Cleaning windows, and other strange triggers.

I may have mentioned before that I’m not a fan of house cleaning.  Once in a while, though, I have to do a few basics.  Vacuum up cat hair.  (Tell me again why I love Lulu.)  Wash the toothpaste spatters from the bathroom mirror.  Clean an occasional window when it becomes so foggy I can hardly see out.

It was that last job that recently brought a tear to my eye.  It made me think of Jeanette, my dear friend, and the woman who kept my house spotless for several years.  There I stood trying to get the damn streaks out, wishing I were reading a book, lifting weights, going for a walk, standing on my head — anything but cleaning windows.

Not only do I miss J’s cleaning skills, but I miss her.  She was my friend from the time we first met, but I learned what her friendship really meant to me when D moved out.  She held my hands and hugged me and cried with me.  She loved me the very best that she could through the toughest time of my life.  I never had a better friend.  We still talk on the phone from time to time.  She stays constantly on the go, raising a young granddaughter all by herself.  She’s older than I am.  I don’t know how she does it.  But she does, without complaint.

And so I went from feeling pitiful for having to clean windows (How silly is that?), and missing Jeanette (not so silly), to singing my favorite window-cleaning song along with Van Morrison, both of us at high volume.  Sadness evaporates like Windex on a window pane when Van’s in the room.

This afternoon my grandson came over to help me with some chores around the house.  He’s very handy.  He repaired a light switch in the bathroom.  Now I don’t have to worry about the light suddenly coming on at three in the morning.  He programmed my thermostat so it would stop clicking on at odd times and making the downstairs too hot.  I probably could have done that one myself if the print in the instruction booklet wasn’t so small.  Once he had finished a few other minor odd jobs, he came in from the garage and inquired, “Grandma, are you ready for your tree?”

Until that moment I had been undecided.  I wrestle with the tree issue every year.  So far I haven’t figured out whether it’s sadder with or without it.  Spontaneously, I gave him my answer, “Yep, let’s bring it in.”  And so we did.

As he was putting the tree together, I reminded Grandson that he has helped me reconstruct the tree every year I’ve had it except the year I bought it.  That year I did it all by myself just to prove I could.  The memory brings back a flood of emotions that I tried hard not to show in Grandson’s presence.

It was my second Christmas alone, my first in this house.  I knew I couldn’t handle a real tree by myself.  We had always had the real thing in the past so buying a “fake” was a difficult decision.  But I knew it was the only practical thing to do so I headed off to Peppermint Forest in search of the perfect not-so-perfect Christmas tree.

I walked around the “forest” many times as I struggled to justify the prices on the tags of the best quality, prettiest trees.  I finally bit the bullet and chose my favorite, rationalizing that over a period of several years the price would become roughly the equivalent of having bought a real tree each of those years.  I stood in line, paid for the tree, and waited for the giant elves to load it into my car.

I got home with my precious purchase only to realize I might not be able to get it out of the car by myself.  I was able to pull the box to the garage floor, open it, and carry each piece/tier of the tree into the house.  As soon as I started to put the tiers together I realized the tree was too big for my room.  What was I to do?  What could I do?  I did what any not so sane person would do.  I sat on the floor and cried.  I’m talking BOO HOO crying.

Then I got tough again.  And I started putting those heavy, prickly branches back in that damn shrinking box.  By then I was crying angrily.  Angry at the world, and most especially at my ex.  This entire fiasco was his fault.

I know that fear often causes a surge of adrenaline, giving a spurt of strength that a person doesn’t normally have.  I did not know until that day that anger and frustration can have the same effect.  Now I know.  I put that box, tree and all, back in my car by myself, and drove back to the “tree farm”, despite the fact that they had a no-return policy.

I locked the tree in the car, took my receipt inside, waited in line again.  I had practiced my spiel as I drove.  In my calmest, steadiest voice I explained that I couldn’t use the tree and wanted to trade for one slightly smaller.  When the clerk hesitated, my voice stayed calm but my teary eyes betrayed me as I said, “I have never done this Christmas tree thing by myself.  I misjudged the size.  I’m asking if you would be so kind as to make an exception for me.”  By that time I had an audience which included three clerks, one a manager.  The manager stepped up to the plate and told me (and the rest of the gang), “Yes, ma’am, we will.”

I suppose I still feel the trauma of that experience each year when we bring out the holly and the ivy, and yes, the magnificent tree.  I’ve laughed and cried as I’ve written this piece.  I’m grateful for both, I think.  At least I’m no longer numb.  Feeling deeply is a good thing, isn’t it?

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27 thoughts on “Cleaning windows, and other strange triggers.

  1. Pat, I have been struggling with my Divorce for the past 6 years after a 23 year relationship. Holidays are soooo tough and my Anger has consumed me long enough. I went on-line tonight to see about tips on talking to your EX and found your blog. I cried, laughed and smiled meeting you. I hope to meet up with my EX before the New Year and put this behind me. I need to Forgive and move on. It has been debilitating to me for way to long. I am hoping I can be as strong as you and be able to meet up with him and get the answers to WHY it happened and WHY I didn’t see it coming. Thank you for sharing!

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    • Hi Gloria. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to respond. December’s a rough month.

      I would like to hear how it goes (went?) with your ex. I’ve had a really hard time coming to terms with what happened and especially WHY it happened because D has refused to answer questions. That leaves me to imagine what went wrong instead of having his input and being able to compare notes and start to accept it. I’ve had to accept what is and move on. During the holidays the questions start to resurface and remain unanswered. It gets better but I guess I just have to acknowledge that I’m never going to know.

