Sunday, February 12, 2012

Returning to Myself After A Long Absence

Maybe it was the oven catching fire yesterday that brought it to my attention, although it probably started a year ago, when I served guests after-dinner candies that they politely refused. It wasn’t until the next morning’s clean-up that I realized the dish I’d used, taken from the old pie cupboard where all the dishes live, was furred with dust about half an inch deep. That was embarrassing -- but it still didn’t move me to action.

But the oven catching fire, half an hour after I’d turned it off, worried me. I lowered the door -- since the glass window was too besmeared with baked-on grease to be of any use -- and peered into the blackened depths. Sure enough, there was a layer of charred – something -- in there, about an inch deep. It looked like oily sea foam, forever arrested in the act of surging out of the stove’s confines. This, I surmised, was what the secret interior of a charnel house must look like, husbanding the froth of human folly against its stolid bricks.

I’m speaking in the past tense, but the truth is, that black encrustation is still in there. It waits for me like the pits of the alchemical nigredo, tarry and necromantic. The reason being that I’ve just had to clean the refrigerator, instead, and the reason for that is that when the tomatoes were ripening and falling on the ground out in the garden, last summer, I cooked umpteen quarts of tomato sauce to be frozen in Ziploc freezer bags. These bags were deposited on top of things I remember buying shortly before all hell broke loose a decade ago, and which surely must be in need of remedial action, besides which the primary foundation of the bags shifted when I tried to retrieve a long-forgotten rump roast and now, every time we open the freezer door, we are pelted with Ziploc bags of frozen sauce.

Head within the white precinct of the refrigerator, I discovered something: I am returning to myself after a long absence. How have I managed to ignore the obvious: an oven groaning under the weight of years of accumulated drippings, or the weird stuff that ran down the back of the frig wall and puddled in a mass more resistant to removal than a good glue? How did I continue on, day after day, without seeing this and the other messes that a decade of neglect has fostered, the niduses where chaos goes to breed and reproduce?

These are important questions. I know the why of them, but not the how. The why is simple: I have been away. On a long journey. Absent. That I continued to live in the same house while doing so is scarcely worthy of note. Many of us travel thus. We go out of time, out of body, out of consciousness and, like Rip Van Winkle, awaken decades later to an altered reality.

I have my excuses in order, to be presented like a passport to a border guard as proof of my legitimate existence in this place. This house. My home. But I suspect that, in these flying times when 24 hours seems to have shrunk to about 16 at best, that I don’t need to list the activities, appointments, meetings, duties, diversions, subversions, interruptions, quagmires, disasters and near-death experiences attendant upon being human. I just thought you might like to know that we’re all in this together. Perfection eludes us, and that may be just as well. Perfection is a bore and isn’t even a fraction as interesting as putting out an oven fire with a dish towel and a box of baking soda or being clobbered with frozen food. Count your blessings; bless the mess!

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