Friday, October 18, 2013

185. Appreciation for Clean Dishes

When I was in preschool my family lived on Key West, one of the tiny islands off the coast of Florida. We were living on a military base with a lot of other kind and well-meaning families, and one might think it would be a coven of safety, except for all the animals that kept attacking my sister (a dog, jellyfish and pelican). I remember quite a lot from this time in my life, which I reckon is impressive considering that I was only 3 years old. The memories are quite random though, and I don't know why my brain selected certain things for permanent storage while throwing other things away.

I should be happy that I have such an abundance of memories, but really all it serves to do is make me really nervous when I look into the eyes of 3 year olds and think about how their tiny brains are encoding and filing things, even before they have a full grasp on language. I can't help but wonder why some things get retained while other things get thrown out. For example, I wonder if that 3-year-old I saw the last year will one day tell the tale of how she was in an elevator jam-packed full of people and she saw some lady's skirt get caught in the elevator doors and get yanked up over her head as the elevator descended, while everyone screamed and pointed and panicked. I wonder if she will remember that I was horrifyingly enough wearing underwear covered in monkeys. I wonder if it will take up precious brain space that could have been devoted to remembering seeing her baby brother for the first time, or learning how to use the potty. I wonder if I should feel guilty about this, on top of already feeling utterly mortified.

We lived in two different houses over the 10 month span that we lived on Key West. The first house had a pool (SO FANCY), and I used to spend countless hours throwing various objects into the pool just so I could watch my sister Ellen look exasperated and then swim down to retrieve said objects. Ellen also used to catch a lot of tiny green lizards, the kind that lose their tails when feeling threatened. I would watch her dash around and deftly scoop up the little creatures in her hands, my head tilted to the side like a half-dumb puppy. 

There's a video of Ellen and I from this house, and it consists mostly of her emulating an adorable miniature tour guide, leading Dad and the video camera around the house and talking about its many features. Meanwhile, I shuffle behind her the entire time, picking my nose and looking sour, repeating "Daddy. Dadddyyyy. Daddy. Dad. Daddy," in a thin, plaintive voice over and over again.

At the second house we didn't have a pool. We didn't have a dishwasher, either. But we had an avocado tree, which I enjoyed falling out of on a regular basis, getting the wind knocked out of me and staring upward at the sky spinning overhead, while Ellen was scrambling nimbly to the top of the tree and declaring "Golly I can see for MILES!" 

Occasionally, I seriously contemplate how successful I would have been in life if not for feeling motivated and inspired by Ellen. She never rubbed it in my face that I was a little bit behind her, quite to the contrary, she was always patient. Even when she caught me furtively licking the vanilla scented plastic muffins that came with my Strawberry Shortcake doll. She conceded to lick them once also, before gently informing me that they were probably not for licking, given that they were make of plastic. To be fair, those muffins smelled DAMN GOOD.

One time, I was "helping" my mom wash the dishes in the kitchen sink. I was standing on a step stool, up to my arms in soapy bubbles, dunking the plates into the water before handing them to my mom for actual cleaning. At some point, Mom informed me that she had to go to the bathroom, that she'd be right back, and that I should wait right there. She left, and for a minute I stood obediently on my step stool, glancing around the kitchen. 

Of course, my eyes found the jar of cookies sitting on the top of the fridge. My soapy hands sliding precariously all over the place, I clambered up onto counter and tottered over to the fridge, reaching up toward the jar of cookies. It was, sadly, far out of my reach. You might think that this story ends with me attempting to leap for the cookies, and falling in some sort of spectacular fashion. Or perhaps, I might have picked up some plates and thrown them at the cookie jar, in an effort to knock it down from its fortress-like perch. 

But, alas, no. After a few seconds of strained reaching, I gave up all hope on the cookie jar, and turned to look for something else to snack on. My eyes fell upon the yellow bottle of dish soap, sitting innocently on the edge of the sink. I couldn't read yet, but I could discern that there was a lemon on the label.

