One night, early in the summer of 2007 before the brown doggie became sick or the Ukrainian began living at my — now our — house, the Ukrainian and I took my two dogs out for their late-night walk down Fair Oaks Street in San Francisco. Being so late, I was tired. I wanted the dogs to do their business and then quickly return home and go to bed. But the dogs did not sense my urgency. After taking care of their business, they wanted to sniff every leaf of every bush along the way.
“C’mon…” I chided at every bush. I tugged on their leashes, urging them — no, dragging them — towards 24th St, trying to reach our flat. My patience wore thin. Not now, I thought. Tomorrow morning, I wil take you for a nice walk. For now, LET’S GO!!! My chiding turned into whining. My words to the dogs became shorter, harsher. My tugs on the leash grew stronger.
“Here, let me walk them,” said the Ukrainian gently, reaching to take the leashes from my hands. “You are tired.” And with those words, I stopped in surprise. Here is a man who understands me. Here is a man who wants to make a situation better, not exacerbate it. There was no judgement in his voice. He was not looking for me to be the eternally ever-patient doggy mommy. I fell a little bit more in love with the Ukrainian at that moment.
Anyone who has ever lived with me or spent much time with me in the off-hours of the night know that there is a point when my mind and body just stop. Like a two-year-old, I can keep going and going and doing and doing and talking and listening until BAM! my mind shuts down, my eyes close mid-sentence, and suddenly I cease to be. The fury/wrath suffered by he who dares to push me past my mental and physical limit is strong enough to deter the transgressor from ever wanting to push me gain. Nobody wants to deal with a 2 year-old in a grown woman’s body.
The greatest joys and challenges from marriage (or any sort of committed, domestic partnership) is being forced to look in the mirror and seeing your own weaknesses. Alone, you can let your quirks and nuances and varying neuroses play out however they will, or control your environment so much that these varying particulars to your personality can sleep as never challenged — but together with another’s putting up with yourself and altering your environment by their mere presence, suddenly you are forced to look in the mirror and say “My, don’t I look ridiculous!”
And so there I was on Saturday night. I was looking for the tweezers. They had been missing for a week and I had a couple of stray hairs I increasingly wanted to be rid of with each day that passed without the tweezers being found. I searched the medicine cabinet, of course. And moved on to the coffee table. And the computer desk in the living room. I left out the kitchen — for never in my life, could I remember, ever tweezing anything in the kitchen. I searched the bedroom. The bookshelves and the nightstand. Surely, they would be on the nightstand. I shifted the stacks of unread mail and NetFlix envelopes around and AHA! I found the opened tweezers case, but no tweezers. Inspired by this hopeful clue, I searched the nightstand more frantically for the tweezers, shoving aside the orchid plant that our Ukrainian florist had given us for our wedding (as a token, I’m sure, to make us feel better for spending so much on something as fragile as flowers) and had been sitting on our nightstand ever since…and that’s when I saw it. IT. The multi-circular water stains left by the pot from three months of twice-weekly waterings.
I lost it. It was 11:30 at night. Our house was cluttered. Dirty, even. Below me was a piece of furniture that was less than six months old that was already tarnished. I looked around the bedroom and saw the clothes that had been pulled off late-at-night strewn across the bookshelves. One leg of the bedframe had been gnawed on by our black dog in June. We had yet to repair it. In the living room, the center of the floor was taken up by an extra-large drying rack on which the clothes we washed the day before hung. I was certain there must be dirty dishes in the sink. Suddenly, our large 1 BR 19th century Victorian railroad-style flat seemed small enough to crush me. My inner control-freak unleashed by my year spent in the ever-so-tidy Netherlands wasn’t pleased.
I sat down on the floor. Collapsed, rather. The metaphysical, existential weight of our cluttered house had crushed me after all. I started crying in despair — where would I ever begin to make sense of this mess? Would there ever be an end to my cleaning once it began? Should I hire someone? No, I couldn’t hire someone. They wouldn’t know what to do with all the clothes, the mail, and all the other seemingly random tidbits to our lives, many of which weren’t even needed.
“Baby, what’s wrong?”
“This. This is wrong.” I spread my hands out so that he could see all the clutter I could see. “I can’t live like this.”
“Baby, it’s fine. It’s late. We’ll tidy up the house tomorrow. First thing in the morning. Now let’s go to bed.” The Ukrainian has sensed my inner two-year-old had woken up and his 33 year-old rational wife had gone to sleep.
“No, no. We need to start now. If we start in the morning, it will never get done.” With these words, I got up from the bedroom floor and went into the living room, determined to tackle the clean, dry clothes hangin on the drying rack that was taking up half our living room floor and was contributing to my claustrophobia. I folded until I reached shirt #4. I remembered then why there clothes everywhere in our house. My closet — which was just off the kitchen — had become the spot we put everything that didn’t have a spot. In recent weeks, it had become so full that I could no longer reach my clothing rack and drawers. Nor did the laundry basket have a spot in it any longer. The closet was the root of all our problems. I knew my limits enough not to begin such a large task so late at night.
I returned to the bedroom. The Ukrainian was curled up on our bed with the chewed-up leg. I laid down next to him, spooning his back. Our bodies lied perpendicular to the bed’s head so that our heads all but touched the bedroom’s wall. The time was pushing midnight. The Ukrainian was tired from working 2 jobs and going to school full-time. I was tired from my new job, traveling, a persistent two-week cough, and the feeling that I was supposed to keep it together. All. The. Time.
“I can’t live like this,” I said. My voice calmer than it had been a 1/2 hour before.
“I know,” he said. “We will fix it.”
“How can we be talking about having a baby when we can’t even keep our own lives together?”
And from that question, my two-year-old self went back to sleep and my grown up rational adult self re-emerged. The Ukrainian and I began to communicate as a couple — as hopeful-parents-to-be. How would we manage our lives so that our apartment is one where we could have a baby and keep it safe? How would we share the day-to-day housekeeping responsibilities between ourselves so that our house wouldn’t continue in its chaos? And what things could each of us do to make the other happy, so that any theoretical child we might have would grow up in a harmonious household and not be subject to histrionics. And where, oh where, would we put the baby?
I looked at the bookshelves hidden under a pile of clothes across from the bed. “I was thinking there…” I said pointing. “We could get rid of the shelves and everything on them and put the baby there. The crib. And maybe a changing table…” my voice trailed off…
“Next to the window?” the Ukrainian asked. “But that wouldn’t be…”
“That wouldn’t be healthy,” I finished his sentence for him. “It’ll be too cold.” (Our apartment lacks a proper heat source and the rainy San Francisco winters makes our bedroom extremely damp and chilly.)
“But where?” I asked. “I can’t think of any other place for it.”
The Ukrainian’s eyes skirted the room. He lifted his body up on his elbow and turned his head. “There. Between the bed and the closet, away from the window.”
And I looked. My eyes mentally measured the space he picked out. Yes, there would be room for a crib. A small one and we’d need to keep everything tidy. But there’d be room.