When you move, the question everyone wants to ask is, “Are you sane yet?”
The sound of footsteps on the creaky hardwood floors downstairs have startled me awake.
“Jessica, did you hear that?”
She mutters something, rolls over, pulls the covers up around her shoulders, and snuggles deeper into sleep. I make a mental note to pull the covers back when this is all over.
A loud thump resonates through the house.
Suddenly, there’s clanging, as if someone is repeatedly banging the pipes with a wrench.
My stomach tightens. My eyes beam.
Just as suddenly as it began, the clanging stops.
Juiced with adrenaline, I strain to hear more, hoping that I don’t.
Just take the stereo and leave, I think. Take the TV, too. The TV’s old and the color smears. I smile, envisioning the thief getting home, planning to relax and enjoy his ill-gotten booty, only to see the characters’ hair fuzz out across the screen like their heads are on fire. I hear him: “What the #$@%? Man, can’t a guy get a break?”
Abruptly, I’m wrenched back into the moment by a light rapid tapping. As I listen, I detect in the background another sound, a dull sporadic knocking.
With all the creaking, the thumping, the clanging, and now the tapping and knocking, it’s as if we’re being burgled by the cast of Stomp!
The thump occurs again.
I shake Jessica awake.
“There’s someone in our house,” I whisper.
“Hmm?” she asks, sleepily.
“Listen. Hear that?”
She’s unruffled by the cacophony.
“I told you,” she says, apparently referring to her indecipherable mutter of a few minutes earlier. “It’s the house.”
“I told you it was loud.”
She turns her back and settles back into sleep.
I lay there, alert and listening. The noises are so numerous, it’s like trying to sleep in a busy gas-station garage. Eventually, I manage to ignore them and drift back to sleep. But not before yanking back some of the blankets.
We’re getting settled in.
That’s the term everyone uses when you move into a new house, getting settled in. “Are you,” they ask, “getting settled in?”
What they mean is, “Are you sane yet?” Because getting settled in drives you crazy.
The unfamiliar din of our house was just the earliest stage of getting settled into our new home. It was my first night in our new home. I say “new home,” but it was built in the 1940s.
From what I could figure, the thumping, clanging, and tapping had something to do with the radiators. The knocking was an open wood window hitting against its casing. And the creaking that sounded like footsteps? I have absolutely no idea.
Taken together, though, they were just part of getting to know the old sounds of our new environment. In other words, part of getting settled in.
Like, for example, waiting for hell to freeze over. Or, as it’s also known, waiting for the movers to arrive. That, too, is part of getting settled in.
During our wait, Jessica, our son, Sam, and I had no furniture except
for a futon on loan from a friend. Fun as it sounds, rather than eat on the bare hardwood floors, we went out to eat most meals. It’s hard to get settled in when you’re always settling out.
When the movers finally arrive, getting settled in officially begins. It comes in a blur of boxes, couches, filing cabinets, boxes, bookcases, bicycles, boxes, lawn equipment, tables, chairs, and more boxes, towers and towers of boxes. When the day is done and you gaze out over it all, seeing boxes marked “kitchen” in the bathroom and those scrawled “master bedroom” in the basement, you want to run. Run somewhere where none of this can find you. But you can’t. You have to get settled in.
For days, which turned into weeks, we slogged through the unpacking, like an invading army through a Russian winter. Eventually, we finally made a pathway through the boxes so we didn’t have to move three or four of them every time we had to use the bathroom. Before long, we were making new piles of mess, completely indistinguishable from the old stuff. We were ecstatic about our progress. We could sleep in our own beds, sit on our chairs, and sometimes even glimpse one another, our metropolis of skyscraper boxes not quite so high as before.
We’re getting settled in.
During the Great Unpacking, Jessica gives me a hand. Not help or applause. A hand. It is the print of our son’s little hand when he was three or four. He’s 12 now and we’ve saved it all these years. “Don’t give it to me,” I tell her. “Unless we can use it as an ashtray or a candy dish, I say toss it.”
She gives me The Faux Pout. It differs from The Real Pout in that she doesn’t also plump down huffily on the couch, cross her arms and legs, and all but vow to turn blue if you don’t give her what she wants. The Faux Pout is puppy dog eyes and a turned-down mouth. It says, “Pleeease.”
“You picked it up,” I reply, not having any of it. “It’s your responsibility.”
The unpacking has made me utterly unsentimental. I’ve come across things like ancient love letters from previous relationships, gifts from bygone friends, photos from vacations (when I was thin; well, thinner), things, in other words, that stopped me in my tracks time and again and caused me to wonder, “Will I ever get through all this unpacking!?”
Jessica still stopped to smell the sentimental roses. A plaster handprint of our son resided right on the fault line between keepsake and throw-out. Who can throw out the gift of a child’s lovingly crafted handiwork? On the other hand, if we kept everything the kid ever made we’d have to open a freakin’ museum.
Isn’t there some kind of statute of limitations on emotional souvenirs?
We came across a bunch of that stuff. Jessica unearthed one of the most endearing letters either of us could imagine. The letter writer told us how wonderful we were, what a great time they had had with us, went on to tell us about their travels, and concluded by saying she and her boyfriend looked forward to seeing us soon. When she finished reading, Jessica turned to me and said, “Who’re Bruce and June?”
I said, “I don’t know.”
We kept the letter.
As the weeks dragged on, we followed a “for now” strategy. Where should I put the pasta maker? Just set it on the couch for now. What about the fax machine? In the bathroom for now.
The only problem with “for now” is that it becomes “forever.” But it seems that as long as we have a bed to sleep in, a table to eat at, and a sofa to watch TV from, we are pretty much OK.
I like to call it postmodern decorating.
Yep. I think we’ve gotten settled in.