well do it. But thank you!”
Out of excuses, I walk to the cushion, where I knew my knife was (yes, the same one I pretended not to see hours ago), and walk to the box. At that very moment, I get a phone call to go pick up the youngest child. She has a fever and feels nauseous. Checking the calendar, I realize the husband has a meeting until 3:00pm, which means that I am driving to school. Thankful for my freshly shoveled driveway, I gather my things, get a puke bucket for the kid’s drive home, and head to the school. Poor kid feels like she looks.
Back at home, the kid asks me to stay with her. I can’t say no to that request. I find a book, sit on her bed with the bucket, letting her put her head on my lap so I can play with her hair while I read. Not 10 minutes into my book, she is asleep. I take this as a sign that I need to finish this book today.
That night, I walk by the office and see the box. It turns out I didn’t need the knife to open it. I took that entire day to be an epiphany.
I open my laptop, and write:
I can’t take care of this box. This is far from my expertise, and I do have a lot of things to do.
I quit. Effective immediately.
I wave the cursor over the “Send” button for a while, like a magic wand.
I’ll take a week off before starting to look for another job.