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Jessica Keener

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On My Knees (Cleaning) Before Thanksgiving

Posted: 11/25/10 11:36 AM ET

For three days I've been on my knees in the house of the Lord -- my house, that is --scrubbing, cleaning, waxing, sucking up dust that's claimed whole rooms while my mind's been far away, my heart in a trap. I'll get to where I've been in a moment.

An appraiser was coming to assess the value of my house. While refinancing my mortgage, I was determined to achieve the ever-elusive balance of financial stability. "Don't worry about your appliances," the appraiser said over the phone. "I'll be looking at the condition of the house -- walls, floors."

Walls and floors? Oh my.

I stood in the kitchen and took a long view at what I had done. This wood surface that I crossed daily to make coffee in the morning and tea at night was spotted and scratched with grit, its yellow pine worn out in patches. Individual floor boards were losing cartilage near the room's most active points -- in front of the stove, sink and refrigerator. For months, I'd ignored its diminishing condition, fading in the shadow of my neglect.

Dear kitchen floor, will you forgive me? I'm sorry that it took an outside force -- a strange appraiser -- to activate tending to your needs.

I tied back my hair, put on holey jeans, and cleared the countertops in preparation for cleansing. I filled a basin with soapy water and submerged a cloth -- a piece of myself -- into this bowl. I came up dripping, wrung out, ready for the task.

When I emerged, I found myself crouched in a corner where the kitchen floor and wall met at the far end of the room. Where had I been, I asked myself? Wandering in tunnels of family troubles? Yes. Squeezed between an ailing father, an exhausted mother, a teenage son struggling to find his path? That's right. Work worries, too.

As I scrubbed and rinsed, scrubbed and rinsed, muscles in my right shoulder and back began to hurt. When my right side started to cramp, I switched to my left side, dunking and twisting the cloth to free old dirt, then applying it anew to the next section of floor, my wrist and finger joints pivoting, de-rusting from emotional paralysis.

Some people run. Some people attack when life overwhelms. I shut down. Turn off. Become numb.

Alone, with the November sky lighting the room, I bowed forward and pulled up, bending into malformed versions of Child's Pose, then Downward Dog, then Child's Pose again. My right arm traversed narrow sections between walls. At times, my cloth-covered palm became a fist as I punched out emotional grime, reclaiming my base. Life is hard, goddamn it. Face it. Accept it. Move on.

I crawled backwards, sliding on my shins toward the other end of the room. When my knees began to throb, I folded a towel beneath me to soften the blow of bone, muscle, tendon, skin, blood against wood until my whole body succumbed to washing, and release.

What person, event, thing, launched you out of a funk?

 

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