My toilet is crying much of the time, running water with the cry of a preemie, so soft, but loud enough for my son to walk away from the television, across two rooms, to shut its door. The plumber is back, one of the reliable plumbers in Louisville, KY, today his third visit, he will be installing a water softener. His beard a wire brush, salt hair, his boots on my welcome mat. I offer him coffee before remembering that I no longer make it. He accepts water in a lemonade glass, despite the threat of snow. I leave him to soothe the porcelain baby.
Gentle grunts and mutterings, metal on tile, the scrape of the heavy lid, he spent his childhood in Italy. He told me where, and I nodded as if it meant something to me, as if we understood each other now, and I could picture the kitchen table of his childhood, where his mother rolled out gnocchi and shooed him away with a stained apron. I want to offer him a sliver of breakfast cake made with almond paste, but I have none. He’s been to my home more than any friend, and I needn’t dress for him, my hair unwashed, long sleeves, sans bra and brushing. I realize now, with his soft sounds, his knees on my bathroom floor, that he’s closer to me than anyone in this town. I let him in.
What effort I’ve made in making new friends has come in fits and starts. Play dates and follow-up calls, attempts at coordinating schedules and grown-up dinner dates. There have been a handful, and the people, I’ve genuinely enjoyed. It takes effort and showers and driving. Instead, I look up at the cement block of a calendar, my life, supervising homework, fretting over a balanced dinner, swim lessons, and staring at my own work, writing and writing and not writing and doing anything to avoid the writing, and oh dear, today I must go to the school and feed the class snack, read a story, do a craft project. And there’s shopping to be done for it, and tomorrow a birthday party to plan, gifts to wrap, goodie bags to be assembled. And every activity I do that doesn’t involve my writing is strung up in anxiety… over not writing. And when I do, when I’m a shut-in, drinking my wine, reading Anne Sexton, editing and reworking and writing two sentences forward, three back, I am alone, wondering why I put pressure on myself to produce and achieve. Why aren’t I working on building friendships, reaching out and inviting people in? Why can’t I do both, not to extremes, but well enough? Work hard, play hard. I think because doing just one of these things is harrowing enough. So I dabble in both, get nowhere, and release preemie cries, leaking in lieu of liking, with nothing to show for it.
Above: Photo of Wooden Room
Anselm Kiefer (German, born 1945)