Most of my wardrobe remained at my former home in the San Fernando Valley, and I needed to get all of our clothes soon because the season was changing. The boys also asked for the rest of their toys. However, rather than traveling thirty miles to get them, I decided to take a couple of days to clean closets in my new home, beginning with my boys’ room.
Everyone in the household was gone for the day, either to school or work, and I went into my sons’ shared bedroom off the back porch. Once there, I tried to open the sliding doors of the closet. Neither door would budge. I finally stood on a chair, and unhooked one door from its catch, pulling with all the muscle I had. Along with the door came thirty years of junk—a six-foot-tall canvas Indian tee pee, a Roy Rogers hat, cap guns, and Confederate war soldiers among a multitude of other useless items. The clothes I found consisted of every size from toddlers’ to teenaged, all jammed into what was a bookcase built inside the closet. I began taking things out and placing them in the hallway.
When John came home for lunch, I made him a thick ham sandwich and we went outside to sit by the pool. The warm September sun danced gloriously off the clear blue water and Rumpus came over to the table, wagging his tail, hoping for a scrap of food. I suppose this homey atmosphere prompted me to think it would be the right time to tell my husband what task I had achieved that morning.
John had just taken a large bite of the sandwich when I explained what I had emptied the closet in my boys’ bedroom. Some of the sandwich’s mayonnaise squirted unexpectedly out, landing on the side of his mouth. John took his napkin and with a determined movement, he wiped the food away. He then looked at me and said, “I don’t want you to touch anything.”
I sat stock still, the words rattling around in my brain like a pin-ball game. The bright sun suddenly slid behind an errant cloud, and I found myself struggling for a viable response. When I could not, I asked in a small voice, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I don’t want you to touch anything.”
A volcano of anger spewed up my throat. It was an anger I had never felt before, mixed with humiliation because the foundation of my new marriage suddenly began to crumble under this emotional earthquake. “How do you expect the boys and me to move into the house?” I asked.
“Slowly, without hurting anyone’s feelings.”
“John! How can I hurt anyone’s feelings? This stuff is years old…no one wants it, or it wouldn’t be stuffed in that back bedroom closet.”
He did not answer, but continued to eat his sandwich, and when he finished, without looking me in the eye, he got up and went back to work. That afternoon, I put everything back into the closet, neater than I found it.
My reaction to this state of affairs was to become physically ill. I developed a nasty cough a couple of days after that conversation. I attributed my hacking to the change of weather—Moraine was colder than the San Fernando Valley, its backdoor a direct corridor for the winds and fog of Ventura.
John’s house was also poorly insulated. Very soon, I realized my husband had never paid attention to household affairs because of his six-day-a-week work schedule that often lasted 12 hours. Through the years, with the growth of his family and his affluence, John’s house had been expanded haphazardly and the old forced-air heater was not up to the requirements of the larger house. It huffed and puffed loudly, and there was an awful bang when it finally spewed heat into the air ducts. However, the heater could not warm the large family room which was really a rather slip-shod enclosed patio with five floor-to-ceiling sliding doors.
This “sun room,” as it was called by the Stewart family, was appealing because it looked directly onto the pool, but there was no insulation and it became cold the minute the sun went down. The room was also separated from the original house by more sliding glass doors, but since it held the only console television set, my children and I found ourselves watching our favorite evening shows huddled under any blanket we could find in the household. Within a few days, my cough grew increasingly worse. Simple breathing was painful.
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