Messes of My Own Making

And the perils of cleaning up after others

My toilet is on my living room floor, which freaks me out. I am strong, though. I can handle a lot of stuff. For example, I was very deft at ripping the sink out of the bathroom. All it took was one crowbar and five gaping holes in the drywall before I deftly called my friend Michael to come do it for me. He popped it out in half a second and helped me carry it to the curb, where it sat for five entire minutes before a man in a van with the bumper held in place by a bungee cord pulled over and hauled it off.

The hard part started when Michael, a professional house painter, then noticed that my bathroom could use a paint job, so I agreed to let him paint it, thinking the process would involve, you know, like, paint.

It ends up, though, that professional painters also use a substance called powdered drywall mud, which is basically big bags of anthrax you buy at the hardware store and mix with water in order to create a thick paste that is probably not very poisonous in small quantities. You slap this stuff all over the walls when your walls have “uneven texture,” as Michael said mine did. “How can you live like this?” Michael asked.

“I have no idea how I live like this,” I said.

I was not bothered by my bathroom walls until Michael pointed them out to me. Then all of a sudden they were all I could think about. So the toilet had to come out because evidently you can’t properly paint a bathroom without taking out the toilet first. All this because my old bathroom sink had been covered in cigarette burns left by the previous owner and I had to rip it out, because not ripping it out made me feel like my house was not in order, and I hate that feeling. Not that I have any idea what it feels like to have an orderly house; it’s just that if I am going to live in a mess, I think it should be a mess of my own making.

I remember once when I went to Greece with an actual portable typewriter in my backpack because I was going to write a romance novel full of heroes who had loins like throbbing pythons and half-dressed damsels with ample breasts bursting with desire. It was going to be the most torrid and heartbreaking of epic romances, in which the girl gets treated like a toilet seat by 700 men and then ends up in love with the one who treats her the worst. In other words, it was going to be absolute standard romance fare, only bigger, better, and messier, but I couldn’t write a single word because my friend Dax kept having sex with two Dutch girls on the balcony of the pensione where we both stayed. It is really hard to write made-up sex when actual sex is happening at a high decibel right outside your window.

Then suddenly one day Dax and the Dutch girls were gone and I was left to wonder why the other guests at the pensione were leering at me like angry hyenas, when all of a sudden it occurred to me that they thought it was me all those nights on the balcony with Dax. I don’t know what upset me more, the undeserved contempt from all these strangers or the fact that here I was again, left to deal with someone else’s mess without at least having had the fun of helping to make it.

That was a hundred years and a hundred hemispheres away. Now here I am living in Grant Park with a toilet in my living room. I never wrote the romance novel. I wrote a bunch of other books instead. I never succumbed to lasting reckless passion. Instead I learned a thing or two about love and courage and the will to wake up every morning with the steadfast refusal to give up. Or perhaps the refusal is not so steadfast; maybe it is more gradual than that. Take the toilet in my living room. I have no idea how I am going to reinstall it, just like I have no idea how I am going to clean the film of drywall dust that has settled on every surface in my home, including the lining of my lungs. But still it is there every morning, this soft insistence that rises to the top of all the years of all the ups and all the downs and all the toilets and the sinks and the lovely messes of my own making. “Today,” I hear my heart say quietly, “I am going to try again.”

Illustration by Peter Arkle