Wild River Review
Wild River Review
Connecting People, Places, and Ideas: Story by Story
May 2010
Open Borders

As if adrenal fatigue, a bout of inflammation, a snarly stepdaughter, six months of recession, and 14 straight days in a row without animal protein aren’t enough. Good grief. Life just doesn’t stop happening, now does it? (Well, okay, not that I invite the alternative, but still…)

I swear this new crisis is surely going to put me over the edge. Have me toggling off of Bowman’s Tower for real this time and I’m not sure if I’m kidding.

Here’s the story:

Yesterday, I’m innocently working on an interview piece for this beloved Web site when I get a phone call from “Sally”, the woman who cleans my house and has been doing so for four years now (since I moved back here from Chicago).  Sally comes on alternating Tuesdays and was here just this week. Since I work from home, I’m often here to greet her and exchange a little conversation. Frankly, it’s nice to have the company (and even nicer to have somebody other than me do the deep down scrub I know is necessary but I can’t bring myself to get good at…). And over the years, we’ve come to know a lot about each other.

In any event, this past time she did her usual bang up job and left and I assumed I wouldn’t see or hear from her for at least another two weeks.

But I was wrong.


The next day I got a phone call. It was Sally delivering some bad news that frankly nobody should get without at least a) a conscience-altering substance at the ready, or b) warning.  In hindsight, I should’ve never picked up the telephone. But when I saw her number come up on the caller ID, I had no reason to believe her news would be anything other than helpful. And so, I answered with the innocence of someone who goes into a convenience store for cupcakes and walks right into a hold up. 

 “Hi Sal!”

“Oh hey Jill,” she said, sniffing, sounding like she’d either just woken up, sobered up, or finished a good cleansing cry. She went on to tell me about a new product that removes dog hair from furniture easily and quickly, lulling me into a false sense of security before hitting me hard.

“Jill,” she said, “I’m not going to be able to clean your house anymore. I’m really sorry.”


“It’s just that going up and down those stairs, picking up the rugs, cleaning the floors, getting around all the dog hair, I’m tired,” she said. “I’m pushing 60, you know. It’s just too much. Your house, it’s just too big.”

Say what? Who are we, the Spellings? Did Donald Trump design us a palace or do we live in a modest 2800-square foot townhouse in the suburbs.

Oh my God, Sal. You can’t leave us. You can’t. You’re more than just someone who cleans our house, you clean the clutter out of my frontal cortex. When you glide over the dusty floors with your Swiffer Wet Jet, I get goose bumps. The birds sing, the clogged passages in my sinuses turn into the Dalai Lama, that turn of phrase that I just can’t get suddenly becomes a symphony. With the dirt goes the chaos in my brain. You cannot leave us to languish in the muck. For the sake of my head, my livelihood, my family, the good of society. Please, PLEASE, I beg of you, STAY. DON’T GO.



And so it went.  I offered her more money and even tried to problem solve it by alternating and eliminating rooms in my head, so it’d be easier for her and she could leave without being totally drained. But the fact of the matter remained: I needed my whole house cleaned and it was just too much for her to do it…


Even as I recount the ordeal here, I’m not over it, and several days have passed. I am still holding my chest, hearing her voice over and over in my head–as if she were some polygamist sister-wife being interviewed by Anderson Cooper, her face altered for the sake of anonymity, her voice deep and slurred and filtered.

I hear her words over and over during the night, waking me several times: I can’t clean your house anymore… too big…lift rugs…dog hair…just can’t…so sorry…last time…  The bad dreams leave me sweaty and breathless, and craving white-flour carbohydrates.

(I know, I know. It’s hard to read. Take a moment. Look away if you must. But remember: Your family was not the one abandoned like some disease-riddled gaggle of sloths. You’re all okay.)

She’s tired. Hey, I’m tired too, but you don’t see me telling clients I can’t write for them. You tidy up my toilet bowl. I clean up Web content (or what have you). At the end of the day, it’s all the same shit.

Sort of.


Now listen. I don’t want to sound spoiled or ungrateful or like I can’t empathize with exhaustion. Hello? And I love Sally. Truth be told, she’s like a member of the family. She cleans my mom’s house, my brother’s house, and lots of our friends’ houses. So when she said our house, in particular, was simply too big for her to handle, well, I felt rejected.

There. Okay? Truth time.

I mean, I’m being ousted. Penalized for having too much space.  Bounced from but another club–and one I thought you couldn’t get bounced from, which just makes the whole thing worse.

Besides, I’m touchy about this sort of stuff. I’ve already been burned by too many out-of-reach clubs (i.e., sorority sisters who want conformist personalities; married people who can’t invite single people to dinner; people with kids who think people without can’t work a baby gate; suburbanites who don’t like city-ites; city-ites who don’t like people who grew up on the prairie; bio-moms who have voodoo dolls of their husband’s new wives and aren’t afraid to use them; step-moms who can’t access good attorneys; step-kids who visit bearing arms; tall people who don’t understand short people need mirrors hung lower; and, thin people with gold-plated DNA who can’t understand why jeans without spandex just don’t work for everyone. You know, that kinda stuff…)

I guess I just don’t have what it takes to let this kind of thing just roll off my back, as if it were a tiny blip on a very grounded, secure, and overly self-sufficient radar.

Who are we kidding?

This doesn’t even begin to take into account that it’s been a looooooooooooonng time since I’ve cleaned my own house. (I think Gloria Gaynor had just come out with “I Will Survive”.) Touched my own floorboards. Scrubbed my own sink. Why, the few times I’ve attempted to vacuum have turned into a test of wills between me and a very temperamental Hoover Upright.

So you can see my dilemma?

Add to that the fact that I tend to attach to people fairly quickly (e.g., the people who fuss with my hair all came to my wedding), and well, I took the news hard.

Gosh, I’m going to miss Sally. It just won’t be the same–seeing her every other week, sharing our respective updates, getting her little notes to get more Windex or Swiffer dry pads, you know, those personal and intimate kinds of things.

Change. It’s hard. But I guess we can’t stop it. And so, while the lights will go out on 10 Avalon Court for Sally, they just might shine bright for Merry Maids.

We’ll see.

Until next time!


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