It’s a Sunday, and the mandatory cup of tea is by my side. The windows and balcony door are thrown open, and a light breeze is coming through the house, carrying with it the fresh scent of the rain, which I can hear falling quietly on the windows and leaves outside. Upstairs, my neighbor gently strums his guitar and in my apartment David Gray’s album ‘White Ladder’ has just come to a stop. Birds are chirping. The dog is sleeping.
This all paints a very zen picture, but then I look across the room and see all of the clutter that I just created and my chest starts to clench up again with that suffocating feeling.
So. Much. Stuff. Where did it all come from? How can I get rid of it?
A few months after my mother and I moved to Belgium, she went away for a week to Germany for work.
For a few days I wandered the floors of our new house rattling around like a penny in a coffee tin. It was a big house, the largest we had ever lived in. Our meager belongings, which had been shipped over from New Jersey, barely filled two rooms. Including the kitchen, this was an 8 room house spread over four floors with a further 5 bathrooms and a basement with garage. It was a lot of space, way more than I was used to, and walking from room to room admiring the crown molding and oddly tiled bathrooms did little to clear the house of my loneliness.
I wasn’t working yet, and didn’t know anyone, so had nowhere to go and no one to call. At 20 years old, this was also the first time in my life that I had lived without a pet in the house. It felt so lonely.
So I went to the animal shelter to look for a housemate.
I think I went with the intention to take a look, but within a half an hour I was heading home on the tram with a very heavy and very vocal black and white cat in a small crate. The ladies at the shelter told me that he had been there for years, was very smart and friendly, and I should take him. He had done his time and deserved a loving home. ”Say no more,” I said, and took him home with me.
For the next few days, having Louis as company helped. Now there were two of us wandering the expanses of the large house, getting lost in the nooks on the staircases, calling out to each other when the quietness became too quiet, when the vastness too vast.
My mother came home within a few days, and I met her at the front door with every intention of confessing that I had just made such a large decision for the both of us without her knowledge, that we were three now. “Don’t be mad, but I have something to tell you…” I started as a greeting.
Just then her gaze dropped to the floor behind me, where Louis had come to see who was at the door with a questioning meow? I watched with bated breath as my mother’s eyes widened and her mouth opened into a perfect oval. She dropped everything there on the landing- her bags, her briefcase, her purse- and started to crawl towards Louis on her hands and knees, cooing a high-pitched, “Heeeeeeeeeey. Whoooo iiiiissss thiiiiiiiiis?”
And from that moment on, Louis was no longer my cat, but hers. Having kept me company for a few lonely days, he focused on a bigger challenge: keeping my mother company while she worked through her own issues- an ending relationship, culture shock after a move abroad, a huge career shift, and like me, loneliness. He was a great cat, and he took his job very seriously.
I can say without a doubt that Louis became one the Greatest Loves of my mother’s life and lived a comfortably spoiled ten years with my mother until his passing early last year.
As for me, I found work, met new friends, and eventually started dating.
Dave has been away to Ireland since Tuesday on a week’s holiday, gallivanting with friends and family.
For the first few days I relished the silence, and having the apartment all to myself. My choices on the TV, my dishes in the sink, me stretched out across the whole couch, me stretching across the bed, four pillows to myself, my, my, my, mine, me.
I went to work, I went to the gym. I took Mylo for walks. I tried something new. But then the rains came, and after a few failed attempts at going out, and maybe one too many rented movies, I started to wonder what it was that people did in this city for fun, and why I wasn’t with them. Which is ironic, as I write a blog telling others what to do in Amsterdam for fun, but could think of nothing enticing enough to drag myself out of the house.
This apartment is much smaller than that first house in Belgium; I could fit four of these apartments into that house, and my things fill this place much more than it did the house in Brussels. I have a job, I have friends. Plus, I have Mylo here for company.
And yet I still rattled around the house this week, moving from room to room and back to the first room (because there are much less rooms). The dog moved with me- to the kitchen, to the living room, back to the kitchen, back to the living room.
What I was looking for, I don’t know. But suffice to say, I couldn’t find it.
On the fourth day that Dave was gone, I got a flatmate. She moves in on Monday. I told Dave by text while he was somewhere on the west coast of Ireland enjoying the scenery and probably a hangover. I thought it was best not to surprise him at the door like I did my mother all those years ago. He was surprised, but not upset.
So I’ve been spending the day clearing out the spare bedroom, taking all of that clutter and dispersing some of it throughout the apartment, and some of it into black trashbags, which as I mentioned above is serving only to cause me to suffocate and want to burn it all in a great big bonfire. When you have four rooms and then suddenly must fit into just three, a sort of imbalance happens. So much stuff. Where to put it? (FIRE!)
I’m not sure there’s a lesson in this post, but if there were I think it would be something like, “Don’t be left alone for a week” or “Don’t make decisions based on loneliness”, or maybe just a simple “Don’t collect so much”.
And now I have to go and finish making room for one more person in the house. And take the dog out one more time, and go to the gym one more time, and maybe rent one more movie. As of tomorrow, it will change, and by that I mean it will all go back to normal. Until the next time I’m left on my own.