It was the very last thing I needed to do: vacuum and steam clean my deceased parents' hunter green, wall-to-wall carpet before close of escrow. My emotions were in check, having been overexposed during the dozen prior visits to empty their closets, drawers, sheds, pantry shelves (her long-since-stale cookies, his coveted bin of Snyder's pretzels), chests filled with collections (coins, jewelry, seashells). In point of fact, as Joan Didion would write, I was benumbed.* This last task would accordingly be a piece of cake. Non-numinous. Quotidian. I was determined to get in and out of there without losing it.
I arrived only to realize that everything had of course been removed (by us), including their vacuum, which was now at our house 30 minutes south down the 101. You forget things while trying to forget things. The only furniture pinned in place (I remember having the surreal feeling of standing in a dollhouse) were the pieces the new buyer wanted to keep: patio set, kitchen table and chairs, master bed, desk, his and her barcaloungers. It soothed me to know my dad's best friend's son, who was buying their home, would be sleeping in their bed, dining at their table, falling asleep in their favorite comfy chairs.
Not a problem. I would borrow a vacuum from one of a dozen kind neighbors. Done. The neighbor I asked, of course, is apparently a smoker. As I started to vacuum, the house immediately reeked Pall Malls. A trip to CVS for deodorizer and a second borrowed vacuum later, I was moving quickly. No time to be disconsolate! No mawkish sap here! I was psychologically girded. I was also on deadline: the steam cleaner needed to be back at my local Safeway by 4:00p. Anyone who knows me knows well that I don't pay late fees. Ever. Not even library books. Got that from my depression-era father.
At 3:30p, with ten square feet left to steam, I shoved his barcalounger to the left. The chair in which he sat next to my mother from circa 1980 (when they bought the set) through July 17, 2014, the evening before she died. To which he retreated every night after her passing, feeling "especially lonely from 4 - 9 pm," he once allowed. Wherein he witnessed dozens—no hundreds— of golf tournaments from start to finish, always confounding the type-A daughter who can't downshift for an hour, much less half a day, to watch a hushed spectator sport. The chair In which he supported his lumbar spine with the "golf" pillow, featured above, that my mother made for him. And, alas, the one in which he ate his Snyder's pretzels while semi-distracted, as evidenced by the fine layer of crumbs in the exact footprint of the barcalounger. The f'n crumbs that would be my undoing that day, week, month.
* This post, after 24 sublime hours of downshifting. I stepped off the grid for a day to finish Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking in one sitting, near a fireplace in Sausalito overlooking the SF Bay. An attempt to become ... un-benumbed.
I must excerpt Didion here:
"After my mother died, I received a letter from a friend in Chicago, a former Maryknoll priest, who precisely intuited what I felt. The death of a parent, he wrote, 'despite our preparation, indeed despite our age, dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise us and that may cut free memories and feelings that we had thought gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean's bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections.'"