On Balance

On Tuesday, thousands of pounds of household effects (HHE) including consumables were delivered to our home.

Given that I live a short drive from the embassy, I scheduled the delivery in the late afternoon so as not to interfere with visa interviews. I had a couple of business days’ notice while my shipment sat in Customs, so I was ready. Before the appointed time, I zoomed home to sequester my free-ranging yard tortoise into a shoebox. I dug out the shipping inventory in preparation to oversee the unloading of four huge wooden crates of our stuff, and steeled myself against possible aggravation.

The truck backed up to the walled door in my driveway. A half dozen men pried open the crates, removed boxes, and showed the labels to me. Apparently Uzbekistan doesn’t do forklifts, so these poor guys had to muscle boxes down one by one, and I brought them cold water for their trouble.

In Russian I told them, “Basement,” “Second floor” or “Third floor” and off they went. It took over two hours. The construction workers next door apparently got a big kick out of the ridiculous American with ten million things too many.

When the movers departed, I hunted down the box with my grandmother’s crystal decanter set from her 1944 wedding. Barely daring to breathe, I unwrapped each piece one by one in my living room. They had all survived. Satisfied, I set them aside, abandoned the rest of the mess and returned to work. When I came home shortly before dark, the full magnitude of the task ahead hit me.

I was hungry and wanted dinner, but boxes were stacked in front of the refrigerator and dishwasher. In fact, everywhere I looked I saw utter disorder. Boxes piled in every room and hallway on all three floors, tracked-in dirt on all the wood floors and stairs, canned food in the bedrooms, dining room chairs in the basement. Vacuum cleaner that was supposed to go to storage sitting innocently in the living room. Bed frame in pieces right in front of my closet, blocking all my clothes. There wasn’t a single room that I could go to besides the bathrooms in order to escape.

Buckling down, I started opening boxes, loading the dishwasher. I sliced open boxes (and one finger), unwrapped and pulled out crystal, bug spray, decorations, Swiffer inserts, tupperware, tools, books, pillows. I flattened each piece of packing paper into the closest empty box in an attempt to not miss anything (so. much. packing. paper.), removing empty boxes to the dining room as I worked.

For the past three nights, this is all I’ve done when I come home from work. And I feel like now it looks dirtier and worse than when I started, although progress HAS to be occurring.

Tonight, exhausted, I dropped a kitchen pantry from IKEA trying to turn it over after the guys put it upside-down in the hallway. My right shoulder blade caught fire as the door flew open, gouging the wallpaper and stair as it slipped from my fingers with a tremendous crash.

I sat on the floor for several minutes, wondering if I’d torn more than the wallpaper, and then, deciding not, determinedly I got up and tried again, relocating the cabinet to the kitchen where it belonged. Then I got pissed.

And as I’m furiously trying to bring some order to my new home, it occurs to me that I’m angry and resentful when I should be feeling grateful. All my stuff showed up here at no cost to me, and all I have to do is put it away.

But it doesn’t feel like Christmas. It feels like a burden while working very full time, and not having my husband here to help and cheer me up, reminding me this is just a short transitional phase.

It feels like I have to make a million decisions, not just putting things wherever but making a structure for an organized, efficient household, one that does not yet exist. As my eyes scan my belongings and try to make sense of so many jumbled things, I get kind of paralyzed, as in order to do this, I first need to do that, and a long chain reaction of things that are a pain in the neck unfolds.

It also seems I am choosing not to ask for help and to do it the hard way like I usually do, because it’s somewhat cathartic and frankly after talking all day to people I could do with some grunt work. I just find that three days in I’m already so done.

I also have to wait for a few things that are out of my control to get the house in order. Curtain installation. Removal of extraneous furniture. Installation of other furniture and air conditioning downstairs. And the list goes on. So I do what I can, and try not to feel stressed by the disorderly environment when all I want is for everything to be, as Radiohead said, in its right place.

And then, today I heard that some of my 178th colleagues’ transiting household effects may have been affected by the explosion in Tianjin, China. It is possible, and even likely, that some of them may have lost everything.

Upon hearing this I immediately felt sorry and ashamed, and tired. I sat down on the dirty floor of my third floor landing and ate a Kashi bar from a Costco-sized box, contemplating my surroundings, and realized I need to stop whining. Whining is not really my thing. I tend generally to have patience, perspective, perserverence. But oh, how I despise, practically *loathe* setting up a kitchen!

This too shall pass. And on balance, I’m lucky. Eventually my favorite “thing” in life, order, will be restored here. By me.

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Sarah W Gaer

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