There have been times in the past when the messes in our house, from piles of books on the stairs to piles of clothes on the bed, have driven me mad. But lately, I’ve been a free spirit. I don’t care.
Except, that is, for one night last week after work. I got home before the Beast and the mess was all I could see.
There used to be one pile of books on the bench in the sunroom. Now there are three. And to be clear, none of these books are mine. To make a point, I made a big pile of books on the Beast’s morning chair so that he would have no choice but to deal with it.
When the Beast got home the first thing he said was, “Am I in trouble?”
“I’m not your mother,” I told him. “So I can’t get you into trouble. But we have reached a tipping point of mess.”
“Can you not saying “tipping point” please?”
“I only said it to annoy you.”
“You might not want to do that, considering I’m making dinner tonight.”
The Beast had purchased the makings for tuna casserole: Two cans of tuna, some fresh peas, a can of cream of mushroom soup and two boxes of white cheddar macaroni and cheese.
“I’ve been craving tuna casserole for so long,” he explained. “And the nice thing is that dinner is going to be ready in 15 minutes! Can you please get a pot of water boiling?”
“What recipe are you using?”
“I’m not using a recipe. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Do you need help?”
“May I go sit down in the sun room and read?”
So I did. But it was far from relaxing. For a solid ten minutes, on every 10-second mark, I heard a stream of groans, clashes, bangs and a series of questions and statements delivered to no one in particular: “I wonder what pan should I use to achieve the most crust. This water is taking FOREVER to boil. This is going to be so good. How much milk should I add? Does the cheese get mixed in or do I just put it on top underneath the breadcrumbs. Where are the breadcrumbs? How many breadcrumbs should I add? I’m going to make this so thin that it’s almost all crust and then we can have casserole crust sandwiches on white bread tomorrow. Wait, I didn’t even consider a side salad.”
Finally, I took the bait. “No salad?” I said. “Well, planning a dinner is a little more difficult than buying a couple boxes of mac and cheese, isn’t it?”
“Everything is always about you,” he said, defiantly. “You know what? Stop judging me and just judge the food.”
“Oh, I will,” I said. “Fucking tuna casserole. You are unbelievable. If my Italian friends could see me now.”
“You made El Paso tacos last night! So what are you even talking about?!?”
Then, the most extraordinary thing happened. A glorious smell–one that I hadn’t smelled in probably 20 years–oozed from the kitchen. The smell of artificial, powdered and highly processed “cheese”.
For a moment, I considered that maybe I should give the Beast’s tuna casserole a chance.
I did. And I’m a better person for it. The tuna casserole was sublime.
We ate it while watching The Swimmer, a 1968 film starring Burt Lancaster that’s based on a John Cheever short story. Although there were some painful montages of slow-motion running through woods and fields set to corny music, it’s the kind of story that stays with you.
Lancaster’s character, Ned, hasn’t seen his friends and neighbours in rural New York all summer. He shows up in a friend’s backyard and takes a dip in their pool. Looking out from their incredible view, he calculates that he could swim pool-by-pool across the county all the way home to his wife Lucinda and two daughters by visiting 10 or so neighbours’ pools and running in between through the woods and fields. Along the way, we learn that Ned is a terribly flawed–even tragic–character.
Lancaster, who must have been in his 50s, looked fantastic. Not surprisingly, that’s what stayed with the Beast. The next morning, I found him collecting photos of the actor in his prime.
I, on the other hand–thankful that the film transcended the trappings of ’60s kitsch–got caught up with the notion of home and, as usual, nostalgia. “Remember how we used to take off our suits and swim for miles up that river? We just never got tired,” Ned says to a childhood friend. “And the water up there. Remember? That transparent, light green water. It felt different. God, what a beautiful feeling. We could’ve swum around the world in those days.” Right before Ned takes off to the next pool, he says: “Lucinda’s waiting. The girls are home playing tennis. I’m swimming home.”
It’s been about 15 years since I stepped foot into my childhood home at 22 Manor Rd. in St. Thomas, Ont. But I remember the bay window, the rusting mailbox, the unadorned front lawn and the cornfield out back where my brother and I built summertime forts that seemed to go on forever.
Now, my dad lives in Port Stanley, Ont. and my mom has one in nearby London.
There’s part of me that envies those who still have a childhood home to visit.
The other part is happy–and maybe, on occasion, even thankful–to come home to the Beast and his piles of shit.