I'm just a very passionate person. I can't help it. I care about things. Deeply. I feel so strongly about some things that it makes me crazy. It's in my blood. My mother was passionate. If we don't have any passion for anything, what do we have? Nothing. Nothing. Life is empty, sad. My father was sad. He didn't have any passion. I care about things. About people doing a good job. About me doing a good job. About perfection. Oh, it drives me crazy. I like things to be perfect. But life is not perfect, I know.
I care about cleanliness. Okay, I am a neat freak, I’ll admit that. I have absolutely no problem admitting that. I love a clean bedroom, I love clean sheets, I love a clean bathroom. I love everything to be clean. I obsess about cleaning products, about which ones to use. About which ones not to use. About which ones are better for you. I drive my roommate crazy, and she’s a neat freak herself. That’s how freaky I am, how extreme I am. Clean, clean, clean.
I have a daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning schedule. Every morning I do a light clean of the bathroom after I use it, just light, nothing strenuous, a wipe down to keep things looking fresh. I do a light clean of the kitchen. At night I clean the stove. I sweep and mop the floor. I have monthly chores as well, but I won’t bore you. Enough about my cleaning schedule. That’s between me and my God, who I believe values cleanliness. I really here want to talk about life, about living. About doing. About being. About happiness. About sadness. About not giving up.
That’s what I want to talk about. Not giving up. Going for it. Really going for it. I want a worldwide cleaning company. It will clean across borders. Whenever I see pictures of third world countries, I say, that shack could use good clean. That hospital could use a good scrubbing. I’m not looking down at these people, I’m not judging, because God knows they’ve been through enough, and cleaning isn’t at the front of their minds. They don’t have time to scrub the floor. I get that.
But my organization would be a kind of international charity cleaning organization and wherever there some a crisis we’d come in and do some cleaning so people could just sit back and relax and go awww, I feel better now. Because, trust me, when things are clean it’s so much easier to get other things done. To have clarity in your mind. If you’re in a clean organized apartment it’s so much easier to say, You know what, I think I will give peace a chance, since for once my bathroom doesn’t look like a hair bomb went off. Okay, that’s gross. I apologize, but seriously, I was at my friend’s house and I could barely bring myself to take a piss in his bathroom. Every surface was coated with stray, questionable hairs, and dust and wayward piss stains. Disgusting. I told him I wouldn’t be coming back unless he hired a cleaner. It was horrific. I said, Are you an adult? Or are you a child? C’mon, pull it together. You’re thirty years old, and you can’t fucking clean a bathroom. Hire someone if you can’t do it yourself. Just hire someone once a month, if that’s all you an afford. Here’s my card. Hire me, if you like.
Or you know what, it’ll be good for you. Just clean it yourself. Just get down on your knees and fucking clean that shit up. Scrub. Wipe. Repeat. And make it your mission in life to keep that bathroom clean. Your life will be better for it. Trust me. It will. It’s good have passion in life, to have something you care about.
Prisons are not clean either. I know, that came out of nowhere. But it's true, there’s a kind of fake clean that goes with just spreading bleach and other chemically cleaners that induce the smell of clean but don’t actually clean. I’m talking about prison because my mother was in there. She embezzled money from the company she was working for. It was a terrible idea. I told her. That was really stupid. She just wanted some nice things, nothing crazy, just a few nice things, she said. Like a purse, some earrings, a decent dress or two. All her life she’s saved and scrimped and she just got tired of it. She wanted some nice things. I can’t blame her for that. I like nice things too.
I visited her when I can. I worried about her. When she was arrested I worried she was going to kill herself. She was depressed, like nothing I’d ever seen before. She took a plea deal. In the end she didn’t take that much money, about one hundred thousand, and the thing is she saved most of it, she only spent a little of it, so she paid them back and took a plea deal. I was worried about her after she got out. What was she going to do? Work again, at an even shittier job than the one she had before? That seemed to be the only thing to do.
There’s got to be a niche for felons, something that felons can do better than anyone else, I thought. Some prison ministry or something. Maybe she can take dogs to prisons for therapy. She might like that. Maybe she’ll find fulfillment in life still.
We decided that she’d stay at my apartment for a while. She’d sleep on my couch. One of the two. My roommate was okay with it—I was going to contribute more to the rent for that month, and she was traveling out of town for a while anyways. I was traveling too. The first night she came to stay with me, I took her out to eat at this little burger place on Fourth Street. She’d been craving a burger.
Oh, this is good, she said. This is so good. The stuff they served in that place, Kevin, I can’t even begin to describe it to you.
She’d lost weight, about twenty pounds.
So what do you want to do? I said.
I’m going to get a job in a kitchen, she said. I want to cook. I missed food and I want to be around it.
My friend Romero got her hooked up. She was a little slow in the kitchen so I was worried about that. She liked the job she told me. I like being busy, she said. I don’t want to think about things.
