There’s a difference between being in a space and actually inhabiting a space. I’m thinking specifically about the bedroom, which for the past several weeks had begun feeling more cluttered than claimed, in desperate need of attention. Which is to say something else needed attention: Ourselves.
The closet, with curtains concealing bins filled with photos and unused bags and ten years worth of tax files; the dresser and little desk I bought on consignment in Burlington, the bookshelf that doubles as a nightstand–every surface covered with trinkets and pictures and errant socks and half-read books and papers needing tending.
We live in a three-bedroom apartment, and there are five of us; Mani works from home, which means Mani works from the bedroom. We sleep in the bedroom. We drink coffee in the bedroom. We congregate sometimes at night with the kids in the bedroom; V and I watch Glee in the bedroom, we hang out on the bed a lot, talking about everything from writing novels to puberty to business ideas in the bedroom. In a word, the bedroom was starting to feel too multi-purposed to inhabit, to be a space conducive to both rest and productivity and connection.
Last night, feeling nauseous myself after two days of the girls being home from school with a stomach flu, I asked Mani if she’d join me in rearranging and clearing open this space. She was game. We began by moving the bed from under a drafty window, where propping pillows was awkward and uncomfortable, up against a different wall. This revealed a frightening amount of dust. Sweeping alone felt like a victory, propelling us to reposition the other pieces of furniture, again discovering and discarding copious dust bunnies from underneath each of them.
Next, we tackled the stuff, first emptying out the closet except for the clothes on hangers, as well as the hall closet in order to make actual use of it–a tape player with not a cassette to be found, stacks of records we never listen to, previous tenants’ toilet plungers and cleaning supplies. The bag I had begun filling with trash was soon full, and pictures that had been stacked up in a pile that was always falling over were moved to the kitchen table for us to hang in the hallway today. We reassigned frames and changed up what was on the walls, a second garbage bag by the door bound for Goodwill.
We took a break after an hour or so to make a stir-fry and eat, which made me queasy again but kept me going. By the time we finished, around 9:30, the bedroom felt about three times bigger and completely new, like it was finally our room, a room we can inhabit, a room with space to roll out a yoga mat and breathe, with my desk now sitting under a window instead of facing a wall, so I can write and work and look out at the birds and wait, wait, wait to unlock the latch to the promise of fifty degrees and that awesome spring smell. We slept well and woke today both feeling, well, happy.
Today, we are starting out slowly. Mani is sitting beside me learning about social espionage. Asia just got up; she got hit by the stomach bug, too. The girls are at their dad’s, and as of last night, were both beginning to feel better. Spring is coming, spring is coming–a refrain blasting open the inertia and monotony that had taken over my experience of our space, and life in general lately.
While I was going through some old files, I found a running log from last July, which I taped up on the wall as a lure to get my sneakers back on; it has been too, too long since I set out from the driveway for even a two-mile loop. I’m ready to re-inhabit my body, too, the room I live in day in and day out, the avoidance I have been tolerating uncomfortably during these many cold, cold, grey, endless feeling weeks of February and early March.
And I found a journal–I called it my Anything Book–from when I was Aviva’s age. I was so sad and locked in, and also so filled with yearning and the search for meaning. In one entry, from sleepover camp during the summer of 1984, I wrote about another camper who was upset, how she “just fell into me (but not romantically)”–the parenthetical made me laugh–and how her sadness had lifted after we talked for an hour. “I think I have a gift, for people talking to me and feeling better,” I wrote. Sigh. We are who we are.
Thirty years ago, I was thinking about my gifts. Nothing was more comforting or satisfying than rearranging my bedroom, inhabiting my space. Back then, I was beginning a long descent into disconnecting from my body, feeling so sequestered and unknown. Reading that made me cry and filled me with tenderness for the journey that landed me, finally, here, in this bedroom, this space, this body, this life, where I am the same as I ever was. Where I can rest, where I can rise, where I breathe my way into the body and into the day and into the life that we are creating.
Sometimes I find myself missing my house, the one I sold in Vermont, where my babies grew up, on that little dead-end street with its best friends and the retired pediatrician who opened her pool every summer to the whole neighborhood, its two stories and two bathrooms and home office. Renting this apartment, it can become easy to disconnect. Returning to caring for the space we inhabit brings relief and also embodiment: I am really here.
I am still fending off the bug, but the bedroom feels one hundred times lighter than it did yesterday, and perhaps by the end of the weekend, the same will be true for the mess of the entryway, the corner of the kitchen crammed with stuff we never touch, the walls in the hallway empty of art. And in all of this, I am beginning to feel lighter, too. Slowly returning, like spring itself. Quietly preparing to bloom.