Known Affectionately as the Angel of Death

Jan 30, 2015

It's time.  The New Year is in full swing, already a little frayed around the edges.  What resolutions were hastily made at the end of December are by now already achieved or have accommodated themselves to reality.  The snow, which arrived so unceremoniously at the beginning of the month, has seeped under every door, laying salty waste to carpet and hardwood alike.

Outside, one of our giant inflatable lawn ornaments last week simply gave up and lay down.  Ollie the penguin, my trusty glow-in-the-dark companion, is now no more than a few strings connected to a puddle of vinyl.

Then there's the Christmas Tree. Somehow, in the midst of everything else, it never came down. It sits in the corner of the living room, twinkling merrily - in a slightly surreal post-ironic gesture towards timelessness, or not.  I am suddenly aware of just how full the house has become.

In my family, I am known affectionately as "The angel of death." A slightly violent title, perhaps, but let me explain. Normally twice a year I am overwhelmed by a primal urge toward order. I make a pass through the house, manically trashing, tossing, packing and whacking. I can feel it coming on again today.  That familiar twitch of the eyebrows. Today is the day I will help many tired items pass on into a new and better place.

Whetting my sickle, I survey the landscape.  This place is like an overgrown field.  It's time to go to work.

I start with the superficial layer - the tall weeds.  Things recently sprung up and begging for a good whack with a sickle.  Into this category go the holiday wrapping and packaging, the aforementioned light-up tree, three months of magazines, and all the food still left over from December.  So much cheese - what do you do with sixteen varieties that you don't really like anymore, but which refuse to go bad?  Or the bog-awful items bought to accommodate dietary requirements of long-departed relatives (departed to Iowa, that is).  All this extra food that just clutters the fridge and counters.  I swing into action - pitch, pack and whack.

I'm not always sure that's a good idea, at least not for me, this putting of things away.

Next, there's  the deeper layer of clutter.  The thatch.  Things already felled, now part of the familiar ground, taking up space without fertilizing anything.  It's in every room as I start to look.  In the living room are two books on creative writing, stacked by the telephone.  I got them eighteen months ago.  I run a finger across the top volume, and leave a line in the layer of dust.  The sickle falls again.  I send these monuments to my uncreativity packing, together with their insidious siblings embedded throughout my chaotic world.   Pitch, pack and off to the goodwill.

Finally, there's the deepest layer of all - the items hidden far from the sun - the basement.  This is the time of year that people buy storage boxes to put things in.  Just check the Target flyer.  I'm not always sure that's a good idea, at least not for me, this putting of things away.  Entombing things in Sterlite simply helps put off  difficult decisions.  Some day all of these will rise again - and then where will we be?  I look at the lines of boxes already against the basement wall.  I'm glad to have the old family photos. But some of the rest of the stuff...am I saving rotary telephones in case they come back into style?

Returning to the living room, I survey my afternoon's work. Goodbye lights, goodbye paper, farewell old kitchen implements, ill-fitting sweaters, inedible gingerbread. Sternly, I have held the line on new boxes for the basement.  The vacuum cleaner wails a requiem for the departed. But eventually even this angel of death has his weak spot.  Carefully, I gather up Ollie the penguin in my arms and bring him inside. I hang him by his hat, so that his frozen heart can thaw.  He can still be mended, I'm sure of it.

The author and Ollie.