The first few weeks went well. She stayed out late after work with the other workers, mostly twenty-somethings. She drank with them. She got home late but she said she liked the job and the people. Then one night she didn’t come home. I called her cell when I went to the bathroom at 5am and noticed she wasn’t there, in her usual spot on the couch. She said she preferred the couch, it was more comfortable than my bed. She’d never stayed out this late before, as far as I knew. I called her. No answer. I called again, no answer. I left her a message.
Mom, where are you? I said on the voicemail. If you want to go out and drink all night, fine. I don’t care, but just let me know where you are, okay?
She called me back about 10am.
Sorry, sweetie, things got a little out of hand. I stayed over at a friend’s house.
I’m fine sweetie, just hungover.
I saw her that night. She was on the couch with a pack of ice on her head watching television.
Will you just please text me when you’re out late, so I don’t worry.
Sure, sweetie, I can do that.
I went into the bathroom. It was a mess, an absolute mess. There was hair everywhere, the mirror was dirty, toothpaste covered the sink. How had she done this since the morning. I cleaned. I cleaned and cursed. She was my mother—what was I going to do? There was blood in the bathtub.
Did you cut yourself, I said.
No, sweetie, she said.
There’s blood in the bathroom, I said.
Oh, she says, I had a Bloody Mary while I was taking a bath.
You know how to live, I said.
I’m sorry the bathroom is such a mess. I literally cannot move right now. I cannot move at all.
It’s okay, I said.
Not, it’s not, she said.
I was fired last night, she said.
She stayed on my couch for another two weeks before she got another job, this time as a part-time office assistant at a paper manufacturing company downtown. She said she liked it fine though her boss seemed borderline psychotic. He just paces in his office all day, she said. Pacing back and forth. He eats his lunch pacing. Makes all his calls pacing. I come into his office and he has the meeting with me, pacing. Her job was to transfer old paper records to digital. She had to scan thousands of papers. It was only a temp job. A week into that job she came home one night and said her boss jumped down the elevator shaft at work and killed himself. She was standing in the lobby after having bought her lunch when she heard a huge crash, a thud, kind of like a sack of potatoes falling and splatting. Blood ran out under the elevator doors. People screamed. When she found out it was her boss they told her to go home, they didn’t need her anymore.
I had her come work for me. She wasn’t a good cleaner. I think that’s why I became such a good one, because our old house was always dirty and disorganized until I took over. I used to clean our old house. I cleaned our bathroom.
I need you to step up the pace, I told her. I need you to clean better, faster. I need you to do a perfect job. I need your cleaning to be perfect.
Perfect? she said.
Yes, perfect, I said.
That’s not possible.
Oh it is, I said, when I clean.
It’s not possible, perfect.
Yes, it is.
The next day she didn’t come home after work. She went to a job and I knew she did the job but afterwards she disappeared. About midnight when she hadn't come home I started calling her cell phone. I went out on the street to look for her. She was nowhere. I called the police but they wouldn't help me yet. I went to the park she liked to go to and sit. I went on the subway, the one she would have taken to get to her last job. I found her at six am lying outside our building.
Where did you go? I say.
I don't know, she said.
She was covered in dirt, mud, vomit, and blood.
Where is this blood from? I said.
I cut myself, she said.
She was mumbling incoherently. I smelled alcohol.
I went up the steps, she said. I went up and climbed through the window and saw a man dressed as Peter Pan who took off all his clothes and flew away.
Okay, I said. Just try to relax.
I helped take off her clothes. This wasn’t a time for modesty.
I put her in the bathtub. I began scrubbing her with my homemade organic soaps. These soaps are especially strong--the strongest you can make really, with organic products. I have a secret recipe. I’m going to make millions with these soaps. Once I get them in front of the right investors. I scrubbed her arm. I scrubbed hard because she was covered everywhere with dirt and blood. I didn't know how it got under her clothes. Did she roll around naked in dirt? After I scrubbed her arm and got rid of the dirt and blood I kept going. I was scrubbing so hard soon her arm started to disappear. I didn't believe it was happening at first. I thought I was delirious from lack of sleep. But as a I scrubbed her arm kept disappearing. I scrubbed the other arm. That disappeared as well. I scrubbed her legs. They both disappeared too. This was some strong soap. Her limbs had just dissolved and went down the drain. She didn't seem to feel any pain. Her eyes were closed and she was still mumbling.
I couldn’t stop scrubbing. I thought about stopping—maybe I should stop!—but I couldn’t. I shampooed her hair with my natural homemade organic soaps. And as I worked up a lather, her hair started disappearing too. And then her head. I finished scrubbed her hips, her torso, her breasts, and they disappeared, dissolved, and went down the drain. I knew I was a good scrubber, it’s one of the things I’m really good at, but I didn’t know I cleaned so well, that I had such power over other people. Pretty soon she was all gone, except for her lips. They were twitching on the bottom of the tub. She was still mumbling. As her lips opened and closed, I tried to pick them up to scrub them too and hear what they were saying, but they were like jelly and slipped down the drain with a loud gurgle.
That’s the last I saw of her. But I think it’s for the best. I think she’s happier now. I think about her when I'm cleaning now. When I'm scrubbing. When the soap bubbles and the drain gurgles. I'm certain she's found some peace.