SPILL-OVERS

My red car is at Rau’s, a local garage. Right from where I sit I can see it, its oil changed and snow tires replaced. A funny day to do a change of tires since it was sleeting this morning, but I’m taking my chances that spring is just around the corner (the weather forecasters don’t agree).

This is a very different place from the Toyota Service Center, with its big waiting room, comfortable couches (here I go between an old wooden bench and a chair with its seat fabric torn, revealing a spongy mat), free coffee, soft TV, and WIFI. You don’t see what they do to the car. Everything is quiet and esthetic; the dirty work is done out of sight and hearing.

Bernie loved to go to the Toyota Service Center. It was far enough for a cigar (Rau’s, being local, is not) and he loved sitting down comfortably over a coffee and his computer while the work on his blue Camry was done somewhere else. He didn’t prioritize supporting local businesses, but did fill up gas at Rau’s even as he complained that the prices by I-91 were a lot lower.

When he was at the rehab hospital after his stroke, one of the first things he’d ask me was what was the price of gas at the gas station just outside the hospital which he could see from the window.

It’s easy to overlook the mess of things, not to hear the drilling and the whoosh of the tube, the pop of the machine they use to put on tires, the clanging of a press and the hammering in back, the smell of oil and grime. It’s not just around my red Prius. How do you live and not get dirty?

Even in my current clean, rural life in New England there’s a mess everywhere. Aussie continues to run away and the voices in my head are relentless: You can’t let her do that, more training, more restraint! Harry on occasion goes back to messing up in the house in the middle of the night and yesterday I found a paintbrush with small yellow paint particles on the living room rug. How he found it I have no idea, but it took two days to get the yellow spot off the rug with the aid of pain thinner.

What am I going to do with these two, I wonder.

There are billions of husks of sunflower seeds under the bird feeders, the tub broke and requires a plumber’s visit, I broke a plate last night while washing dishes. And finally, there’s all the mess that Bernie left behind: Zen artifacts, pictures, photos, organizational charts, their corners nibbled by mice.

“What’s this?” someone asked me the other day, pointing at two thin, jagged slices of slate.

“It’s from School 6, an abandoned school where Bernie wanted to build housing and a community center for homeless familiesin Yonkers, only the community got up in arms and we couldn’t do it. Nothing was ever done with School 6, it’s become a magnet for drug dealers, and an environmental hazard for the neighborhood because of the asbestos. He said it was an example of what happens when people just fight among themselves and can’t come together around something productive, be it our project or someone else’s.”

He’s gone, his ashes neatly placed in a few urns, but the results of that life still spill over, spread out across tables and the basement floor, a spill you can’t control.

In this house, I tell myself sternly, I am controlling that spill. I am cleaning it all out, getting some space in which to breathe. A space that isn’t completely taken up by Bernie, but that contains him while giving space for some other things to happen.

And as I wait for the work on my car to be finished I remember how we were both very conscientious about taking good care of our cars, washing and servicing them regularly. A year ago I was at the Toyota Service Center and overheard the folks out front talking.

“Did you see what a dirty car that was?”

“Yep, worst one I’ve seen all winter.”

I looked. They were talking about Bernie’s blue car that I had brought in for service. After his stroke I had no time and just let it go. A century-old abandoned hovel in the woods, crumbling and rotting, consumed by brambles and stumps, couldn’t have looked worse than that car. His stroke had spilled over so much, consumed so many things.