Be Brave Friday (a little late and on a Sunday)
Sometimes you know that your life is a prison, but you can’t figure out why. Maybe something has made you trapped — responsibility, bad health, a pandemic, bad weather, anxiety.
That’s how I felt on Thursday when Shaun told me that the housing inspector was coming to our home that we live in, which also has a vacation rental permit for the years where I don’t make enough to make me feel safe enough to not rush off and live in a camper to rent our house to strangers.
That’s not happening this year. It hasn’t happened for a couple of years, but it lurks over me. A threat. A possibility I could return to only now there are two dogs, four cats, a snake, a kid, a husband.
So, when he said the inspector was coming to check on things — a totally nice guy — I panicked. And I felt trapped. There was no escape. I had a bunch of deadlines and a house that wasn’t perfect.
“The house is a sty,” I yelled.
“Baby girl, the house is not a sty.”
“A pig pen!”
“Baby girl — ”
“There is dust on the stairs. There is a paper towel on the counter. There is a ripped blanket on the sofa! I need to clean the toilets!”
“He is not going to look in the toil — ”
“Oh my banana bread! The kitty litter boxes!” Full disclosure: I did not yell “banana bread.” I yelled something else.
I frantically cleaned, mumbling, “It’s a mess. It’s a sty. It’s a mess.”
And Shaun said, “Baby, nobody would think this house is a sty but you.”
“I am slovenly!”
“No. No, you aren’t slovenly.” He stressed the word like he thought it was funny and then saw my glare apparently and paused. “Is that what matters? That you feel slovenly?”
Yes. Yes, it was. I felt like a slob and I needed to escape that feeling. I felt like I’d been too busy working and living and going biking with Em who was home for the week to notice the dust on the stairs. To be fair, it wasn’t dust. It was dog and cat fur that decides every day to collect like tumble weed and sit in wait on the stairs.
I grew up in a family where we cleaned as a family every Saturday and put away laundry and dishes and clutter every single day. Beds were made. Pillows fluffed. Clothes did not wait like Shaun’s shorts do, folded on top of the dresser. They were in the drawer. I am a relic of this past, of making sure that even though we weren’t rich, we weren’t filth. Those moments of control over our house’s cleanliness were sometimes the only bits of control we had.
My house would not have met my family’s inspection. I had a tea mug on my desk, for banana bread’s sake. The shed in the back has some sort of green stuff growing on it. Pollen maybe? Dirtying the sides.
The inspector came over. He did not lift up the toilet seats. And when he was gone, Shaun said, “He said we had a really nice house four times.”
“He did not.”
“You’re lying to make me feel better.”
“I swear. Four times.”
Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate what we have, you know? Sometimes, it’s really easy to slip into a space where you worry about being judged even by super nice people. Sometimes, it’s hard to move past the things that cut so quick and so deep — like being pretty poor in a town full of pretty rich.
My town is like that now, too. On my way back from a chamber event, I stopped and talked to a couple people who were running for office. There were funny and kind. They worked hard. One talked about all her jobs, about hoping to find a new room to live in, about hoping that soon seasonal workers wouldn’t have to crash in their cars and that more year round workers could find year round places, too. I fell instantly in love with both of them.
Today, I took a break in work to scrub at the pollen (or whatever) that was on the fence, on the shed in my backyard. I have pretty wimpy hands, so they ache about this sort of thing pretty quickly.
But I realized just then just how lucky I was to have a house, about how excited both of those cool women could potentially be to have a shed to wash, to have a place to call their own, to have that housing stability where you didn’t have to worry about a landlord. But also, how grateful I am that they have someplace at least. But damn, I want them to have somewhere better. I want them to be able to freak out about their house being too something or other. I want them to be able to paint walls, to make plans and improvements if they want — to have that stability if they want. Housing insecurity is big and it’s real and as property taxes increase, it’s happening to people on fixed incomes, too, or people like me who don’t have a set salary, who wonder if they’ll have to take off to a campground or a boat or a tent or something in the summer to make ends meet.
My house is not a prison. My house is a gift and a blessing that I worked really hard for and that I have to appreciate while I have it. What was a prison was my way of looking at it. I made that prison. Me. And I’m feeling that way about the painting below (that negative way), but I’m trying to push past that and post this anyway.
So, here’s to finding security when it comes to shelter and it comes to our own brains, and to breaking free from those prisons we construct for ourselves.