Thursday, June 4, 2009

Who is this stranger in my house who insists on keeping every piece of cable wire, scrap wood and one-inch by one-inch pieces of sandpaper in a pile on his workbench in our basement? I find myself conducting these closet cleanings every so often and openly admitting to myself that I will never use that old pink and purple desk blotter or those fishnet hose that I wore on my sixth grade field trip. But this man I call my husband refuses to see the uselessness of radio parts from six different CB radios or his gym shorts from seventh grade. When I remind him that the shorts no longer fit, he sucks in his once-flat abdomen and struts through the house proving his point while embarassing his adult children.

When we moved to our second house, I rejoiced at the two-car garage and looked forward to those cold mornings when I could just start the car without spending ten minutes searching the garage for a scraper and then spending ten minutes chiselling the ice off the windows. But when we received a call from the realtor at 4:00 p.m. one afternoon and she told us that we must vacate the premises of our old house by 10:00 that night, I smelled trouble. If I didn't know better, I would swear that I my husband planned this. His promise to clean out the garage before we moved now meant nothing. The pressure of a deadline now gave him the edge and I know he yelled gleefully as soon as I called him at work to give him the news. An hour later, he pulled in the driveway and with a snow shovel, began scooping up piles of junk, along with sawdust, and placed this mess in packing boxes to cart off to our new house. When I mentioned that we must leave room for the car, this person with the maniacal grin replied, "But babe, the car won't fit in the new garage anyway. It's a foot too long." Trying desperately to remain calm, I answered between gritted teeth, "I'll make it fit!"

Needless to say, my dream of parking my car in a space designated specifically for a car died that day. As Erma Bombeck said in one of her books, "What's such a big deal about pulling your car into a garage if you have to exit by threading your body through an open window, hang from a lawn spreader, climb over the roof and slide down a garden hose before reaching the door?" Unfortunately, I find little comfort in the fact that I share my plight with other people, none of whom I know personally. But I do wonder what possessed me to marry a person with such an obvious character flaw?

A marriage of the 1970's, I met my soon-to-be husband on a blind date, realizing now that blind meant more than not knowing each other's last names. It meant movies and dinners, along with shared hopes and dreams. Marriages of the '70s involved true commitment and the idea of "ours" instead of mine or your's. Dowries no longer existed but we each understood that we would now share our possessions. What this man didn't understand lay along the line of "Leave your junk at home and we'll start with new stuff." Whereas I left my stuffed animals and dolls packed in their boxes in my parent's attic, my husband brought into our nest three boxes of sports medals, trophies and every pair of track shoes ever worn on his feet. His mother sent his old board games, pieces missing, and several slalom water skis. His grandfather sent a pipe collection and several warped big band albums but I put my foot down when I saw the front seat of his dad's 1961 Cadillac loaded into our car. The red flag waved but I refused to see it in my romantic state.

To this day, my husband doesn't willingly throw anything out. Each week I try to sneak something into the trashpile. Sometimes I find success but other times I don't. The one time I felt victorious, he confronted me with the fact that along with an old stereo speaker I threw out, I also threw out forty dollars he kept stashed inside the speaker. To this day, I don't know if he spoke the truth or not.

I just wish that we could find a way to know these things before we commit to sharing them forever. What about lining prospective husbands up like they do in police line-ups with cardboard signs around their necks advertising their major flaws? I mean, I can lived with the problems of missing toothpaste caps and socks on the floor but I resent the fact that clutter has crept into my life and I know for sure that I appeared clutter-free to my husband-to-be. Something about his attitude smacks of control and I distinctly remember something in our vows about mutual decisions and consent. And I will admit that I agreed with my husband that he needed some work space of his own but I did not realize that same space would begin creeping into my living quarters.

Oh, the man does make earnest promises to clean up his space but the problem lies in the face that he cannot finish what he starts. I read an article once in which Anne Boe, a career-management consultant, said that "People who don't finish what they start usually have a network of supporters who clean up their messes." I wish!! I would give anything to know someone with nothing else to do but clean up after him. But no one ever volunteers and most people, when I dramatically raise the garage doors, turn and run as if afraid the mess will follow them home.

I do believe that if we got rid of some of our stuff, we could clean less. But that only makes sense to a normal person. To avid junk collectors, those words instill fear in their hearts. When I mentioned cleaning up and parting with some of my husband's junk, he reminded me that we might need something down in that garage someday. I reminded him that much of that stuff we brought with us from our first two houses and it remains unused to this day. I couldn't sway him so I've decided that only one solution remained. We moved to a house with a three-car garage.

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