The windows were wide open, and like my cats, I was sniffing at the fresh air. So much so that I couldn’t sit down and write this afternoon – the outdoors drew me. But I’m not one to lounge around. And the windows at the back of the house – well, no one had cleaned them in a very long time.
I got together the bucket, the long squeegee (I usually use it at a pretend bar to practice BodyPump), and a whole lot of paper towels. From the garage, I took down the giant ladder, and silently thanked the world that the time when I didn’t know how to do this silly job, when we didn’t have the ladder or the tools or the skills, was over.
Five years I have lived in this home. Transformative years; years where I lost and then found myself. Years where I ran in pain, in tears, in fury, and finally, finally, in joy. The windows of my home hold some of the memories. The first year, staring out of them in despair, wondering how I had come to be living in this suburban house near all these other suburban houses. Sure it was a beautiful, but wasn’t there something sinister about all these pretty little houses, all these gardens, all these individual families cooking dinners and caring for their children. I had said I’d never live my parent’s life; yet here I was.
That year, 2008, I bought a book called “Speed Cleaning” because I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, I had so little idea, that I’d question women who seemed knowledgable in the most obscure circumstances. In the department store where I was buying sheets, I queried the sales clerk, in a low voice, as if I was asking about buying drugs, about how to clean the glass in the shower. The baking soda and vinegar trick from my new book just didn’t seem to work.
“Jif,” the kind woman replied. “Jif, and a sponge.” She didn’t make a face like I was an idiot or anything.
“Won’t it scratch the glass?” I asked softly.
“No, it will be okay.”
I never forgot her kindness. You see, ever since we’d been married, we’d had a cleaner. Even before we got married, my husband-to-be had a cleaner, and I decided that he was not going to give her up simply because I was marrying him. No way. Then we moved to Australia and were both working full-time so again, a cleaner made sense. Ditto for Hong Kong. Oh, and there was this moment in my early 20’s, when my boyfriend of the moment criticised the way I cleaned a pot – I’ve never forgotten this – and I said, “I’m going to have someone to do that stuff for me anyway” with all the defensiveness of a twenty-three year old who feels judged and stupid. I let that line play in my head for years when I had made it come true.
But finally, after six years in Hong Kong with a live-in domestic helper, I found I didn’t want anyone else in my home. I wanted to know how to do things for myself, finally. I suppose I wanted to be a grown-up. And I wanted to be able to teach my kids how to do these simple things.
In my new book, I read about window cleaning, something about methylated spirits, vinegar, newspaper. I tried it, only belatedly reading the bottle of methylated spirits and realising it was actually a paint thinner. I didn’t want to admit what I’d done to my husband, but reflected on it each time I looked at the damaged window sill paint.
My mother-in-law came to visit and I asked her advice. Fairy liquid (washing-up liquid) and hot water, she said. Silly woman, I thought, it couldn’t be that simple. How would I rinse them? That year, and for two years after, I just averted my gaze from the windows. There was simply too much else to learn.
Well, I took care of the bits by the childrens’ dinner table, where the milk splashed when it spilled, where my daughter teased me by wiping dirty hands on the window and giggling. I would say (impotently, knowing I didn’t mean it), “You’re going to clean that up, not me.” But she knew better and just laughed. I cleaned it after she went to bed.
But today: today the sun was out and it was spring and there was the scent of jasmine in the air. Jasmine I had planted, jasmine, that, overcoming all odds, had sprouted deep roots, stayed alive, and was in full bloom.
I hung the sheets out to dry, noticing that, unlike in winter, the sun was now falling on the clothesline again; I inspected the garden (weedy, needing attention); I watered the one pot plant (a purple-flowered cyclamen that had returned to life with the spring, surprising and delighting me); and then I stopped and stared at the windows.
Without a conscious decision, I began. Got the tools, all of them handy and easy to use. I put the fairy liquid in the bucket and filled it half-way with hot water (my mother-in-law was right, and it doesn’t need rinsing). Then I cleaned off the several years worth of grime and dirt, uncovering the beauty of the home that has been hidden.
I began 2013 with an idea that this was going to be a year of dramatic change for me, but I just didn’t know how – that’s what the Chinese Zodiac predicted, and it had always been right for me.
This morning, it occurred to me that it had been right again. It wasn’t changing countries or homes or returning to studying. It was finding myself in the right place. Just where I am.
On the treadmill at the gym this morning, for the first time in six weeks, I ran fast. I had my favorite Bon Jovi tunes on the playlist, the ones I’ve only played while making school lunches in the intervening weeks. As I cranked the pace up higher and then higher, as I felt the stability and strength that have returned to my ankle since spraining it five weeks ago, as I heard my songs, well, that too was a sort of coming of spring.
So today, I sit in contentment with my clear windows and clarity of vision. I was right about this year; I have moved; I have changed. This place that once was so strange and so foreign and so wrong, well, it is finally right.
How I love spring. And returning to life.