Publish November 25th, 2020
Also published at https://tinyletter.com/aleksrudzitis/letters/the-sum-of-our-parts
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Last weekend, our house betrayed us.
The drain for the washing machine became clogged, and during the rinse cycle waste water from our plumbing was dumped onto our basement floor. Water, mixed with black residue and stench.
The space that was our cozy basement took a different form. It was no longer the living space of my in-laws, where we did our laundry, and where my daughter played.
It was tile covered in filth. Ruined laminate floors. Trim that needed to be removed. Drywall we hoped we could just dry out.
It was opaque walls, filled with insulation, where we couldn’t see how far the moisture had spread. Cabinets which couldn’t be used to store things for the time being. Pipes we considered with suspicion. Air that was damp and unpleasant to breathe.
The basement was no longer a space; a home, a concept.
It was just its parts.
My grandmother was a very important part of my childhood. My Oma, the Latvian word for grandmother, took care of me while both of my parents worked.
I have an early memory of visiting her in the hospital. I don’t recall why she was there, but I visited her after she had some procedure. I remember her lying in bed, with a tube in her arm. She wasn’t able to talk to me because she kept vomiting; a side effect from the anesthesia or some other medicine. And I remember feeling upset at this sight.
Later, after she had come home, she asked me if seeing her in the hospital had frightened me.
If it isn’t frightening, it is at least unsettling when we’re forced to peel back our concepts and peek at the raw condition underneath.
Our homes, our possessions, once filled with function, dissolve into their constituent parts.
The bodies of our loved ones, the physical channels through which we recognize each other and show affection, become a collection of bones, flesh, blood, and bile.
Even ourselves, when we become sick or damaged, no longer feel whole. Through disease, our lungs, throat, nose draw attention to their imperfect existence. Injury shows us we are still muscle and tendons. Mental illness can, in its own way, lay bare previously hidden inner functions.
These are all an opportunity to see past the grand delusion; we are the sum of our parts.
The basement is cleaned up. Water mopped. Walls dried. The laminate flooring will need to be replaced at some point in the future, but remains usable (if a little lumpy in places). We lost the better part of a weekend but in the end relatively little harm was done.
A musty smell, like someone had just cleaned the drain traps, still can be detected in the air. It fades a little each day. We’ll wait a week, test for mold, and then call it good.
For the time being, I feel a little more appreciative of the walls around me and the floor beneath me. And perhaps a little more apprehensive about the amount of life left in them.