Lemons, I thought to myself, I like lemons.

Sitting on my ankles on the counter in a puddle of water, I reached forward and wrapped my tiny hands around the bottle. In my memory, this next part goes in slow motion, my future consciousness trying in vain to reach back in time and knock the bottle out of my hands. I tilted my head back, mouth open and hungrily awaiting lemony deliciousness. I lifted the bottle, took aim, and squeezed.

A fair amount of the liquid had gone pouring down my throat before it occurred to me that though it was not exactly the tastiest candy I'd ever had, it had a delightful foamy aspect. I stopped drinking, took the bottle away from my mouth, and smacked my lips appreciatively. Immediately, I felt something rumble deep within the recesses of my bowels. I furrowed my brow in confusion. I felt the earthquake travel up through my belly, up my esophagus, and a thick, hearty burp forced my mouth open.

Curiously, a large bubble floated away from my face.

Happily, another burp came out of me, resulting in several more bubbles joining the first one, floating through the air in a merry parade of rainbow delights. I clapped my hands in glee! I was a bubble robot! 

When Mom returned from the bathroom, she stopped dead at the entrance to the kitchen, her mouth dropping open in horror, as I shouted happily "Look Mommy! Look what I can do!" The look on her face as she watched me belch bubbles was like the sort of look you give a dog when it's contentedly eating a different dog's droppings. Like, Jesus Christ, you know what's happening is absolutely nightmarish and that you should probably do something about it, but you are simply paralyzed in shock and revulsion.

Mom was jolted out of her paralysis when I reached for the dish soap again, to refuel. She ran across the kitchen and snatched the bottle before I could get my grabby hands on it.

"Hey!" I protested, offended that Mom had not been impressed by my magical discovery. Instead, she put the dish soap on top of the fridge (next to the unreachable the cookies, to add insult to injury), wrenched open the fridge door, and pulled out a gallon of milk. She took the cap off the milk and thrust it out to me.

"DRINK THIS," she demanded.

I surveyed my mother for a moment. My tiny child brain attempted to make sense of the situation. There was only one explanation.

Clearly, she had gone bananas.

"But... you always tell Daddy not to drink milk right out of the -"

"I don't care! Drink it!"

"Ooookay," I said with a shrug of my shoulders, and set to chugging the milk.

After I had downed about a third of the gallon, she took it away from me and looked me up and down as I sat on the counter amongst the dirty dishes. I was wet and covered in a sticky mixture of dish soap and milk, little bubbles clinging to my lips. The seismic tectonic shifting I felt in my belly at that moment was beyond that of an earthquake. It was more like the silence before the sudden and destructive eruption of a volcano.

I'm not going to tell you what happened to my body next, because I don't want to alienate you. 

But it's okay. I'm better now. I've had 23 years to recover.

This was a long and meandering preamble to talking about the washing of dishes. On the trail, you could rinse out your pots and bowl the best you could using your water bottle, but all that really served was to smear the ick around. After a week of being on trail, we would drag ourselves into town and finally be able to rinse our dishes out with soap and water. This was pleasing, because it helped to alleviate the quiet, persistent nagging in the back of our minds that we were slowly and thoroughly poisoning ourselves.

Whistle, bless her heart, was not the most effecient when it came to cleaning her cooking pot after use, which led to the development of some delightful frothy mold that blossomed all over her cooking materials. I didn't blame her. After a long day of hiking, the act of having to clean your dishes was awful. This made it all the more satisfying when they could actually be cleaned.

Because then, even if it was only for a day, you felt like you weren't slowly killing yourself via old couscous.

Clever Girl


  1. We like that many of “the 200 terrific things about long distance hiking” are glimpses of what we, who haven’t accomplished such feats, would call “normal”. Just a glimpse is enough, though…then back to the woods. It’s like coming to the surface of a lake after being underwater for a long time, taking a look around to establish your bearings, and diving back down…to the more rational “normal” of the trail. Love you! Mom and Dad

  2. ...and big sisters are STILL the best!