When a Stick Vacuum is Self Care

I slept seven hours Monday night.   Eight Tuesday, and woke up the next morning near tears.   Salty liquid gratitude.   I was restored.  The familiar pain and pulling in my neck and across my face was gone.  The only thing I had done differently was to get appropriate sleep two nights in a row. 

I hadn’t done that since I moved out of the bedroom last April.

I hear this is common during divorce – staying up until all hours.  Literally exhausting oneself, falling into bed and passing out before you can notice you are there alone when you didn’t used to be.

I didn’t move out of our bedroom right away.  I wasn’t ready and Lee didn’t force the issue.  When I kissed a man who wasn’t him, I knew it was time, and I went into my “office.” 

Its walls were painted sage.  Happy curtains flocked with yellow and orange circles covered the windows, shiny, saffron-colored Sari material covered the closet.  I slept on an old Ikea fold-out couch/bed.  “My” art hung on the walls.  A stretched canvas collaged  and ModgePodged with memorabilia from my first travels overseas alone – train tickets, hotel bills, coasters, maps, photographs. And a painting from my friend Scotty called “You Can Take it With You.” It is a woman leaving her home and her tribe.

Now in my own bedroom, I didn’t have to consider anyone else’s comfort or schedule.  I could go to bed whenever I liked.  It was like being in college.

I started the ritual of a nightly phone call with a friend in Chicago – also going through a divorce.  We would speak into the wee hours.  And yet, I still rose early – 5:30 a.m.  I had developed a schedule.  It gave me a sense of purpose.  Of safety and feeling grounded.  I held on to it fiercely.

I stayed up just as late while traveling over the summer.  In Rwanda, my roommate Sue and I would talk in the darkness under our dreamy, diaphanous mosquito nets until we fell asleep.

Since arriving in Chicago this fall, I’ve been mostly sleeping on a couch.  First at my friend Matt’s house.   And then at my own. 

I didn’t want to move into the spare bedroom at Matt’s.  It was small and didn’t have air-conditioning.  It meant I’d have to open up a box and inflate a blowup mattress.  Easy as it sounds, I didn’t have it in me.  Also, it would mean I had really left Seattle, left my marriage.  Sleeping on the couch allowed me to harbor an
unconscious fantasy that this was all temporary.  Besides, Matt said it was kind of nice to see me there in the morning.

On my own, I ordered a top of the line futon and frame.  I made the bedroom a massage studio, while I “camped” out in the living room.  Just inches from the dining nook and my computer, I stayed up later and later each night, seduced by what seemed like connection.  Facebook.  Photographs.  Video clips of a crush playing guitar and crooning.

Last week, I bought a bed.   It came on the heels of completing a writing exercise in Week 3 of The Artist’s Way.  “Describe your childhood room…What was your favorite thing about it?   What’s your favorite thing about your room right now? …”   

I didn’t have a room.  I knew then I could no longer camp out.  I could no longer feel like a transient in my own home. 

I feel anxious and teary writing this, realizing how unkind I have been to myself.  Realizing how much I have depended on others – especially my ex-husband – to give me permission to treat myself well.  To live.  

And, to tell me it’s going to be ok.  That I’m ok.  That I won’t be homeless.  (A recurring fear of mine.)  That I will always have enough to eat.  That I am protected and cared for and safe in the world – not because of him but because of me, the community I create, the order of things.

I didn’t get that reassurance at home growing up.  It wasn’t their fault.  My folks weren’t sure we had enough.  And whether or not that was actually true, they believed it.  At an early age I watched my father with his head in his hands, paying bills.  My mother reminding us of whom we couldn’t keep up with.  Of what we couldn’t have, instead of what we did. 

They were scared.  So I got scared.   I started living tight, rather than trusting in the good of the universe, my own work ethic, and my money-handling skills.

My friend Lisa reminds me that my money fears masquerade as financial prudence to the outside world.  But really, it’s just fear.

That’s what making a bedroom into a massage studio and putting myself literally “on the couch” is – fear. 

I’m alone now and fully adult.  I can’t wait for someone to give me permission to spend money – my money.  To take care of myself.  I have to do it.  It’s a slow learning.

I decided to let go of how much money I spent on the futon and my belief that it “should” work.  I ordered a bed from Overstock.com.  It arrives next week.  A modern, streamlined wood platform with a memory-foam mattress. 

In terms of my work, it means I’ll exclusively do house calls.  Or rent space from my friend, Dee.  Or put the table up in my living room and buy divider panels.  I haven’t decided yet.

I walk into my bedroom and I’m giddy excited to move in.  Probably the giddy excited I should have felt when I moved in to my apartment in October – my first on my own – ever, but didn’t.

I went to Target yesterday.  I bought a Dirt Devil stick vacuum.  A shoe rack.  A humidifier.  Shea butter for my hands.  Organic face crème.  Several kinds of tea. 

I stood in front of the Dirt Devil.  The shoe rack.  The humidifier.  Contemplating.   I heard the familiar refrain, “But do you really need it?”

Yes, I do.

I put them in my cart, took a deep breath, and checked out to the tune of $153.57.  I came home and built the shoe rack.  I vacuumed the closet with the new Dirt Devil and put the shoes back in it.  It looked like an After photo from a room makeover.

I kept vacuuming.  I remembered reading that Iggy Pop likes to vacuum.  So does my mother, and my friend Brian.  They find it Zen – although they wouldn’t use that word.  Right-brain activity, like scrubbing pots and riding a bike.

I marveled at how effortlessly it sucked up the dust bunnies in corners and along the baseboards.  I didn’t think I needed one because I had left the cats and their fur in Seattle.  I was mistaken.  I thought about my broom and dustpan and how I could never quite get everything up off the floor.  I’d tell myself it was “good enough.”  It wasn’t.

As I vacuumed – channeling Iggy Pop – I smiled.  I said out loud, “I think this is self-care.”

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