I wake up from dreaming of the Arizona desert and a professor and his wife I donâ€™t actually know in real life. The phrase â€œsand frillsâ€ sticks in my mind, something Iâ€™ve invented in sleep: as in, the canons and mesas give way to sand frills. It almost works to describe the way the sand is funneled and scarred with gullies and rivulets, flash floods scraping rivers into dry mud and red rocks. I wake up with an ear ache, the pain sucking at my right ear like altitude.
I slip away from the others, still sleeping: my small boy with his arms flung side to side like the oars of a rowboat, a contented sleep smile staining his face rosy; and my husband who was feverish last night and who wears and orange t-shirt and twitches inadvertently. It is the last day of vacation and I wake up mid day from napping with the sun slanting through the slits of the wooden blinds, dust motes rising and twirling in the air.
Yesterday I napped too, alone with the cats. Both of them curled nose to tail on the flannel. When I joined them, the apricot one chirped a welcome to me. At night she follows me around the house as I turn off the lights, bank the fire, get ready for sleep. She meows plaintively then, wanting one thing: a pinch of cat nip that makes her whirr like a summer fan and fall to the floor like a dervish in a state of ecstasy.
Today I wake up at 2:37 p.m. dreaming of people I donâ€™t know. For the longest time, or what feels like the longest time, I am convinced that I do actually know the man, who in my dream was a professor, we both were it seems. I try to pull my mind from the shallows of near sleep, where thoughts dart like the shadows of trout, illusive and just below the surface.
Gradually I stir, hoping that if I move, inhabit my body again, feel my fingers and toes, Iâ€™ll be able to place him and his wife, dark olive skin, but Iâ€™m only more confused and the pain from my ear creeps down my neck. When I put my hand up to my throat I find the glands on that side are swollen. Everything participating in the purposeful choreography of falling ill just as vacation is ending, of course.
When I climb from the bed I move the covers, I move my knees, and my ankles and the soles of my bare feet make contact with the wood floor. I can feel the grooves between the planks. The round circles where penny sized tabs of wood cover screw holes. For a minute I sit there at the edge of the bed with the dust motes circling my tangled hair like a halo and am stricken.
I think of all the screws. Thousands, maybe a million, although I can hardly imagine what a million screws would look like, each one made of dark metal, machined somewhere in a plant in Idaho or Tennessee or Mexico or China. I am astounded considering all the people who contributed to my floor in this way: the workers in protective goggles and gloves sorting and correcting package weights; the fork lift driver; those at the shipping yard and at the hardware store, and also the men who likely knelt a million times or more to place each screw, thankful to have an electric or battery operated screw driver.
The floor is old, and when we bought the house, the finish was almost black with age. It didnâ€™t gleam, and by the windows in my studio, a lot of water damage. Someone left the windows open more than once during a summer rain. Now it gleams, sanded and finished twice over. Our sweat. Our bending knees. My feet make contact with the floor. I pull myself to standing. I pull on jeans. I pull on a white terry sweatshirt that Iâ€™ve just put through the wash with a few tablespoons of Chlorox.
In the dryer I added a Mrs. Myers Clean Day geranium scented dryer sheet. The smell made me happy. It spelled clean and not cloying, though not natural either. The house is clean now, at the end of vacation. My life feels in order. Iâ€™ve spent the week putting things in order: paints on the shelf in my studio, carmine and cobalt and cerulean. Iâ€™ve scheduled things: doctors appointments, dental check ups, hair cuts, meals with friends. Iâ€™ve crossed things off my list: updated accounts, passport papers, green peppers and Irish oats and oranges for squeezing. On the bag they say â€œTake home and give us a squeeze.â€ Like some sort of huggable small trolls nestled together there in the orange webbed bag.
Iâ€™m reading Don DeLillo's book White Noise, and am fascinated with the way he uses lists to tell the story. Lists spiraling and deepening, a little the way Tim Oâ€™Brian did in The Things They Carried. This month, March, is a month of lists. Itâ€™s a month Iâ€™ve decided to live contentiously, focusing on the small things like replying to emails regularly and packing my lunch for work the night before. I get so outside myself, tilting towards the big picture, towards the hungry heat of my passions, that I forget to be here much, and here has a way of getting crowded and overwhelming as a result.
In O Magazine, someone wrote an article about â€œA Month of Living Perfectlyâ€ and I laughed, because it was my idea, the very thing I said to DH. â€œWhat if we spend March living the way we always say we want to live? No waffling.â€
He nodded over toast. He wasnâ€™t really listening to me. It was the end of February and the snow had numbed his brain. It keeps falling, by the way, falling nearly nightly. Making the woods white and glittering and the driveway slick when it melts and then turns to ice in the dark. But now March is here, and Iâ€™m going ahead with my proposition, ready, set, go.
If you were to live â€œperfectlyâ€ for a month, what are the top five things you would do every day?