I’ve faced countless challenges during the dissolution of my seventeen year marriage. Some of these trials have been easy to cope with, some have been excruciatingly painful to endure, and there are others that I still can’t figure out how to get my arms around. It’s just been too much, too fast; there are times when it feels like my life is just spinning out of control.
Dealing with the battles of divorce, recovering from back surgery and struggling to take care of my children and myself has left me absolutely spent, both emotionally and physically. My fuel tank is empty and I feel like I’m running on fumes. I just haven’t had the motivation or energy to do much of anything lately; it’s been a struggle just to get out of bed every morning. I’ve been teetering dangerously close to the edge of depression and finally recognized that I needed to do something about it before things got completely out of control. So last week, I summoned every ounce of energy, pride and self respect I had left and made a bold move toward repairing my shattered life…
I cleaned the house.
My journey down the road to recovery began at ground zero, the bathroom. Just picking up all the dirty clothes and wet towels made a big difference, but the real work was still ahead of me. The bathtub looked like a gas station wash basin that had been used to clean up greasy auto parts. There such a thick coating of funk on the bottom of the tub that it might have qualified as an OSHA approved non-skid surface. It had an adhesive quality to it, much like the sticky portion on the back of a Post-It Note. It took an entire can of Dow Scrubbing Bubbles and two applications of Easy-Off oven cleaner to cut through the layer of filth and expose the smooth, white porcelain.
After the toxic cloud of chemicals in the bathtub disbursed, I moved on to my next task. The toilet was so foul that I almost had to rent a pressure washer to get it clean. As embarrassing as this is to admit, the throne was so filthy that the dog had even stopped drinking from it. I understand how the bathtub got so dirty, but the whole toilet thing baffled me. It’s not like my son and I are 5 year-olds who haven’t mastered the art of aiming yet. How does piss get on the underside of the toilet seat and lid? I guess that’s one of life’s many mysteries.
The sink wasn’t nearly as bad as the toilet or bathtub. It was simply a matter of vacuuming up all the whiskers, then using a hammer and wood chisel to chip the globs of toothpaste off of the counter. I then polished the whole thing with a paste made from Lime-Away and Comet.
Cleaning the bathroom completely wore me out, so I took a break and started the laundry. There was literally a mountain of dirty clothes piled up in the corner of the laundry room, so I got a chair and started sorting by color. After getting organized, I started with the first of five loads of “dark” stuff. It ended up taking me all day to get everything washed and dried, but I did get more out of the experience than a drawer full of clean socks and underwear. I gained an appreciation for the expensive front-loading washer and dryer that my ex-wife had fought so hard to talk me into buying. You can cram a shitload of stuff in there all at once and really cut down the number of loads you have to do. The washer spins so fast that the clothes were barely wet when they came out. I was amazed. Then the dryer only ran about fifteen minutes before everything was ready to go. I was pleasantly surprised and decided that it was indeed worth the money that I spent to buy those expensive, behemoth pieces of equipment. I hated to admit it, but my wife was right about that one.
After kicking the bathroom and laundry room’s asses, I was on a roll and was in full “White Tornado” mode. Brimming with a newly found confidence, I decided to go ahead and make the kitchen my bitch. Upon entering the kitchen, my confidence was quickly shattered and I realized that the kitchen was going to make me its bitch…
Once again, I was completely overwhelmed. I knew the kitchen was going to be a chore to clean, but I had no idea that it was that bad. I guess when it started to get crowded with dirty dishes and trash, I just quit going in there. It looked like the inside of a dumpster, if a dumpster had cabinets and an oven.
There were filthy dishes everywhere, and when I say “everywhere, I mean everywhere. There was a pile of disgusting dishes about two feet tall and four feet wide covering the countertop in the general area where the sink was supposed to be. I couldn’t really tell if the sink was still under there somewhere or not. There were plates stacked on top of pans, stacked on top of bowls, stacked on top of glasses, with silverware sticking out from everywhere. There was even a dirty frying pan full of bacon grease sitting on top of the refrigerator. I had no idea we had that much stuff; my neighbors had to have been bringing in their dirty dishes and secretly stockpiling them in my kitchen at night while I slept.
Rather than jump headfirst into the deep end of the sink, I decided start the kitchen clean-up by picking up the trash. I easily collected two full garbage bags of empty Diet Coke cans, TV dinner trays, milk jugs and Hot Pocket wrappers. I discovered a big pile of mail containing my 2008 W-2 income tax form underneath a two-foot tall stack of empty pizza boxes. Jimmy Hoffa could have been buried in there for all I could tell.
After finally clearing some counter space and giving myself a little room to work, I formulated a plan of attack to excavate the sink. I determined that the best thing to do would be to get all the shit out of one side of the sink so I could start rinsing it off and loading the dishwasher. As I began to relocate the myriad of cooking and eating implements, I uncovered what appeared to be a cesspool. Apparently, the stopper was in the drain and the bowl was about three-quarters of the way full of a brown and gray water-based liquid that smelled like decaying ass. There was a film over the top of the liquid that reminded me of a stagnant pond. The film had some kind of moldy foam around the outside that was growing up the sides of the sink. It was nothing less than a science-fair experiment gone horribly wrong. After dry-heaving a few times, I composed myself, took a deep breath and plunged my hand into the water. I had to feel around and move some plates to uncover the stopper, but I managed to get it un-plugged before the toxic waste ate the skin on my arm.
I then started rinsing and loading cups into the top rack of the dishwasher. The glasses that didn’t contain dried milk or another hardened substance were loaded first. I knew I’d have to do some manual scrubbing before the others would be fit for mechanical cleaning. I tried to load everything as efficiently as possible to maximize space, kind of like a realistic and disgusting game of Tetris. When the top rack was full, I started with the plates in the bottom rack. Again, the cleanest dishes went first and the ones glued together with ketchup and maple syrup would have to be done by hand. Gathering up the silverware was like hunting for Easter eggs. I collected all I could find, loaded it into the basket, and then double-checked my load to make sure the door would close. I squirted a double dose of Cascade into the soap dispenser, then set the controls to “power scrub” and started the dishwasher.
I was again feeling like I had really accomplished something until I stepped back and took another look at the pile of dishes that remained in the other half of the sink and on the counter. They were the worst of the worst. We’re talking dried oatmeal, burned queso, petrified hot chocolate, and spaghetti sauce cement. It was going to take a jackhammer to get some of those dishes clean.
I knew I was going to have to change my tactics, so I went to the barn to retrieve the proper cleaning implement for a job like that, a wheelbarrow. I loaded the rest of dirty dishes into the wheelbarrow, rolled it outside and threw them in the trashcan… I decided those bad boys were beyond cleaning and we’d be better off buying some new ones.
I finished up all of the dusting, vacuuming and mopping about the time my son got home from school that evening. He and I made a pact that if the house ever got that dirty again, that we’d just move. Although I was completely exhausted from my janitorial odyssey, I felt refreshed and liberated. Reclaiming my home has made me feel like a productive human being again.
Even though the rest of my life is still circling the drain, at least the bathtub is clean!