Joel and I are familiar with the muddle of remodeling: a tile removal that drifted our house with billows of clinging dust, a wall-papered room that pitted his careful measuring against my slap-dash optimism, and the hanging of updated window coverings, a task that challenged his vocabulary and my sanity.
But, the recent installation of a new refrigerator took me to the dark side.
My refrigerator is personal, indicative of my character and relationships. Spousal tussles and compromises dictate its content and organization: more footage for salsa than yogurt; more varieties of cheese than produce; frosted beer glasses making it impossible to access the ice cream.
Joel rarely explores beyond the top two shelves of our refrigerator. Noticing this and having a sneaky side, I put leftovers I want to eat near the bottom, knowing he’ll forget about them.
When he does rummage through the crowded shelves searching for ketchup — which I could find blindfolded — I stifle myself, hoping he’ll return the favor when I root around in his toolbox.
But, I worry when friends, in-laws or strangers witness the sorry state of our fridge: milk rings littering the dairy shelf, lettuce decaying in the produce drawer, a sticky coagulation anchoring the pickle jar.
I imagine their thoughts: “Did you see all the half-empty jars of mayonnaise? She must collect them. And something needs to be done about that blackened can of tomato paste. It’s a wonder they haven’t died of food poisoning.”
And that’s just the interior.
When the deliverymen slid our old refrigerator out, we discovered the bedlam it incubated: a malodorous carpet of lost recipes, bits of glass, carrot shavings and dusty fibers held together by dried fluids of mystifying origins. My head buzzed, my heart palpitated and my mom, looking down from heaven, shook her head in sorrow.
When I emptied the old model the morning the new one was installed, I heaped its precious cargo here and there and wondered how it held all that stuff — and why. How many frozen packets of leftover casserole and stalks of limp celery does one need?
I also had trouble clearing the exterior of the refrigerator, the most popular all-purpose container in the house.
One side displays a shopping list we ignore and a calendar with indecipherable entries we puzzle over: Is one of us to get our teeth cleaned on the 12th, or is that when the truck needs an oil change?
I hang my weekly menu on the door for Joel to admire and anticipate — not once in 14 years has he noticed. In addition, magnets anchor gift certificates, a newspaper article explaining how to recognize a stroke victim and anything Joel doesn’t want to forget: license renewals, birthday calls, major surgeries. I discard his notes-to-self when they’re a year old.
The dust-decorated top stores trivets, too many phone books, a jar filled with pencils in need of sharpening mingled with pens in need of ink, and a wooden box stuffed with baffling odds and ends we don’t dare discard: keys that must unlock something, spare parts that must be needed by something and bits of paper with scrawled telephone numbers that must be important.
All that precious stuff, transferred from the old refrigerator to the new, made the new indistinguishable from the old; I couldn’t admire our to-brag-about appliance because I couldn’t see it.
By noon, our latest purchase hummed along efficiently, occasionally producing ice cubes with a pleasing plop. It sat on clean tile, flaunted rearranged magnets, sported spotless shelves and boasted a dust-free top.
I took a nap.