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  2. Oh, Pat, I loved this post! Boy, can I relate! Last year was my first year in my new townhouse and the ceilings are 9ft. high. I immediately started shopping for a huge tree, but realized that I had no one to help me lug it from store to car and car to home. Bummer. But, sure, this tree I have is sort of ugly and only about 6 1/2 feet tall, but I was able to lug this one home all by myself…baby steps..lol

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  3. Loved the story of the Too Big Tree. So many emotions there and the best thing – with a bit of compassion from that manager and all that strength of your own, you triumphed, though I’m sure it felt more like sheer exhaustion at the time.
    I’m always amazed at the effects of strong emotion.

    I may not often comment but I do read and appreciate your blog and have nominated you for the Liebster Award.

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    • Thank you, FW, for your kind comments. Strong emotion can go either way, can’t it. Sometimes it’s made me do things I wish I hadn’t done.

      I really appreciate your nominating me for the Liebster Award. I never have figured out how to do all that accepting an award entails so I will just say thank you very much. I’m off to check out your blog now.

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  4. Isn’t it funny how little things like washing the windows can trigger such deep emotion. Sometimes it can feel staggering to feel the enormous flow of emotion that comes out of the blue. I’m all for having a good cry – things pass. Your tree looks wonderful. I’m pleased the manager responded appropriately to your request. The cherry (or should I say ‘star’) on top though IS THAT YOU HAD ELVES TO CARRY YOUR TREE! How fantastic. Hang in there lady, you’re doing grand.

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    • Hi J. I wish that my sometimes too analytical mind would just accept that strong emotion can come out of the blue. I’m slowly learning to have a good cry and let it go. I so appreciate your sharing your wisdom with me. It truly helps. Did you know we readers think you’re wise? 🙂 Well, you are.

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  5. I’m soo pleased the manager was nice. Thank goodness for small kindnesses. and your grandson sounds like a real keeper. You always strike me as an impressive women, unusually rich in a number of impressive qualities, many of which shine through this post. Add to that your aversion to housework and you sound about as good as a person can sound. As Inner chick says above. You are more lovable and genuine than I can imagine. How you are on your own is a great mystery to me, and massive waste of a beautiful nature. I hope your festive season is rich in joy.

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  6. I so appreciate and admire your candor. The beginning about cleaning is exactly how I feel. I could be reading a book instead of dusting.
    Your Grandson sounds a lot like you, patient, loving. I’m glad you put your tree up. We all need a Christmas regardless of what may or may not have happened in the past. It represents joy and the birth of things to come. Lovely read.

    Did you go see Lincoln? Has your name all over it there Teach.

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    • Hi Susannah. I’m terribly behind on my blog reading and commenting. Hope to catch up in bits and pieces as I take breaks from chores today. Thanks for your kind comments.

      I have not seen Lincoln. I’m dying to see it, and will probably go during the
      holiday season. A good movie is a delight when the shopping, cooking, etc., start
      to get to me. I’m looking forward to it.

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  7. Divorce is not about just getting over the loss of the companionship of a spouse and coping with loneliness but coping with many small and big things as you rightly surmised in your experience of misjudging the size of the Christmas tree, that happen everyday almost every minute of our lives. The tears and the confusion make us stronger and more determined to survive. An extremely touching post. Thanks for sharing and putting aptly into words what had been on my mind for many days.

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    • Wise words, Wanderlust. It’s important that we embrace the lessons garnered from the hardship divorce has wrought. I’m glad you could relate and understand what I was trying to say. But I’m sorry that you have to do so.

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  8. To keep up with jobs that need to be done becomes a lot more difficult past a certain age. Peter and I try to help each other out, but even with the two of us around it isn’t always easy. I wonder how I would fare if I were on my own? I often think about it. One can’t be too grateful for young hands, like your grandson’s, helping out. This is a beautifully written piece about your life, Pat. I love it. Thanks for sharing. Uta

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    • Thank you, Uta. Some things have become a bit much for me to accomplish on my own. It’s hard to accept that. I’ve always considered myself pretty self-sufficient. I’m starting to understand, though, that it isn’t wise to climb ladders and wield dangerous tools. I tell myself that being able to ask for help is a sign of growth on my part. Hopefully, I can convince me that it is so.

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  9. I just love this post. Strangely enough, without going through any of the things that happened to you, and I don’t even have a Christmas tree(!), I felt everything, almost had tears in my eyes, could almost experience your anger, and the blame, and cheer for you when you decided not to settle for the big tree.

    Today, your grandson is there, and he is kind and helpful (how lucky you are), and yet you are left with the memories, with the symbols of joy and sadness intermingled. It might be too early, but I hope that your tree will become a symbol of your new life, your strength and your spirit.

    A heartfelt post. Thanks.

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    • I appreciate your comments, Rachel. Making the tree a symbol of my new life seems like a good goal for me. It can be whatever I choose to make it, right? Thanks for presenting me with that image.

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  10. I believe one reason we English offer cups of tea as a sign of sympathy is to help prevent the grieving person from getting dehydrated with all those tears. We really need those friends and I’m so glad for you that you still have friends and family around – but we also need the tears because, as you say, they show we can still feel deeply. Thanks for this post, Pat.

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    • I think the offer of a cup of tea speaks volumes. I wish we Americans made the offer more often. I guess we have the same intent when we offer coffee and lend an ear. Sometimes when I’m sad and don’t know why the tears help me to focus and then move on. Thanks for your support.

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  11. Oh Pat how well I remember the first Christmas after my Dys died. I wasn’t interestred in a tree or decorations and wanted to sleep through the holiday. And a special friend – I too had such a friend and my two children lived close by so I was blessed. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

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    • Thanks for your comment Judith. I’m learning from my widowed friends that there are many similarities between divorce late in life and losing one’s spouse. Having friends and family to help us along makes all the difference.

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