The argument happened after a late dinner that followed a long, frenetic workday. I was unloading the dishwasher and realizing, to my dismay, that the natural dishwasher detergent had left approximately 60 percent of the dishes dirty. Now I was going to have to wash them by hand.
I am not a dramatic person by nature. But this suddenly seemed too much to bear. I could feel the waves of fatigue washing over me, each one more intense.
“I’m so sick of this,” I said to my partner. “So sick of it.”
“So sick of what?” he asked.
“We need to go back to the Cascade!”
His eyes widened. I could tell he was surprised by my level of outrage. There was a moment of hesitation, but then he plunged ahead, his own voice rising.
“Cascade leaves all the Tupperware tasting like soap! You just need to double-up on the natural stuff. Fill both bins.”
“Why can’t you just agree with me? Why isn’t it a problem for you that this product doesn’t actually work, and that I’m the one who ends up having to wash everything all over again?” I asked. “What GOOD is it that it’s NATURAL if it doesn’t work?!”
“Maybe we can just switch the dishwasher from normal mode to heavy load,” he suggested practically. “Maybe that would clean the dishes better.”
“Or maybe you can just agree with me that the stuff doesn’t work,” I said sullenly, staring at the countertop full of dishes I’d hand-washed the night before, still waiting for me to put them away.
“We need to get glass containers,” I said firmly. And then, like a threat, “I’m throwing away all of the Tupperware.”
“You can’t throw away the Tupperware! Glass is too heavy for my backpack,” said my boyfriend, who works all day in the forest and eats on the move.
I knew he was right, but I suddenly felt too tired to keep talking. After announcing that people should make better products and bigger dishwashers, I said I was going to bed. It was 8:45.
I put on my pajamas and crawled into bed with my phone. I felt ridiculous. This rated as possibly the stupidest fight I’d ever had, which is saying something. But as soon as I laid down, I knew it wasn’t about the Cascade. It was about Mom’s birthday in 10 days. It would be her second birthday we would celebrate without her.
Just the other day at work, I had been telling a story about Mom that made me laugh. And I had had the audacity to think, “Wow, it’s cool that I can laugh and feel happy about memories — she’s been gone for less than two years.”
I felt like this was progress compared to the previous year of reliving all the traumas that come with watching a loved one battle cancer. At the corner of my mind, I felt a tiny tug, a little warning. Each time I thought things were getting easier, my psyche would give me another delivery of pain, as if to say, “Okay, now that you’re doing better, process this. I’ve been waiting for you.”
And now the pain was pressing against my chest. It felt like being a live butterfly being pinned against a dark background, impossible to escape. It’s the type of pain that’s beyond words, seemingly unbearable. No way to exorcise it. It’s just you, squirming beneath a dead weight that goes right through your heart. When it descends, it descends, and its power is absolute.
So I did the only thing I knew that ever made it better. I reached out to my siblings. I emailed, asking them if they were having a hard time with Mom’s birthday coming up. They wrote back right away in the affirmative. “Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.”
Yes, we were all thinking about Mom. Mom was humming away in the background of our lives, always present, no matter what. Yes, we were all having a tough time. Yes, I was not alone.
I texted Tom from the bedroom about what was really going on. He texted me back that we should do something special to honor Mom on her birthday. I got out of bed and went to apologize. He apologized. I told him he had nothing to apologize for. I went back to bed.
My sister texted, “Hey, by the way, did you intend to send that email to Dad?” Yahoo had auto-populated the email with Dad’s address, and I hadn’t noticed. My parents divorced when I was 16. Dad shares an email with my stepmother, so she was going to see my question too. “Hey, I just picked a fight with Tom about Cascade of all things. Put on my pajamas and got into bed. Anyone else having a hard time with Mom’s birthday coming up?” Classic.
I typed a quick apology to my dad and stepmother, explaining I’d accidentally put them on my sibling check-in. I was contemplating whether I should text Tom to bring me a mixed drink, when he came to bed. I shut off my phone and was able to sleep.
The next morning, I received an email from my stepmother. “Just a bit of advice. Next time leave your pajamas off and get in bed with Tom. Dish detergent will be forgotten.” She sent her love.
What can I say? It made me laugh. My father has always had good taste in women.