this will be the year

So much longing, so visible, is unseemly. This is the idea that follows me around whenever I think about the Korean television show. I try to explain this to the people who ask. It is one thing to exchange documents, queries. These are simple, contained things. I send my request: I would like a name or a photograph, or a story of one sort or another – and in return, perhaps I receive a note or two through the ether that I can print out and slip into my blue folder. I can take these out when I wish to, consider them in private, quiet moments.

One can imagine Shinhye walking through the office of the agency, opening a file drawer or two. Removing a folder, spreading its contents out across her desk, flipping through pages, coming up empty. Where a name should be, only a blank line. Unknown. N/A. There is a simple beauty to the finality of it: There is nothing more in the file. We have no information for you. But this –

Broadcasting one’s wishes so plainly. The lines on my face visible, the eyes wet, the quivering of the lip or the chin. Perhaps I would at least be spared having to show my hands, their trembling. The way I would be folding and unfolding them, their movements compulsive, involuntary.

No one, I think, should have to see me in such a state.

You made your bed, now lie in it. This was a favorite saying of my mother’s. As a child, it confused me. Making my bed after all, was a thing I did after I rose from it, smoothing the sheets, pulling the quilt up over the pillow. I could only imagine climbing atop it and lying very still on its now unspoiled surface. And why, I wondered, would one want to do such a thing?

The expression comes to mind, though, on the way home from dinner with a friend, driving in the wet snow. I am thinking of the ways in which we organize our lives. The decisions we make – the small, unthinking ones – that start us down one path or another. And we follow the paths where they lead, not always aware of how far we have come from where we started. And then suddenly, there are decisions of more consequence to be made. How did I get here, we wonder? I don’t remember choosing this path. And then, my mother’s voice as she is standing over me, her arms folded across her chest, her glasses slipping down the bridge of her nose, “Well you made your bed, now lie in it.”

“You don’t believe in fate?” my friend asks.

“Define fate,” I say. “Define the word ‘believe.’”

I am constantly being seduced by the promise of the checklist. I come across one for a spotless kitchen in just twenty minutes a day! This morning’s tasks are to wash out the container that holds the utensils and to clean the top of the refrigerator.

The container is easy, so I do that first, then I take the stepstool that we bought for my son to reach the bathroom sink, drag it up to the refrigerator and survey the landscape. A bizarre collection of random items have made their way up here: construction paper leaves cut out and glued to the drawing of a tree, a plastic bag, an oversized plastic serving tray that I bought for the baby shower I hosted for a friend of mine, whose son is now four years old. Once the debris has been collected and I’ve made a first pass over the surface with a dry paper towel – to dust off the surface grit – I think perhaps the task is not as bad as it may have appeared. Armed with my all-natural, chemical-free, dye-free spray cleaner, I set to work.

It is more difficult than it first appears, though. They layer of grime is thick and greasy. A single pass with the spray bottle will not be sufficient. I check the clock. There will not be enough time. I leave the spray and the sponge in the sink for later.

Beneath the list of thirty tasks on the deep-cleaning checklist is the explanation that these are in addition to the regular maintenance – the dishes, the sweeping, the wiping of regularly-used surfaces. So, I have become obsessed with sweeping. I can no longer stand still in the kitchen. I sweep under the table, come away with toast crumbs and bits of dried cheese, stray grains of rice. While waiting for water to boil or for oatmeal to simmer, I take my broom out into the hallway, sweep up the clumps of dust that collect in the corners and behind the doors. Occasionally, in the pile, the tiny plastic head of an alien or the bottom half of a miniature fireman will appear amid the dirt. Although I am always tempted to dump the contents of the dustpan unceremoniously into the trash, at the last minute, my guilt gets the better of me, and I rescue the little toy pieces and put them in a pile on the kitchen counter. 

“Whatever you decide, we will work to make it fine.” This, from my former writing teacher when I was deciding whether to take leave from my graduate program to move to New York, where Z.’s father had a very attractive job offer.

She said she believed my life to be charmed and that we would find a way to have it all work out. This, before the long lonely months spent in New York, while he traveled. This before I returned to Providence with my young daughter and we lived in the tiny apartment in the squat brick building. This before the divorce.

But she was right, even then. This charmed life.

I walk up the hill from downtown and in front of one of the campus buildings, there is a garden bed full of fledgling shoots pushing up through the earth. I am late, as I often am, so I am walking quickly. There is not much time to stop and examine them closely, but I am fairly certain it is too soon for them to be emerging. This strange weather – the warm days, the full hot sun – confuses.

I think about my own garden – how once the oppressive days of late July and August arrive, there is not much that I tend, so that each year without fail, the last days of summer see the beds in great disarray. Stray clumps of weeds, the rose bushes leggy and wild. How those days seem to slide so quickly into fall – with the start of the school year all its attendant busyness – that I never seem to finish the last chores of the garden, the readying for winter. Each spring, when I am out there, clearing out the detritus of last year’s overgrown weeds, I vow to make one last round of the yard at the end of the season, one last attempt to clean out the beds, to lay down winter mulch. For the last seven years, I have said: This will be the year.

This will be the year.